The New Wedding Rules Every 20-Something Should Know

Photo: Everett Collection.
Once you hit your mid-20s, it may feel like you have to go to a different wedding every weekend. But there seems to be a lot of ambiguity around wedding etiquette. Times have changed since the days of ultra-formal nuptials, but what about the "rules" for today's guests? Do you really have a year to give a gift? Is it ever okay to ask for a plus-one? Sometimes it's hard to know what to do (and what not to do).

Weddings may be more hip and modern since your parents got hitched, but it turns out some etiquette rules never go out of style. We asked Lizzie Post, great-great granddaughter of Emily Post and co-author of Emily Post’s Wedding Etiquette (sixth edition), and Jennifer Spector, newlywed-at-large for online wedding registry site Zola, to help us navigate the tough questions. Ahead, we've compiled their advice into 10 essential rules every twentysomething should know in order to be a gracious wedding guest.
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Illustrated by Mallory Heyer.
We know this is generally frowned upon, but under certain circumstances, there's at least some wiggle room, right? Wrong. Post says it’s never okay to ask for a plus-one if you aren't invited to bring a guest. “The reasoning is because you just don’t know what the budget is, and it is rude to bring a guest to a party of any kind, especially a wedding,” she says.
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Illustrated by Mallory Heyer.
“If the bride and groom have asked for you specifically to wear white, then it’s okay,” says Post. Otherwise, you're pretty much out of luck — though Post admits she’s seen wedding guests wear either white or ivory at almost every wedding she’s attended. Even if you have reason to believe that the couple won't mind, other guests will be throwing shade at you all night. Why even go there?

To be safe, Post suggests staying away from beige, very pale champagne colors, or very pale pinks, though she says, “If you have a mostly white dress that has a pattern on it, you’re okay.” Just don’t try to steal the bride’s thunder — and whatever you wear, make sure it looks nothing like a wedding dress.
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Illustrated by Mallory Heyer.
This is a tough one. “It really depends on the wedding,” says Post. If it’s a wedding that includes a lot of your coworkers, depending on the nature of your work, Post would either abstain altogether or stick to the one-drink rule. Harsh. But weddings are inherently social, and if you don’t need to worry about your professional image, go ahead and get a little tipsy. Just know (and abide by) your limit. Post recommends that you go slow, make sure to eat, and drink water. In other words, don't get so trashed that you'll regret the way you behaved — or upset the couple.
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Illustrated by Mallory Heyer.
“If you’re invited and you would like to go, that’s great,” says Post. But if you’re not personally invited, she guides against trying to wiggle your way in as someone else's plus-one. (And c'mon guys, that's just plain creepy.) A trickier scenario is when you and a former significant other are both friends with a couple and are both invited to the wedding. If you think the drama surrounding your breakup or emotional anxiety over seeing each other might draw attention or interfere with the wedding, Post advises not going.
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Illustrated by Mallory Heyer.
Most weddings these days fall into one of two categories: Either the couple has a hashtag and they want you to Tweet, Instagram, and Facebook everything to your heart's content, or they ask that you put your phone away and not post anything until later. “Talk to a member of the wedding party, a member of the couple's family, or the couple themselves to find out what their wishes are for managing social media postings, because you don’t want to scoop their news,” Post says. And if that's not doable, she thinks it’s best to let the bride and groom post the first photos.

You might also want to consider that the couple has probably hired a professional photographer to document their ceremony, and you may inadvertently interfere with that while trying to snap your own, unsolicited photos.
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Illustrated by Mallory Heyer.
“As long as everyone is single and available, there are no limits to hooking up,” says Post. Though she suggests being somewhat discreet about it — meaning no sloppy makeout sessions or wayward hands on the dance floor. “That should be left for other nights, or at least, confined to other places.” If things are headed in a hot-and-bothered direction, excuse yourself from the party and take the PDA elsewhere. “But if it’s a quick kiss or a first kiss with someone you’ve just met, that’s no big deal,” she adds. Just be mindful of the audience you’re in front of.
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Illustrated by Mallory Heyer.
According to Spector, that etiquette still stands — technically, the couple has no grounds to be offended if they haven't received a gift before their one-year anniversary. But unless it's due to financial hardship, why not just try to have your gift-giving coincide with the event? The truth is that even though you can wait the year, it doesn't mean you should. Some couples may feel a little bit hurt that you came to their wedding but didn't bother to give a gift until a year later, even if they know about the grace period.

On the flip side, it's also customary for the couple to send a thank-you note within three months of receiving the gift, and you're entitled to be a little peeved if you don't receive one in a timely fashion.
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Illustrated by Mallory Heyer.
It seems like many guests think of a registry as a loose suggestion, but that's not entirely accurate. Unless you are gifting something like, say, a family heirloom or other personally meaningful item, don't take it upon yourself to decide that some other item is a better gift than what they've asked for. “You should stick to the registry, whether you are giving a physical gift or contributing to a fund,” advises Spector. “Many couples spend a lot of time considering what they would like to build their home together, and following their lead is the best gift possible,” she says.

Plus, a lot of couples today don't have a lot of space, so an unexpected gift, no matter how well-intended, may be hard to fit into their home. “One of my wedding guests sent me tables without a note — and I live in a 450-square-foot apartment,” says Spector. “If you are reading this and sent them to me, thank you…but I had to move them to my parents' house.”

If you don't like anything on the registry, stick with cash.
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Illustrated by Mallory Heyer.
“If there is a dedicated party, I would recommend bringing a gift,” says Spector. She says it can be something small, like a bottle of champagne for the engagement party, or a framed photo of the couple for the bridal shower. “One of my friends did not have an engagement party, so I sent her a cookie cake for her engagement, since she loves chocolate chips more than anything!” If there is no event, then a gift is not necessary — though if you have the resources and the inclination, no one is likely to complain that you were too generous!


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Illustrated by Mallory Heyer.
“You don't have to do anything, but it is nice to send a gift with a note saying that you are sorry that you couldn't be there, and wish them well,” says Spector. When she can't attend a wedding, she has usually sent gifts; other times, if the couple lives in New York City, she and her husband might take the newlyweds out for dinner after the wedding to hear all about their big day in person.
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