How to Be a Good Wedding Guest


In honour of the soon-to-be-published new book, Honeymoon Hotel, (out Sept!!) I thought I’d offer some hints and tips gleaned from a whole year spent immersed in wedding magazines, other people’s weddings, wedding websites and some anecdotes offered by friends which, as usual, were far too juicy and outrageous to put into the actual book.


First up, guests.

1. It’s not about you. 

Don’t wear white. Or head-to-toe black. Or too many sequins. Or matching pants that you show to everyone (unless you’re under 4). Or a man’s suit. Or fancy dress, if it’s not a fancy dress wedding. In other words, don’t wear anything which would make someone look at you, rather than the bride. There is a reason why there is no such thing as a flattering bridesmaid’s dress.

Also, as a sub-set, do arrive a good half hour before; don’t sing crazy descants to the hymns; don’t wolf-whistle and get the congregation to clap as if the couple have won a speedboat when they’re pronounced man and wife (shudder); don’t go on and on and on about your own wedding; do talk to people you don’t know in the pews. This may prevent Foot In Mouth Syndrome later on. Also, older relatives often have the zingiest gossip.

2. It’s not about you, Junior Version

so the stupid selfish attention-junkie sister bride didn’t want Scheherzerade and Malaga as her bridesmaids. You know this is because their radiant child-like beauty would have overshadowed her on her supposed ‘big day’. And there was some other nonsense about their special ‘recorder voluntary’ music being inappropriate in the college library setting. But, listen, that is her misguided choice. This is not a cue to find out what the bridal party are wearing, kit Scheherzerade and Malaga out in matching colours and then shove them onto the end of the bridal procession as the bride and her dad pass your pew in the hope no one will notice. They will. Especially if you don’t take the recorders off them first.

 3. Emotion is good… up to a point.

Even British wedding guests are prone to misty eyes at the sight of a proud grey-haired father coming down the aisle with his beautiful little girl on his arm. Indeed, along with brass band competitions and flypasts by the Red Arrows, weddings are one of the few places the English stiff upper lip gets a good wobbling. Bring out a family dog bearing the rings on a little bag round his neck and the entire congregation will be in floods. Don’t even start me on the bride arriving on her own horse. However…

Moist eyes at the beauty of the bride and the loveliness of the readings = touching.

Out and out sobbing, wafting of large hankies, audible shuddering gasps = bad form.

4. Always look pleased for the bride and groom.

So you know that as recently as three weeks ago, they were on non-speakers, and she told you some stomach-turning things about his dental hygiene on her hen night. But, if he’s at the front and she’s heading down the aisle you are now duty bound to look pleased for them. Only the very brave, the very Mediterranean or the very attention-seeking (eg, if you are being followed by a camera crew for a reality show) would attempt to do anything other than smile rigidly when the celebrant asks if anyone has any just cause, etc.

If you are with a man who thinks it’d be funny to cough at this point, feel free to leave him outside with the dogs and the crying babies. For what it’s worth, if it’d been my wedding, I’d have done a lot more than Duckface did, had someone spoken out like that at the end of Four Weddings. A lot more. Another funeral’s worth, at least.

note: This goes double if you’re single, by the way. Annoying as it is, singletons have to up their cheery delight at weddings, in order to head off any unwanted comments about it being ‘your turn next’. Just smile when well-meaning aunts say that. Don’t cackle sardonically, and retort, ‘What? To be shackled to a man who thinks Berlin is in Russia and can’t use chopsticks? I don’t think so. Ha ha! Jesus, no…’

5. Keep an eye on the videographer as well as the photographer

Now weddings are multimedia events, you have to be even more alert to the risks of Showing Yourself Up. It’s easily done. For instance, my own moment of shame – which I’m attempting to dissipate by telling everyone in the world, Ancient Mariner style – was at the wedding of a lovely old friend. Who had once been, cough, a bit more than a friend. My college mates and I were all outside the church, post-ceremony, chatting amongst ourselves while the bride and groom posed for photographs with every possible permutation of their enormous families. By this stage, most of our light chit-chat (“How are you? Where are you working? Are you still living with Joe? Oh dear, when is Joe getting out of prison?” etc) had been used up, and we’d moved onto light-hearted speculation about when the happy couple would decide to become three, as it were. I’d been adhering to rule 4 cheesily throughout the day and so when I said, ‘Oh, I give them two years!’ I meant, to crack on with the heir and spare. It was very unfortunate that the videographer chose that moment to hover behind us, and even more unfortunate that his arrival meant everyone suddenly stopped talking. Apart from me, obviously.

Now of course, four of the sods would have tweeted that to the world, complete with a Vine of me looking bemused, then horrified, then mortified. Urgh.

6. Have fun, and be seen having fun

Weddings are supposed to be happy occasions, and the bride has driven herself into a state of cross-eyed indecision about chairs for weeks to make this day as perfect as she possibly can for everyone there. She now has better things to think about. Help her out by enjoying yourself, talking to guests you don’t know, introducing people you think would get on, leaping onto the dance floor, and generally upping the joie de vivre in the room.

7. … again, up to a point

And that point is the arrival of a team of paramedics.


Coming soon… how to be a perfect bride!


About the author

Hester Browne is a New York Times bestselling author. She likes cryptic crosswords, reeling, and Berger cookies.

Something to add?