Wedding season is here! Have you been to a wedding in the U.S.? Make sure you know some of these wedding traditions (and understand wedding etiquette) before you attend one! Of course, as with all other traditions, these are just guidelines: not all Americans follow these customs. However, many of these events and customs are things you will often see at an American wedding.

It all starts with the proposal!

Common Wedding Traditions in the U.S.

Here are some very important things to know about a wedding before you attend one in the U.S.

  • When and where? Weddings can happen anywhere. Americans are not required to get married in a church, as with some other countries. It’s not uncommon to see weddings at the beach, in parks, or even at museums!
  • What is worn? Many American brides wear white or a lighter color such as cream. The groom typically wears a tuxedo or suit. The bridal party (the Maid of Honor and the bridesmaids) wear nice dresses (sometimes in matching colors or styles) and the groomsmen wear tuxedos or suits or nice shirts.
  • Pre-party! Before the wedding, the bride and groom have bachelorette and bachelor parties. These are usually only for the close friends of the bride and groom.
  • (Formal) pre-party! The bride also has a bridal shower before the wedding, which is more formal. Family members usually attend this event, while friends usually attend the bachelorette party (or both).
  • The night before. The night before the wedding, there is a rehearsal dinner for the wedding party and close friends and family. Typically, this is when the bride and groom give gifts to the people who are involved in the wedding.


  • The ceremony. During the wedding, the bride’s family and friends usually sit on one side while the groom’s friends and family sit on the other.
  • The procession. The family members are escorted down the aisle first, then the bridesmaids and groomsmen, and then the bride.
  • Father/daughter tradition. The bride is “given away” by her father or another close male family member.
  • Let’s eat! After the wedding, there are usually cocktails and appetizers and then a dinner.
  • Cheers! During the reception, toasts are made by family and friends.
  • Party time! After eating, there is dancing. The bride and her father share a special dance, the groom and his mother share a dance, and the couple shares their first dance as a married unit.
“Something old, something new, something borrowed, and something blue!” This is a fun tradition for the bride, who incorporates each of these things into her attire. Because of this rhyme, it’s typical for the bride to wear pearls or perhaps some jewelry owned by another family member.

Modals to Express Etiquette

Make sure you are on your best behavior while attending a wedding! To do so, you will need to use English modals. Modals are a great way to express ability, obligation, necessity, and permission.

Modals in English are:

  • can
  • could
  • may
  • might
  • will
  • would
  • must
  • shall
  • should
  • ought to

Of these, SHOULD is the modal we use to talk about etiquette. Why? We use should to make suggestions and give advice; therefore, this modal is perfect for talking about rules of etiquette.

Where should you sit? If there is assigned seating, you should sit at the table you are assigned to. If not, then sit wherever you’d like . . . and make some new American friends!


What are some things you should do at a wedding?

You should always RSVP by the given date.

If there are food preferences on the invitation, you should mark them.

You should put your phone away during the ceremony. Let the professional photographer take the photos.

You should stand up as the bride walks down the aisle.

You should sit in your place if there is assigned seating.

You should bring a gift, or at least a card. (But you can technically give a gift up to one year after the wedding.)

You should expect a delay between the ceremony and the reception. The bride and the groom typically take formal photos with their family during this time.

Guests should expect to watch a few dances before they can get out on the dance floor.


What are some things you shouldn’t do at a wedding?

You shouldn’t wear white. This is only for the bride on her special day.

You shouldn’t dress too casually or too formally. Usually, the venue (the place where the wedding is being held) is a great clue to how you should dress. A beach wedding means you shouldn’t wear very formal dress; a formal night wedding at an upscale venue means you shouldn’t dress too informally.

You shouldn’t arrive late. Make sure to plan for traffic or public transport delays.

You shouldn’t keep your phone on during the ceremony. Make sure to put it on silent mode!

You shouldn’t feel embarrassed if you cry. Weddings are emotional!


What are some of the traditions you have for weddings in your country? Tell us on the CISL Facebook page or leave a comment below!

Want to learn more about modals? Check out our articles on Modals of Obligation, The Modal MUST, and May vs. Might!