I was recently invited to a wedding of two southern families. What really struck me, among many oddities, was that the bride's parents sent out the invitations (unbeknownst to the groom and his parents) with "Black Tie Required' on the bottom. The Black Tie request left many guests on the groom's side upset, not owning gowns or tuxes, and therefore many declined the reception invitation, not having anything suitable to wear. When the bride was confronted, she said that she wanted a formal wedding, and admitted she didn't understand what Black Tie necessitated. Should something be said? Should supplementary cards be sent in clarification? Should the bride call all 300 guests and explain?
Dear Fit to Be Black-Tied:
When you have no idea what you’re doing, you deserve what you get, but those unto whom it is done don’t. Really, if Etiquetteer was the groom, Etiquetteer would be rethinking the consequences of marrying someone who wants something formal but has no idea how to achieve it. This is what comes from getting above your station and not knowing your place. It also, at last, shows the limits of Obedience to the Bride Omnipotent. It would be uncharitable to suggest that this was Machiavellian plot on behalf of the Mother of the Bride to cut down on the reception bills.
Two opportunities exist here, one for the bride’s family and one for the groom’s. The bride’s family should immediately communicate with everyone on the guest list to say that they meant “Black Tie Optional.” This is not Etiquetteer’s favorite dress code, but it’s Perfectly Suitable for this crisis. The bride still gets the formal wedding she thinks she wants but doesn’t understand, and everyone in the groom’s family can still wear their dark suits and knee-length dresses and feel correct. As fond as Etiquetteer is of written communications, in the 21st century, this is a job for email and the ubiquitious wedding website.
The groom’s family can reassert the perogative by claiming the rehearsal dinner the night before the wedding as an event they are hosting - and to which they can send out invitations without also checking with the bride’s family. Etiquetteer rather hopes they host a hoe-down or a squaredance or something at which everyone should wear denim and drink beer out of the bottle (even though that is most certainly not Perfectly Proper).
You can bet everyone will be watching this bride for further slip-ups, even after the wedding, so Etiquetteer hopes the bride writes each and every Lovely Note of Thanks on the day she receives each gift. She’s going to be paying for this error for quite awhile.
The moral of the story is, knowing what you want isn’t enough. You have to understand it, too. And also, that when planning a wedding, consideration of the guests should come first.