Planning a wedding can be complicated enough, but if you or your partner (or any of your guests) are in the military, there’s a whole other layer of etiquette, protocol, and consideration that you’ll need to keep in mind. Extra care needs to be taken with everything from seating assignments to displaying the American flag, but as long as you pay close attention to tradition and protocol, you shouldn’t run into any major faux pas. We spoke with Aimee Dominick, president of D.C.-based A. Dominick Events, about some of the most important things to keep in mind as you’re planning a military wedding. Her experience with military, political, and diplomatic protocol will get you started on the right foot!
Take Great Care with Written Materials
From the save the date and invitation all the way to the escort cards, it’s crucial to make sure guests are addressed with the correct title. “The person with the military title, whether male or female, should be listed first. Their spouse should be named as Mrs. or Mr.,” says Dominick.
Display the Flag Properly
“If you’ll be displaying the American flag at the ceremony, it should be to the left of the officiant, when viewed by the gathered guests,” Dominick states.
With members of the military in attendance (particularly any high-ranking officials), security is a much bigger consideration than it might be at a civilian wedding. “Find out in advance if there is anyone who, for security reasons, should not be photographed,” Dominick explains. Then get that list (and possibly a professional headshot of each person) to your photographer so he or she knows who to avoid during the reception and which images shouldn’t be shared publicly.
Practice the Saber Arch
One of the most-anticipated traditions in a military wedding is the saber arch, and while a lot of practice and repetition goes into the daily lives of a member of the armed services, this isn’t one of them. “We make sure to have the wedding party run through this during the ceremony rehearsal,” Dominick says. The location is also key: “For a Navy wedding, the arch takes place indoors. Army and Air Force weddings can have the arch indoors or out,” she explains.
Seat Guests Intentionally
“Check with your military guests regarding their preference about where they would like to be seated,” says Dominick. You can seat officials all at the same table, put them in seats of honor, or seat them amongst civilian guests, depending on what they would prefer.
Skip the Personal Flowers
Be Open to Alternative Wedding Party Attire
“Wearing a uniform at a wedding is at the discretion of the service member, male or female,” says Dominick. That means that your bridesmaids or groomsmen in the military might opt to wear their dress uniforms, or may choose instead to wear civilian formalwear. “We have had bridesmaids wear their dress whites for the ceremony and saber arch, then change into bridesmaids’ dresses for the reception,” Dominick describes.
Look at Special Venues
Members of the military have access to certain special venues that aren’t available to civilian couples, including officer’s clubs and military chapels. These venues are full of history and meaning, adding an extra layer of personalization to your wedding day.
Turn to the Experts
Protocol is something civilians may not consider on a daily basis, but that members of the military (as well as government and diplomatic officials) are acutely aware of. Not sure where to hang the flag or how to address certain officials? Turn to The Protocol Red Book. “We use it quite a bit in D.C., and it’s a fantastic reference regarding rank and order, as well as for written items,” Dominick explains.