The rules of modern weddings explained 
By Anna Lockhart 

For the newly engaged, there can seem a dizzying amount of information – and varying opinions – on planning and executing a wedding and reception that’s meaningful, personal and fun for everyone. Though the day is about you and your partner, the event involves lots of people, moving parts and traditions. 

Older generations may have taken for granted a set of standard rules of matrimony. But nowadays, especially for millennials  who are marrying less frequently and later than generations before  the rules aren’t so clear cut. Throw in unconventional wedding trends, Pinterest boards and social media successes and failures, and it can be a mess to wade through. What traditions should stay, and which are cringingly outdated? And speaking of new trends, what will still seem cool when future children watch the video of your special day? 

Wedding planners have seen dozens, if not hundreds, of couples tie the knot, and have some sound advice to offer. 


You want to shout from the rooftops that you’re tying the knot, but what’s the best way to do it? Mostly gone are the traditional engagement announcements past generations published in newspapers or more recently sent via mail. Why not just snap a photo of your ring and upload it to your favorite platforms to tell the world. Actually, wait on that: posting a ring selfie can step on toes and hurt the feelings of people who want to learn the big news directly from you.  

“It’s not a good idea,” says Katlyn Mogavero, director of catering and wedding planner at the Grand Hotel in Cape May. “Family should be informed first and then social media. I actually made this mistake myself, and it was not good.” 


You’ve settled on a date and nabbed a venue. Now to begin addressing your invitations. But who even knows their friends’ addresses anymore?  

I still believe paper invitations are proper etiquette,” says Kristen Cass, director of Cooper River Operations at Camden County and the Cooper River Boathouse. Couples are getting even more elaborate with them. Foil invitations, watercolor effect, wax sealed envelopes and patterned liners are a big trend in 2019.” 

Online e-invitations are convenient and super easy, as is the RSVP option on wedding websites. Your younger guests may find that more convenient.  

Still, Mogavero says, “the paper invite is nice for older guests because they may not understand the online RSVP. 

Both agree that wedding websites are a great way to have an online place for the couple to post updates.  

A compromise? Give both a mail-in option and an online option to please everyone.  

Can guests simply text you whether theyre showing up? 

“I do not think an RSVP should be sent via text message,” Mogavero says. “That lends itself to way too much room for error. 

What to wear 

Your wedding is in a barn, followed by a reception in a brewery. So can’t your guests show up in jeans and flats, like any other day? If you don’t want them in your pictures dressed to milk cows, it’s best to spell out how you want your guests to dress on your special day. 

A wedding can be whatever the couple decides – including casual But Cass says, in general, more formal dress is still a smart choice 

And that applies to the bride and groom too. Most brides still wear white, unless its their second wedding, when many wear ivory, the planners say. White is the one wedding tradition that many feel is tried and true. But then is it okay to wear white to someone else’s wedding? 

“No!” says Mogavero. 

To avoid some of the clothing confusion, you can spell out the attire on your invitations. Also, most wedding invitation websites include an “attire” option for guests, from “white tie” (the most formal) to “beach formal” to “dressy casual.” The Knot.com offers a list breaking down the levels, for those who aren’t sure. Couples can even name their own attire, like “whatever looks good on you” or “Star Wars chic.”  

Before the wedding 

As in generations past, the mothers of the bride and groom, with assistance from the bridal party, typically take on throwing a shower. A new twist: A new trend is not wrapping gifts, so it doesn’t take hours to unwrap.” says Mogavero. 

The rehearsal dinner the night before the wedding traditionally consists of parents, grandparents and the bridal party, as well as some close family members if theyre in town. If you want to include more folks in the night-before festivities, strike a balance. 

I always suggest to my brides and grooms to pick a welcome party area so they dont feel obligated to invite everyone who may be around the day before, Mogavero says. “Because that has potential to turn into a second weddingFor example, I tell them, Let your guests who aren’t a part of rehearsal know you will be in the hotel restaurant from 8 to 11 pm if they would like to join you for a cocktail. 


Gifts are customary for most guests of a wedding, but the rules for that can be unclear. 

Cass breaks it down like this: You should put a registry on the wedding website or shower invite, but not on the wedding invitation. It’s expected that everyone should give a gift, but if friends talk about it beforehand, they can agree theyre not exchanging gifts. 

For couples who already live together, a registry may seem pointless. As for cash gifts, it’s tasteful to request cash on your registry through specific requests, like a honeymoon fund.  

Mogavera says most people send cash or check, but older guests may prefer picking something off a registry.  

There are ways to word we want money without it sounding like that,” she says. “Maybe a cute saying about plans for a house, so guests understand what they are asking for without it sounding tacky. 


In the old days, it was frowned upon for guests to take a date unless they were married. But that has changed. 

“From our experience at the Boathouse a plus one is typically given if someone has been in a relationship for six months or more,” explains Cass. “Anything under that, no plus one.” 

Older generations may remember when the guests of the groom and the bride sat on different sides of the aisle during the ceremony, but those days are past as well, Cass notes 

The Bridal Party 

Bridal parties still serve an important function, says Mogavero. You’re sharing all stages of planning and execution with important people in your live who will hopefully help you stay sane through the process  

But with so many rules out the window, it’s hard to know how many bridesmaids are too few, what’s the sweet spot, and what’s a disaster.  

“The typical amount varies, but it is a little easier when you keep it down to seven or less for each side,” says Mogavero. “Once you hit ten, eleven on each side, its hard placing everyone during the ceremony. Also, if you want a head table that doesn’t exactly work with a lot of people.” 

The roles of both the maid of honor and bridesmaids are also harder to pin down. The planners say these members of the wedding party still serve important purposes as in the past. So choose wisely. 

The Maid of Honor helps with pre-wedding events and wedding planning, and acts as the head of bridesmaids. The Maid of Honor typically gives a toast, and can be one of the signers of the marriage  license. The bridesmaids hold less responsibility, but should make the bride feel calm on the big day. 

“They should really be – excuse my Game of Thrones reference  the hand of the bride,” says Cass. “The bride should not have to worry about anything that day.” 

The aftermath  

A thankyou acknowledgement is always in order for your guests. Cass says that even if it might be easy to send a quick email, “The same etiquette for your invitations also goes with thankyou cards: use paper thank you’s for showers and weddings.” 

After all, gratitude for having guests share in your special moment never goes out of style.  


A guest’s guide to photos and social media 

Your dear friend is getting hitched, and you want to capture every moment. Social media makes it easy to live stream every moment with the world. But be prudent. 

“Never release a photo of the couple before the actual ceremony. That’s a big no-no,” says Mogavero.  

But there’s no need to wait until they get their official photos from the photographer, since that could take months. 

It’s ok as long as it’s after the bride and groom have seen each other,” says Cass. “You do not want to ruin that special moment.” 

With hash tags and photo booths that upload directly to social media from the device itself, it’s easy to collect images from the night.  

And even though you may be enjoying the open bar, keep images of your partying tame. 

“Keep it as savory as possible,” Cass says. “No one needs crazy drunk photos or videos to remember their special day. Guests also should be respectful and NOT get completely wasted. The bride and groom and their families paid a lot of money for this day  it is about them, not just a free party. 

September 2019
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