Evening Wedding Etiquette

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An evening wedding starts at five in the afternoon or later and typically requires semi-formal to formal attire. Receptions are elegantly extravagant, with larger guest lists and wedding parties to match. The later start time also implies no children, as the affair may go long past a little one’s bedtime. Taking a few cues from the bride and groom as well as awareness of traditional etiquette may help any guests enjoy and feel comfortable at this true special occasion.


The invitation will help determine the level of formality for an event. If the occasion is extremely formal it will explicitly state, “white tie.” Black tie may also be requested, or a variation thereof such as black tie optional or creative black tie. If there is no dress code mentioned on the invite, it is safe to assume semi-formal. The presentation and details on the invitation, such as location, may also indicate the level of extravagance.


For a white tie event, the male guests mirror the groom in a tailcoat with all the accouterments and women dress in full ball gowns with refined hair and makeup. Most formal evening weddings, however, are designated as black tie. This calls for men to wear tuxedos and women to don an evening gown or cocktail dress appropriate for the venue. Semi-formal dress is the most casual for an evening wedding, and asks that men dress in a dark suit and conservative tie while women may wear an appropriate dress or pantsuit. Creative black tie may include season accessories, such as a festive tie or feather boa.


Evening receptions may start with a receiving line. This is an opportunity for the guests to have a few words with the bride and groom as well as thank their hosts. This may lead into a cocktail hour before guests are asked to sit. Dates may be placed apart at a formal dinner. A polite guest respects his assigned seat, introduces himself to his neighbors and engages in conversation.

Place Setting

A formal table setting can be intimidating, but Emily Post suggests remembering the simple rule: "Utensils are placed in the order of use, that is, from the outside in." A charger remains under all of the plates of preceding courses to the entree. When the main course arrives, it will replace the charger. A butter plate is to the left of the charger, and up to five glasses are arranged in front and to the right including a water glass, champagne flute, wine and sherry glasses. The napkin will be placed on top of the charger.


Emily Post explains, “If you are invited to the ceremony and/or reception, you should send a gift, whether you are attending or not.” Sending a gift to the address on the registry or the bride’s home is most convenient, but in some locations and cultures presents may also be brought to the reception and placed on a gift table. A modern option may be for the bride and groom to request charitable donations in lieu if gifts.