When It Comes to Wedding Etiquette, How Late is Too Late?

Written by Lindsay Tigar
Photo: Casey Durgin Photography

From your grandmother to your mother-in-law, everyone seems to have a different idea of what’s appropriate when it comes to wedding etiquette. Since many traditions have been followed and trusted for decades, you might question if certain rules still apply for modern celebrations. “Wedding etiquette is designed to help guide you in the unknown territory of planning an event on a large scale--and with that, comes ‘feelings’ of many people. Both your feelings and those of your family, friends and guests,” explains Amy Shey Jacobs of Chandelier Events in New York City.

One of the most important etiquette outlines to remain loyal to surrounds timing. How long do you have to send a thank-you note? How about a gift? “Being punctual can save you from tears and stress, and that goes both ways. Follow timing and assuredly, you’ll be happy you did,” she adds.

Here, the ‘how late is too late’ guide for everything wedding etiquette related, straight from the pros.

If you’re getting married...

Send a save-the-date: At least six months before the wedding

Unless you’re having a very short engagement, Weinberg says it’s appropriate to allow six months for guests to plan travel arrangements, should they need to commute to make your celebration. This period goes up if you have a destination wedding, where nine months is more standard for international nuptials. And while some couples decide to have a ‘B’ list of people to invite in case the ‘A’ list can’t make it, Leah Weinberg of Color Pop Events in Long Island City frowns against this tactic. “It's poor wedding etiquette to send someone a save the date and then 'disinvite' them by not sending an invitation. I'm not a fan of having a B list because guests who never received a save-the-date but ultimately receive an invite will know that they were a second choice,” she explains.

Send a thank-you note for a wedding gift: Two weeks if you receive it before, three months if you receive at or after the wedding.

As one of the pieces of mail guests most look forward to after shelling out the dough for a wedding gift, a potential new garment to wear, and a hotel stay, getting those thank-you notes posted is one of the first items on your to-do list, post-honeymoon. But did you know if you receive a gift before your wedding date, you should go ahead and thank the guest, even before the wedding happens? If your guest brings a wrapped box or an envelope to the day-of celebration, you can give yourself three months to write something kind in gratitude. “I'm a big proponent of following proper wedding etiquette on this one, because if you send thank you notes on a rolling basis, you won't find yourself overwhelmed after the wedding with dozens and dozens of thank-you notes to write,” she says.

If you’re a wedding guest...

Send a gift for a wedding you can't attend: Up to a year from the wedding date, but preferably sooner

Even if you can’t get out of work, take a trip for a destination ceremony, or well, just don’t want to attend the wedding, it is still proper wedding gift etiquette to send a token of your gratitude for the invite. And of course, to celebrate the couple. Weinberg shares while technically speaking you have up to a year to post the gift, the sooner the better. “I always suggest the practice of sending a wedding gift at the time you RSVP ‘no’, so that you don't end up forgetting to send something. Plus, you won't leave the couple hanging, wondering if they're ever going to receive something from you,” she explains

Send a gift to a wedding you attend: Up to a year from the wedding date, but preferably sooner.

You couldn’t believe how stunning the bride looked as she cascaded toward her spouse-to-be. Or how classy the reception turned out to be, complete with cake that didn’t taste quite as wedding-cakey as some do. The wine overflowed, as did the champagne, and you’d give the whole experience at 10 out of 10. Etiquette does state that you have a year to send over your gift, but Weinberg suggests doing it much sooner, out of respect and well, kindness. “If you attend someone's wedding and don't either send a gift in advance or bring one with you on the day of the wedding, the couple is going to start to wonder. So, don't put them through that,” she explains. “If you decide to wait until the day of the wedding to do the gifting, please don't bring a physical gift and just bring a card instead. Trust me, the couple doesn't want to have to schlep their registry items home after the wedding.”

RSVP to a Wedding: By the date on the invite (duh)

Seems pretty self-explanatory, but Weinberg says you’d be surprised by just how many wedding guests ignore this seemingly minor wedding guest etiquette detail, leaving brides and grooms with the awkward tasks of asking dozens of people if they want chicken, fish or nothing at all. Not only is it inconsiderate to leave them hanging since they extended the invite to you specifically, it also puts them in a bind for contracts and financial requirements. “In the event you're a guest who has never been married yourself, an accurate guest count is super important for couples because they have to pay per person. Most venues and caterers like to have that final head count a few weeks before the wedding,” Weinberg adds.