Etiquetteer's Advice to 21st Century Brides, Vol. 13, Issue 53

Dear Etiquetteer: My beloved eldest niece - she who resembles me more than either of her parents - is getting married almost a year from now. So far she has save-the-date cards ordered, but as her mother had an awful upbringing in terms of manners, expectations, etc., I know she will not be able guide the bride-to-be. What are some of the pitfalls of which a bride-to-be should be wary in 2014-2015?

Dear Aunt Bridey:

A Young Woman approaching the altar has many pitfalls to avoid, including many within herself. The saddest and most obvious is the delusion that one's wedding is just as important to everyone else in the entire world as it is to oneself. The next is that everyone in the entire world is going to spend every cent they have gratifying her every whim; this is what Etiquetteer calls the Gaping Maw of Bridal Need. Etiquetteer hates to disillusion these women (actually, that's not true; Etiquetteer is fiercely eager to shred their Veils of Deliberate Illusion), but even one's fiancé is not likely as interested in the wedding as the bride. In fact, no one cares about the bride. They care about the bride caring about them. Surprise them all, and make your wedding guests the focus of your wedding!

Etiquetteer has some ideas about Brides Today and Perfect Propriety. Dear Bride:

  1. Be a giver, not a perpetual taker. No one likes satisfying the Gaping Maw of Bridal Need. No one owes you the wedding of your dreams.
  2. Ask yourself if this is really about you and your mother and/or mother-in-law fighting to see who can come out on top.
  3. Ask yourself if you want a perfect wedding, or if you really just want to boss people around. Be honest. If the latter, get the ladder and elope.
  4. Think carefully about the experience your wedding guests are going to have and make absolutely sure that your wedding will be a party they'll remember for the right reasons.
  5. Make the conscious decision that you're going to have a good time with all these people, not have an anxious time trying to avoid them so you can be with your fiancé/husband. After all, you'll have him for the rest of your life!
  6. It's a wedding, not a chorus line. Choose the number of friends you want for bridal attendants, not vice versa. An even number of attendants is not necessary - good heavens, attendants themselves are not necessary! (And you'd be surprised how many of your friends will secretly thank you for sparing them the burden.)
  7. Don't be so selfish that you force your attendants to buy hideous dresses they'll never wear again.
  8. Don't skimp on a gift for each of your attendants, and don't let your fiancé skimp either. They're your friends after all, yes?
  9. Consider skipping the vulgarity of a bachelorette trip to Las Vegas and instead hosting a traditional bridesmaids luncheon the week before the wedding.
  10. Expect to have a tantrum, and expect to apologize afterward for it.
  11. Under no circumstances should you plan to do anything on the day of the wedding but be the bride. This means no assembly of rice bags or souvenirs or table centerpieces, no cooking, no nothing.
  12. Do not publicize information about your bridal registry until people ask, and then send it to them privately. NEVER include registry information on a save-the-date card or invitation. People do still want to believe that they've been invited for the Pleasure of their Company, and not for the Generosity of their Purses.
  13. Lay in some good stationery now and send your Lovely Notes of thanks as gifts are received. You may NOT wait until after the honeymoon, and you certainly are NOT given until the first anniversary to send these.
  14. Keep it simple. The budget for ostentatious little touches might be better spent on upgrading the food.
  15. Most important, plan to speak to every wedding guest personally to thank them for attending. They have taken a lot of time, trouble, and treasure to celebrate with you, and they expect to get to speak with you. They deserve your attention. Etiquetteer, of course, remains devoted to the idea of a receiving line - while recognizing that they are routinely abused by wedding guests (not always elderly ladies) who expect to have long detailed conversations with the Happy Couple. Another solution is to circulate among the tables during the wedding banquet.

Now, Aunt Bridey, Etiquetteer feels the need to advise you not to insinuate yourself too aggressively into the plans for your niece's wedding. If you and she are so truly alike and already have a strong relationship, Etiquetteer predicts that she will reach out to you to be engaged in some way in the planning. But it would not be Perfectly Proper to usurp the place of the mother of the bride, regardless of how accurate your assessment of her abilities is. You have a beautiful opportunity to set a good example by hosting a meal in honor of the Happy Couple's engagement for your own set of guests, with all the proper accoutrements. But let Etiquetteer be clear that this should not take place later than three months before the wedding, and it is certainly not a bridal shower. Things get busy enough the closer one gets to the Big Day.

Etiquetteer wishes joy to the Happy Couple, and peace to all involved!

Black for Bridesmaids, Vol. 13, Issue 38

Dear Etiquetteer: How can black dresses for bridesmaids be outlawed?

