“But Will and Kate Did It!” Good Try, That Won’t Fly Here.

by admin on May 2, 2011

In the aftermath of the royal wedding of Prince William to Catherine Middleton, it has become quite evident that a British monarchy wedding defies many Etiquette Hell prohibitions such as:

* A hierarchy of guests. This was evident in numerous ways. Notable guests were escorted through one set of doors into Westminister Abbey whereas the common folk were directed through the north doors.

Although over 1,000 guests were invited and attended the wedding, the afternoon reception, hosted by Queen Elizabeth, was limited to 650 of those guests who were served champagne and canapes. It would blow our Ehell circuits if someone actually had the audacity to invite people to an 11 a.m. wedding and not extend an invitation to refreshments of some sort.

The list of 650 guests was further winnowed down to 300 for the evening private, black tie reception hosted by Prince Charles. The B grade guests invited to the after wedding reception but not the private affair later that evening were primarily Middleton guests who were invited to a separate event at the Goring Hotel in Belgravia, where Miss Middleton spent her final night as a single woman. Mr and Mrs Middleton welcomed guests to the Goring before returning to Buckingham Palace for the evening reception. I suppose the Middletons really had no choice on how to respond to a royal flush of their guests so they did the best they could under the circumstances.

* Sending a 22 page etiquette “guide” to guests detailing expectations on dress, table settings, how to engage the royals, etc. I’m pretty certain this is the first time in royal wedding history that this has been done. Don’t anyone get the bright idea they can do the same as the royals because we’ll still refer to you as the anal retentive bridezilla insulting your guests.

* Maid of honor wearing white. Interestingly, the etiquette guide sent to guests advised them to not wear white lest they upstage the bride but that apparently does not apply to sisters/maid of honor, or royal in-laws. Camilla’s champagne colored outfit nearly matched her own 2005 wedding ensemble and Sophie, Countess of Wessex’s champagne dress also fell into the realm of “too freaking close to a bridal color”. Pippa Middleton’s stunning white dress has been referred to, by fashionistas, as Kate’s “second choice wedding dress”.

* The wedding invitation indicating to male guests what their acceptable attire will be. I found Diana and Charles’ wedding invitation and it says the same thing as William and Kate’s in the lower left corner: Dress: Uniform, morning dress or lounge suit (what we in the US call a “business suit”).

*  The wedding wish list asking guests to donate to one or more of over 2 dozen charities the Prince and Catherine favor in lieu of a wedding gift.

Several people have asked me privately how to reconcile a royal wedding that has so many actions we would consider to be major faux pas.  Shouldn’t royalty know better?  Or are they above etiquette?

The answer is that there is a difference between European/Old World etiquette and New World etiquette or what Miss Manners’ refers to as “Star Spangled Manners”.   Old World/ European etiquette is predicted on a very old system of class distinctions where etiquette was one tool by which one’s breeding was measured whereas American etiquette is predicated upon the belief of an egalitarian equality and a refusal to dignify anything resembling class distinctions.  Miss Manners calls it “the basic American commitment to the Etiquette of Equality” or what I see as the “etiquette rule of law”, i.e. the same rules, the same dignity, the same respect for everyone regardless of station.   American etiquette tries to minimize the differences between the weak and powerful.

English etiquette maven Frances Trollope published the book, “Domestic manners of the Americans”, in 1832 in which she famously declared that a working class with a sense of being anyone’s equal was a worse evil than slavery.    When the royals have a “do as a I say, not as I do” mentality to manipulating etiquette to suit their need to divide guests into hierarchies, primarily based on who was royal and who was in trade, it’s no wonder there are resentful anti-royalists seeking to abolish the monarchy.

The English upper class disdain for the “trades” is deeply and historically entrenched in cultural etiquette which may explain the sending of an insulting “guide” as if one’s guests were etiquette idiots or the ease at which a large percentage of  non-royal  wedding guests were not invited to a reception which would have entailed blue bloods rubbing shoulders with commoners.  The social isolation of the Middleton guests several miles away from the main event and sans their hosts or the guests of honor is deeply repugnant to the American mindset of equal etiquette for all.  At least Will and Kate’s wedding was an improvement from 30 years ago.  When Charles and Diana married, there were 3500 guests in attendance followed by a family only reception for 120.

I’ve said many times that this is an American Etiquette web site.   We uphold the values of dignity, respect, and an etiquette rule of law for everyone, regardless of power, money, age, sex, religion, breeding, or one’s  “connections”.  No one is above etiquette and all are expected to behave in a way that offers civility to everyone.  Brides who think they can exalt themselves for a season to treat others disdainfully or discourteously are miserably mistaken.   We will still roast you for thinking too highly of yourself at the expense of others.

{ 119 comments… read them below or add one }

JeanFromBNA May 2, 2011 at 1:41 pm

I thought that it was acceptable to indicate dress in the lower left hand corner of a formal invitation.

