Mark my words: You’ll go your whole adult life not getting a wedding invite and then one summer, boom, you’ll be invited to, like, five. And if it’s your first time attending a wedding as an adult, you’re in for a few surprises! Don’t worry—the rules and expectations for guests are pretty much the same for all weddings, and the biggest priority of all is always “Have fun!”
Besides that, here’s everything you should know about your first time attending a wedding.
Watch your mail.
If you know your friend is getting married but you’re anxious about having enough time to save up, don’t be! Save the dates usually come up to six months before the wedding, so guests like you have plenty of time to save, plan, get time off from work, etc. And your formal invitation will follow approximately two months to six weeks before the wedding date. Once you receive that, it’s time to act—fill out your response card as soon as possible to get it back to the marrying couple in time for them to get a final head count. It’s one of the very first responsibilities of you as a guest, and you wouldn’t want to leave the couple hanging! (No one wants to be that guest.)
Plan your look.
It’s important that you have the correct attire for the wedding, and you should give yourself plenty of time to save up and shop, especially if it’s your first time attending a wedding. The invitation should clearly state whether the wedding is cocktail, black tie, barn formal, whatever… and if it doesn’t state anything, that means you should stick with a party dress if you’re a gal or suit and tie if you’re a guy. Getting your wedding look together can really rack up a bill, so consider thrifting or borrowing to save a little coin. Regardless, it’s rude for a guest to ignore dress codes or wedding attire etiquette, so make sure you dress within the lines—it being your first wedding is no reason to accidentally wear white
Plan your trip.
If the wedding is in a different place from where you live, it’s your responsibility to book your trip there and back and your lodging, too. The married-couple-to-be should have all the important where to go and how to get there info on their wedding website (or in their invitation), taking all the guesswork out of it for you. Book everything as soon as you can to ensure you get the best price—most couples reserve room blocks at hotels near their wedding venue for guests to get discounted rates. And liaise with other friends you know who are also going to the wedding to see if you can carpool or room share and save a little cash.
Shop the registry.
You have up to a year following the wedding to send a gift, but it would benefit you to get that taken care of before the wedding. The earlier you shop, the more selection you’ll have in the registry (meaning more lower-price items will be available so you don’t have to fork over $500 for a stand mixer). And once you choose and send a gift, you don’t have to think about it anymore! Etiquette suggests you spend $50 to $100 on a gift if you’re going to the wedding solo, or up to $150 to $200 if you’re going with a plus-one. Of course, what you spend really doesn’t matter to the couple of honor, and it’s a thought that counts—so if you’re short on cash and/or spending a hefty amount just to get to the wedding, a beautiful card and small gift card to the couple’s favorite restaurant will do just fine. You can bring cards and monetary gifts directly to the wedding itself, or mail them.
Be their guest.
Once the wedding finally rolls around (if it feels like there was a lot of planning for you, just imagine how the couple feels!), it’s time for you to show up and have fun! All that’s expected of you is to celebrate to your heart’s content, eat, drink, and be merry, and stay safe. If the couple is offering transport to and from their venue, be respectful of the schedule, and take it! Otherwise, make sure you show up on time (being a little early is never a bad idea).
Every wedding schedule is unique, but most follow the same general flow: Pre-ceremony cocktails may be served, then everyone takes their seat (usually not assigned) for the ceremony, then the couple marries, then there’s often a cocktail hour with appetizers, followed by taking your assigned seat for dinner, followed by dancing! Speeches and whatnot will occur throughout dinner and possibly during the party phase of the evening, too. Make sure to eat a hearty breakfast and lunch, because there may be considerable stretches of time during the wedding where food won’t be served (but plenty of alcohol will be, and you don’t want to get too tipsy too fast!). Oh, and, to be an A+ guest during your first time attending a wedding, make sure you hit the dance floor. Nothing makes a newly married couple happier than seeing their dance floor full.
After the wedding ends and everyone goes back to their lives, expect a thank-you card to arrive from the couple within six months. There’s nothing you need to do—you don’t have to thank them for the thank you card, but weddings have so many rules, you wouldn’t be blamed for thinking you did! And that’s basically it—until, of course, you get a save the date for your next wedding (and you will, trust me!).