Dear Blacked:

One of the drawbacks of living in a nation of Freedoms is that people have Freedom of Taste. While they have the Freedom to express Good Taste, they also have the Freedom to express Bad Taste, or at least the Freedom to Ignore Good Examples. So alas, black dresses for bridesmaids will be with us while the Bridal Industry declares them fashionable.

Etiquetteer considers that this trend began because brides wanted their bridal parties to look sophisticated rather than, well, bridal. Reverting to black is a rather unimaginative way to to do, as it's more than possible to present a sophisticated appearance in other colors than black. Even navy blue is magnificently sophisticated without being black! Surely there is a Happy Balance somewhere between Girlish Pink Tulle and Mourning Black Satin, yes?

What Etiquetteer would like to see changed most is the slavish devotion to strapless gowns for brides and their attendants. As the late Edith Head, one of the great costume designers of 20th century Hollywood, famously said, "Fit the dress to the girl, not the girl to the dress!" Not every figure is flattered by a strapless gown. But Fashion is a fickle goddess, and brides may only "repent at leisure" having indulged in the excesses of their times. Remember all those headbands with gigantic poufs of veiling behind them in the 1980s?

Which leads Etiquetteer to conclude with the timeless advice "You can never go wrong with a classic."

Another Broke Bridesmaid, Vol. 7 Issue 17

Dear Etiquetteer: I have a bit of a dilemma! I am a bridesmaid in a coworker's wedding. This makes me infinitely happy as I adore her. Her maid of honor, not so much. I understand and appreciate her stress in aiding the bride, but I am starting to get frustrated. I have spent over $1,000 on this wedding buying a dress and two round-trip plane tickets to attend the bridal shower and wedding. Despite this great expense I am being asked for even more money for "expenses" that I do not understand. These requests range from $50 to $200. I am planning on opting out of the combined bridesmaid's gift and instead am buying a gift with my other coworkers that better fits my budget.

Is it appropriate to politely refuse to fork over any more money? I am a poor college student with little disposable income. I'm starting to think I'll have to sacrifice buying books to keep up! Help! 

Dear Broke Bridesmaid: 

Etiquetteer has heard of Bridezilla - he has even met her a few times - but never Maidzilla. Etiquetteer declares that you, and other Beleaguered Bridesmaids, need not contribute to "expenses" in which you have had no selection or decision. And really, Etiquetteer would have excused you from attending the bridal shower in person due to the distance and expense involved. Someday American women will realize that the fantasy of having a Great Big Wedding need not be based on the outmoded stereotype of a clique of 19-year-old high school graduates who all live in the same neighborhood and can band together easily for wedding activities.

When Maidzilla solicits or invoices you again, you must tell her - with Perfect Propriety and Complete Calm - that you're unable to contribute any more money to the wedding effort since funding your education is now in jeopardy, which you KNOW is not what the bride wants for you. Maidzilla may toss a little tantrum at you; while it may be tempting to respond in kind, use all your control to Remain Calm. Taking the high road will only make her look even more petty and grasping. 

Random Issues, Vol. 7, Issue 2

Dear Etiquetteer:

I recently received an informal party invitation via text message on my cell phone. Unfortunately, the message was unsigned, and I did not recognize the origination phone number. What is the proper response in such a situation?

Dear TXTD:

You could start with a reverse phone number search on one of the Web search engines, such as, to see if you recognize the owner of the phone number. Otherwise Etiquetteer would think you Perfectly Proper in disregarding an anonymous invitation.

Dear Etiquetteer:

What’s the best way for me to tip my hairdresser? Should I just hand her the tip or give it to her in a little envelope? Does it matter if she’

 s with another client or should I wait until I can get her alone?

Dear Cut and Colored:

The best way to tip never calls attention to the act of tipping. So if you can discreetly slip your tip to her while shaking hands, preferably before you’ve left her to settle with the cashier, that’

 s best. Under the circumstances, Etiquetteer would say that the little envelope is a too fancy for everyday tipping at a salon. For your hairdresser, save the envelope for your holiday tip, which would be the equivalent or a regular cut.

Now of course this means arriving at the salon with enough small bills to tip without having to get change from the cashier. Does Etiquetteer remember to do this? Almost never! And by the time Etiquetteer has gotten enough change to tip, his barber usually has another client in the chair. When that happens, Etiquetteer usually slips his tip under something on the barber’

 s stand (like his schedule or a bottle of Clubman Talc or something), says "Thanks, [Insert Name of Barber Here]," and leaves. Etiquetteer enjoys the undivided attention of his barber too much to deprive others of that same attention.

