No, you don't have to ask your estranged sister to be a bridesmaid. Yes, there are people you won't be inviting to the wedding who deserve a call. As you spend the coming months walking on air while planning your wedding, here's what all engaged girls should know about wedding etiquette so you can navigate the trickiest (and most common) social situations, avoid any bridal buzzkills, and waltz through your engagement like the graceful lady you are.
Spreading the word, part one: telling the masses
Before you use social media to blast your happy news to all of your friends and all of their friends, tell your family and your besties about your engagement first in person or, if they're long-distance, by phone (or Skype so they can see the ring and your massive grin). "Don't feel each conversation needs to be epic. It's fine to keep it to a few minutes," says Calder Clark, a wedding planner based in Charleston, South Carolina. Then you can switch your Facebook status, and after the outpouring of congrats, be sure to post a quick thank-you to the well-wishers.
Spreading the word, part two: telling the tricky ones
Got a friend who always thought she'd be the first to get married or a cousin going through a divorce? She should be happy for you regardless, so don't feel you need to tamp down your excitement when sharing the news. Just be sure any sensitive sorts hear it from you first, then try to go light on the wedding talk with them for a while. As for frenemies offering backhanded comments ("Took him long enough!"), smile and ignore. You've got too much love to hear the haters.
Saying "thank you" over and over again
Get ready to utter those two words more than you ever have in your life as your loved ones shower you with money, parties, and gifts. To keep it meaningful, says Clark, compliment the giver or ask for advice. When Aunt Sue tells you you'll look great in a white gown, say, "Thank you! How did you pick your dress?" When your BFF offers to host your engagement party, try "Thank you! You're an amazing hostess." As for notes, send them within three weeks of receiving an engagement or shower gift and within three months for a wedding gift (you get an extra cushion for your honeymoon)—and always handwrite them.
Asking for money
If you're expecting your (or his) parents to contribute to the wedding, have the talk early on. Do a sit-down (without the fiancé, so nobody feels undue pressure) and be clear about what you want, with a ballpark figure in mind. Then accept what's offered with gratitude—including their planning suggestions because, yes, if they pay, they do get a say.
Asking for help
Match each task with the person who has the skills to execute it. Then mention that in the ask: "Ann, since you're so organized, would you help me take notes on who gives what at the shower?" Don't take it personally if they beg off, says Beka Rendell, an event designer for Styled Creative in Philadelphia. "Always give an 'out' in case they have a heavy load in their own lives, financially or timewise," she says.
Gracefully declining help
You may not want your aesthetically challenged aunt DIY-ing your centerpieces or flaky roomies planning your shower, but you don't want to hurt their feelings either. Thank them for the offer and say, "I have that covered but would love for you to help in another way," says Rendell. Then assign them to low-risk jobs like stuffing envelopes or wrapping favors.
Picking who will (and won't) be a bridesmaid
Unless you and your sister(s) aren't on speaking terms, it's a nice gesture to ask her first when you're picking your bridesmaids. You should ask your fiancé's sister to be in your bridal party too if he thinks she'd be up for it. As for everyone else, "Be honest about your feelings. Pick only the people you feel most supported by," says Clark. In other words, don't ask anyone out of guilt. If there's a cousin or friend who you think is going to be hurt that she didn't make the cut, address it head on. Simply say, "We're keeping our bridal party small, but I'd love for you to be involved," she says. Then ask her to do something meaningful, like a reading or a toast.
Influencing the engagement party, shower, and bachelorette
It's all about timing: "Before any planning begins, tell your parents or maid of honor what you want—fancy, fun cocktails instead of a big engagement dinner, a cooking-class bachelorette instead of a strip-club visit, or a shower in a park instead of in a tea room," says Rendell. Then, whether they listen or not, roll with it. "Once the planning is under way, there's no stopping the train!" she says. So even if you're vehemently opposed to toilet-paper wedding gowns, suck it up and break out the two-ply. We predict you'll have fun anyway.
Deciding who's invited to the pre-wedding parties
Rule of thumb: Everybody at the engagement bash, bridal shower, and bachelorette will expect to receive a wedding invite in the mail. So don't ask anyone to the preparties who you don't want around for the main event. (This does not apply to the office shower.) Here's who you must invite: to the engagement party (if you have one), close friends and family, plus attendants; to the bachelorette, your bridesmaids and closest girlfriends; and to the shower, female relatives and attendants on both sides. Or if you're going coed, invite your core crew of both sexes and swap out girly shower games for some gender-neutral fun. Having more than one shower? Limit wedding fatigue by inviting each guest to just one, with the exception of your mom and 'maids, of course.
Inviting some colleagues to the wedding (and not inviting others)
You do not have to ask every soul in Accounts Payable to your big day. You should consider inviting your boss, coworkers you hang out with outside the office, and anyone who helped with the planning (like your assistant, who scheduled—and rescheduled—all of your venue visits). As for your social circle, include family members you see more than once a year and friends you see or talk to at least that often. Friends of friends don't make the list; nor does the ex-roommate you haven't spoken with since she moved to Austin.
Telling people that they're not invited
You may have a second cousin who invited you to her 400-person bash. Or a friend of a friend who keeps asking you when you're going to start sending out save-the-dates. If people didn't make the cut, be straight with them. Having an intimate wedding? Explain that the party will be small. But if you're inviting 300 people, don't lie. "Say, 'I wish we could invite everyone! It's so hard sharing the guest list with my future in-laws,'" Clark says. Then avoid wedding talk in the noninvited's presence.
Handling inappropriate questions
Everyone has that wacky uncle or uncouth coworker who tends to blurt out gems like "Did you give him an ultimatum?" or "How much did your ring cost?" Etiquette experts advise against punching the asker in the stomach; instead, opt for a tactful "Right now I'm just savoring this moment," then change the subject.
Of course you're focused on your wedding, but remember that your celebration may be a bigger deal to you than it is to your friends and family. Limit the obsessing to people with a high wedding tolerance, like your planner and friends who were recently married. And ask advice so they feel like they're sharing expertise and not just watching the You Show.