Dear Etiquetteer: I am invited to a family member's wedding in another state this fall, and expect to be able to attend. I shall be attending toute seule, as two of the children are in college, one will be in the thick of things in high school, and my bride believes her place is at home, making sure he's staying on task. Although the bride and groom to be are in their late thirties, this is their first marriage, and I'm just thrilled for them.
My questions are manifold: first is the obvious what to wear. Is a dark suit acceptable? If so, white shirt or light-coloured?
Second, the rehearsal dinner is at someone's home, so is that a suit occasion, or 'smart casual,' which I tend to think of as a dress shirt, open at the neck, and dark slacks?
Is there a footwear custom of which I should be aware in New York? In Minnesota, it is customary to remove one's shoes upon entering someone's home--with snow and slush covering the ground half the year, it makes sense to doff footwear so as to avoid tracking that mess into your hostess's carpeting. But I was not taught this social grace growing up in Michigan, so I don't know whether it's regional, or just a reflection of my mother's agricultural background.
The invitations say nothing about dress, and I'm confident that if I ask my brother or his wife, they will assure me that what's important is my presence, not what I'm wearing, which is characteristically kind of them, but ultimately unhelpful.
Gift? What is considered proper these days? Since they aren't teenagers, just getting started in life, they probably don't need a silver fondue pot or a half dozen toasters, and they've had the grace to omit any mention of a registry in their invitations. Would a nice card, with a check inside it be appropriate, and if so, is there a standard amount?
The couple have arranged for a block of hotel rooms at a reasonable rate. Is it expected that I will stay there, our is it perfectly acceptable to make my own arrangements elsewhere?
Finally, my son is attending college about four hours away from the wedding location, and I would like to spend a few hours with him the day after the wedding; is it permissible to leave the reception 'early,' say, around 10pm, to get started on that drive, or is the expectation that the guests will remain until the newlyweds retire?
That's a forthright series of questions, and Etiquetteer has answers:
WHAT TO WEAR: The invitation should have the dress code on it, but since you say that it doesn't, you must ask your brother and his wife. If they, as you predict, say "We really just want you to be there, it doesn't matter what you wear!" you must ask in reply, "What are YOU wearing?" Base your choices on what they're planning to wear. (But really, Etiquetteer cannot understand why hosts for big family events like weddings neglect adding basic information guests need like what to wear.)
REMOVAL OF FOOTWEAR: It is never Perfectly Proper to expect people to remove their shoes in one's home without warning them in advance. Again, you must ask your hosts what they expect since they've neglected to include this on the invitation, but Etiquetteer rather expect they'll tell you to leave your shoes on.
GIFT: A check is always Perfectly Proper as a wedding gift. Etiquetteer is delighted to hear that registry information was omitted from the invitation! That said, you may now ask if there is a registry and purchase something from it as your gift, if you wish. Etiquetteer is not going to suggest a gift amount. That depends entirely on the means and inclination of you and your wife.
ACCOMMODATIONS: The guest block has been arranged for the convenience of wedding guests. If it's more convenient for you to stay elsewhere, then it is Perfectly Proper for you to do so.
DEPARTURE: Married couples aren't royalty (though some brides clearly think of themselves as princesses) so you don't have to wait for them to make their departure before yours. It's customary, however, for guests to remain until the couple have been showered with rice (or birdseed (for the politically correct), bubbles (for the whimsical) or rose petals (for the romantic with unlimited resources)), so you should tip off the family that you'll need to be on the road before festivities end.
Next weekend is Labor Day, the official -- and often sad -- end of Summer. Etiquetteer expect you to join him in carefully folding away your white linen and treeing your white shoes until Memorial Day comes again next year. In the meantime, please do send your autumnal questions about manners to <queries_at_etiquetteer_dot_com.>