In general my attitude to these kinds of guides to etiquette is that it's at least good to know what other people might be expecting. I bought a copy of Miss Manners' Guide to Excruciatingly Correct Behavior after I behaved entirely gauchely towards a college roommate who was going through a rough time with the deaths of several relatives. Western culture etiquette has been something that I feel like I've needed to try to teach myself. [edit, in response to Lisa's comment] Regardless, I think generally if you honestly try to be considerate and thoughtful of others, that's the whole point of etiquette anyway, so it doesn't matter if you didn't follow an advice columnist's directives exactly.
The helpful thing to remember is that Miss Manners isn't trying to sell you anything here, unlike etiquette givers in wedding magazines might be. My favorite line in the whole book is, "the theme of a wedding is marriage." Also, I've always rather enjoyed Miss Manners' arch tone, but I can see how that's not for everyone. In conclusion, worth checking out from the library but probably not worth buying.
Miss Manners says:
- [edit, forgot to include this part initially because I didn't have a post-it note marking it] Determining your guest list: when starting to plan a wedding, first sit down and figure out who your A+ list is (that clearly isn't Miss Manners' terminology, I just made that up), meaning who has to has to be there, for the couple in consultation with both sets of parents. I'll admit, we didn't really do the parental consultation part too much before deciding on our estimate of 100 guests and looking for venues to fit that number of people. Miss Manners shakes her finger at not including your parents just because you're paying for everything on your own, which, yeah, fair point. I hope Dan and I managed to strike a sufficient compromise, though.
- Maid of honor (p124): you don't have to have a maid of honor, you can just have all bridesmaids. I have to say, I'm not entirely clear on what really distinguishes a maid of honor from bridesmaids, unless the position is basically saying, here is my very best friend of all the girls I've asked to be my bridesmaids. I think someone's told me at some point that the maid of honor serves as one of the witnesses when you do the legal bit, but I'm not sure if that has to be the case.
- On dealing with people trying to invite themselves (p147): "Here is a phrase that every prospective bride and bridegroom and everyone in both families should memorize: 'Oh, dear, it's just going to be a small family wedding, with maybe a few old, intimate friends. You are so nice to take an interest.' ...Let us say that the word [small] is used out of modesty, rather than crowd estimation."
- On the plus one issue (p152): for established couples, both members should be invited. The hosts can ask their unattached guests individually if there is anyone they would to bring, get the name, and issue another invitation in this person's name, so guests don't feel pressured to bring a date (I really want to make sure people don't feel pressured to bring a date simply for the sake of having a date). Miss Manners frowns upon just issuing an invitation "plus one," though this is what we're going to do for everyone over 18 (one of the points that Dan feels more strongly about). If you've been invited to a wedding as the guest of a guest, you should check to make sure you've really been invited with a note to the bride that's something like "____ has asked me to accompany him to your wedding. I would consider it a great honor to attend, but I would also understand if his enthusiasm has overrun any boundaries. In any case, I send you my very best wishes for your happiness."
- Timing of invitations (p192): send out 4-6 weeks prior to the wedding date
- On invitation design (p179): engraving is meant to imitate handwriting for making it more convenient to send out a greater number of formal invitations, so hand-printed invitations (calligraphy) are perfectly acceptable to getting professionally engraved invitations.
- Invitation wording (p213): "a couple giving its own wedding modestly goes into the passive tense when issuing formal invitations," something like "The pleasure of your company is requested at the marriage of ____ to ____ on Saturday, the eighteenth of June at one thirty, Mountain Lakes House, Princeton and afterwards at a reception."
- On reply cards in invitations (p185): unnecessary to include stamped response cards.
- Thank you cards (p246): for gifts of money, write your thank you message referencing what you bought or plan to buy with that money, so that the "rest of your thanks can apply to that present, as if the giver had selected it."
- Thank you card response time (p244): should be written and sent out as soon as the gift is received in order to acknowledge it. It's actually wedding presents that can be sent up to year into the marriage.
- Miss Manners is against both registries and favors (p270 "Etiquette has never thought of weddings as comparable to children's birthday parties, where the guests might need consolation for not being the center of attention.")
- No programs (p90): "the only excuse for a program is to give the order of the service, which is not necessary at a wedding." (Miss Manners is pretty strongly against all things that make the wedding a bit of a show, which I am down with)
- Receiving line (p120, 261): charming and necessary for making sure you talk to all the guests at some point during the wedding. Guests are received at the beginning of the reception. The traditional order tries to mix the families of the bride and groom with bride's mother, groom's father, groom's mother, bride's father.
- First dance (p272): the bridal couple opens the dancing, not gives "a private dance featuring their relatives." Halfway through the bridal couple's dance, the bride's father cuts in to dance with his daughter, the groom brings in his mother (can also be done with respective in-laws first), and then followed by the bridesmaids and groomsmen to encourage the rest o the guests to follow.
- Toasts (p270): "At the wedding reception, the best man offers the first toast, and others may follow, including the bridegroom, to offer toasts to his bride and to her parents."
- Tipping the bartender (p268): you don't tip the bartender at a private function
- Reception timing (p261): the married couple should leave the reception before the guests.
- Announcing your decision on changing or keeping your last name with an at home card (p216): either "Mr. and Mrs. James Scott will be at home after the Fourth of July" or "Ms. Heather McGee / Mr. Daniel Scott" with the adress in the bottom right o the card (my question is though, how do you actually send these at home cards out? Tucked into thank you cards?)
However, you have to toe the line between deep appreciation and unmasked materialism. It's fine to be excited about your new Dutch Oven, for instance, but you should always be MORE excited that whoever gave it to you came to the wedding. Specifics are very important in both cases. Extra points for referencing some future event or experience unrelated to the thing you're thanking them for--this emphasizes lasting friendships rather than stuff.