How To Navigate Awkward Wedding Etiquette

You CAN get through wedding season in one piece!

Fall wedding season is a beautiful time of warm memories, gorgeous dresses, and lots and lots of awkward moments. Attend enough weddings in your lifetime, and you’re sure to run up against a predicament or two that you can’t seem to gracefully ease your way out of. Luckily, WeddingWire wedding trends expert Anne Chertoff is here to save the day with wedding etiquette tips to handle even the stickiest situations.

engagement-ringThe Dilemma: You want to share your engagement ring on Instagram and Facebook.

Anne’s Advice: Just let the fam know before Insta-sharing. “I think it’s fine if you want to show your engagement ring on Instagram or on Facebook but before you do that, you should call your parents and your fiance’s parents and tell them the good news… you don’t want other people to see it before they do.” Same for anyone else that’s important to you, like grandparents (especially if you inherited the ring). “You also want to make sure your ring is insured,” Chertoff suggests. “Not that someone’s going to see it and then go steal it, but it’s really important to do.” As long as you’ve got your bases covered, posting the ring shot on Instagram and changing your Facebook status is super fun. “It’s exciting to get all the likes and comments and congratulations.”

The Dilemma: You’re not sure you like (or trust) the person that a friend or family member is marrying and aren’t sure whether you’re justified in speaking up.

“I think if you’re that close with the person and you’re interacting with the future husband or wife, you probably should’ve said something long before the engagement happened,” says Chertoff. “All you can do is say your piece, and it has to be for a reason—it can’t just be that the person bothers you.” A legit reason: ‘I don’t like the way he talks to you’ or ‘I’m concerned about his behavior.’ “Phrase it in a way where you’re not accusing them of anything,” but again, this should come before there’s a ring on that finger.

I have had conversations with girls who are engaged and they’ll say things like ‘I don’t know if I can go through with this’ and my answer is ‘look, if you don’t want to go through with it, don’t go through with it. It’s much easier to call off a wedding than to go through a divorce.’ So, as a friend, you just be there for the person. You can say ‘are you sure you’re ready to do this?’ and ‘are you sure this is what you want?’ without sounding accusatory, because if you put them on the defensive then they’re going to put their back up. What you want to do is just say to your friend ‘is this really what you want? I just want you to be happy’ and just make sure the person is okay with it. Just be a good friend and supportive and make sure she’s happy or he’s happy and that they think they’re doing the right thing.”

boquetThe Dilemma: You’ve been asked to be a bridesmaid in someone’s wedding and either can’t afford it or just don’t want to do it, and you’re looking for a graceful way out.

“It depends on your relationship with the person,” Chertoff says. “If it’s your best friend or cousin or something, it’s best to be honest with them.” Explain that you’d love to be involved in every aspect of the wedding—help with the shower and attend all the dress fittings—but that you just can’t financially do everything that’s involved. “I think if it’s someone really close to you, just be really honest and upfront about it. I know money can be embarrassing to talk about but it’s really important so people can understand.”

She continues: “I know of situations where a bridesmaid couldn’t afford the dress and so the bride was like ‘I’ll buy your dress, don’t worry about it, it’s more important to me that you’re there with me than not.'” If you know you’re only being asked because she was in your wedding but you’re not as close anymore, it’s fine to kindly decline. “You could fib a little if you want to and say ‘I’m traveling for work,’ or ‘I’m not really going to be around as much as I’d like to to help,’ or ‘Financially I just can’t do it.'” Make it clear you want to be there for her on her special day, but that the bigger price tag just won’t work.


gift-registryThe Dilemma: You want to get the couple a gift that’s not on the registry.

You don’t have to follow the registry, says Chertoff. “You should because it’ll make your life a lot easier, but if there’s something that you think the person will like even though it’s not on the registry that’s fine.” The registry is just a guide. “It’s more just there to help guests figure out what to get the couple. So if you want to get them something else that’s totally fine, as long as it’s from the heart. It’s the sentiment that counts,” she adds.

The Dilemma: You know a toxic ex or your partner’s ex will be at a wedding you’re attending, and you’re nervous about how to handle it.

“Do what you need to do to make yourself feel more comfortable, whether it’s getting your hair and makeup done, or buying something like a dress, or having your friends with you on the dance floor so you’re having a great time all night,” Chertoff suggests. “Don’t give him the satisfaction of you not going because he’s going to be there, or of you sitting at the table with a drink in your hand all night with a frown on your face. Have a great time at your friend’s wedding.” Get a really hot dress at Rent the Runway, get all made up and go in there with killer confidence. If you’re bringing a date, focus on having fun with them—there’s a reason it didn’t work with your ex, so stop trying to psych yourself out.

READ MORE: Signs You Should Call Off The Wedding

The Dilemma: You laugh (or cough, or sneeze, or mumble) during a major, sacred moment of the wedding when all eyes are on the bride and groom.

