7 New Etiquette Rules for Modern Weddings

Are you ready to attend that same-sex, cash-only, no-iPhone wedding? Learn the rules of etiquette for modern nuptials. (Hint: they're not too different from the old ones.)


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Emily Post literally wrote the book on etiquette in 1922, and her guide, Etiquette in Society, in Business, in Politics, and at Home, details the makings of an ideal wedding. A 1937 Post profile of the New York author (“Dear Mrs. Post”) described the various etiquette inquiries she received in the mail: “‘My intended has a lovely voice,’ wrote one, ‘Would it be alright for him to sing at our wedding, and if so, when and what?'”

Eighty years later, the “intended” might be more inclined to stage an elaborate song-and-dance proposal that will go viral on YouTube. The modern wedding is quite an affair.

The Knot’s Ivy Jacobson had some advice for adapting to new wedding norms, from social media manners to gift-giving.

Enjoy the Engagement Party 

The gathering to announce an engagement is an old custom that has evolved from ancient Greece to Victorian England to modern times. You can likely expect cocktails and barbecue moreso than a discussion of the groom’s dowry these days. Jacobson said gifts are welcome — but not necessary — for this occasion.

Bring Cash

“Wedding registries aren’t going anywhere,” said Jacobson, “However, a lot of couples now live together before they are married, and they don’t necessarily need a new blender or a set of china.” Many are now creating “cash registries” that designate a honeymoon, down payment, or other such expense that monetary gifts will pay for. Giving cold, hard cash is totally acceptable — and more practical than a seventh salad spinner.

Stow the Phone

No one wants professional wedding photographs of a sea of smartphones — and certainly not tablets. The “unplugged ceremony” is the answer to this conundrum, and it’s getting more popular, according to Jacobson. At an unplugged wedding, guests will be asked to leave their phones in their purses or pockets for the duration of the ceremony. Shock and bewilderment can occur with the most diehard phone addicts, but the goal is for everyone to enjoy the special day without screens.

This rule is usually out the window for the reception, however, where guests are typically encouraged to engage on social media using a contrived pun of a hashtag designated by the wedding party. This makes it so the wedded pair can view the posts and pictures of their special day in one place.

R.S.V.P. on Time for a Destination Wedding

If the stress of a lifelong commitment isn’t enough, why shouldn’t the betrothed combine it with international travel? A destination wedding offers the appeal of a ceremony in paradise as well as a vacation with your in-laws. Clearly, there is much to be considered before deciding to get hitched in Hawai’i, but who wouldn’t want to say “I do” on an island? Jacobson said save the date announcements will be sent out about eight months in advance for a destination wedding or sooner if the location is out of the country. While your R.S.V.P. should always be timely, it is paramount to give prompt notice for a destination wedding.

Same-Sex Weddings Call for … the Exact Same Etiquette

Since the Supreme Court’s 2015 ruling, same-sex couples have enjoyed legal marriage all over the country. Of course, attending a gay or lesbian wedding might require extra mindfulness from guests who are unaccustomed, but Jacobson said, “the couple has invited you because they know you love and support them.” Besides a few twists, the ceremony will be indistinguishable from any other wedding. If it’s a wedding between two men, you might even get to wear that white dress you love.

Tip Your Bartender

One unwavering rule of wedding receptions seems to be the presence of an open bar. Even in 1922 “a fashionable wedding without plenty of [Champagne] was unheard of,” according to Emily Post’s book. “We always stress the importance of an open bar,” Jacobson said. The tip isn’t always built into the cost, though. If you see a tip jar, make sure to fill it up while you’re slinging back free Merlot. It might even help your vodka to cranberry ratio.

Adults-Only Means Adults-Only

It may seem cold to ask guests to leave their little ones at home, but an adult-only wedding can be practical. A child could cost as much as an adult in a wedding head count. If most of the couple’s friends and family have children it could virtually double the guest list. Jacobson said, “It’s totally acceptable etiquette to have an adult-only wedding as long as people know ahead of time.” The couple is likely facing some backlash for their decision, so you should respect their wishes and enjoy an evening without the kids.

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  1. Part II. Yeah, on the engagement party, that seems kind of like a further, unnecessary money pit that’s largely in poor taste if you’re asking for gifts. Same thing with the bridal shower, not mentioned here. Half or more of these marriages are not going to last anyway, so the wedding presents are all that should be asked for, realistically. It will also help you keep your friends and family when the divorce happens, because you didn’t $oak them 3 times, just one.

    The R.S.V.P. info sounds good if applicable. Never been to a same-sex wedding but this sounds logical for that. I WAS at an adults-only wedding about 2 months ago. In this case it was a basset hound wedding! I have two friends that each have a basset, she has a female, he has a male. The ceremony was calculated around the female dog’s ‘schedule’.

    The male dog wore a tuxedo and top hat, and the female a white bridal gown; all ordered online. We had a ‘priest’ perform the ceremony on top of her backyard picnic table, covered with a white table cloth. Instead of side to side, she was in front being held by her pet mommy, and he was close behind, held by his pet daddy.

    The priest pronounced them man and wife, and told the male dog he may kiss the bride. He decided to go for the honeymoon instead, with both dogs barking for different reasons. It was wonderful, but definitely not for children! There was regular wedding cake for the humans, and some small, vanilla portions for the dogs. They will continue to reside in their respective pet parent homes for the foreseeable future, not living together.

    So the bottom line to ALL of this is, you can have a great wedding on a budget that does not LOOK or SEEM like it is. It should be as acceptable (or more so) than spending a fortune on ONE day. The Post’s recent cartoon ‘Marital Madness’ is worth taking another look at. I put in some comments there too. If I was getting re-married now, I’d probably choose Missing Persons ‘Destination Unknown’ as the wedding dance over Robert Plant’s ‘Sea of Love’. Both though remain two favorite songs from the wonderful early-mid ’80s to this day.

  2. Part I. This is probably good advice overall for today as Emily Post’s was 95 years ago, and a large portion will no doubt be antiquated long before 2112.

    The elaborate, staged, song and dance wedding proposals on airplanes and football stadiums are all about getting into the media, becoming a ‘commodity’ and cashing in on it for however long you can keep the kite in the air. I’d LOVE to see a bride-to-be say “no” to the proposal when the cameras are rolling in those planes and stadiums. It’s as fake as the ABC reality show(s) of finding a spouse. It’s about getting on TV and trying to get rich.

    My first wedding was when my wife and I were too young in the mid-80’s, before crappy smartphone “photos” ever existed, and the real wedding photographs were it. If I ever do again, it would definitely be ‘unplugged’.

    Also, if the loud and clear message was purposely NOT being heard, I’d arrange it in advance to have one of my friends quietly ask the offending party to leave, in no uncertain terms—–even if it was in the middle of the ceremony. All I’d have to do is “give my look” and they’d be out in short order, including the reception later.


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