When most of us think of an etiquette lesson, we think of strict elocution and balancing a book on your head (at least that was my picture of it anyway!).
But then I met Jo Bryant.
Jo is an altogether modern etiquette and wedding consultant who works with brides and couples to help them prepare for their big day.
Rather than simply schooling them in formalities, she helps guide couples seamlessly through the minefield of questions we all have when we start planning our weddings – and anticipates the ones we don't even think about until the day itself!
We're so excited to tell you that over the next few months, Jo will be joining us regularly to share her wisdom on handling tricky situations, and feeling graceful and gorgeous while you do it.
For her first guest post, Jo is diving straight in with a guide to some of the key traditions and roles in weddings (and we just know you guys are going to find it so helpful!)
So from informal ceremony seating to whether or not to ditch the receiving line, we'll hand you over to the lovely Jo Bryant…
1. Gift Lists
The two gift list questions I get asked the most are: should I have one, and is it ok to ask for money?
Answering the first question is simple: yes you should. Having a list makes things easier for your guests, who will want to buy you something because that is the tradition. Not only do you relieve them of the do-I-don’t-I-buy-a-present dilemma, but also you will receive things that you actually want.
Most couples already have cupboards full of towels, bed linen, saucepans and crockery. But gift lists are no longer as traditional as they once were. There is an option to suit everyone, from the conventional department store list to an online registry offering the option of presents and money.
It is perfectly fine to ask for money – but only if you let your guests know what you are going to do with it. They will resent it if they feel the money is simply merging with your bank account, so tell them if the money is for your honeymoon, a new sofa, etc etc.
If you meet any resistance from elder generations, you can always open a small list somewhere with a few special items. This will please the traditionalists and give you a few presents to cherish.
2. Ceremony Seating
Traditionally, the bride’s family and friends sit on the left of the aisle, and the bridegroom’s on the right. In practice, that doesn’t always work. For example, I have a huge family but my husband doesn’t so, on our wedding day, all of our friends sat on his side to balance out the seating.
Many couple now opt for ‘choose a seat, not a side’. This is a sensible decision when there are complicated family situations, dilemmas or disputes. It avoids labelling or prioritising guests, which may cause upset.
Whatever you choose, the most important thing is to make sure your ushers are briefed on the seating plan so they can guide or reassure guests on where to sit.
Don’t forget to reserve seats in the front rows for parents, bridesmaids and the best man, and some seats somewhere sensible and accessible for the ushers.
3. Receiving Lines
The traditional format of the receiving line is very time-consuming. Guests meet the parents of the bride, followed by the parents of the groom, and then finally the bride and groom, by which point some may have introduced themselves at least twice.
If you want a receiving line then try a different set up, with the parents of the bride and groom standing opposite each other, allowing the guests a quick introduction or greeting, before going on to congratulate the bride and groom. If budget allows, give guests a drink while they are waiting.
Receiving lines are not compulsory. Some couples circulate, ensuring they talk to all the guests. Others prefer to get all the greetings out of the way at the beginning of the reception, relieving them of one of their last ‘duties’. The choice is yours.
Seen as a highlight of the day, and a key responsibility for the speechmakers, there is lots of pressure on getting them right. The classic format is father-of-the-bride first, followed by the groom and lastly the best man, speaking after pudding, but there is room to bend the rules.
Nervous speechmakers may prefer to get it done and delivered before the meal. This is fine, as long as guests have enjoyed plenty of canapés (no drinking on empty stomachs), have full glasses and somewhere suitable to stand/perch/sit. Make sure there is shade in summer and warmth in winter: speeches will usually last for about 45 minutes, so your audience must be comfortable.
Many brides and chief bridesmaids ask to give speeches too. One option is for these to happen at a rehearsal dinner (if there is one), or as an addition to the traditional trio of speakers. Have it planned in advance, however, as impromptu speeches may confuse the audience or throw the other speechmakers off course.
5. Duties of the Best Man, Ushers and Bridesmaids
The best man, ushers and bridesmaids are key players in making the wedding a success, beforehand and on the day itself. Even the best-planned wedding needs a good team on the ground.
Being a best man is not only an honour, but also a crucial organisational role. It is often seen as the chance to make a speech and organise a stag-do, but the real responsibility lies in making the wedding day run smoothly. A good best man is reliable, unflappable, confident and efficient.
His duties are to keep the groom calm, get him to the church, hand over the rings, manage the ushers and give a (appropriate) speech. He may also have to deal with a muddled granny, check up on the caterers, avert a cake disaster and track down a missing taxi. He should be well-briefed and have an idea about the running order of the day and the expectations of the bride and groom.
The ushers work with the best man, carrying out various duties from seating guests, assisting at the reception, finding people for photos and generally being on hand. Remember, too, that the ushers are the first faces the guests see on the day of the wedding, so they should be suitably attired, fresh-faced and seem organised…
The bridesmaids have usually worked harder in the run up to the wedding – providing both practical and emotional support – so their wedding-day duties are really focused on attending to the bride (especially if the ushers are doing a good job with everything else).
Similar to the best man, the chief bridesmaid should be confident and organised. She is the bride’s main assistant, helping her get dressed, holding her bouquet, arranging trains and bustling dresses. The other bridesmaids may be a mix of adults and children, so duties vary according to age and numbers. The key player in the wedding party is the bride, and being a bridesmaid means doing your very best to make it the day perfect for her, even if your best friend has morphed into a true bridezilla.
I love Jo's advice, she dispels all the strict formalities, while still being practical about catering to your guests and the inevitabilities of a wedding day. So wise!
Jo offers ‘Aisle Style’, personalised bridal image, confidence and deportment workshops, and ‘Wedding Companion’, a flexible, bespoke pay-as-you-go planning support and advisory service, so make sure you visit her website to find out more information on her invaluable services!
Check out our Step-by-Step Planning Guide.