Dear Etiquetteer:

Someone in my office just received an invitation to a book launch that’

 s being held in Singapore. The invitation specifies "Smart Casual" as the dress code. What does this mean?Dear Smarting:In the old days, for which Etiquetteer does pine on occasion, "Informal" would have been most Perfectly Proper. On the other hand, that distinction involved jackets and ties for the gentlemen. "Casual" was supposed to get around that, but then too many people started using "Casual" as an excuse for "sloppy."

While not pretending to know much about dress codes in Singapore, Etiquetteer will put forward that "smart casual" is likely to mean that ties are not required and that everything one wears be very pressed (even denim) or highly polished. No holes, patches, spots, please, and no scuffed shoes!

Dear Etiquetteer:

I’m planning to get married later this year. Do I have to have a maid of honor? I’

 m afraid of offending any of my close friends by choosing one over the others.

Dear Bride to Be:

You may be surprised to hear this, but you don’t have to have ANY attendants at all, not even bridesmaids. All you really need is a groom, an officiant, and a couple witnesses to make sure it’

 s legal.

Seriously, no maid or matron of honor is required for a wedding. When Etiquetteer’s parents got married at First Methodist Church all those years ago, Etiquetteer’s mother selected two close friends for her bridesmaids, and neither was singled out as maid of honor. And this in spite of the fact that Etiquetteer’s father had a best man and around eight ushers. Invite those close to you to attend you, and don’t worry about what to call them or whether you have equal numbers or not. It’s not nearly as important as knowing that you’

 ve picked the right spouse.


Random Issues, Vol. 5, Issue 29

Dear Etiquetteer:

Do you think the term "Lezbollah" will ever take off as a way to describe lesbian activists?

Dear Tiresome:

Oh please. "Lezbollah" is rather like one of those words from the David Letterman Top Ten List of Words That Never Caught On, "Hitleriffic:" it sounds really catchy and upbeat, but it’s Wildly Inappropriate. Etiquetteer recommends another semester of PC 101 for you.

Dear Etiquetteer:

I’ve just had the terrible experience of cleaning out my closet and finding a Christmas gift I was supposed to give to one of my neighbors last Christmas. She must think I’ve snubbed her! How can I correct this now?

Dear Absentminded:

Clearly you must invite your neighbor over for "Christmas in August" one evening. Serve Christmas cookies on red and green napkins, pour a glass of cold eggnog, and give her her present. You could even put on a Santa hat and those annoying Christmas light bulb earrings that blink on and off. Just think of this as an opportunity to grovel in a reallyspectacular way. Remember what they say in real estate: if you can’

t hide it, paint it red!

Dear Etiquetteer:

Do you think you can handle another wedding question? My fiancé and I are getting married later this year and are working out what we want the attendants to wear. The women aren’t a problem; we’ve already told them to wear black (you’ll probably get us in trouble for that). We’ve come to a disagreement about the men, though. Both of us will have on tuxedos, but the guests are just being told to come in jackets and ties. We think that asking the men to wear a dark gray suit would be OK, but we feel bad about asking them to buy a suit. And they’d all have to be the same suit, so they’d look uniform in the photos. On the other hand, there aren’t a lot of rental places that will rent suits. What would you advise us to do?

Dear Grooming:

Elope, just to keep those poor ladies from having to wear black to a wedding!

No, no, seriously, let’s look at this from the beginning. Etiquetteer feels compelled to remind you that this is the sacrament of Marriage, not a summer stock production number. Etiquetteer has some grave concerns about the ideas you’ve suggested. First and foremost, what’s all this about you being in black tie and your attendants in suits? One is evening clothes and the other is day clothes; to combine them as you suggest will look tacky. While Etiquetteer is not fond of combining a formally dressed wedding party with casually dressed wedding guests – a particularly American custom –

Etiquetteer would rather see you and your men attendants all in tuxedos or all in dark suits (that need not match). That will certainly promote the uniformity you claim to seek. You can provide different boutonnieres for yourselves to shake up the mix.


