Military Weddings: The Rules & Etiquette You Should Know

Expert advice on how to plan a formal military wedding

Updated 08/11/17

Stocksy

If you thought other weddings you’ve been to had a lot of traditions, just wait until you attend your first military wedding. With hundreds of years of traditions, specific dress codes, and even requirements for ways invitations might be worded, there’s a lot of etiquette to navigate that you may not have seen before. Thankfully, our experts have a little insight that will make both planning and attending a military wedding a breeze.

What should the bride or groom wear?

If either or both partners are in the military, they have the option of wearing full ceremonial dress instead of civilian clothing. For the groom, this might be his dress whites (in the summer) or dress blues (in the winter). For the bride, she may opt to wear her ceremonial uniform or may instead choose a traditional wedding dress. If either is an officer, his or her evening dress uniform is incredibly formal and should be reserved for a white-tie affair, while dinner or mess dress uniforms are appropriate for black-tie events. Dress blues are the best choice for a wedding with a cocktail or formal dress code.

What should guests wear?

If members of the wedding party or other guests are also members of the military, they should be advised as to what the bride and/or groom will be wearing, and their attire should be the same level of formality. The uniforms themselves will vary from branch to branch, but the formality of the uniforms should be the same.

Any member of the wedding ceremony carrying a saber must wear white gloves, with the exception of the groom and best man, as they will be handling the rings.

Should the groom and groomsmen have boutonnieres?

Boutonnieres are not to be worn with uniforms, no matter the formality. Any military decorations they might have serve as the “boutonniere” in this case. The bride may carry a bouquet, even if she opts to wear her uniform instead of a traditional wedding dress.

How should we include ranks or titles when wording and mailing invitations?

Both on the invitation and when addressing envelopes, if the military personnel’s rank is captain or higher in the Army or lieutenant senior grade or higher in the Navy, their title should appear before their name. For example: Captain Michael E. Brown, United States Marine Corps. A lower rank should be listed after the personnel’s rank. For example: Andrew White, Ensign, United States Navy. “Mr.” should not be used to refer to any personnel on active duty.

Can we have a saber arch?

If one or both of you are commissioned officers, you may exit your ceremony beneath an archway of sabers held by other military members, known as the Arch of Sabers. If you are noncommissioned officers or enlisted personnel, you will instead use a variation known as the Arch of Rifles. The arch serves as a pledge of loyalty to the couple by their military family and often ends with the final two military members lowering their sabers to prevent the couple from passing. If the bride is not in the military, she is then ceremonially tapped on the behind with a saber as a way of welcoming her into her partner’s military family, and then the couple is allowed to pass.

Where should we seat other members of the military?

During the ceremony, commanding officers should sit near the front, either with or directly behind the couple’s families. At the reception, military members should be seated by rank (captains with captains, sergeants with sergeants, etc.). You might also consider seating military personnel together at a table of honor near the head table.

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