“It depends on what it is—if the couple is reciting their vows and you just think something silly and chuckle, that’s fine,” Chertoff says, “but if you’re hysterically laughing while Grandpa’s making a toast that isn’t funny and sentimental, then you’re kind of out of line.” If people look at you, just mouth the word “sorry,” and then either try to control yourself or step out for a minute. “If there’s something funny that’s not happening where the attention is (like the bride and groom), and it’s happening with who you’re sitting with, and everyone’s laughing and in on the joke, it’s about having a good time.” As long as you’re not doing anything that’s really going to take away from the couple up at the altar, you’re good.

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The Dilemma: You’re not sure what to wear to a wedding or realize when you show up at the ceremony that you’ve drastically miscalculated the dress code.

“If you’re already there, there’s really nothing you can do. I’ve gone to formal weddings where people are in sundresses and they feel uncomfortable about it, but it’s fine. But the way to know what to wear is based on where the wedding is and the time of the wedding. So anything that’s set at six o’clock on a Saturday or Sunday night in a formal setting, like a hotel ballroom, you can assume that it’s either black tie or black tie optional if it doesn’t [say so] on the invitation. Anything in the daytime is a more casual dress, it’s not a floor-length gown.

What I would definitely suggest is if you’re not sure, ask the couple. If it’s going to be during the day it’s going to probably be more casual, whether it’s a guy wearing a suit instead of a tuxedo and girls wearing a dress to the knee or a cocktail dress or a day dress. It gets a little tricky if the wedding’s during the week, because a weeknight wedding after six could be just as formal as Saturday night, but you can assume if the wedding’s at the Plaza Hotel it’s probably more formal than if it’s at a restaurant. Usually the time of the wedding will dictate what the formality of the clothes will be but if you’re not sure, there’s no reason why you can’t ask.”

The Dilemma: Like these unfortunate guests, your sitter falls through after you already RSVPed that you’ll be attending a wedding that does not allow children, so the bride and groom retaliate by sending you a bill for your food. (Yes, this actually happened to a Minnesota couple last month!)

“Of course the couple should not have sent a bill to be reimbursed for the food. The guests should have called or texted or emailed the couple or someone else attending, like the parents or a member of the bridal party, that they lost their sitter coverage. By not showing up and not giving the couple a heads up the guests were in the wrong, though that doesn’t mean they should have to pay for their missed meal. The guests could have explained that the sitter fell through and that they can either:

A. bring the kids
B. not attend at all
C. one of them attend, the husband or the wife

The bride and groom, who were obviously upset, should have reached out after the wedding with a phone call or email or text, asking what happened and that their presence, not to be confused with presents, was missed. And show concern too. What if one of the kids got ill and that’s why they couldn’t make it? What if the woman’s mom was in the hospital? The newlyweds should have also shown some consideration. But in no way are the guests responsible for paying for their missed meal. Maybe the couple could have asked their venue/caterer to donate all the uneaten meals to a charity.”

Any parting words of advice?

“I think the general thing when it comes to weddings is just remembering the point of them…I think that often gets forgotten, and people then focus on the details which are super fun. There’s so many fun things, like going dress shopping and shoe shopping and getting your hair done and eating cake, that it’s easy to forget that the whole point of this is that two people are in love and they want to announce that and share that with all their friends and family and get married…And all the little issues that come up, whether you can’t afford to be a bridesmaid or you want to fire a bridesmaid or your mother’s driving you crazy or your mother-in-law’s driving you crazy or your fiance doesn’t understand why you don’t want a stripper at his bachelor party…You have to keep in perspective what you’re arguing over and when you get back to the basics of what’s really important.

I think that the best thing people can do, is just ask. I feel like everything’s like an episode of “I Love Lucy” — if Lucy would just ask Ricky for the money for the dress then she wouldn’t have to do some cockamamie thing, which is hilarious, but everything gets all dramatic because people don’t talk about it. Whether you’re a guest or a party member or a parent or the couple, just be open and honest and try to get to the root of whatever the problem is and they’ll solve it. In the grand scheme of things, a lot of it’s just not that big of a deal. [At my wedding] I had a screaming match with my father because he was paying for the wedding, he wanted to invite another thirty people from the shul, and that would’ve been three tables of people…I’m looking back (it’s been 12 years), and why did I care if he wanted to invite thirty people from the shul? [Laughs] It didn’t matter! And then each of them wrote me a check! My grandfather and I fought about the cake. He couldn’t understand why we were paying $2,500 for a cake. Well, when you want a kosher wedding you have to pay what it is! He was like, “Betty Crocker costs $2.99!”

A lot of it is just persepctive…someone’s financial situation is not a little detail to them but your cousin, your best friend, you should be able to talk to these people and tell them what you feel and tell them what you’re excited about because like I said before, it’s important that you’re with them. That’s going to trump the price of a dress. It’s more important that you’re the with them. And if it’s not and [the bride gets] really crazy about the fact that you can’t afford the dress…she needs to calm down.”

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This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.