Royal wedding etiquette dates back centuries into British culture, and even though Meghan Markle and Prince Harry have brought a modern flair to these customs, their wedding day is likely to be more on the traditional side. There is a long list of expectations for both the royal family and those attending the event.
Inspired by the buzz around the royal wedding, we asked a few of Canada’s leading etiquette experts, including The Marilyn Denis Show‘s resident butler Charles MacPherson, The Social’s etiquette expert Lisa Orr, and Vancouver-based etiquette coach Elizabeth Burnett of Elizabeth Etiquette, to weigh in on what makes an ideal wedding guest. These pros filled us in on how to navigate wedding etiquette whether you’re heading to a royal affair or a friend’s formal celebration.
1. Stick to the dress code
For a royal affair, the dress code is very particular for the guests attending. “Typically, men dress in military uniform, a single-breasted coat with tails, or a lounge or business suit,” Elizabeth Burnett says. “For the ladies, a very smart dress or suit that covers the shoulders paired with a hat is an absolute must.”
Whether you’re attending the royal wedding or a friend’s celebration, Charles MacPherson says the perfect guest will observe some key wedding rules. “Dress appropriately based on the time of day and any directives included in the invitation,” MacPherson says. He goes on to explain that wearing clothing or accessories that don’t reflect the dress code can be seen as a major faux pas, this may include wearing large white hats, overly revealing attire, or dressing too casually.
2. Be on time
According to Lisa Orr, promptness is particularly important, especially at a royal wedding. “Guests should expect to be seated well in advance of the ceremony. At Kate and William’s wedding, guests were seated 20 minutes in advance,” Orr adds. She explains that being on time for the ceremony is extremely important to avoid interrupting the couple’s vows. “There is a huge procession at a royal wedding, so it’s critical that the guests are in place so that it can begin on schedule,” she says.
3. Don’t be a too chatty
“The temptation to talk or whisper during the ceremony is extremely bad manners,” Burnett comments. The focus of this event is about the two people exchanging vows to one another, and being a distraction is unacceptable, especially at a royal wedding.
After the ceremony has concluded, some couples decide to form a receiving line to thank each of their guests personally. MacPherson suggests to keep your congratulations short and sweet. “Be mindful that they have many other people who wish to do the same, so respect the amount of time you spend speaking with them,” he says.
4. Mix and mingle
At weddings, like any other gathering, guests are meant to mingle. “Remember to come prepared to socialize – make sure you are aware of current events so that you are able to comment when someone brings them up,” MacPherson suggests. “It also allows you to speak about relevant topics if a conversation ever lags. Listen to others and ask thoughtful questions to keep the conversation going.” He also suggests for guests to make sure they don’t forget to speak to the people on either side of them at the table.
More specifically, at the royal wedding, some topics are completely off the table. “If you are engaged in conversation with a member of the royal family, avoid conversations that are too personal or taboo. Keep the topic of conversation light,” says MacPherson. “It’s about exchanging pleasantries, not an in-depth political conversation.”
5. Put your smartphones away
“Inappropriate cellphone use is one bad habit guests will have to break before the big day,” Orr says. “If they’re even allowed inside the ceremony venue, guests should ensure cellphones are turned off. It would be beyond embarrassing if your phone rang or an alarm went off when the happy couple was saying ‘I do’.”
If you’re thinking about taking a quick selfie or making an Instagram story of the event, it may be considered bad manners as well. Especially at a royal wedding, guests are likely to be discouraged from smartphone use all together. “The day will be professionally photographed so there will be lots of people there to capture the moment,” Orr says. “One should ask a staff member if taking photographs is permissible,” Burnett adds.
You may not be able to pull out your phone at the reception either. “Photographs, selfies, and texting at the dining table are a definite no-no,” Burnett states.
6. Respect the cultural customs of your hosts
British culture is heavily rooted in tradition and rank. Royal wedding guests, especially those who are not originally from the UK, must be vigilant about respecting these customs. “When the Queen arrives for the ceremony, guests should acknowledge her arrival with a curtsy or a bow and should do the same as she exits,” Orr mentions.
Royal guests should understand the dynamics of the royal family. “One does not merely interact with the Queen, or the royal couple,” Burnett says. “Introductions to the Queen and the royal family are known as presentations. One is formally presented to the Queen.”
This idea of customs, culture, and respect of elders may also translate into many different cultures from around the world. If you are attending a wedding from a culture that you may be unfamiliar with, it is important to consider brushing up on the cultural norms when addressing the host family.
7. Mind your table manners
Weddings are usually more of a formal dinner setting, which means guests are generally expected to follow basic dining etiquette. Especially at the royal reception, guests will be required to follow a few more rules than usual. “Regardless of how peckish one may feel, one does not start eating before the Queen starts to eat, or the royal couple starts to eat,” Burnett adds.
Similar to any event, eating before the hosts may not be seen favourably. In fact, Burnett adds that royal protocol states that guests arrive before the royal family and no one leaves the event before the royal family leaves.
8. Party appropriately
“The first thing to consider is that there are typically two receptions held at royal weddings,” Orr says. “Immediately after the ceremony there will be a reception for everyone who has attended the ceremony, followed by a more intimate event with just close friends and relatives.” This means that most guests that are attending the ceremony, will not be attending the smaller, more intimate second reception. Either way, Orr advises that guests should be careful about their behaviour.
“It is important to have fun and enjoy yourself as a guest but be mindful of overdoing it,” MacPherson says. “Over-imbibing, shedding layers of clothing on the dance floor, or documenting the event on social media would not be appropriate.” It is important to be on your best behaviour, so you may want to leave your party animal card at the door.
“The royal wedding will indeed be a spectacular day of pomp and pageantry, with meticulous attention to detail; much of which will not be revealed until the special day,” Burnett concludes. “Enjoy and rejoice with the rest of the world and toast to the royal couple.”