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admin May 2, 2011 at 5:08 pm

JeanFromBNA,

Traditionally, at least with American etiquette, guests understood what dress was required by noting from the invitation the time of the day the wedding was slated to start as well as the formality of the actual invitation itself. A morning wedding required a business suit or a morning suit and tea length dresses, 12 noon is considered extremely formal with tuxedos, afternoon weddings were also informal and anything after 6:00 pm was considered very formal as in black or white tie, formal gowns, etc. When people move away from those conventions, it creates the confusion we often see which results in people feeling the need to correct by making sure their guests know how to dress themselves for the occasion.

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Zhoen May 2, 2011 at 2:16 pm

There is also the difference of Protocol over etiquette. Protocol is often not at all polite, but thems the rules with royals. When one has a government and an army to back up unequal treatment, then etiquette is not quite the correct term. Procedure and precedent, with an eye to security, are more the style.

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TychaBrahe May 2, 2011 at 2:31 pm

I will forgive the royals the announcements regarding donations to charity instead of gifts. It has been well documented that when royals marry, welcome new babies, or celebrate milestone birthdays, they are inundated with gifts, not just from their social circle, which is quite a bit larger than most, but from adoring fans, both their subjects and abroad. Charles and Diana received more than 6000 gifts, many quite lavish and useless. One site says the Emir of Bahrain sent them a jewel-encrusted dhow. It is not clear if this was a model of a boat, and if so, how large, or an actual boat.

In addition, if there is any chance that the royal couple are using a gift, someone might use that for advertising purposes: “As provided to the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.”

I am sure that the new Duke and Duchess received thoughtful, tasteful gifts from the friends and family who know them. The charities are a place for those around the world who wish to celebrate them to do so in a constructive manner.

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livvy May 2, 2011 at 2:31 pm

Love it! I’d also add that I’m sure some of this has to do with the dual nature of the Royal Wedding – the public / private split of the thing… I didn’t even think of the unfairness / eliteism of the tiered events – I thought of it as a gradual way to move from a public/state event to a personal one. I would think that your average Earl/Duke, whatever probably invites their “common” guests to the reception.

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Melissa May 2, 2011 at 3:12 pm

I was wondering when this was going to come up! I was actually surprised at so many violations – I always thought the Queen was a stickler for etiquette. I really think politics came into play on some of them, such as how the guests were seated, uninviting someone (not that I blame them), etc. I was quite surprised that William’s maternal relatives were relegated to the bride’s side. I think that was a bit of a slap in the face.

I don’t think Pippa’s dress was a faux pas, though, since I have to assume it was approved by the bride.

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nicolecj May 2, 2011 at 3:25 pm

I think it should also be noted that this was not just a social event to celebrate the coming together of two young people, this was a highly complex security issue revolving around many high placed foreign dignataries. If the head of your country and his entire family, and all the ruling heads of europe plus their families came to visit for your wedding, then you too could have all of these intricate rules and shortened party lists.

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AS May 2, 2011 at 3:42 pm

I think the MOH wearing white was quite endearing, and went on to show that the bride was quite comfortable in her own skin. Though it is hypocritical to tell people of the “no white” rule in the etiquette guide, but several royal guests wore white (at least MOH is a guest of honor in the wedding, and can get some leeway).

With regards to the etiquette guide – I was thinking that if I were one of Kate’s guests who were brought up as normal middleclass person in a modern world, I might have been interested in knowing how to behave while with the royal family. If not anything else, there are way too many cameras, and one etiquette breach from Kate’s relatives, and it might become the talk of the centaury! So, in a way, it is for the benefit of the guests.

It seems that royal customs are still at least 100 years old, and the bride and the groom don’t have much of a say about several aspects of it. I live in the USA, and originally from south Asia; so I don’t know much about the usual English traditions – I’d love to hear about them from the UK people on this forum. But I’d think it would be way too appalling if a modern couple did any of the things the admin listed.

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ashley May 2, 2011 at 3:50 pm

You seem to like picking on this wedding an awful lot admin xD!

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Allie May 2, 2011 at 3:53 pm

Ouch, that’s quite the Yankee Doodle Dandee tirade… I, too, was a little shocked at the bridesmaid’s dress, but quite frankly, if the invited guests (whether A, B or C list) didn’t like it, they could have declined the invitation. I sure as heck wouldn’t have!

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Allie May 2, 2011 at 3:54 pm

Just to clarify, by “like it” I was referring to all the etiquette breaches apparent on the face of the invitation, not the bridesmaid’s dress.

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ashley May 2, 2011 at 3:55 pm

Whoops hit submit a little too soon so sorry for the double post, but I wanted to say I actually thought it wasn’t that big of a deal that Pippa wore white. It made her kind of blend in to Catherine’s dress while she was walking behind and I think if she wore something with color then she definatly would of stood out more. She most likely ran it by her sister first I’m sure, besides we all know it was Catherine getting married that day and not Pippa xD So I don’t think thats a really big deal. I do agree with the whole multiple reception fiasco though, although we don’t know their reasoning behind it, I’m a little confused why all the guests couldn’t attend the same reception as well.

