Bridal Basics: Wedding Etiquette from Anna Post

Anna Post, author of Emily Post’s Wedding Parties, answers brides’ hardest questions

Q Help! Wedding gifts are arriving fast and furious. I know I should write back within three months, but with my job, finalizing wedding plans, and attending pre-wedding events, I’m having a tough time keeping up with the thank-you notes. Do you have any ideas?

A Good for you for understanding the importance of the thank-you note. The three-month guideline isn’t meant to add stress, it’s simply to give you breathing room to acknowledge and show appreciation to all who have sent you a wedding gift. With all the final preparations to attend to and gifts arriving almost daily, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. Let’s tame that paper tiger.

As a kid, I always tried to get out of writing thank-you notes—not because I didn’t appreciate the present but because the writing felt too much like homework. Turn a chore into a pleasure. Pretty note paper or cards, a nice pen, music, and a cup of tea or glass of wine—note writing could become a relaxing part of your busy day.
Now, cut the job in half. That’s right, engage your fiancé to do his share of the thanking. You can do an even split or perhaps he thanks his relatives and friends and you thank yours. Give him a box of his very own stationery and a copy of your guest list so that he has correct names and addresses.
Ideally, a response should be written the day you receive the gift. Realistically that’s not always possible so set a daily or weekly goal. Four notes a day adds up to twenty to twenty-eight notes per week – double if your fiancé is doing the same. This will keep you from falling behind and, while the pleasure of opening the gift is still fresh in your mind, make it easier to convey your enthusiasm, excitement, and gratitude. In a real pinch, you can email a guest that the gift has arrived and that a note will follow shortly, but you absolutely must send the note! The email is no substitute for a warm, appreciative, hand written thank-you.

Q My mom has just offered me her bridal gown. It’s lovely, but it’s not what I’ve had my heart set on. How do I say no without really hurting her feelings?

A Before you say anything, I am going to give you my favorite piece of advice: Love every idea for five minutes. What does it mean? Loving every idea for five minutes means giving people a chance to participate by voicing their opinions and allowing those opinions to be considered.
In your case, this means giving your mom the chance to enjoy discussing the idea of you wearing her dress. Even though you have your own thoughts on your perfect dress, letting your mom reminisce about how much she loved her dress and what it meant to her includes her in the process. Even if you choose not to wear the dress, love the idea for five minutes: “Okay, Mom, I’ll think about it. Why don’t I go try it on with you?”
This way your mom gets to see and admire you wearing her dress, while you’re still free to say, “This is so beautiful, and thank you so much for offering it, but I really don’t think it’s what I had in mind.” Or, you could ask to use part of the dress—the veil, the train, the lace—and incorporate it in the dress you envision.
Regardless, the idea is to at least consider someone else’s ideas. You don’t have to make any promises—and, in fact, you shouldn’t, unless you definitely plan to go with their suggestion, since that really would lead to hurt feelings. The concept is a benevolent way to include others in your decision-making process without necessarily having to sacrifice your own ideas or vision. Who knows, the dress may look fabulous on you!

Q Who pays for the bridesmaids’ hair and makeup? I would like my bridesmaids to have up-dos and am thinking of scheduling all of us at a salon the afternoon of the wedding. It would be a really nice way for all of us to be together before the wedding. I’m just not sure if I should pay for all of them, or if each bridesmaid should pay for her own services?

A Good question, as there is a lot of gray area here. Traditionally, bridesmaids would take care of their own hair and makeup and it was up to each individual whether she did it herself or went to a salon. If she chose the salon, she paid. However, you mention that you would like your bridesmaids to wear a particular hairstyle. In my opinion, this tips the balance in favor of you paying for the salon. By the way, there’s no “rule” that says all your bridesmaids must wear the same hairstyle or even the same dress. Your bridesmaids will want to look their best, and you wouldn’t want to insist on a style that makes one of them uncomfortable, so check in with them to be sure that everyone is onboard with your request.
Today, the group outing to the salon for hair, nails, and makeup is increasingly popular, and it is a fun way for the bride and her bridesmaids to be together as “just the girls.” But before you pick up the phone and make a booking, think about your bridesmaids’ budgets. Dress, alterations, shoes, accessories, travel, shower, and wedding gifts can add up to a big number quickly. An updo and makeup plus tip could easily run $100-$150 per person or more. Ask the salon to give you an estimate, then talk to your maid of honor and ask her to poll the bridesmaids. If even one says, “Gosh I’d love to but…” then I’d say to drop the idea, or, if you can afford it, treat them to the salon as your present to them.

Q My fiancé and I both have a number of relatives live far away from where we’re having our wedding. In this down economy we’re worried that many wouldn’t be able to afford the trip, but then would be obligated to send a gift. Should we send them an invitation out of respect and affection or would they think it an imposition? We also have some long lost friends we’ve reconnected with on Facebook. Should we invite them?

A While guests and gifts may seem inextricably entwined, let’s set aside your gift problem for a moment and focus on your guest list. For the long-somewhat-lost friends who live across the country or who are otherwise in and out of touch, consider sending a wedding announcement instead of an invitation. Sent immediately after your wedding, an announcement shares your happy news, but comes with no gift obligation.
Out of “respect and affection” as you’ve so nicely said, do send invitations to close relatives — parents, siblings, grandparents, aunts and uncles — even if they live halfway around the world. Most likely they will be pleased to be included, but hurt if excluded. Plus, they might surprise you and make the effort to attend. As you consider other relatives like cousins of varying degrees, you and your fiancé should consider whether an invitation or an announcement is the way to go. Check in with your moms who may have some insight. Bad economy or not, do invite your close friends; your wedding wouldn’t be the same without them, and they’ll surely want to be there.
As to your gift dilemma, take heart. Giving wedding gifts is such an ingrained part of our American culture that even if you made it known that you would prefer “no gifts,” some guests would give them anyway, out of love and affection for you. Remember, too, that the choice of a gift is always up to the giver, and a meaningful gift needn’t be extravagant. As to being accused of “fishing” for gifts, it’s unlikely a close friend or relative would consider an invitation to your wedding in that light.

Categories: Planning, WeddingsEtiquette