I'm often asked by guests - and sometimes by brides or grooms - about what the 'right' thing is to do at various points during a wedding day - Which side should guests sit for the ceremony? Which side should a buttonhole be attached? - and so on. Of course, much traditional wedding etiquette derives from a time when weddings were a business arrangement between two families and had little to do with love, so there really are no 'right' answers for weddings today! Instead, here are a few suggestions in answer to the questions I'm most frequently asked by wedding guests, based on traditions that continue to endure and alternatives that are growing in popularity.
1. Buttonholes and corsages
Traditionally, gents wear their buttonholes on their left lapels with the flower stems down. And don't be fooled by the button hole on your lapel; tradition dictates that buttonholes are simply placed on the lapel and attached from the back with a pin. Meanwhile, it's exactly the opposite for the ladies - corsages are traditionally worn on the right with the stems facing upwards.
2. Ceremony seating
In church ceremonies, where seating is usually arranged on either side of a central aisle, the bride's family and guests traditionally sit on the left - as you look towards the alter - and the groom's friends and family sit on the right. This matches the traditional placement of the groom on the bride's right hand side - so he could draw his sword to defend his bride from unwanted suitors if necessary! The same traditional seating arrangement has carried over to today's multitude of wedding venues, whether indoors or outdoors, even though it's original purpose is long gone! So, in the absence of other directions, this remains the default seating at most weddings today.
However, more and more couples are mixing things up and having guests sit on whichever side they like, leaving a few seats reserved for the wedding party and close family at the front. In this case there will usually be a notice saying something like "Today two families become one, so take a seat, not a side...". This is also a popular seating arrangement for same sex weddings where it may be less clear where to sit unless each side is labelled or there are ushers or a wedding planner to direct guests to their seats.
3. Mobile phones and social media
While there are obviously no long term traditions associated with phones at weddings, it's becoming common practice not to take any photos during the ceremony so you can be in the moment with the couple as they get married - indeed, in the Lake District, most registrars will ask guests not to take any photos until after the signing of the register.
It's also increasingly the case, that couples want to be the first to announce their marriage on social media - some will often ask the officiant to ask guests not to post photos or video of any part of the day until they have had a chance to do so themselves. Even if no announcement is made, it would be polite to ask the couple before you post anything on social media.
Most importantly, however, don't forget to turn your phone off or onto silent/flight mode before the ceremony starts!
Historically, wedding guests would bring some rice or grain to shower the happy couple with as they left the church - thus ensuring a fertile and prosperous future for them! Over time, rice and grains have given way to commercial confetti and more recently to dried flower petals, with artificial confetti being banned by more and more wedding venues.
Nowadays however, not all guests bring confetti and when to use it is less clear - especially with single venue weddings where the couple don't leave the venue after the ceremony. Also, couples that want confetti will often provide it for all their guests and will have planned with the venue and photographer when and where to have their confetti moment. So, if you're thinking of bringing your own confetti, it's best to ask the couple beforehand whether it can be used or just ask the wedding planner or photographer on the day if you're not sure what's been planned.