From RSVPs to registry gifts, study this wedding guest primer before wedding season kicks off. 

By Maggie Seaver
Updated April 29, 2019
Credit: Getty Images

Going to a wedding is an absolute blast, but there’s more to being an awesome wedding guest than finding a new outfit and hitting up the open bar. No one’s born knowing the ins and outs of RSVPs, gift registries, or reception attire, so don’t worry if the world of wedding guest etiquette seems a little confusing (okay, really confusing). Guest etiquette can be especially hazy if you’re attending a wedding for the first time—or for the first time in a long time.

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The most important thing to remember is that this is a huge and happy day for the couple, and that you're there to help them celebrate to the fullest. If you want to have a great time and be an A-plus guest, study up on these important pillars of wedding guest etiquette.

1. RSVP Before the Deadline

Wedding invitations include a response card and RSVP date for a reason: The couple needs to give their venue, caterer, cake baker, rental company and other vendors a final guest headcount about two weeks before their day. It takes less than five minutes to RSVP to a wedding invitation, so check it off your to-do list and save the couple a headache by replying as soon as you know you can (or can’t) make it.

2. Give a Wedding Gift They Actually Want

You should buy the couple a wedding gift whether you can make it or not. It’s hard to guess exactly what they want, but the good news is, wedding registries exist to streamline the wedding gift giving (and receiving) process. It’s not a crime to stray from the couple’s registry, but if you do go rogue, tread carefully and know they created that custom wishlist for a reason.

3. Check Out Their Wedding Website

Don’t bug the to-be-weds with questions about dress code or a link to their registry. Instead, head to their wedding website for answers first (their website URL, if they made one, should be printed on their save-the-dates or an invitation insert). Their site will hopefully provide all the info you’re looking for, from wedding guest attire to booking hotel rooms. Still no luck? Ask someone in their family or wedding party for some direction.

4. Never Ask Inappropriate Questions

A wedding, and all the parties leading up to it, is no time to ask awkward or invasive questions. That means no prying into who’s footing the bill, how soon they’re planning to have kids or whether or not you can bring a plus-one if your invite didn’t specify.

5. Don’t Assume You Get a Plus-One

If your invitation is addressed to you “and Guest,” you can bring whoever you want as your date—or opt to fly solo. If your invitation is addressed to you and another person specifically (like your spouse or partner), you can only come with that person. Invitations aren’t like theater tickets: If your specified plus-one can’t attend, you can’t replace them with someone else. If your invitation envelope is addressed to you alone, you aren’t allowed to bring a plus-one—full stop.

6. Follow the Dress Code

If you find wedding guest attire confusing and foreign (what even is black tie optional?), don’t panic. As soon as you find out what the preferred attire is, either on the invitation or the wedding website, a quick internet search will help clarify what to wear based on the specified dress code, season, venue, and more. And, unless the to-be-weds say otherwise, it's always best to avoid wearing white, ivory, cream, or even blush (just in case). A good rule of thumb: If you have to ask someone whether or not it's appropriate, it's probably not.

7. Arrive Early to the Ceremony

Being late to a wedding is a completely avoidable mistake (well, usually). Make sure you budget enough time to get from where you’re staying to the ceremony location between 15 and 30 minutes early. That way you get a good seat and spare everyone the awkwardness of sneak in late and disrupting the vows.

8. Use Social Media Appropriately

In some cases, like if the couple requests an unplugged wedding, this will mean not using social media—or your phone—at all. But the newlyweds might welcome a little social coverage from the crowd, in which case, have fun snapping and posting. Just make sure to follow any specific requests they might have, such as using their wedding hashtag, tagging the venue, or pausing picture-taking until after the ceremony.

9. Don’t Drink Too Much

You know the drill: Enjoy the champagne and signature cocktails, but know the line between celebratory you and too-many-margaritas you.

10. Hit the Dance Floor

Nothing’s worse than a wedding with an empty dance floor—and you definitely don’t want to be the reason for it. But don’t worry if you’re not a huge dancer: You don’t have to break it down all night, but be a good sport and get out there for at least one song.