(Closed) Attending a Southern wedding! Attire and gifts help!

posted 5 years ago in Etiquette
Post # 3
11752 posts
Sugar Beekeeper
  • Wedding: November 1999

If it were black tie, it would say on the invitation. With the info you have given, I’d wear a cocktail dress and my Darling Husband would wear a dark suit.  

I don’t know if there’s any differences with southern etiquette, but if you buy a gift, I’d send it to them but if you give $, I’d bring it to the wedding with a card.  

Can’t help you on the reception piece.  Our wedding was 5:30 with reception and ceremony in same place, but we still put “dinner and dancing to follow” I’d be shocked if you weren’t invited to the reception if it was at the same place and it started immediately after the ceremony.

Post # 4
302 posts
Helper bee
  • Wedding: June 2013

 Ditto everything Mrs.WBS said!  The only thing I would probably do is ask the bride/groom or someone else who is invited about attire just to make sure.  For instance, based on the time of my wedding, someone emailed me saying I assume it is going to be super formal, and I just emailed back letting her know that most of my friends are wearing short cocktail dresses.  I’m from the Southeast and, as far as gifts, the majority have the gift shipped although there is always a gift table at the reception and cards/money are usually given at the reception (either there’s a place for it or they can be handed to the groom). 

Post # 6
207 posts
Helper bee
  • Wedding: May 2013

Agree with MrsWBS. If they wanted it to be black tie or formal affair they would have stated it on the invitation. If you buy off the registry, send it to their house (most registries have an address attached to the registry that you can’t see, and so it ships straight to whatever address they put. (This is so much easier for the guest and B&G). If you give cash, give it to them at the wedding. I personally, would love to go to a formal Southern wedding. (I don’t get dressed up that often!)

Post # 7
3257 posts
Sugar bee
  • Wedding: August 2013

Have your Darling Husband contact whomever the invitation is from (i.e. Bride’s parents/bride and groom themselves, whoever) and ask this simple question:

“What do you suppose the other fellows will be wearing?”

Also, if the answer is black tie, buy a tuxedo.  I got a gorgeous vintage one recently for $140.  Rentals are the biggest rip off in the world.  This site was extremely helpful when I was putting together the outfit: http://www.blacktieguide.com

As for presents, any way you do it is probably fine.  By strict rules of etiquette, one has up to a year to send a wedding gift.  Though it may be a bit gauche to send it after the fact if you are attending.

To figure out if you’re meant to be at the reception, ask something like “around what time do you think things will wind down?”  If you have kids or a dog just say it’s to make sure the babysitter is booked long enough, or that you need to know whether to get a neighbour to pop in and feed/walk the pooch.

I would certainly not go with less than a regular suit, given such a formal invitation.

Post # 8
9550 posts
Buzzing Beekeeper
  • Wedding: August 2013

I would say dark suit for your guy and a nice cocktail dress or gown for yourself. No need to go out and buy a floorlength formal gown (unless you want to) but something nicer than a sundress. Also, if this is a super traditional Southern family you may want to avoid the colors white (duh!), red and black. Black on your guy is fine. 

Post # 9
493 posts
Helper bee
  • Wedding: October 2013

@cooperlove:  I wouldn’t do full length formal. She would have stated something to that if that’s what she intended to guests to wear.

Cocktail dress that matches whatever season the wedding is in.

Bring whatever you are getting to the wedding. You can totally put cash in a nice envelope.

Post # 10
1699 posts
Bumble bee

@cooperlove:  First of all, it is NOT true that every truly formal wedding has the words “black tie” in the additional information corner — the lower right — of the card. In fact, among people whose standards of formality out-formal the Duke of Cambridge, putting any such instruction on an invitation is unthinkably tasteless, as it suggests ignorance of decent dress standards on the part of their guests. Such people communicate the style of affair simply through the style of invitation: and engraved* black script on a white or off-white clean-cut heavy-paper card is communicating “formal” just as hard as it possibly can. But there are a couple of other details that go with this level of formality:

Is there an R.s.v.p. card? or (more formal and more proper) just the letters “R.s.v.p.” engraved in the lower left corner? or (most formal) nothing at all requesting a reply?

What is the exact wording of the invitation? Is it “Mr and Mrs Good Host / request the pleasure of the company of / Mr and Mrs Moku / to the wedding of their daughter / Mary Lucia / to / Mr Handsome Guy / on blah blah blah…? Or is it some innovation on the traditional form which would render the invitation less formal?

Finally, is the wedding in a church (most formal), or in a large home (almost equally formal), or in a rented venue (a little less formal)?

