Traditional etiquette versus the unconventional: it’s a battle as old as time. And, when it comes to having guests stand at your wedding ceremony, there is a divide between those who believe it’s poor hospitality and those who think it’s a new and cool idea.
Since the start of the pandemic, weddings have gone through a myriad of changes—from Zoom weddings to tiny guest lists to no-dancing rules. Couples, planners, and vendors all had to pivot and adjust. One of the ways, Fallon Carter of Fallon Carter Events, did so was by planning last-minute standing weddings at public places like parks. “We started doing it out of necessity as opposed to a trend,” she says. Now, she loves them.
She describes an outdoor wedding in which the bride and groom are in a valley and guests are standing on the hills above looking down. No chairs or man-made materials are there to disrupt the natural landscape. “It creates its own level of intimacy. When people are standing, they’re more alert. It feels more community style. It’s a vibe that happens,” she says. “The ceremony is a time for your guests to witness your love story come to its brand new beginning. There's power in creating a circle and [the couple] is standing in the middle—building a tribe and a community. When people stand and rise to the occasion—pun intended—it leads to a powerful ceremony. [it’s like saying] ‘Stand up and be in this with us.’”
It’s a beautiful picture. But, etiquette expert Elaine Swann says, “No. That is not acceptable.” For her, guest comfort is the most important thing when planning a wedding, and asking guests to stand is just poor etiquette, she says. “We have to think that certainly the wedding is for the bride and groom, but when you bring other people into an environment it's important for you to take them into consideration. You have now become a host, so your job is to create a welcoming and comfortable environment,” she explains.
She believes the only time it is appropriate to ask guests to stand is during certain parts of the ceremony if religion or culture dictates it (i.e. stand for a prayer or to watch the bride walk down the aisle). She also notes that the wedding party often stands, so couples should be mindful of who they include in their party if they are asking them to stand for a prolonged period of time and to make sure everyone is comfortable with that.
Annie Lee, founder of Plannie and principal planner at Daughter of Design, takes a sort of middle-of-the-road stance on standing weddings. She offers that while it’s not the first choice for a ceremony, “sometimes it is the only way but it can be done to create a very intimate and cozy experience” depending on the size and layout of the venue.
When To Do a Standing Ceremony
Both Carter and Lee have seen the pandemic push the envelope in the wedding industry toward more adventurous outside-the-box events. And, Carter admits that a standing ceremony is “unorthodox.”
“Tradition has been up for creative interpretations for years now. After 2020 though, one of the changes I see is that weddings don't necessarily have to be large parties with a full production. There is a trend of smaller gatherings in much more intimate settings, which redefines how we've come to think of a wedding celebration in the last couple decades,” shares Lee. If you do want to plan a standing ceremony, Carter recommends only doing it with an intimate guest count of 75 or less. If the crowd is too big, people in the back will not be able to see.
One of the first things that may come to mind when you think about a standing ceremony is that elderly guests or guests with physical limitations would not be able to participate. For this reason, it's important to look at your guest list carefully and provide seating for anyone who may need it. In fact, having some extra chairs on hand regardless is not a bad idea in case someone needs to sit for any reason.
Lee also offers that a standing ceremony should be short. “Standing is one thing, standing for a long time is another,” she says. Speaking of length, Swann also reminds couples that other factors such as the elements should inform the length of the ceremony as well (whether standing or seated). If it’s very hot, very cold, or raining, consider shortening an outdoor ceremony, she suggests. She also advises having parasols, umbrellas, or bottles of water—anything that may make an outdoor ceremony more comfortable
Should You Have a Spill-Over Room
Sometimes a standing-room-only space becomes a solution for spill-over if all the guests cannot fit in one area. But, Lee is not a fan of this method. “If I had to choose between guests seated in another spill-over room or having all the guests stand in the one same room, hands down, I'd try to keep everyone in the same room,” she shares. “It's like going to a concert and then some people getting to see the show live while the others are watching it on the screen. It divides the guests not only physically but disconnects them from the importance of the day."
Swann agrees that a spill-over area is not the way to go. She recommends that if all your guests will not be able to fit at the ceremony (for example, if it’s a small gathering at a city hall), to let guests know the ceremony will be a closed event; this way you can politely only invite your closest family and friends to be present. The rest of the guests should be instructed to arrive at the reception. However, she does not recommend the opposite: having all your guests at the ceremony and only some at the reception.
Tips for Standing Weddings
If a standing ceremony fits the bill for your wedding, Carter and Lee have some tips and guidelines to follow to ensure it goes smoothly:
- Communicate with your guests and let them know they will be standing so they know what to anticipate and can dress accordingly (stilettos might be ill-advised in this circumstance).
- Offer foldable shoes or flip flops for anyone who did wear uncomfortable shoes.
- Have chairs available for anyone who needs one. Consider putting close family members in chairs up front and having the rest of the guests stand behind.
- Offer light bites and water prior to the ceremony so that guests are replenished before standing for a prolonged period of time.
- Keep the ceremony short and sweet.
- Create tiered standing. Lee suggests adding stages or utilizing balconies so that no one is staring at the back of someone’s head during your whole ceremony. Carter says in natural settings, rocks and hills can be utilized.