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Bint May 2, 2011 at 3:56 pm

Whatever the etiquette faux pas on the royal wedding, the idea it reflects Britain in any way is pretty laughable. The idea that Frances Trollope’s views of nearly 200 years ago (!) still hold sway is a joke. Yes, we have class divides and different etiquette but this article is full of implicit assumptions that are out of date, tired and totally unreflective for British people and their idea of good manners today. And some are just bizarre: anti-royalists are concerned with the civil list, the security costs and the idea of unelected rule. Not etiquette.

Given the interesting contrast between the US and UK etiquettes, it’s a shame the writer chose to run with the lazy Tom Clancy view of the UK, showing she clearly doesn’t understand the place or its culture. I’m sure there are several British readers here who could have helped.

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Chocobo May 2, 2011 at 3:56 pm

Here’s my two cents:

1. Hierarchy: Some of this seems expected, some not. One would think that, being that so little expense was spared in the wedding of the new Duke and Dutchess, a reception for all 1,000+ guests would be easy. Partly I understand a more private reception later; due to the Royal Family’s political status, many dignitaries and politically important people would be invited to the wedding, but who are not personally important to the couple. That is an extenuating circumstance that goes beyond the normal social obligations of nearly everyone else in the world.

However, what is the purpose of culling the list from 1,000 to 650 for canapes and champagne, especially when the crowd would be further shrunk later? While I understand a more private family dinner reception after the wedding for people like the Royals, I cannot see what the reasoning would be to cull a mere 400 people just for cocktails.

Leaving the Middleton’s out of the final reception, though, is a complete slap in the face to ‘commoners’. Royal or not, leaving out the family of the new Duchess, presumably because of their social status, is inexcusable.

2. I can only assume that this is also the reason why etiquette booklets were sent out — the guests, this time largely consisting of non-royals and non-dignitaries, were not trusted to know how to behave in a proper or courtly fashion.

3. I don’t really mind that the maids were wearing white. It appears to be an attempt at being fashion forward, and no doubt the bride had a choice in that color scheme. I’ve seen it before in other weddings, a trendy thing. I think we all knew who the bride was.

4. Again… guests can’t be trusted to know what “formal attire” means?

5. Mention of gifts on the invite — blegh! But I understand why. I would have no idea what to buy a future King. That I would have probably found useful and used in such different circumstances.

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Hemi Halliwell May 2, 2011 at 4:04 pm

Did anyone else notice that at this wedding, 75% of the guests could not actually see the ceremony? They got to see the bride, groom, attendants and other guests walk by on their way to their seats upfront. There was some sort of “hallway” were the choirs were at that no one seated in the rear could see past. It seemed as though not only were certian guests not invited to the reception, they were also basically excluded from the ceremony.
If they thought people were going to behave atrociously and not dress properly, why invite them to the ceremony? The did not want anyone to wear white or anything close to white but then they were slammed by British reporters for wearing anything with a bit of color to it. Also, many of the “royal” guests were dressed horribly. In particular, several “princesses” and “ladies” with, in my opinion, very bad taste in clothes AND hats. Maybe they didn’t get a copy of the 22 page etiquette guide!
It seems as though the royals want their “common folk” to adore and respect them yet they obviously have no respect for the “commmon folk”!

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Iris May 2, 2011 at 4:17 pm

Thank you for saying this. Someone needed to.

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JLB May 2, 2011 at 4:26 pm

While I agree with you for the most part Admin I have to add that I don’t find having a bridesmaid in white to be such a faux pas. My bridesmaids each picked out a white dress for my wedding to allow them to find something they liked within their budget that they would wear again. They really appreciated it.

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admin May 2, 2011 at 4:56 pm

JLB,

The main faux pas was in directing guests via a 22 page etiquette guide that wearing white would detract from the bride while suspending the rules for oneself, i.e. Camilla and Sophie wearing off white outfits. What is a faux pas for you is also a faux pas for me, regardless of yours or my station in life.

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kelly May 2, 2011 at 4:34 pm

I should also add that many in our media have had issues with the guest list -the Syrian royal family and representitives were invited by the royal family, and Blair and Brown were not invited.

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Leslie Holman-Anderson May 2, 2011 at 4:48 pm

The North door has always been the commons’ entrance, since before the places of worship they entered were Christian. The common folk, especially rural commons, remained Pagan in all but name for generations after the Church came to dominate; in fact, it was an open secret that those who entered by the north door held to the Old Religion. North was held to be the direction of Valhalla (to the Norse invaders) and by the Celts of the Castle of Arianhrod, one version of their afterlife, the way to which was pointed by the constellation we now call the Big Dipper. Thus, it was the direction from which power and magic came. In many truly old churches you will sometimes find the north door bricked up to prevent the Pagans from identifying each other and using the church as a gathering-place.

