Planning a Wedding? Going to One? Please Read This.

Miss Manners' Guide to a Surprisingly Dignified Wedding, by Judith Martin and Jacobina Martin

You won’t often hear me beg. But there is knowledge which, if possessed by all nuptial-bound humanity, would make the world a better place. That knowledge is etiquette. And etiquette is about manners, and manners are about kindness. With wedding season upon us, the potential for manners mischief is about to be unleashed with a festooned and crinolined fury. If you fear for your inner-Miss-Manners, consult the real one in her and her daughter’s indispensable and highly readable Guide to a Surprisingly Dignified Wedding.

Miss Manners’ Guide to a Surprisingly Dignified Wedding, by Judith Martin and Jacobina Martin. My copy is full of stickies and highlights.

A copy was given me three years ago by friends of ours, she the former press secretary to First Lady Betty Ford and a friend of Miss Manners’ creator, Judith Martin. (If you asked me if I would rather have lunch with Judith Martin or George Clooney, it’s not even close–nothing personal, George.) At the time planning my own second wedding, and without benefit of my always-knew-exactly-how-to-do late mother, I trusted my upbringing and  instincts. Miss Manners’  Guide, however, was a great reinforcement and steady reminder of What Is Important, because it’s real easy to get distracted in all the Bridezilla insanity. Even if you’re not 25. Ahem.

Miss Manners’ wedding etiquette book as inscribed to moi: ”To amuse you with what those who lack your taste are doing. All best wishes, Judith Martin”

A wedding is not meant to be about showing off or self-aggrandizement. Not that it can’t be gorgeous or even extravagant (if you can afford it), and that you can’t have a good time. But it can also be simple. Etiquette embraces simplicity, write the Martins. “A dignified ceremony followed by a happy celebration for those who care about the couple, done in a somewhat more formal version of the way they usually entertain…” is just great. 

Human beings since the dawn of time have honored rituals around life’s important passages. What Miss Manners says she missed, however, is “the section of the Constitution that guarantees every couple an elaborate wedding.” Admittedly I cannot help the occasional guilty pleasure of her verbal velvet hammer shattering a display of brittle cluelessness–or silliness, however un-intended:

“Dear Miss Manners: …What about when the bridal party is called to the dance floor and then the parents–is my husband expected to dance with his ex-wife? Or do I?

Gentle Reader: You are certainly not expected to dance with your husband’s ex-wife. Miss Manners is happy to provide you instant relief from that worry…

Last week, in an airport-newsstand-induced spasm of tabloid-itis, I picked up the OK!  sporting Prince Harry and his girl Cressida Bonas on the cover. (Speak of the devil–there’s George Clooney, too, trying to make me jealous.)

OK! Magazine cover Harry & Cressy, April 7, 2014

 They make it sound like the engagement is a done deal, but it isn’t–just so you know. Easter, they say… But as “an insider” points out, it won’t be “a normal wedding where you do what you want; this wedding belongs to the people of Great Britain.”

Well, the truth is it belongs to both, and a sense of noblesse oblige is far more attractive than one of entitlement. Yes it is “your day,” but it is also your duty to be gracious hosts to the family and friends who’ve come to celebrate your union. And they should be gracious guests as well.

The notion that etiquette and manners are the sole purview of royalty or the well-to-do is absurd. Bloodlines and bank accounts have aught to do with nobility of character.

 Miss Manners’ Guide to a Surprisingly Dignified Wedding is a compass that points you in the right direction and gives you a jolly good read along the way.

If you’d like to call on Miss Manners’ website, do so here, where there is also a funny  Simpsons-esque video about her newest bookMiss Manners Minds Your Business, co-authored with her son Nicholas Ivor Martin. Links to buy all Miss Manners books here.


  1. Bravo and thank you! Her inscription in your book is simply priceless.
    I’ve recently had the misfortune to reply “unable to attend” for the wedding of a dear friend’s, son. Sadly, dear friend has decided I’ve inflicted a mortal wound to her pride and we shall no longer be friends. Perhaps it’s not so unfortunate after all. What’s up with that nonsense? I always taught my children that ones “class” is not determined by their financial situation or their popularity, but rather by their manners.
    I don’t own this book, but will be buying it. I’m actually one of those funny people who enjoy reading etiquette books. Enjoy your Sunday.

    1. Dear Jennifer, Thank you so much for writing. So sorry to hear of “dear friend’s” hurt feelings. Such wounds usually heal with time, and if they do not, then you are right – the misfortune is not yours. You are right, too, about the constructs of “class,” and it sounds like you’re dong a good job with those young’uns. Brava back to you. (I’m one of those funny people who enjoys reading etiquette books, too 😉 Warmly, Frances

  2. Frances,

    Loved this post! My niece is getting married in Charleston next year and has asked for “Uncle DT’s” assistance. So far we have the dress (ordered…8 months) and the venue (Grace Episcopal and Boone Plantation). I will surely be sending along this book as a surprise gift to make sure she is an up to speed millenial! See you on May 7th!


    1. Dearest Danny, thank you so much for writing and what a lucky niece you have! And what a lucky girl I am to see you in Greenville on May 7. Thrilled to pieces you are coming! xo Frances

  3. Frances you epitomized the “gracious Bride” concept in both of your fabulous weddings.
    The greatest gift any parents give their children is manners and it will serve them well
    thru life. Our fabulous moms Ruth and Blanche were friends and gave us each other as friends
    well as those constant reminders about manners. We are blessed to have their guidance.

  4. Frances, What a wonderful post…not that they all aren’t but this one hit home. 1 wedding down in the Rooke Family and 2 to go…..1 coming very soon. This book and your words are so true and our wedding planner said, it is hard work and the bride, groom and families are “on call” I will be purchasing several copies of the book and will read every word…….Blanche, your words are so true too…..good manners are priceless and they are most certainly taught. Love to both of you….xoxoxo Margie

  5. Frances, Your post hit “home” in many ways for me. Last year my stepdaughter was married on “one of those islands off the coast of Massachusetts”. (The ex-wife resides there.) The weather was fabulous, the bride was beautiful, but what was missing were good manners, graciousness and a sense of decorum. I’m from the South (about 30 minutes from where you grew up). I sleep with my ancient copy of Emily Post under my pillow. It’s nice to know that what I experienced last year is STILL not acceptable in the land of gracious hospitality. But, I’m gonna order this “Miss Manners” book. After posting this, who knows, I may need to marry again.

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