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While attending a June wedding outdoors in Ohio I was intrigued to see so many professionals gathered in one place. I was also amazed to see some noteworthy fashion faux pas and to witness the code of conduct of some of the guests who came for the beautiful celebration.
I was married for the first time just a few years ago, so I know the amount of planning and thought that goes into the guest list and how much expense is involved in putting on such a memorable event. Then some people show up dressed as though they were going to a casual outdoor barbeque. Many people seem to have forgotten basic manners and protocol when attending social functions. But as professionals we should always exude a polished presence that supports our personal brand.
Weddings are a great time to practice your brand messaging in both visual impact and behavior and communication skills. Problems arise, however, when professionals don’t understand what I call “dressing and etiquette for every occasion.” So here are 5 Wedding Etiquette Tips to help you avoid faux pas and project a memorable and polished professional presence.
Tip #1 Plan Your Wardrobe
Always give some forethought to what you will wear by asking questions like these ahead of time: Where is it being held? What’s the location? Does the invitation suggest a dress code? Was the invitation printed on a hard card stock with a formal font or was it casual in wording with a playful font? What time of day is the wedding? All of these help to inform you about what you should wear – even if there is no suggested dress code.
As Tracy Reese said in her recent Wall Street Journal article The Best-Dressed Wedding Guest, “Dress to shine. It shows your support of the celebration. You should totally be festive and gorgeous – not somber.” I agree. Showing up dressed in style is a great sign of respect for the bride and groom.
Tip #2 Wedding Venue Dress Code
Be sure to review the invitation to see if a dress code is suggested. If not, here is a quick reference guide to help you dress properly.
Morning or Mid-afternoon Weddings – For a daytime wedding a professional man can wear a sports coat, dress trousers, shirt and tie. Women can wear a beautiful dress or a dressy skirt and silk blouse with some great patent or metallic heels and a modern clutch.
Evening Weddings – These may be black tie, formal, or informal. But black-tie dress implies that a man is expected to show up in a tuxedo and women should wear a long or short cocktail dress. If the occasion is listed as “formal or informal”, the man can wear a dark suit in navy, black, or charcoal grey – with a beautiful dress shirt, jeweled silk tie, and a pocket square in a color tone to complement the tie. Wear a beautiful French-cuff shirt with cuff links to kick it up a notch with a more sophisticated and refined image. Women should consider evening attire as cocktail attire. Today this means a short or tea-length sassy cocktail dress that tends to be more modern than the long cocktail dresses reserved for more formal events. Dressy evening shoes, statement jewelry and a modern evening clutch will finish your ensemble like the icing on the cake.
Casual or Destination Weddings – “Casual or destination attire” does not imply casual Friday dress such as denim. You still want your professional brand to show up on the dressy side. For men this could include dress linen pants, or wrinkle-free Khaki’s, a silk Tommy Bahama style shirt, or a fine-gauge 3-button-style polo shirt and driving moccasins. Women can consider a sundress or dress from Lilly-Pulitzer, Ann Taylor, or Nordstrom – paired with delicate metallic sandals/platform style shoes, jewelry, and a casual dressy handbag that matches the feel of the destination.
Tip #3 Wardrobe Faux Pas
Don’t Wear White – Only the bride should be wearing white to show respect for her special day. If you want to wear a light tone dress choose shades like eggshell, nude, or ivory that will flatter your own personal skin tone.
Skip Risque – Remember that you are dressing for your own personal brand, so don’t wear anything too revealing. Skip anything that fits too low, too tight, or too short, and leave your club attire at home. Be memorable, but not because you are remembered as the sleazy girl who wore the mini-skirt.
Be Respectful in Churches and Temples– You want to be careful if the wedding ceremony is inside a church, temple, or other religious sanctuary. Don’t, for example, show bare shoulders or dress in a provocative, risque fashion.
Women Avoid Black – Black can be an elegant color to wear. But in many cultures it is considered disrespectful for a woman to wear black at weddings because it conveys dark and somber messages of mourning and sadness and can even mean bad luck for the bride.
Tip #4 Social Etiquette Skills
Introduce Yourself– During the reception, introduce yourself to everyone sitting at your table. Carry on conversations with those seated next to you and ask how they know the bride and groom. This is a great time for professionals to brush-up on the soft skills that are so important for networking.
Speech Protocol – Be mindful and quiet during announcements, prayers, or toasts. It’s rude and inconsiderate to talk with other guests during those designated times.
Be Gracious – Before leaving, thank your host and hostess for inviting you to celebrate the wedding of their children.
Tip # 5 – Proper Wedding Dining Etiquette
Basic Dining Etiquette – Dining etiquette can be one of the first impressions people get of your behavior in group settings. Once you’re seated at the table, unfold your napkin and use it to occasionally dab your mouth while eating. Upon completion of the meal, fold it and place it to the left of your dinner plate. Remember the table setting basics, too, like your bread dish is to the left and your drinks are on the right.
Buffet Etiquette – The new trend in weddings today is to provide numerous buffet stations for shorter lines and faster serving of guests. A buffet gives nobody the right to overindulge. It’s not a trough or “all you can eat special,” it’s an elegant celebratory dining affair.
Bar Manners – Even if there is an open bar it is no excuse to go overboard. Nothing ruins a bride and groom’s special day faster than a drunken wedding guest they regret having invited.
Follow these tips to convey a polished personal brand image – you never know whom you might meet at your next wedding and what that connection could mean, both personally and professionally!
write by Azaria