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Jessy May 2, 2011 at 4:59 pm

As a Brit I found half of the post slightly awkward to read.

The fact so many were invited was as a matter of protocol (for a royal wedding, all embassy diplomats are invited I am pretty sure) so it is not so grave an error. If you actually read the guest list, it is quite sad to see how few are “just friends” of the bride or groom. This was an internationally televised event, and one for the British monarchy, so it is hardly a run-of-the-mill wedding. The Middleton’s at least held another event for the ones they wanted to invite (as the British royals had a much larger say in who was invited.)

Surely it is not bad etiquette to have a dress code on the invitations? I mean, if I was attending a wedding I would much prefer to know what to wear. Especially as you are being televised internationally – it could be quite embarrassing to wear the wrong clothes.

The wedding was conducted extremely civilly – William made a point of arriving 30 minutes or so early so he was able to talk with his guests, which in the situation I think is extremely admirable and they carried the whole thing of spectacularly.

And I do not know if the line “Brides who think they can exalt themselves for a season to treat others disdainfully or discourteously are miserably mistaken. ” was meant to be a small “dig” of sorts at Catherine, but I have to say throughout this process she, and William, have been extremely courteous and treated others very well. She has not been a “bridezilla” in any way. To say she has is extremely misinformed.

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Melissa May 2, 2011 at 5:37 pm

I think it’s unfair to say this was ‘British etiquette’ — it’s Royal etiquette which has to be different. Of course it would be rude for a bride to send out an etiquette guide to her guests, but most services aren’t broadcast live around the world, most guests are known to the couple beforehand and don’t need to go through security checks before they’re allowed in to view the service, most marriages don’t take place on the world stage. Things have to be done differently for something like this and, due to the sheer volume of guests, most of which I would assume the bride and groom barely knew if they knew them at all, that sometimes means things are done less than ideally on a level which isn’t personal.

The Royal Family is steeped in protocol and tradition; they have to have a certain appearance for the sake of history, politics, and tourism, and that means the guests invited to a ceremony like this — invited for political reasons rather than personal ones — have to follow those same rules and keep up that same appearance. It may seem ungracious to hear about ‘rule books’ but do bear in mind the people in charge of organising this had to deal with far more than the usual number of guests, and if it comes down to a few clucking tongues or worldwide news coverage mocking the Royals for their rowdy and unruly guests, I think we would all err on the same side.

It’s fair to say that this wedding was an exception to the rule — but not because it was British. Please don’t tar us all with the same brush. It should go without saying that any bride — regardless of where she’s from — should go for a soft and personal approach, and shouldn’t follow the Royal Family’s example. Unless, of course, she’s marrying Harry.

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Megen May 2, 2011 at 5:50 pm

I was under the impression that in England it is common for the bridemaids to wear the same color or close to the same color as the bride. The younger bridesmaids (I also understand they don’t really have “flower girls” either) were all wearing white also. (This comes from the endless shows and stuff about the wedding. Before and after the event.)

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GroceryGirl May 2, 2011 at 5:50 pm

I’m afraid I can’t quite agree with all this. There are a lot of rules to abide by when one is in the presence of royalty and had I been invited to the wedding I would have appreciated a guide warning me not to use the word “toilet” or call Catherine “Cate” or the hundreds of other little things that can be misconstrued as an insult. I don’t think by sending out the guide they were suggesting people don’t know how to behave but rather that they don’t know how to behave in such a setting.

As far as narrowing it down, Will and Kate are rather private people from what I’ve heard. I highly doubt that it was their choice to have 1,000 wedding guests and I’m sure they wanted to celebrate their wedding with people they were actually close to (like their friends, not the sultan of Brunei).

I think what this really shows us is how little tightly controlled the life of a royal is and it actually makes me feel a little bad for them. They probably had very little say in their wedding day.

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Sharon May 2, 2011 at 6:14 pm

I am sure that Kate picked out her sister’s dress. Like another poster said, if she had worn another color it would have drawn attention away from Kate.

I agree about inviting people to the wedding and then leaving them off the reception list. Especially if these people were the bride’s family and friends. Kind of like saying, we would treat you like a real guest, but you chose the wrong ancestors.

The people who wore champagne, beige and white just showed they may be arictocracy, but they have no class. The same thing goes for people who wore those hats that screamed, “LOOK AT ME!!!!”
These are the people I would be dimissive about, not the brides loved ones!

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L. May 2, 2011 at 6:25 pm

It’s traditional for English bridesmaids to wear white/ivory to match the bride’s dress. Diana’s bridesmaids did, as did Princess Anne’s, Princess Margaret’s, and Queen Elizabeth’s. It’s from the ancient Roman custom of the bride’s friends dressing like her so evil spirits will be confused. If Pippa had been wearing a version of the younger bridesmaids’ dresses, nobody would have thought twice about the color.