The Tale of the Princess Bridezilla, Vol. 5, Issue 16

Dear Etiquetteer: Recently, I had a conversation with a friend who is in the midst of planning her wedding. I am a member of the wedding party and I found many of the things she is doing to be extremely cheap and a little offensive.1. She is adamant about not walking around to each table at the reception to greet/thank her guests for attending. (The ceremony and reception are at the same place, so there’s no receiving line before the reception begins.) She feels it is her day and she is spending so much money that she wants to enjoy it and not waste time thanking her guests. Is this appropriate or is the tradition of walking around table to table to greet your guests at the wedding reception not the current practice?2. She is not sending out a save-the-date because, again, she does not want to waste money on printing them when she doesn’t want half of her wedding guest list (from out of town) to attend because the wedding is already very expensive. I am sure not everyone sends save-the-date cards but the reasoning behind it is, again, insensitive.3. She is very adamant about not having wedding favors (which is completely fine.) She plans, however, on taking the $600 dollars she would spend on favors and only donating half to a charity. The cards on the table will read, "In lieu of wedding favors we have made a donation to [insert charity name.]" What I do not find perfectly proper is making guests believe you are so genuine when making this donation but really you are keeping half of the money for yourself. Do you agree? Is this the usual practice when a couple chooses not to do wedding favors?4. Last but not least, she told me in a curt manner that she refuses to do gifts for her wedding party (16 total for bride and groom) because it is too expensive. Even if I was not in the wedding party, I find this in poor taste not to thank your wedding party in some small way for spending so much money to be a part of your special day. Do you agree, is this perfectly proper?Dear Bridesmaid of Bridezilla:Your friend defines the Princess Bridezilla. She is evil and must be destroyed . . . which may happen after the wedding when she finds she has no friends left. Who does she think she is, Kathleen Battle? Etiquetteer was appalled with two Ps reading your letter, so let’s demolish her sanctimonious selfishness point by point:1. You’ve got it a little mixed up here. The current practice is to walk among the tables, but the traditionis the receiving line. Etiquetteer really prefers the latter (you don’t miss anyone that way) but rather likes the former, too. Princess Bridezilla will find herself in hot water if she doesn’t do either! Etiquetteer’s Wedding Survey revealed that 87% of wedding guests expect to speak face-to-face with the bride and groom. That’s not "hope to speak," but "expect to speak." Were Etiquetteer getting married, Etiquetteer would find getting to talk to everyone the most enjoyable part of the day!2. Technically one doesn’t have to send a save-the-date card, but it is a very welcome courtesy for those who will need to arrange air transportation and accommodations. If Princess Bridezilla doesn’t even want these people to come to the wedding anyway, Etiquetteer would like to know why she doesn’t just send a wedding announcement and not invite them at all. That would be more Perfectly Proper and less a back-handed compliment.3. Wedding favors are optional. Etiquetteer has received some lovely ones but also been to beautiful weddings where no favors were given. To call attention to their absence will only make the guests feel short-changed.You know, the Holy Bible is frequently a wonderful source of etiquette advice. Here Etiquetteer must turn to the Gospel of Matthew 6:5-6: "And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are; for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, they have their reward. But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret . . . " Do you see what Etiquetteer means here? By calling attention to her "charity" Princess Bridezilla will make the wrong impression on her guests. And Etiquetteer would guess she’d be furious if anyone pulled that trick on her with a wedding gift!4. Really, this is the final nail in the coffin for Princess Bridezilla. A tangible expression of gratitude to one’s attendants – who, let’s face it, she’s probably made spend a lot on their dresses – is the least a bride can do. To neglect it (and the traditional bridesmaid’s luncheon) is shabby in the extreme. You and the other bridesmaids must feel quite hurt at this callousness.You did not ask, but Etiquetteer wonders if you aren’t thinking about how to get out of being a bridesmaid, or if you even want to be a friend of this woman any more. Weddings do bring out the worst in people, and she may not realize just how she appears. Since you are a bridesmaid, you have a unique opportunity to tell her, gently, that her greed and vanity are disappointing everyone around her and making her look like someone you hope she is not.In summary, where is the exchange of affection here? Etiquetteer cannot see Princess Bridezilla caring about anyone save for what they can give or do for her. In a vengeful moment Etiquetteer might tell you to give her a lump of coal as a wedding gift: "If you squeeze it hard enough it’ll be a diamond!" But that would notbe Perfectly Proper . . .

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The Case of the Broke Bridesmaid, Vol. 4, Issue 40

