Wedding Planning 101: When Opting Out Is A-OK

Every now and then, a planner working with an offbeat couple will suggest some alternative bridal accessory or wedding venue, and one or two (or more) well-meaning people will chime in to express the opinion that tradition ought to be kept in the traditional wedding for tradition’s sake. Or to ensure that no one is offended or confused. Or because that is simply how things are done.

When it comes to tradition for tradition’s sake, I would no more argue that there’s anything wrong with wanting a traditional wedding than I can argue that there’s anything wrong with untraditional weddings. And when it comes to “how things are done,” I can’t argue that, either.

alternative wedding ideas

What I can dispute is that straying from the traditional wedding format or wearing alternative bridal garb or serving a macrobiotic reception dinner a la Gwen P. is less than etiquette friendly because it will potentially offend or confuse someone, somewhere.

There’s a difference between what is truly offensive and what will simply offend certain people who are probably easily offended. Add to that the fact that what is offensive to some people/cultures/societies — e.g., anything from religious iconography to phallic statuary — will not always be offensive to all people/cultures/societies… and what you get is a lot of confused brides-to-be.

The good news is that the majority of the confusion I see (here, on forums, and in real life) involves relatively benign issues that at worst will cause temporary hurt feelings and at best won’t offend anyone at all. In fact, the answer to the question “What if I don’t follow this particular tradition/hire this type of vendor/wear this piece of clothing?” is often “Nothing at all!”

The most common opt-outs I see on wedding message boards are, in no particular order:

  • Not exchanging (or wearing) wedding rings
  • Saying no to being given away
  • Not having the parent-child dances
  • Not serving cake/alcohol/meat/etc. at the reception
  • Wearing anything other than a white or cream wedding gown
  • Choosing a non-religious ceremony
  • Spending less than the average for the locale
  • Forgoing best men, maids-of-honor, bridesmaids, and groomsmen
  • Not hiring a wedding band or wedding DJ
  • DIYing everything from arch to cake

What it comes down to is this: If your choices aren’t hurting anyone, aren’t in some way discourteous or overtly offensive, aren’t designed to purposefully exclude people, and aren’t dangerous or illegal, you’re probably okay. Furthermore, that which shocks is not automatically offensive (though that won’t excuse you from sideward glances) and confusion isn’t grounds for deeming something bad etiquette. Finally, context counts. A nude wedding at Burning Man? I’m going to guess pretty unoffensive. A nude wedding at grandma’s house? You risk putting the OH(NOSHEDIDN’T) in OHffensive.

In the end, be your own bride and your wedding will be beautiful.

Christa Terry is a wedding expert