The weddings of today call for new social customs. Jo Bryant, a long-term contributor to the famous Debrett’s guide to etiquette, shares some tips for the big day
The weddings of today call for new social customs
If Four Weddings and a Funeral taught us anything, it is that a day spent celebrating marriage can be filled with love, happiness, romance and… the very real and present danger of offending someone. From pacifying the great aunt who assumes she will be invited to dinner and dancing, to making a seating plan that includes your divorced parents, your best friend’s latest fling and the groom’s badly behaved nephew, wedding planning is a minefield. Even more so once you throw in modern add-ons such as destination weddings, saucy hashtags and party favours.
When it comes to etiquette, there is no greater source than Debrett’s—an authority on how to behave in polite society since 1769. Founded in London (where else?), it has spent two and a half centuries providing the people of the UK with invaluable advice. So we asked Jo Bryant, a long-term Debrett’s contributor and the editor of its recent wedding’s guide, for advice.
“I find that brides and grooms mostly struggle when they’re pleasing too many people at once,” she says on the phone from London. “And that’s why, in the planning stages, it’s essential to be as clear as possible. Firstly with yourself and your fiancé— work out, alone, what exactly it is that you want. And then bring in your parents and see what their vision is. That’s when the art of compromise comes in.”
Bryant believes that the fatal mistake is being too dogmatic. Whether you’re a bride determined to get married on a distant island, a groom who wants to invite everyone he ever had a beer with or a mother-in-law wanting to recreate every family tradition, the best possible move you can make is to be flexible.
“It’s essential,” she says. “When it comes to wedding planning, we all get caught up in what we want, and while of course you need to be happy, being headstrong and refusing to compromise will lead to a very rocky ride for everyone involved. Be kind to yourself and remember you’re planning an enormous event and spending a huge amount—don’t underestimate the importance of making sure people are getting along and how much happier that will make you on the big day than having the exact colour scheme you want.”
The guest list is famously one of the easiest ways to cause offence. Are the rules changing? Once it was “No ring, no bring”—but is that archaic in 2019, when people live together long before marriage? And now that couples are marrying later and paying for more of the wedding themselves, can they overrule parents who want to invite a second cousin when there’s no space for their college friends?
“Well, firstly you need to make sure you prioritise VIPs, the wedding party and close family, then good friends,” says Bryant. “If people haven’t been with partners very long, then you really don’t need to invite them—just tell your friend that they can’t bring their latest squeeze. These days you should have an engaged, married or live together rule—although it is very important to have that conversation with your friend before the invitation falls through the letterbox with just one name on it.”
She advises a similar approach to family members you don’t feel need to be there or friends who you would love to invite but simply can’t squeeze on the list. “Tell your parents why having a good school friend there would mean so much more to you than an aunt you rarely see, and call up your friends and explain that you’ve chosen to have a small wedding for practical reasons, but that they still mean a lot to you. And if your parents are divorced, speak to them separately about how important it is for you to have a happy day, and then seat them as far apart from each other as possible, but both at the top table, and pray for the best.”
It might be hard to keep the good news to yourself, but Bryant urges people to phone or meet up with family and good friends before the ring photo hits social media
These days, we have so much more to deal with than a complicated guest list: social media rears its head from the day you get engaged. It might be hard to keep the good news to yourself, but Bryant urges people to phone or meet up with family and good friends before the ring photo hits social media. “It should go: parents first, in person if you can, followed by siblings and grandparents,” she says. “From there, you’ll probably want to call your closest friends.” Only after that can the diamond encrusted selfie be unleashed.
Then, on the day itself, you need to work out if you want to set Instagram alight with the dazzling image of you in a dress, or if you’d rather control the social media posts yourself. “Some people love the social media element and some people don’t,” says Bryant. “It’s completely up to you, but you need to work that out on your own. If so, great: send out a funny hashtag on the invitation. If not, you need to be upfront and ask people not to post until after the day.”