I do think all the repetitions of “Will and Kate” itself these past few months has set a bad example. People already often forget the ladies first rule. For example, a couple should be addressed as Jane and John. On envelopes that would be:

Ms. Jane Smith
Mr. John Doe
If they’re married, then:
Ms. Jane Smith and Mr. John Doe

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Abi May 2, 2011 at 6:28 pm

As has been mentioned, I think that it’s important to distinguish between protocol and etiquette here. For example, it has been seen before that inviting people that could be beneficial to the newly-weds, for example people higher up in a company, would be more than simply frowned upon! However, guests in this wedding are politically important, not just for the couple, but for the country, and so foreign dignitaries must be invited to “keep the peace” so to speak. Also, custom dictates that certain individuals must wear certain appropriate outfits. No doubt this would have been underlined in the etiquette guide handed out.

Also, this was not a private occasion, as a normal wedding would have been, but an affair the entirety of the UK were excited for, and thankfully invited to participate in, with most businesses even granting the day off for people to watch the royal wedding. In that respect, the entire country was invited to participate in some manner for the royal wedding. If you consider that, then it is entirely unfeasable to feed all guests. Having a separate ceremony and reception was lovely, as it allowed the country and many of the less well known guests to be involved in the most important act of the wedding, whilst allowing the newly-weds time with their nearest and dearest, and yes, the people with whom they will no doubt be interacting with in the future, when the time comes for Prince William to become king.

Yes, some etiquette rules were perhaps ignored, but in such extreme circumstances, can we really expect etiquette to be followed to the letter? I am simply glad to have been able to be a part of such a joyous occasion in my country’s recent history, and do not feel slighted or belittled in any way, as I am sure most people would agree, so surely no major etiquette breach has occurred?

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Kimberly May 2, 2011 at 6:29 pm

The different entrances can be 2 things. Large events I’ve been to (Not private but purchased Tickets) will have different entrances to speed things along. I give them a pass if security was an issue also. When a former President attends services at my the same church my Aunt, Uncle and their adult kids attend – The former President and former First Lady enter and exit from a particular door and that area is off limits to other members on those days. It is the Secret Service decision and the church goes along with it. The church on the other hand has asked that they not attend certain days and instead of a minster come to them because the church can not spare the room (pews around the former first family only have Secret Service agents in them.

On the other points I would think more highly of the couple if they had told his father’s family every one that is invited comes to the reception – or we aren’t coming to the reception.

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Abi May 2, 2011 at 6:31 pm

Sorry for the double post, but I laughed when I thought of this – Prince William, at the alter, leaned into Princess Catherine and said “I thought this was supposed to be a small family affair?” – I am sure they did the best they could with the hand they were dealt. Hats off to them!

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Vrinda May 2, 2011 at 6:56 pm

So two people wore beige and off-white. You still knew who the bride was. Some people nitpick too much.

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Andrea May 2, 2011 at 7:12 pm

Megen is right, it’s a European tradition for the bridesmaids to wear white or a similar colour to the bride and can be seen at other royal weddings (I believe both Diana and Fergie had bridesmaids in similar colours). I remember reading it comes from an oooold superstition that the devil might come to take the virginal bride so there had to be other women there who looked similar to be taken in her stead.

I don’t agree with sidelining the Middleton family though, I can only imagine the etiquette guides were to educate the ‘commoners’ coming from her side to the wedding. *sigh* Only in England would a very well off, successful family be considered common just because of their blood.

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Brian Katcher May 2, 2011 at 7:21 pm

Thank you President James Madison, father of the Constitution, for ensuring that there will never be American royalty.

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Livvie May 2, 2011 at 7:51 pm

There were plenty of Middleton guests at the evening reception, actually. The bride and groom made the list, and spread the invites fairly equally. Wills family is larger than Kate’s, thus, he had more guests. There was also a post-evening reception after-party at the Goring, to be less formal.

Camilla was not wearing white, and neither was the Countess of Wessex. They were both wearing just the sort of pale neutral shades that are in fashion this year.

The “hallway” guests couldn’t see past is actually a screen, a traditional part of the abbey, and there were large screens showing the wedding to those behind the screen, they just weren’t visible to the television audience.

Tuxedos are never worn at noon. The purpose of the attair specifications is primarily to permit lounge suits, which would otherwise be considered too informal.

The true etiquette violations were David Beckham, who wore is OBE medal on the wrong side, and Samantha Cameron, who refused to wear a hat, thus calling attention to herself.

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Allie May 2, 2011 at 7:55 pm

Admin, I’m not certain much can be ascertained about dress code from the time of the wedding given that, I believe (and I’m happy to be corrected here if I’m wrong) that in the Church of England it is customary to get married before noon, the canonical hour. In fact, as I understand it, for a long time a marriage that took place after noon was not considered valid, which is a plot point in some sixteenth and seventeenth century plays.

