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.