If your answer to all of the above is the “most formal” option, then I would generally recommend formal dress, except for one caveat. Since there is no mention of dancing, ball gowns and tail-coats would be over-the-top, but a long dinner-gown (no bare shoulders, no extravagant swishy skirt) and a dinner-jacket (tux) would generally be appropriate. Note that a dark suit (black, midnight blue, or dark charcoal grey with only a very subtle stripe if any) with white shirt can always be worn with propriety by a gentleman who does not own a dinner-jacket — but if you get many more invitations like this, you might want to invest in a dinner-jacket (and, of course, matching trousers) for your husband. Also note that, if this were a daytime wedding, that the correct dress would be a morning-coat with striped trousers and windsor tie for your husband, and a tea-dress with gloves, pearls and a hat for you. And that is where my one caveat comes in.

People committed to preserving the gracious formalities of social life, that is to say, those of us who care about the distinctions between white tie, black tie and between “dinner jackets” versus “tuxes”, also care a great deal about the appropriateness of dress to time of day. Morning clothes for visits and parties up until four in the afternoon or so (but six o’clock at the latest) and evening dress for parties from eight o’clock in the evening onward (but six o’clock at the earliest). And here is an otherwise-formal event starting at five o’clock that will certainly extend past six o’clock. What is a well-bred lady to do with such a conundrum? The answer is: cocktail dress. This is, in fact, exactly what cocktail dress was invented for. Those cute little “fascinators” used to be called “cocktail hats” — they function as a hat (no lady would go out in the afternoon without a hat!) until the clock strikes six — at which point they magically turn into hair ornaments (no lady would wear a hat in the evening!) Your cocktail dress makes a similar miraculous transformation. And your husband, in his dark suit with its silk tie and white shirt, is impeccable anyway, any time, because fashion and etiquette are much less demanding of the male of the species.


Do not ever carry a parcel to a formal event, unless it fits unobtrusively into your purse. Gifts should always be given discreetly and in private. Far better to send the gift to the bride’s home, regardless of the type of gift it is. Also remember that among people of old-fashioned formal manners, there is a rule that gifts may only be given by intimates, and must always be of value for something other than its costliness (a principle that can never be fulfilled by mere cash).

If you have been invited to a church wedding with no mention of the reception (which is an acceptable old-fashioned formal practice) then you are not considered an intimate and should not give a gift. If you have been invited to a home (or club, or hotel, or other rented venue) wedding, then the invitation implicitly includes both the ceremony and the reception, and you should send a gift.



*engraving is what text is called when it is raised on the front and dented in on the back — just like embossing but with ink on the raised portions. It is the only truly formal kind of commercial printing, and is the only commercia printing considered to be equal in formality and propriety to hand-written black india-ink script.


Post # 11
10367 posts
Sugar Beekeeper
  • Wedding: September 2010

@aspasia475:  Probably a safe bet that the OP isn’t going to the wedding of someone as “society” as the Duke of Cambridge, LOL. Idiot-proofing your invites is important, as 99.9% of the general population are not obsessed with ettiquette, and don’t know the ins/outs and assumptions that go with that….unlike a few bees. I’m sure This Time Around will be commenting shortly, haha.

I’m picturing guests standing around discussing a guests’ “extravagantly swishy skirt” and am pretty much dying laughing on the inside. So much effort wasted on being informed about something that basically doesn’t exist anymore, as it isn’t the social norm. If the rules aren’t followed anymore….they don’t really exist.

Post # 13
3257 posts
Sugar bee
  • Wedding: August 2013

@cooperlove:  I took the words directly off a website dedicated to black tie standards:

“What do you suppose the other fellows will be wearing?”

If it’s black tie, a knee length or mid-calf cocktail dress/evening gown is appropriate.  Floor length is ok too, but unnecessary.  A floor length gown is only required for a white tie event.

Post # 16
433 posts
Helper bee


I am well aware that this was addressed to and is in response to Aspasia, but as a woman who feels similarly about etiquette and formalities as Aspasia does, I would like to discuss a few points. Your profile indicates that you live in California, and most people with even a passing knowledge of the United States know perfectly well that California is one of the most casual places in existence. It is als the birthplace of Hollywood where bastardisations of formal clothing and similar atrocities are paraded, and then copied by teenagers on their way to prom. However, that is quite alright as prom is also a bastardisation of a formal ball, and youth is an excuse for many sins, even sartorial ones.

There are other parts of the country, and indeed the world, where formality is highly valued, and incorrect attire and behaviour can and will lead to exclusion from events. Whilst I am not American, I had the pleasure of being invited to a formal evening wedding in the American south, and the dress code was indeed white tie, which meant tail coats for gentlemen and ball gowns or full-skirted evening dresses for ladies. British Officers’ Messes, for example, are notorious for their strict behavioural and dress standards. As the daughter of a retired British officer who still attends mess dinners, I can assure you that the dinner dress with covered shoulders and a slim skirt makes regular appearances. Bare shoulders are not accepted at the table, and a full skirt is an inconvenience when sitting and dining. 

Frankly, I find it rather sad that you have to express your contempt (“dying laughing” and “so much wasted effort”) in such a way. You see, dear crayfish, the rules are not dead or non-existing; perhaps they are in Berkeley, CA, but there are quite a few places in the world where they are alive and well, which makes your generalisations completely incorrect. 

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