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Jall May 2, 2011 at 8:00 pm

Perhaps I’m naive, but I was under the impression that Britain and America had similar, but NOT identical cultures. There ARE differences in the way we conduct interactions at every social level. Some are subtle, some are overt. When you are moving in the social class we’re discussing — royals and high ranking nobility, something utterly absent in American culture — then things are going to get even more different than what we Americans are used to.

I have never met a Queen, have you? I’ve never met an aristocrat. I wouldn’t know how to act, or what the protocol would be. I suspect there were people invited to that wedding (for whatever reason) who have also seldom or never moved in that social class, either. In THAT culture, in THAT situation, I would welcome an etiquette booklet to help me know how not to make a fool of myself or offend anybody. I also don’t think I’d want to party with the Queen, either, for the same reason. Two receptions would make sense in that instance.

In that culture, in that situation, what they did made sense.

HOWEVER, with that said, to try and transport that sort of behavior to America, which is a different culture than Britain… no. Just no. What works over there, in that situation, doesn’t necessarily work over here. If I received a wedding invitation from one of my friends that had an etiquette booklet attached? Yeah, I’d be cheesed off and insulted, unless they had a very very good reason.

(a good reason would be something like, they were having a service in a religious, social, or ethnic tradition that I am unfamiliar with)

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--Lia May 2, 2011 at 8:42 pm

Some years ago, DH met and invited to dinner a young man he met at a go club. (Go is a strategy board game played with stones on a grid. It’s one of those things that you either love or find baffling.) The young man was newly in the U.S. from China. He spoke stilted English, and his manners were a little stiff. I attributed this to his being in his early 20s as well as his being in a new country. DH and I thought about what to serve for dinner. We wanted it to be an ordinary meal since it was informal and the idea was for them to play go afterwards. We didn’t want to give him our idea of Chinese cooking. We wanted to give him something that might be a little new but not downright weird. We chose baked chicken, baked sweet potatoes, and steamed broccoli.

He was fine with a knife and fork. He’d never seen a sweet potato before (or never a baked one). He asked me how to eat it. I showed him how I used a butter knife to get the butter from the dish, said that he didn’t have to if he didn’t care for butter (I do, DH doesn’t), showed him how I mashed it, and said that he could eat the skin or leave it on the plate (DH does, I don’t. Also DH is Canadian and holds his fork in his left. I use the American system of switching the fork back and forth. We find both acceptable.). DH thought it was horrible to tell a guest in our home what to do. I thought it was better to answer the question that was asked, that a quick answer was the best way to put him at ease and was a kindness in the long run.

I tell this story because I think it’s relevant to the etiquette guide sent with the wedding invitations. Of course it would be bad manners to correct an adult in my home who was doing something harmless. But the royal wedding is like a foreign country to a lot of the guests. In that case, giving some discreet instruction is kinder in the long run. Or think of the scene in The King’s Speech when Helena Bonham Carter gives brief instruction to Rush on how she should be addressed. She wasn’t bossy about it. She told him something he needed to know.

I believe our administrator got it right with her headline, “That Won’t Fly Here.” Right. Some things are correct for British royalty that are all wrong for everyone else. An instruction booklet for a wedding is certainly out of place for my wedding but just right for them. A hierarchy of guests is certainly wrong the rest of us but O.K. for them. Yes, I wish they’d revive the tradition of the wedding tour. That’s where the couple marry with only a few people attending the ceremony itself and then go on a trip in which they visit everyone far and wide while giving a reception in every town, a series of parties, not one big one and not all on one day. There are all sorts of things that would be inappropriate for my wedding and yours but that seem just right for them.

As for wearing white– The style seems to be changing. I’ve was a bridesmaid at a wedding where we were all asked to wear white. It was beautiful. I’ve been to a wedding where the bride wore black. That was beautiful too. I was surprised to see my mother-in-law’s wedding dress a short while ago. The pictures were in black and white so I never realized it was yellow before. That wedding was in 1920. I don’t think we can say that it’s always rude for a guest to wear white, and attendants have always worn special attire. I’d let the royal family off the hook for that one.

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gramma dishes May 2, 2011 at 8:43 pm

Okay, everything else I could deal with. They’re royals! No one expects them to be paragons of American style etiquette. They have their own set of priorities, many of which are a result of decades of special rules and regulations. It comes with the territory.

But I do think it’s horrible that the Middletons were treated as second class citizens. She’s the Bride!

Sorry, but the slighting of the bride’s family certainly indicates an extreme lack of class. It’s a negative reflection on the royal family.

I’m disappointed that the bride and groom themselves didn’t at least attempt to put a stop to this tasteless practice of selective exclusion. This would have been the perfect circumstance for Prince William to demonstrate that he has a backbone and to have spoken up in defense of his young bride’s family.

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Anion May 2, 2011 at 9:19 pm

Camilla’s dress was actually blue. I didn’t see Sophie’s, so can’t comment. Either way, I highly doubt either of them could have been mistaken for the bride, and given their close relationships to the groom, I can hardly believe they didn’t run their dresses past the bride–or someone else–and get the okay.