Dear Etiquetteer:My very dear friend moved to the other side of the country a couple months ago and is now having a shotgun wedding - albeit to a man she's very much in love with. Blessed Bride invited me to the wedding, asked me to be a bridesmaid and all those lovely things. Of course I accepted and am thrilled to be there for her special day.However, due to the time constraints, in a very short timespan I'm spending a great deal of money ($850 so far) on airfare, rental car, hotel, bridesmaid's dress & accessories (appropriate undergarments are not cheap!), wedding gift, shower gift, hairstyling, manicure, and pedicure on the wedding day, etc. I need some advice from you on some of the weekend's activities.One of her family members is hosting a bridal shower that is the night before the rehearsal dinner. She sent us the following information regarding the shower: Aunt Eccentric is hosting a dinner at a Mexican restaurant (everyone will have a choice of two dinners) the cake, drinks and the invites. Crazy Cousin is hosting the centerpieces.According to Crazy Cousin, "There is a ‘no-host bar’ meaning if you want booze, it is on you. If you gals (bridesmaids) wanted to host that part you could, but it could get costly at $20 a pitcher for margaritas. Also, dear bridesmaids, [Insert Name of Online Party Provider Here] has some cute inexpensive fiesta party favors if you gals wanted to do favors for the shower." Crazy Cousin also suggested that "one of you gals who is into scrapbooking puts together a pre-made small scrapbook that ladies can add their words of wisdom to Blessed Bride to in the captions at the shower then the shower photos can just be added once they are developed." A fellow bridesmaid said that she will host the bride's thank-you notes.Etiquetteer, please help! I’m already going broke just being there for her special day (not to mention that the Blessed Bride still owes me $500!) Can you advise me as to how much participation I should have in these events? As bridesmaids, we are going in together on a rather nice shower gift. I've picked out a perfectly proper wedding gift and even made by hand a lovely wedding card.As far as shower, rehearsal dinner, bachelorette party go, I'm not sure what I'm supposed to be doing. What is expected of bridesmaids when it comes to bridal showers? I'm sober, so I have no intention on chipping in on alcoholic beverages. Are we expected to pay for tacky maraca keychains as favors? Should someone be planning a "bachelorette party?" What is the role of the maid of honor vs. other bridesmaids? As a bridesmaid, should I offer to help out in some way for the shower by paying for some element of the shower? Would it be all right if I bought a lovely book in which we record who gave which gifts at the shower? Or, purchased/made a scrapbook as suggested?Never mind that I feel the shower is not appropriate as it is two nights before the wedding and feels like it's just an excuse for gifts. And, the baby shower will be just around the corner, right in time for the holidays. And, I did all the legwork related to bridesmaid dresses since we're scattered throughout the country. I'm trying to put all my resentful feelings aside but as a singleton I'm finding this really hard to swallow. I am so happy for the bride & groom and want to be Perfectly Proper, as you say, but I can't afford to go broke on this.Dear Broke Bridesmaid:As the ladies at Smart and Sassy say, Etiquetteer’s head exploded reading your letter. What a tangle! Let’s try to sort this out, shall we?Etiquetteer suspects this whole bridesmaid thing was a lot easier "once upon a time" when everyone concerned with a wedding lived in the same town, or at least the same county. Then it was relatively easy to arrange for gown fittings, bridal showers, and other gatherings. These days we have sacrified Proximity to Personal Choice, but the true cost of that sacrifice is felt at weddings and other such gatherings the most.Believe it or not, it’s not the best of taste for family members to host the bridal shower. That’s usually done by the bridesmaids, or even by friends of the mother of the bride. Whichever members of the wedding party live closest to the bride (maid of honor or not) ought to take the lead here, but as maid of honor you should be involved in the arrangements. But not now; keep reading.In this case, let’s be thankful that Aunt Eccentric is easing the burden. But with her parceling out donor opportunities the way she is, it doesn’t really sound like she wants to, does it? Etiquetteer really doesn’t care for this sort of thing. If you’re going to throw the party, throw the party and don’t assign people (especially total strangers) to spend money on your own ideas. So Etiquetteer thinks you should treat Auntie’s suggestions as just that: suggestions. If she really wants other people to foot the bill for a party she’s hosting, then all of you should have been involved in the decisions about where and what the party would be.Under the circumstances, a bachelorette party sounds Most Improper, so please quash that at once if someone springs that idea. Etiquetteer just can’t take the idea of a pregnant bride in some nightclub outfit riding around in a stretch limo with her girlfriends, rolling down the window at intersections to say "Pardon me, do you have any Grey Poupon?" And Etiquetteer shivers in fear to think what "hosting the bride’s thank-you notes" might mean.With the heavy commitment you’ve made merely to attend the wedding in the appropriate uniform, and all your work handling the fittings for the rest of the wedding party, Etiquetteer believes you to have fulfilled your duty apart from actually attending the wedding. What a pity, Etiquetteer notes acidly, that it seems no one offered you a room in one of their homes, knowing that you’d have to travel a distance to be there. And Etiquetteer is disappointed to see no reference to the bridesmaid’s luncheon, which the bride hosts for her bridesmaids and when she give them her gifts. Let’s hope this will be a lovely surprise for you when you arrive.

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