Monday, June 8, 2009

Wedding Etiquette: Getting Engaged

There are many ways of getting married and of celebrating the occasion: from the traditional 'white wedding' followed by a grand reception attended by all known friends and relatives, to the register office ceremony with just a selected few present.

Times and fashions change and 'courtship' as it was once known has taken on a different form, but despite a modern approach to many traditional customs the wedding still retains a great deal of its former sense of occasion. Many brides cherish dreams of an idyllic wedding day; dreams which could sway them towards a church wedding rather than one conducted by a registrar.

Although couples today are unlikely to follow custom slavishly, many find that wedding tradition and the ceremony of wedding etiquette enhances the occasion. Whilst the rules concerning the responsibilities and duties of wedding party members have been relaxed and the days when wedding preparations were entirely the job of the bride and her mother are long gone, couples still find that etiquette and their family's views are important considerations.

This series is for those who want to know about the protocol, formalities, the long-established customs and traditional order of events expected at a wedding. However, it is obviously the couple's decision as to how much they want to conform, bearing in mind that weddings are more flexible than they were in the past and it is not necessary to be ruled by convention; if the bride does not want a veil she need not have one; similarly if a buffet seems preferable to a formal meal then this should be the choice.

The overall organisation of the occasion falls to the bride and groom but other people involved, such as the best man, the bride's mother and father and the bridesmaids will need to be aware o*f their duties and may find this book useful.
With the changing nature of our modern world it will sometimes be the woman who proposes marriage, but whoever does the asking, if the answer is yes, then it is just the beginning of what could be a wonderful life together. To start the adventure off smoothly you will find this book invaluable in helping you to organise the wedding day.

There are so many details to remember in the planning process that it is a good idea to have an aide-memoire to ensure that nothing is overlooked. We have therefore included checklists at the end of the relevant posts which can be used to tick off each completed job. There are different lists for the principal participants and events, and any items on the lists which are not relevant can easily be deleted.

Here's hoping that your wedding day goes as planned and that this book helps to make your big day memorable!

Getting Engaged

In 'the good old days' when grandma was a girl, there were strict conventions on the subject of marriage. It is more than likely that any young man she was 'walking out with' may even have been selected by her father through an arrangement with one of his friends or colleagues who had a son who could be considered acceptable in terms of family, prospects and finances.

If the young man was suitably smitten, after a decent interval he would approach her father and ask that he be allowed to ask for his daughter's hand in marriage. If permission was given, he would make his formal proposal, probably going down on one knee, and hopefully she would say yes.

Times have changed and young people nowadays have many more opportunities to. meet, socially and at work. They enjoy far more freedom, and when it comes to choosing a marriage partner and 'popping the question' it is their own choice. The man might still propose on bended knee, but the general approach to marriage is far less formal than it used to be. The couple may often have been living together for a while.

Although these days it is the exception rather than the rule, taking the trouble to ask the woman's father is still one of the best ways of establishing an amicable son-in-law/father-in-law relationship. It is just as important today to ensure that there are no absolute objections to the marriage and that the bride's parents are satisfied that their prospective son-in-law can provide happiness and support for their daughter.

Whatever the circumstances leading up to the engagement, they should not detract from the fact that the couple have decided that they want to make a permanent commitment to each other and naturally now want everybody to know that they intend to get married.

Breaking the News

The first people to be told the news should be the bride's parents and then the groom's parents. For most weddings it is unlikely that the bride's father will be asked for his consent, although the law requires that in England and Wales the consent of parents or guardians is obtained for marriage if either party is under the age of 18. They must be over 16. In Scotland the requirement is that they may marry provided they are both at least 16 years old on the day of their marriage.

After both sets of parents have been told, a general announcement can be made, usually by word of mouth to relatives and close friends. This will need to be done fairly quickly, to beat the grapevine! Most couples like to inform close relatives and friends personally or by telephone, and many write to other relations and friends announcing their engagement and giving a few details about their fiance(e) and future plans. If writing, all letters should be posted at the same time so that no one feels excluded. A tick-list will help to keep track of those informed.

It is only natural that when a couple become engaged they want the whole world to know, but the announcement should not be made at someone else's wedding.

The formality of an announcement in the press is much rarer than it used to be. However, some couples like to announce their engagement in the national press, but for most an entry in the local paper is sufficient. (It is proper to inform relatives and close friends in advance.) The bride's mother or the prospective bride sends the announcement to the editor.