Having MOHs/bridesmaids in white isn’t so unusual in England, at least not from the weddings I’ve seen there. It’s certainly not rude for the bride to dress her MOH etc. in white if she so desires. Nor is it rude to expect other female guests not to wear white.

Having poor taste in hats does not make a Princess any less of a Princess, nor does it make her not a “lady.” Declaring that anyone wearing clothes you personally dislike is automatically not a lady is rather unladylike, though.

Westminster Abbey has been the location of coronations, royal weddings, and royal christenings for a thousand years. Should the ability of the “audience” to see the “show” really override the personal and historical meaning of the location? A wedding is not a cabaret.

I do agree on the difference between protocol and etiquette.

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Meloni May 2, 2011 at 9:20 pm

This post was a fun read, but I have to admit that judging a British wedding against American standards of behavior is just silly.

If I were invited to a Royal Wedding or any event outside my culture, I would appreciate an etiquette guide on appropriate behaviors (I keep thinking about that “don’t touch the Queen” tip, LOL). There were undoubtedly a lot of people invited to the wedding who are unfamiliar with the customs, and why single them out with the guides? Just send them to everybody on the list.

Regarding the Maid of Honor wearing white. If that was Catherine’s choice, so be it. Her confidence and beauty ensured she would be outshined by none. Most brides maids dresses are silly and detract from the overall flow anyway, so good for her! The others should have definitely avoided that color and it was rude of them not to comply, especially when specifically asked.

I had no idea that indicating dress codes was unacceptable. In fact, I thought it was the norm. I’m not completely sure, but aren’t the styles listed for men (Uniform, morning dress or lounge suit) also indicators of what the women should wear? I would appreciate knowing what dress is expected so I didn’t over or under dress and detract from the event.

Regarding requests for charitable donations in lieu of gifts: Again, not sure if this is really a problem or not. I imagine that high-falutin’ people are constantly innundated with gifts that may have been sincere and thoughtful in the eyes of the giver, but don’t hold any place in the recipient’s world.

That said, I agree that American commoner brides (tee hee) would be absolutely ridiculous for trying to pull off a Will and Kate wedding.

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Mike Johnson May 2, 2011 at 9:24 pm

With all the stories on this site of people wearing inappropriate clothing or acting improperly I can’t really see why the admin thinks that a booklet telling what is called for is out of line. Plus we are talking about a potential head of state being married not cousin Joe and his girlfriend. This was both a state and personal event and that kind of trumps the usual rules. Plus the bridesmaids and what I assume pass for flower girls were just adorable.

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Maggie May 2, 2011 at 11:46 pm

When the US starts holding royal weddings, then Americans can criticise the protocols of state weddings/occasions of other countries. As for wearing white to a wedding, who can forget Grace Kelly (as Princess Grace of Monaco) wearing white to Charles and Diana’s wedding! Talk about a wedding faux pas – she would have known better but decided to wear white anyway. But what else to expect from a country that has a president’s wife who does not know (or more likely deliberately ignored) another country’s protocol regarding the touching of royalty! Hmm….

Anyway, it was a lovely day and, considering the nerves of such a very public wedding, the couple held themselves very well. Neither had the choice of wedding they wanted so, if you get that for yourself, think yourself lucky.

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Jolie_Kitten May 3, 2011 at 12:42 am

A little clarification everyone so far has seemed to miss: as far as I know, all wedding guests got invited to one reception or other after the wedding; like- there was the HC’s reception of about 300 guests, then there was the Middletons’ reception for their friends; those who did not attend the Queen’s reception were, if I remember correctly, most of them- ambassadors who were invited after the wedding to the Prime Minister’s reception and all in all- I think there were around 30 receptions ongoing by members of the royal family and state dignitaries- which meant after the ceremony everyone got invited to a reception; along with some people who weren’t in the ceremony ’cause they couldn’t fit in the church- for example, the ambassadors’ wives were invited to some associated event while their husbands were attending the wedding and then they went to the same reception.

Actually, I think that in the given circumstances this is a lot more practical,intimate and thoughtful than just one huge reception.

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Amber May 3, 2011 at 12:43 am

UUuuugh. And this is why I think a monarchy with almost no power beyond looking nice for the cameras is pretty ridiculous. What on earth is the point of all that fuss? Imagine, the hoi polloi left starving after the wedding, all because of a class distinction. And the etiquette guide! I’m sure that the royals thought it would be a help to the little people, but goodness! Not to mention, so many of those rules are based on a system of distinguishing the haves from the have nots. Hrrumph.

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EMACK May 3, 2011 at 12:45 am

I see lots of people criticizing the Queen for the “don’t touch me, unless *I* touch you” rule. But really, without it don’t you think she’d be mobbed at every event she went to. Everybody wants to touch the Queen.

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Laura May 3, 2011 at 2:22 am

I can understand why they’d ask for charitable donations in lieu of gifts. Imagine how many toasters they’d get! :p (Sorry, couldn’t resist).

