Wedding Etiquette Chat with Nancy Mitchell, Thursday, October 16 at 11 AM

Washington, DC
Hi, We were married in September 2007. We have not received gifts from eight couples who attended the wedding. We moved in the beginning of 2008 so are worried that some gifts may have been sent to our old address. Our mail was forwarded, but we know for sure that we do not receive everything. Is there a polite way to ask? Thanks!
Thank you for our question. There is no polite way to ask if a gift was sent. In order not to seem as if you are keeping score on gifts received, I would send out change-of address cards to all who were invited to the wedding.  Those guests who have not received a thank-you note from you will then question whether or not the gift was received, and will contact you to inquire.  And, please, do remember that there is no federal law that mandates that each invited guest MUST send you a wedding gift.  The general rule of thumb is that if one receives a wedding invitation, one sends a gift, even if not attending the wedding.
Lorton, Va
Is it an absolute must to invite guests with their live-in boyfriend/girlfriend if neither my fiancee or I really know them? We aren't inviting guests with significant others if we don't have a personal relationship with them so it seems silly to invite + 1's for those that cohabitate simply for the sake of etiquette. I would actually have to call a fair amount of guests and ask for last names to address the invitation properly and in some cases even first names. That's how little we know these people. Help!

It is your decision whether or not you invite individuals "with guest" or with the specific name of their significant other. The deciding factors may be space, budget or other issues.  However, normally when you know that someone is engaged or in a long-standing relationship, the significant other will be included in the wedding invitation. In many instances, you know one member of a married couple better than the other member, but you invite them to your wedding as "Mr. and Mrs." just the same. They're a team, and so are couples living together or couples in long-term relationships.

What is the amount a bride should spend on bridesmaid gifts?
Your gift to your bridesmaids will be determined by your budget. A small token of your appreciation for their participation in your big day is just as appropriate as paying their way to the Virgin Islands where you will be married on the beach. Each bride should give according to her heart and her means. And one would hope that bridesmaids  will not compare one wedding experience to another.
Arlington, VA
Now that couples are getting married later in life how do you feel about couples registering for donations towards their honeymoon?
I certainly understand that you don't want that sixth blender, but you must proceed with caution when asking for or suggesting money as an alternative to traditional wedding gifts. Never, ever, put this information into print.  Spread the word among family and friends and members of your wedding party. And, by word of mouth, the information will spread.  In the meantime, register for some creative gift alternatives and post this information on a web site or inform your near and dear so that, again, they can share this information with people who inquire.  Those alternatives might include a cooking class, couples massage at a local spa, gift card to a local home improvement store, restaurant certificate, etc. Some people think it is too impersonal to give money and will want suggestions.
Washington, DC
We are getting married at a place with a very strict size limit so we have been having problems with the guest list from the beginning, especially as we are both from DC and that is where we are getting married. However, some of my friends who have serious boyfriends are annoyed that we are not able to invite the significant others to our wedding (unless the couple is living together or engaged). What is the etiquette for this situation? When my fiance and I were dating, I would never have expected to be invited to one of his friends weddings or vice versa but I have been getting a lot of flack about it from some friends despite the fact that we are being completely objective and not picking and choosing whose boyfriends to have.
As mentioned in the previous query, couples who are in long-standing relationships or living together are normally invited as a couple to weddings.
My fiancee and I are footing the bill for the whole day and liquor's quite expensive. We both come from large families so our guest list of 100-125 people is about 50 percent family. We have a large circle of friends that we're happy to bump into and hang out with but we just couldn't invite as we would have liked to the wedding. I was thinking of sending out "Crash the Party" invites to those we weren't able to invite so that they could join us later in the evening (after dinner is served) for dancing and drinks. Is this a terrible idea?
It is a lovely thought to want to include more of your friends in your celebration, but a crash-the-party invitation will not only offend these "B List" people when they receive your informal invitation, but will make those who do accept this invitation feel like second-class citizens when they are there. You have to make some tough guest-list decisions based on the limitations of your space and budget. (All brides and grooms do.)  Perhaps you will want to throw an after-wedding celebration at one of your favorite local spots and continue the festivities after the honeymoon.  This lets your friends know that they count and that you want to share this happy occasion with them, but that you were forced to make decisions based on the size of your venue. Beware also, that your caterer will be counting heads and will charge you for all guests who attend, even those who might show up for the last few hours of the festivities. 
Arlington, Va
If you're just a guest at the wedding (not in the wedding party) what events do you need to get gifts for? Engagement parties, showers, the wedding? Thanks!
Good question, because when you are in the sphere of a bride or groom, you will be inundated with invitations.  The general rules of thumb are that a gift is not required or expected for an engagement. If you are invited to a wedding shower and you attend, you bring a gift. If you are not able to attend the shower, a gift is not expected.  If you are invited to a wedding, you should send a gift, even if you cannot attend. When receiving a wedding announcement after the wedding has taken place, it is your decision whether or not to send a gift. In many instances, a note is sufficient.  Your personal connection to the bride, groom or their parents will also dictate your decision in each case.
Washington, DC
I've seen some friends do a brunch the day after the wedding and others say they want to leave the wedding and then not see anyone before the honeymoon. Is there a "right" way to do things?
Each wedding and the related festivities are unique and are determined by many factors. Do what fits your schedule, budget, and what you envision for your special day.  If you want that traditional departure in a shower of confetti or birdseed and fly away to a secluded honeymoon, so be it. Your parents may want to have a brunch the following morning to bid farewell to out-of-town guests, but there is no requirement that the bride and groom attend this event.  Do what feels right for you.
Do you have to have a complete open bar, or is it okay to just serve a few set drinks that the bride and groom prefer? For example, just red and white wine and mojitos?
Just as you get to select the foods served during your reception and dinner, you get to choose what is served at the bar. Many couples are opting for wine and beer only at the bar, coupled with soft drinks and fresh juices. Some plan bars with no alcohol. It is your choice. Just be certain to have a variety of choices.
Washington, DC
Is there a difference in the price and type of gift you give for a bridal shower and then for the wedding? If you go to both, do you bring a gift to both? I am a bit new to the whole wedding scene!
Thank you for your question. Please see the response above for some general gift guidelines.  Regarding the amount that one spends on shower or wedding gifts, my advice is to spend within your means. Don't spend according to the income level of the recipient but according to your own.
Washington, DC
Is black appropriate for outdoor weddings?
The good news is that brides and grooms can choose any color or decor they like. The setting does not have to dictate the color scheme or theme of your wedding.
Washington, DC
Are alcohol tipping protocols any different if it is an open bar versus regular bar?