Here is an example for a formal announcement:

Mr R. Brown and Miss/Ms P. Smith The engagement is announced between Robert only son of Mr and Mrs Richard Brown of Queensgrove and Patricia youngest daughter of Mr and Mrs David Smith of Kingsgrove

It would be bad form to announce the intention to marry again while still married to a former partner.

The Engagement Ring

Traditionally the man gives his future bride a ring to wear as a sign of their engagement. A gold ring, with one or more diamonds, is probably the most popular design, but it is entirely a matter of choice. The days when a man produced a ring and placed it on his future bride's finger directly she had accepted his proposal are virtually over. This may happen if he has a family ring which he wants her to have, but more often than not they will find it best to choose the engagement ring together.

The cost of rings varies enormously and it will depend on personal circumstances and future plans as to how much should be spent. If the engagement is to be a short one the decision may be to limit spending on a ring and be in a better financial position to meet the numerous costs that the couple will have.

The selection of styles and settings of rings is huge, so it is as well to have some idea of what is available in your price range before setting foot in the shop, otherwise there is a risk of being tempted to exceed your budget.
Apart from the traditional diamond engagement ring there are many attractive alternatives, and birthstones are a popular choice.

The various stones are said to symbolize particular qualities:

JanuaryGarnet for constancy
FebruaryAmethyst for sincerity
MarchBloodstone for courage
AprilDiamond for innocence
MayEmerald for success
JunePearl for health
JulyRuby for love
AugustSardonyx for married happiness
SeptemberSapphire for wisdom
OctoberOpal for hope
NovemberTopaz for fidelity
DecemberTurquoise for harmony

Many women like to give a present in return to mark this very special occasion. Suggestions for such a gift include a gold signet ring, gold chain, tie-clip or cuff-links.

The Engagement Party

Some couples announce their engagement officially - and as a surprise - at a party traditionally given by the bride's parents who, along with the groom's parents, already know the news. Today, guests are usually tipped off in advance, however. The bride's father makes the official announcement at the celebration and the bride's mother issues the invitations. These need not be printed; they can be handwritten letters or cards, or a telephone call would suffice.

If there is to be a formal engagement party, the engagement ring is not worn in public until the announcement is made.

The engagement party should be held fairly shortly after the announcement is made so that it will serve as a suitable opportunity for congratulations and good wishes to be heaped on the happy couple - together with a few presents, no doubt!

The engagement party guest list may often be composed almost entirely of relations and can serve as an ideal opportunity for the prospective bride and groom to meet their future in-laws.

The home of the bride's parents is often the venue for the engagement party and traditionally the bride's father will bear the cost, although nowadays it is more likely that the cost will be shared, perhaps by the groom's father, who might also offer to hold the party at his home. Alternatively, it maybe decided to hold the party in a hall if there is a more extensive guest list, or to celebrate the occasion with a small dinner party in a restaurant with just immediate family and friends. Wherever it is held it should be an informal affair with just two speeches: the bride's father announcing the engagement and the bridegroom-to-be on behalf of his bride and himself proposing the health of their parents.

The party is an ideal opportunity for the two sets of parents to meet if they have not done so already, but if they live too great a distance apart for one set of parents to attend the party, the newly engaged pair should visit them as soon as possible so that they will see the couple and celebrate with them in a small way.


'Showers' are parties for women. They are given by someone in honour of the prospective bride and usually held during the daytime at a friend's home. At the shower, small gifts are offered to the bride. These can have themes, for example, 'kitchen shower', 'bedroom shower'.

Breaking Off the Engagement

If, for some reason, the bride and groom decide not to proceed with the wedding, engagement gifts received from relatives or friends should be returned. If the two parties are still friends, they may decide to keep any presents given to each other during their time together, although etiquette demands that the girl offers to return the ring, especially if she is the one to break off the engagement. It is the man's decision whether to accept it or not; if it is a family heirloom or his mother's engagement ring, he will most probably want to do so.

Relatives and friends can be informed quietly. The traditional approach is to make an announcement in the press which simply states the names and that the wedding will not take place.

An engagement to marry is no longer a binding contract in the eyes of the law and nowadays we have a more philosophical approach to a break-up at this stage; far better to find out now, we say, than to have regrets after the wedding.

  • Announce decision to her parents
  • Announce decision to his parents
  • Arrange for parents to meet
  • Buy the ring
  • Traditional ring
  • Family ring or heirloom
  • Antique ring
  • Birthstone
  • Present from her to him (Although not necessary, a ring, cuff-links or similar gift, preferably of gold or silver, is acceptable)
  • Tell relatives
  • Tell close friends
  • Engagement party/celebration
  • Press announcement

No comments: