Anna Post Talks Wedding Etiquette

Anna Post, great-granddaughter of the American etiquette icon Emily Post and author of just-released Wedding Parties: Smart Ideas for Stylish Parties, a book designed to gracefully guide brides (and grooms) through the often touchy prewedding party-planning season, talks to The Washingtonian about the dos and don'ts of the wedding world. Wish you could ask for money in lieu of silverware? You can! Your mother is pushing for a church wedding but you want to be married barefoot on the sand? Read on to find out why hearing her out for just five minutes could save you weeks of drama.


A friend asked me to ask you about elopement. Can it be done?

You need to think about whether or not you’re going to hurt someone’s feelings in this process—your parents, a sibling, grandparents.  There could be good reasons for an elopement, but to someone like a grandmother it may not matter. They just simply may be hurt. A planned elopement is a little different, and it’s a great option for the kind of couple that doesn’t want a lot of brouhaha. It’s called a second, or belated, reception. That’s when people know you’re going to get married without them there and they know that they will get to have a party with you. Just know that because people weren’t invited to your actual wedding, they aren’t required to bring gifts.

Now, there’s the catch! That’s a good segue into gifts: How does the couple tell their guests where they’re registered? I read in your book that there’s to be no mention of gifts in a wedding invitation.

For showers, it’s okay to include an enclosure about the registry. For wedding invitations, there shouldn’t be any mention of gifts anywhere, even on an enclosure. The guest is to contact you or your parents to find out that information.

My mom thinks this trend of couples registering for common household items, as opposed to china or silver, is strange. What do you think about that, and what are your thoughts on choosing a gift that’s not on a couple’s registry? Is that a faux pas?

It’s perfectly fine for couples to register for unconventional items, especially because a lot of couples already have established households when they come into their marriage. It’s more than okay to buy something not included in the registry. The registry is there to help guide guests. Traditionally, the point of the gift was that you would go out and really try to think about what that person might want, and many people don’t like that the registry takes the thoughtful aspect of it away from the process.

Any advice for engagement parties?

Keep it small. This way, you’ll keep it to 100 percent people you’re sure you will invite to the wedding.

What’s a bride to do if she’s more of a spa-weekend gal versus a tiara-wearing bar-crawl bachelorette?

In a perfect world, these ladies would get together and ask her what she would like to do for her bachelorette party. If that’s not happening, then she can go ahead and go to the people throwing the party and say, “I had some thoughts for what I would love for the bachelorette party . . . .”

It’s really all about communicating effectively, isn’t it? I love your every-idea-for-five-minutes suggestion. Can you explain that a little more?

As a bride, be willing to consider other people’s ideas and contributions for at least five minutes. Let them talk about it. Even if you don’t go with the idea, it gives them a chance to feel included. Remember, you don’t have to commit to anything! Just don’t say, “Yeah, I’d love to do that,” if you really wouldn’t because then you’re stuck.

What are some of the most egregious etiquette offenses you’ve noticed at weddings?

The one thing that I’m starting to see a lot of—and maybe I’m getting old—is dirty dancing on the dance floor. And by that I mean dancing that’s just a little too dirty for parents and grandparents. I’m not saying you can’t have fun, but you need to be mindful of who is watching. And then generally, RSVPs—failing to RSVP at all or on time. Gotta RSVP.

Speaking of potentially embarrassing behavior, what do you do if a guest gets completely trashed at your wedding?

It’s probably best to have someone else handle this so that you don’t end up in the middle of a fiasco that detracts from your day. If you see it happening, talk to someone you trust, either the wedding planner or a close family member or friend, or the person’s date or family member. Pull that person aside and say, “Listen, Tom is just a little too rowdy. Can you see that he gets home safely?” It places the focus on getting the person home safely rather than the inappropriate behavior.

What’s the etiquette surrounding asking for money now?

This is an interesting one. It is okay to ask for money—it’s all in how you do it. When people call up, tell that them you’ll love anything they give to you. But you might say something like “We’d love help with or a donation toward a down payment on our first house.” It helps in two ways: You never have to use the word “money” if you don’t want to, and it tells people what the ultimate gift is. When they feel like they’re paying for an actual gift, people feel a lot more comfortable.

What do you think about the man asking the father for the woman’s hand in marriage?

I think it’s a wonderful tradition. In mainstream American culture and in most other cultures, you don’t have to do that anymore, but I think it’s really, really nice. These days, it’s often addressed with both parents, not just the father. If you’re marrying someone of another culture or a religion you’re not familiar with, you might want to check and see what the norm is just to start things off on the right foot.

So after all of this research, how do you envision your own wedding?

Something decently small. I want people to really enjoy themselves, have a good time, and feel comfortable—not that they’re participating in “how Emily Post would do a wedding perfectly.” There will be lots of peonies, that’s for sure.


Thoughts? Share them in the comments section.

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