Formal Wedding Etiquette

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Mind Your P's and Q's

Showers are also given for the groom. In fact, this practice is becoming almost as popular as the somewhat jaded concept of the bachelor party. The tradition of bachelor parties won't ever completely die out, but even these parties tend to be a bit healthier than parties in the past.

The bride's family, the groom's family, or close friends might decide to honor the couple with an engagement party. The form of the party can vary widely from a cocktail party to a barbecue.

Invitations can be handwritten or printed or extended by telephone. Don't mention “engagement” on the invitations. The purpose of the engagement party is to celebrate the good news, not to suggest that a gift is expected. You don't have to worry about the obligations intrinsic to a wedding invitation list.


Bridesmaids or close friends of the bride usually give bridal showers. It is customary to ask the bride ahead of time what kind of shower she would like. Brides also should be very much aware that shower gifts are in addition to wedding gifts and constitute added expense. Thus it is only fair and kind to be just that—fair and kind—in suggesting the sort of gifts you would like. Kitchen gadget parties and garden parties can be creative, fun, and also easy on the budget.

Live and Learn

Congratulations are sometimes too fervidly put. When, for instance, the bride is a little past the bloom of youth and bright-ness, it is well for her friends and acquaintances not to be too gushingly insistent with their congratulations. To be so is rather to suggest that she has been successful against terrible odds.”

—Mrs. Humphry, Manners for 1909

No matter what, a shower invitation should never ask for money, and a host should never ask guests to contribute to the cost of the party. Showers should be small, intimate gatherings for friends, not fundraisers.

Although the bride should extend personal thanks for each gift as she opens it, sending handwritten thank-you notes is a gracious follow-up. A friend can unobtrusively take notes during the shower so that the bride will know for sure which gift came from which person.


Many couples announce their engagement in the newspaper. It is best to call your local paper and ask for its requirements. The paper might have a standard form for you to complete and return with a photograph. If the bride and groom are from different towns, contact both local newspapers.

If your newspaper doesn't have a form, write the announcement yourself. The bride's parents announce the engagement of their daughter. If the parents are divorced and wish to use both names, the announcement should read this way:

    Mr. William Keates and Mrs. Maura Keates (or Mrs. Daniel Johns if she is remarried) announce the engagement of their daughter, Eileen, to Alan Barts, son of Dr. and Mrs. Edward Barts of Great Neck, Long Island.

Live and Learn

When acknowledging the news that a couple is engaged, tradition dictates that we congratulate the man and wish the woman every happiness. The thinking behind this practice is that the man is to be congratulated for winning his prize after a long and difficult chase. Congratulating the woman would imply that she had been pursuing the man.

In the next paragraph, add information about where each person went to school, honors received, and current occupation. Add the wedding date at the end of the announcement. If you send a photograph, attach a caption to the back of it. Do not write on the back of the picture because it may interfere with the reproduction process. It is best to type the announcement, double-spaced.

There is no guarantee that the newspaper will run your announcement, but the smaller the paper, the better your chances. Send the announcement to your local community papers as well as the big-city daily to have the best chance of getting a clipping for your scrapbook. Some papers may not run a wedding announcement if they published a couple's engagement announcement, particularly if the wedding comes soon after the engagement.

Breaking Up

If you break your engagement, call your friends and family and tell them. You do not owe anyone an explanation, and it is best not to delve into specifics or drift into character assassination, no matter how strong the temptation.

You must return any wedding gifts you've received. It is best to do so simply by mail. Include a note that says something like “While I am very grateful for your gift and good wishes, I must return it because we have cancelled our engagement.”

If formal wedding invitations have already been sent, you will need to send a formal cancellation. Here's an example of one:

Dr. and Mrs. Paul Mitchell

announce that the marriage of their daughter



David Peters

will not take place.

If you have sent informal invitations, send each person who received one a brief, informal note:

    Dear Tom:

    This is to let you know that Henry and I have broken our engagement.


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Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Etiquette © 2004 by Mary Mitchell. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

To order this book visit the Idiot's Guide web site or call 1-800-253-6476.


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