When it was suggested that I interview Baltimore native Emily Post’s great-great-granddaughter for “12 Wedding Misconceptions: Here’s What Industry Insiders Wish You Knew About Planning Your Big Day” inside the new issue of Baltimore Weddings, I jumped at the chance. I mean, Emily Post is a legend—somehow baked into our American DNA like Pocahontas, P.T. Barnum and Oprah Winfrey.
But once I got on the phone with Lizzie Post, I quickly realized she had more to offer than her famous lineage. As the co-president of the Emily Post Institute, co-host of the Awesome Etiquette podcast and co-author of many etiquette books, including the sixth edition of “Emily Post’s Wedding Etiquette,” she brings a compassionate and fresh perspective to the family business.
Plus, she’s just incredibly fun to interview. We got so much good stuff that wouldn’t fit in the article, and it seemed like a shame to let it sit on the cutting-room floor. Here are some of her observations on wedding etiquette, lightly edited for clarity and brevity.
When do you think weddings started to loosen up a bit?
I do think the ’80s started to loosen things up. I remember my grandmother in—I think it was the late ’70s; I wasn’t alive yet, but I’ve read her work—and she talks about lamenting the reply card because it was the fast, modern version of the handwritten wedding invitation reply that people were expected to do up to that point. The reply card was the modern, quick, efficient and not nearly as pleasant version. Before, you’d receive all these letters in response to your wedding invitation that were filled with congratulations and best wishes and lovely sentiment. Now, as a host, you were going to be receiving this little, tiny card in this little, tiny envelope with an “M” already written on it and someone checking “B” for salmon. For me, I imagine weddings getting looser in that moment. And from then on, things did open up, whether it was the way we partied after the wedding, and the dancing and frivolity, or whether it was things like non-white dresses, bridesmaids wearing black. That was a very, very, very big deal, that bridesmaids and guests could wear black to a wedding as long as they put a splash of color or weren’t trying to signify mourning for the union. I feel like reply cards and wearing black to weddings becoming a thing were kind of the big loosening up moments, and they happened about 20 years apart. Changes happen slowly over time, but those two were really big ones.
What is still a big no-no in wedding rules?
Do not ever put gift information of any kind, any kind—even a registry thing—on the invitation itself. They can go on enclosures, other cards, but not on the invitation itself. I think that’s going to stay around for a very long time because as soon as you put that gift information on the invitation itself, all of a sudden, you’re jumping ahead, and you’re not focusing on just the beauty and the sentiment of inviting someone to what is probably one of the most important days of your life. All of a sudden, you’ve cut to one very small part of the wedding planning or coordination that these folks are going to have to participate in, and to me, it’s the wrong thing to jump to right away. I would rather see hotel information before gifts because the hotel would at least be about helping the guest. The gift is about you getting something. That is one of the most egregious mistakes someone could make.
It happens by accident all the time, and it does not happen because people are greedy, it happens because people just don’t know that they’re not supposed to. And so it ends up being one of those things where you just don’t take the moment to think. Most of us have planned birthday parties or received birthday party invitations since we were a kid, showers things like that, where we do put gift information on invitations sometimes. The wedding is a more formal, more serious event for most people. It takes it to that level of formal, that level of serious; and in that category, we just don’t put gift information on the invitation.
We don’t do a lot of formal inviting and attending, and I think it’s just one of those things that if you didn’t know, how would you know unless someone took the time to tell you or if you really thought it through?
Is there any graceful way to fix a wedding etiquette mistake once it’s been committed?
You might not be able to fix the invitations, but my goodness, what wonders a good, sincere apology does. Let’s say that the registry information did end up on the invitation. You sent it out and learned about this whole “registry thing not being on the invitation” thing later. It’s not hard, as you talk to people, to say, “I’m so sorry, I didn’t realize that. When I heard it, it made perfect sense.” You can have those conversations with people to rectify things. And I think when you do it really sincerely and honestly and with consideration and respect towards the other person, people understand that you didn’t have bad intentions, that you were trying, and hopefully they’ll be gracious enough to accept that. But I think people forget that we can apologize, and we can talk to people when we’ve done wrong or when we’ve made a mistake, even one that we weren’t aware of, and it’s okay. I did not come into their world knowing everything. I don’t think anybody else did, either.
Do you think it’s a good thing or a bad thing when manners start to slip?
Manners definitely change and evolve over time. But the kinds of changes that we’re talking about are more a part of the nature of manners, which is that they do evolve over time; they change with the times, and they also vary from culture to culture—sometimes even within a social group or family to family. Not many women date with chaperones anymore, we don’t leave our personal calling cards with someone’s butler, we don’t hem and haw over who’s inviting us to do something. And even this 20th edition of “Etiquette” that I’m working on right now, so much of it has changed. You wouldn’t think 30 years ago that asking someone where they’re from or what they do for a living would be considered potentially rude or offensive questions, but now they are. We get rid of what doesn’t work for us, and we adopt and absorb what is working. Think about when social media or cell phones came out, we had no manners for those things. They had never existed before. We had to draw on similar circumstances, or we had to quite literally, in some cases, just come up with new things.