Ask the Experts: The Etiquette Expert

Photo: Brad Paris

Elise Mac Adam

What’s the most tactful way to announce an engagement?
Word of mouth—excited phone calls, elated coffee-shop meetings. Or you can throw a party. Just don’t send an engagement announcement; that’s bad form. Announcements come after the wedding.

Is it rude to have a big engagement party if one wants a small wedding?
It’s tricky. Have the engagement party early on in the game. The more time between the party and the wedding, the better. If you have the two events close together, there’s a good chance people will wonder who they offended at the party to be crossed off the guest list.

What’s the best way to talk about the budget?
Each person should approach his or her parents separately. Don’t compare parental resources. Ask if there are any specific elements they’d like to pay for. Do they want to be responsible for the flowers or the cake, the venue, etc.? It’s a weird moment, but it has to happen, and it has to happen early.

What’s bad manners vis-à-vis the registry?
Don’t put your registry information on your invitation. If you have a wedding Website, bury it on there. I happen to like offbeat registries. There’s no reason to register for linens if you really want scuba equipment or trees for your garden. If you elope, you can still register, especially if you’re having a party afterward.

What about returning gifts?
If you get two panini makers, return the duplicate. But returning a gift for cash is lousy and cynical. A gift is a spontaneous gesture of happiness.

When should thank-you notes go out?
As soon as you’ve opened the present; they pile up, and what was a five-minute task is now this mammoth job. It’s never too late, but people do wonder where their thank-you note is.

Choosing the wedding party can get a bit thorny. Advice?
Don’t feel pressured to have bridesmaid reciprocity. Maybe your wedding is a much smaller affair than hers, or you’ve grown apart since hers.

How much should a bride “assign” to her bridesmaids?
All they’re on the line to do is: have a shower; attend a pre-wedding event (the bachelorette party and/or bridesmaid luncheon); get the dress and accessories; attend the rehearsal and rehearsal dinner; and participate in the wedding. If one of your bridesmaids seems flaky, don’t kick her out. Don’t do things that you know are going to hurt people’s feelings just because it’s “your special day.” Once your special day is over, there’s the rest of your life.

Top five most egregious breaches of wedding etiquette?
One: Treating a wedding reception as if it were a kegger. Two: Listing conquests and salacious details about previous relationships in a toast. Three: Printing your bank account number on an invitation so that guests can direct-deposit cash gifts. Your wedding is not a moneymaking scheme! Four: Kicking out bridesmaids because they didn’t lose enough weight. And, lastly: A mother-in-law wearing a slinky bridal gown (yes, a wedding dress) to her son’s wedding. Seriously, not good.

Tip From the Trade

“Emily Post and Amy Vanderbilt aren’t about snobbism. Etiquette is about making people comfortable.” Books, from $10 at

Elise Mac Adam is the author of Something New: Wedding Etiquette for Rule Breakers, Traditionalists, and Everyone In Between.

Books Photo: Stewart Isbell for New York Magazine

Ask the Experts: The Etiquette Expert