Wedding etiquette: the ‘rules’ for getting married in the 21st century

Wedding at RACV Healesville

Jessica Taylor Yates

Posted May 11, 2022

Should the bride pay for the bridesmaid dresses? Are 'thank you' notes compulsory? What's a bonbonniere? Here are the do's and don’ts for a 21st century wedding.

There are few events more engrained with time-honoured tradition than weddings. While they are still happy celebrations, more and more couples are looking to ditch the traditions and stereotypes for a more 21st century celebration.

But don't be fooled - some traditions are more out of politeness than party. So be wary which wedding staples you ditch. 

Is there a polite way to say 'no children'? Should you send thank you cards for people who didn't get you a gift? Is a gift registry rude?

After spending years spent planning weddings and events, we chat with Beth Allen, Conference and Events Manager at the RACV City Club, about the best way to make sure your wedding is still uniquely ‘you’ – but done with diplomacy. 

Your wedding etiquette questions, answered

Do I have to invite plus one?

While this can largely depend on the couple or budget requirements, “I would say no,” says Allen – with some caveats.

“Definitely decide with your partner how you will tackle the guest list and how far that will reach,” she says.

Whether it's  a smaller, budget-friendly, micro-wedding, there's restrictions in place, or it’s your cousin’s husband’s sister’s new partner of two weeks that you have never met, you can probably get away with saying no. The same goes for work colleagues, who would be able to socialise together, or exterior family or friends.

You may be met with some backlash, but at the end of the day, it is your event – just try to make sure everyone coming has at least one or two other people there they know so they don’t feel too out of place.

Do I have to accommodate dietary requirements?

This is one rule that should definitely be met, says Allen. Dietary requirements are important, and can greatly affect an individual’s health and well-being.

“It’s important you take care of your guests,” says Allen. “Your caterer should work with you to help with their dietary needs.”  

Do I need a wedding planner?

While it may be nice, having a wedding planner may not be in the realm of everyone’s budget. If you have chosen a larger or formal venue, the venue will normally have a dedicated events manager to assist with the running of your wedding.

That said, Allen also advises nominating a person, such as a Maid of Honour, to be the 'point of call.'

“This way, if little things come up, you don’t need to be across them all. Leave it in the hands of someone your trust, focus on what you want to do and enjoy the day.”

Do I have to play music everyone likes?

While this can be a fun and inclusive way to involve your guests, "it isn’t necessary," says Allen. If you are really looking for a dance floor that lights up, get a band or DJ that plays a party mix of tried and tested songs that are guaranteed to get the party started.

But dont forsake your individuality - if you don't like ABBA, it's not a 'must'.

Do I have to pay for everything for the wedding party?

"The people in your wedding party can be tricky,” says Allen, “as you (and they) may have varying expectations on what is and isn’t paid for.”

She advises that the most important thing is to keep your wedding party informed of what you will and won’t be covering.

If you are looking to enforce a dress code – for example, all your groomsmen in an expensive suit from a particular brand, or you want all your bridesmaids to have their hair and make-up done a particular way - the polite thing would be “to provide more than one option with the budget,” says Allen. “You should compromise if you want them to pay.”

If you are asking for certain tasks from your wedding party – planning a bachelorette night, making a speech, organising the cars – the polite thing to do is to thank them in your speeches, and gift them all with a thoughtful card and small token of your appreciation.

Bride at RACV

You can still be polite while having the wedding of your dreams. 

Do I have to invite all the wedding guests to my bachelorette or bachelor party?

No. While some family traditions may differ, a hens and bucks party is really about surrounding yourself with your nearest and dearest. 

If you are feeling guilty, “you can find another way to do something special with them,” says Allen. Consider a tiered event – for example, a bridal shower with older relatives, or a day section of your bucks with the older relatives involved before you head out for a night on the town. 

One suggestion – don’t invite people out to these evenings that are not invited to the big day, as it can cause confusion and hurt feelings. 

Do I have to invite everyone from the engagement party to the wedding? 

While opinions on this may differ, the politest thing to do is have everyone who was invited to the engagement party also be invited to your wedding. However, this isn’t always possible – whether it is due to budget reasons, venue capacity, COVID-19 safety protocols, extra children and partners, or perhaps you are going for a more intimate version of the big day. 

“It’s been a crazy few years,” says Allen, “If you make it clear that you are having a big engagement and smaller wedding, people will understand.”

Do I have to invite children? How do I word ‘no kids’ on the invitation?

It's okay if you want to have an adult-only event, but make sure to give your guests enough notice with your wedding invitation to arrange for alternative arrangements. Simply stating, ‘Adult-only event,’ or ‘Have a night off, and leave the kids with the sitter’ should send the message. 

However, note with this that there may be some contingencies – newborns, people arriving from interstate or overseas, or those who are unable to get childcare. “If you’re not having children and it is a destination wedding, you may need to organise a nanny or childminding service that people can use, or it may not be realistic for them to leave young children overnight,” Allen advises.  

Do I have to follow traditions?

“Every couple is different,” says Allen, “Step number one in wedding planning is having a chat with your partner and even your family about what is really important to you, and discussing some key traditions.”

While adding in ‘classic’ wedding traits like throwing the bouquet, having a first dance, or wearing a veil may have been traditional, don’t feel you have to do everything 'just because'. 

A wedding is your chance to have a completely unique event entirely curated by and for you, the happy couple – so Allen says to “find your own new traditions” to make it the day you want. 

Do I need to feed the wedding vendors? 

“Yes, it’s actually the law,” Allen advises. Many of your vendors – the band, photographer, videographer – are working a long shift on their feet and are entitled to a meal.

Discuss options with your caterer, who can sometimes provide discounted ‘vendor meal’ rates for your wedding suppliers. 

What is the timeframe for invitations and Save the Dates? 

Depending if travel is required, Allen recommends sending Save the Dates anywhere from four months to a year in advance, while wedding invitations should arrive two to three months ahead of the big day. 


wedding cakes at RACV

Your day, your way: a couple may elect to have a beautiful cake that showcases their personality or favourite colours. 

Can I make guests pay for their own food and drink? 

“It’s important to look after your guests,” says Allen. “You are inviting them out to this day, and this should include food, drink, and hospitality. You want them to have a good time – they’re your guests.” 

If struggling with budget, Allen suggests having an open conversation with your partner as to the kind of wedding that is affordable and hospitable for all involved. 

Do I have to have bonbonnieres? 

While it is up to the individual couple, this is one wedding tradition that can be ditched, says our expert. “Don’t spend money on items no one wants,” she says. Instead, she advises the couple to use the money “enhance your guests’ experience,” with something like a photo booth or flower wall.  

Can I send invitations digitally or make a wedding website?

Not only does going digital save on costs, but it’s also great for the environment, more efficient, and a handy way to store all your guest information in one go.

It has become common to send ‘e-vites,’ or email invitations, for weddings. It is also a great way to update all your guests should any last-minute changes occur.  

How do I politely word that we would like cash or registry items as wedding gifts? 

“In this modern era, it’s totally fine to do a registry, wishing well, or both.”

There are many phrases and poems for your wedding invitation that can be found online to word this tactfully, but she says not to worry too much, as wishing wells are “very common.”

As a guest - is it ever okay to wear white to a wedding? 

For this one, Allen advises just to check in to avoid any unpleasantness or faux pas. "If you’re close with the bride, check with her before wearing white," she says. "Lots of people forgo tradition now. If you don’t know the bride well - I would stay clear of wearing white unless it’s part of a theme." 

As a guest - how much should I spend on a wedding present? 

"This depends on so many factors!" says Allen. A gift or the gift of money can depend on you and your circumstances. For example, asks Allen, "how well do you know the couple? Have you travelled to attend the wedding? Have you already purchased an engagement or bridal shower gift? At the end of the day, most couples are just happy to be surrounded by their loved ones. Any contribution you are able to make towards their future will be an added bonus."

Do I need to send a thank-you note to my guests? 

“You should,” says Allen. If people have given you a gift, it is polite and proper wedding gift etiquette to send a thank you - and to be specific, not one generic email. 

“Common courtesy goes a long way,” she advises, “And a handwritten note is a classic - you can’t beat it.”