You will want to check with your caterer regarding the tipping policy at the bar during your reception. Many caterers will say that their staff do not expect tips and are paid accordingly. If your reception is held in a hotel or other venue where the food and beverage service are handled by the venue, check with the site manager on the tipping policy. And don't allow your caterer (or the bartender) to place a "Tips Appreciated" sign on the bar. It's tacky.

If tips are accepted at a catered event, one tips less than in a restaurant or pub.  After all, you don't know the price per drink at a catered event so you can't do the math.

Washington, DC
Is there such a thing as a fool-proof outfit to wear to a wedding? Some weddings are more formal than others, and I'd like to know if there is an outfit that would be appropriate for both formal and less formal.
There is no one-look-fits-all wedding gear, because each wedding is unique. After you have accepted a wedding invitation, ask questions.  Outside/inside? Church/hotel? Day/evening? Dancing/no dancing? Buffet/seated meal service? Destination/home town? After you have collected as much information as you can, you'll still have that voice in the back of the brain that wonders if you have chosen the right look, but at least you'll be making an educated guess. You might want to check in with other guests to see what they're wearing.
gaithersburg, md
I have come to grips with the fact that I have to invite my stepfather to my wedding. But, I do not want him sitting in the front row of the ceremony, next to my mother, in a better spot than my father. Is it appropriate to have my father sit closest to the aisle in the front row where my mother would normally be seated?
Your father will probably walk you down the aisle and will need that prime, aisle seat in the front row.  Seat your mother next to him with your step-father on her other side. Your focus will be on your groom, the minister and the altar, not family politics.  Don't let past unpleasantness spoil your day. You can be creative in your seating for the reception or dinner and, perhaps, plan two family tables to keep the peace.
Washington, DC
What is an appropriate way to convey to your guests that you would prefer money instead of gifts?
The selection of a gift is ultimately the decision of the giver, not the recipient. Please see the response above for tips on how to share this information in subtle ways.  But please remember, gift information is never included with a wedding invitation or announcement.  You may convey gift ideas on your web site or in shower invitations.
Washington, DC
I've been a bridesmaid for a few friends, but I don't necessarily think I would ask them to do the same for my wedding. Is this appropriate, and is there a good way to break this news to them?

When you accepted the role as bridesmaid for your friends in the past, it wasn't on an IOU basis. The number of bridesmaids you include in your wedding is strictly up to you. If a friend questions your decision after you have announced your lineup, explain your decision process (budget, space, whatever.) There are a number of other ways you can include close friends in your special day, so think creatively. 


Thanks to all for your wedding etiquette questions. It was a pleasure to chat with you online. Please feel free to contact me for follow-up or with additional questions. I'll be happy to help.

Nancy R. Mitchell

The Etiquette Advocate