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Tetris May 3, 2011 at 2:52 am

I bet if an American president would marry while in office, the setup would be rather similar. Guests invited to some parts of the festivities but not to all, instruction booklets on how to behave, invitations indicating what to wear and which charities to give money to instead of gifts… Everybody may be equal (which normally goes here in Europe too, btw), but heads of state are more equal than most, be they royal or elected.

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admin May 20, 2011 at 5:53 am

Tetris,

There have been children of presidents married while Dad was holding the office of President of the United States. Jenna Bush was married at her parents’ Crawford , Texas ranch while George Bush was President, 300 guests were invited and they all attended the reception. Chelsea Clinton married after her father Bill Clinton left office, there were 600 guests, all invited to the reception afterwards. Ditto for Amy Carter and Steve Ford. The last wedding in the Rose Garden of the White House was Tricia Nixon’s (if I recall correctly) and again, all invited guests attended the reception.

I’m struggling to think of any celebrities who had wedding guest list divided into A and B lists with the B guests not invited to a reception and I cannot think of one. When Mary Lou Retton (olympic gold medal gymnast) married, there were 600 guests, all invited to the reception. It simply has not been the custom of American “elite”, either sports, entertainment or political, to have weddings where some number of guests are treated differently or excluded from festivities commonly associated with a wedding.

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Kaye May 3, 2011 at 4:06 am

I would like to contest the “bridesmaid in white” issue in this article. Traditionally, and I mean VERY traditionally, both bridesmaids and brides wore the same color. Coordinating wedding “colors” and the bride wearing the only white attire are relatively new ideas and definitely an American thing. However, because it is mainly an American expectation does not warrant the right for you to sneer at a person should they choose white as their bridal party color. It was obviously a deliberate decision since the flower girls dresses were made from the same material as the wedding dress and you’d be foolish to assume Pippa bought a dress without her sister’s blessing. In this case, asking guests not to wear white would have been wise lest they should be mistaken as the bridal party, not because the bride felt some entitled sense to her symbol of purity.

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kelly May 3, 2011 at 4:06 am

Bint,
You are right about the fact that this is not a reflection of Britain, but do not blame admin. What are people expected to think of Britain when we have an unelected head of state decided by birthright that behaves like this and our media race around trying to present a rosy picture of this to the world so that everyone thinks the British people agree, or even have a choice in the matter.
It is the fault of the media that people are being given this outdated view of Britain.
I also really object to the term anti-monarchy, I prefer pro-democracy.

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kelly May 3, 2011 at 4:12 am

Anion,
This was not a state wedding so there was no obligation to invite dignitories from other countries, therefore
it chould have been held in the chapel at windsor castle if they only wanted close family and friends to witness the ceremony.
I should also point out that in England weddings are public events that anyone can attend, even if they are held on private property. Therefore anyone can attend the ceremony wearing whatever they wish (inpolite though this may be). I presume this law was set aside for this wedding though.

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a May 3, 2011 at 4:21 am

The party in the evening was reported as very much a private affair. I have not heard that the Middleton family was in any way excluded more than other non-friends? As an example, several European royalties, who attended the service in their capacity as ‘fellow royals’, but that K&W do not know personally, were not invited to the evening either e.g.

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Rachel May 3, 2011 at 4:32 am

I can’t agree with a lot of this either.
Traditionally, bridesmaids were dressed in similar fashion to the bride – and Royal bridesmaids are usually white, cream or ivory. In addition, the bride decides on bridesmaid colours, and she can have bridesmaids dressed however she wants.

Similarly, the purpose of etiquette is to make others comfortable – and given the minefield that a royal wedidng is a 20 page guide to security and so forth makes things very easy for everyone. I’d see it as being akin to providing a map to the wedding, or explaining an unfamiliar culture (e.g. if you had a mixed wedding – hindu bride or jewish groom and the other tradition’s family explain the unfamiliar so everyone can be comfortable at the event.

Door entry advice isn’t unique to this event. Last time I went to Westiminster Abbey (for an Anzac Day service – for which you needed tickets in advance) our tickets specified which door to enter – and we entered by the appropriate door (in this case – the so called “posh” one – we were seated where William and Kate’s friends were – simply by seat allocation). We’re not posh, we got our tickets by allocation at the New Zealand embassy.

Some of the evening guests were not invited at lunch, as I understand it. I think having a “formal” reception for dignitaries, and a “fun” session for younger friends and family makes sense.

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GeenaD May 3, 2011 at 5:02 am

It’s a wedding in another part of the world with different class distinctions, their own rules of protocol, etiquette and sense of what is done. Why on earth is there any commentary of what is right or wrong with this event when as the admin has pointed out that EHell is an AMERICAN etiquette site only? Based on that statement the royal wedding has nothing to do with us at all and does not impact or reflect on how things are done in this country.

What happened to the “Their house their rules” concept?

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