When the coronavirus pandemic hit, many engaged couples had to press pause on their dream weddings. Some decided to postpone their celebrations, but many others opted to host a virtual wedding ceremony so they could keep their original date while family and friends call or video in.
Online weddings are a fairly new phenomenon for everyone, and if you've been invited to one, you may not be sure what to expect. From dress codes to gift giving and everything in between, there's a whole unique set of etiquette rules for virtual wedding ceremonies. TODAY Style consulted the experts to help you navigate this uncharted territory like a pro.
1. Virtual weddings are not an excuse to dress sloppily
One of the best parts about attending a wedding is dressing up for the occasion, so there's something admittedly anticlimactic about attending a virtual celebration in your living room. Over the last few months, many of us have been relaxing our wardrobes (aka living in sweats) while spending more time at home. As a general rule, however, it is not OK to slack on your wedding guest attire.
"Just because this is a virtual wedding doesn't mean it's not important, weighted or even emotional. We highly encourage guests to dress their best to attend a virtual ceremony. Do your hair, wear something nice (at least from the top up), doll yourself up a bit," said Janessa White, co-founder of Simply Eloped, a company that’s planned 5,000 weddings around the U.S.
Many virtual ceremonies are recorded and wedding planners often take screenshots of the guests, so dressing up is a sign of respect for the happy couple. Still, figuring out exactly what to wear to a virtual wedding can be a bit confusing so your best bet is to consult the invite for inspiration.
"Much like an in-person wedding, guests will look to an invitation for clues — even if it’s an email invite or a quick text with a Zoom link. Some couples will also clue guests in directly, stating a preferred dress code on their wedding website," Lauren Kay, executive editor of The Knot, said.
2. Bringing a plus one to an online wedding is still iffy
"Do I get a plus one?" It's the question every bride dreads while planning a wedding. After all, too many unexpected plus ones can mess up a budget when footing the bill for a pricey reception. But when it comes to virtual weddings, many guests aren't quite sure how to navigate the whole plus one conversation. You may think it's OK to ask if a friend can join in on that Zoom wedding, but the answer isn't always so straightforward.
"Err on the side of caution. The newlyweds may not be interested in meeting your extended family or new boyfriend during their virtual wedding. If children aren't invited, the couple probably prefers a celebration where adults can knock back some cocktails and speak freely. The same still applies for a virtual wedding," said Meggie Francisco, destination wedding planner and founder of Meggie Francisco Events.
If you're tempted to forward the wedding login to a friend who didn't make the invite list, think again. Some virtual weddings are locked, meaning that a host (like a wedding planner) has to allow each guest into the event.
"They may have a list of names that are allowed into the Zoom room to ensure Zoom bombers don't enter," White said. "If you do intend to bring a plus one and that person isn't sharing a computer with you, I would give the couple or their planner a heads up so they can anticipate that person joining."
3. Virtual wedding gifts should be the same as usual ... with a few exceptions
When it comes to wedding gifts, cash is typically king and most guests show up to the reception with a check and card in hand for the happy couple. Since virtual weddings don't come equipped with a gift table, many guests are now wondering how to send a token of their congratulations to the newlyweds. Luckily, most couples set up a digital registry to simplify the process for guests.
"Most of these digital registries will have gift wrap and card options so it can arrive at the couple's door and look like a present versus just a shipment. If you’re opting for a cash gift, I’d recommend mailing a check with a thoughtful card so you can personalize it a bit and write some well wishes. (A cash app like) Venmo, although convenient, feels a bit too transactional and impersonal for this type of gesture," said Leslie Voorhees Means, co-founder and CEO of custom online wedding dress company Anomalie.
Figuring out how much money to give a couple at a virtual wedding is a bit tricky, especially considering many people are out of work right now. The good news is that most couples who had to cancel a large wedding are just happy to be able to celebrate virtually with close family and friends, and they typically don't have big expectations about gift giving.
"If your job feels secure and you have healthy emergency savings on hand, stick with the average or even round up a little, even if you aren't being served a meal. It helps the couple recuperate lost wedding vendor deposits and emphasizes that you still honor their special day, even though it didn't happen in person," Francisco said. "If you don't have job security right now, don't pressure yourself to give an extravagant wedding gift. Instead, think of ways you can affordably show your love."
If the couple had originally planned a destination wedding, you may feel inclined to chip in a bit more since you saved money that would've been spent on a trip, but White says you shouldn't feel pressured to do so. "Because of the current climate, I do not believe guests should be factoring in any other expenses they would have made for the wedding, especially because many have lost money on nonrefundable flights or hotels," White said.
Since some virtual weddings are planned with little advance notice, it's ok if you haven't mailed the couple a gift in advance of the ceremony. Just don't wait too long if you intend on sending one.
"We generally recommend guests have up until two months after the wedding to send gifts to the couple. Nowadays, as many couples are hosting a "minimony," or smaller wedding ceremony on their original wedding date ahead of their postponed reception, the same two months post-wedding gifting timeline applies to the couple’s new wedding reception date," Kay said.
4. Your background matters
Are you ready to watch your loved ones say "I do" virtually, but not sure where to set up your laptop? Think of it as a fun conference call and make sure to log in from a presentable location.
"I’d recommend the standard etiquette that many of us have adopted for a working from home environment: put your computer or phone in a place that is well lit and free of distracting backgrounds or noise," said Voorhees Means.
Look for a location with lots of natural light and try to face the light source, rather than having a window or light right behind you, to make sure you're fully visible for other guests. And please, tidy up your space a bit!
"We've seen ceremonies where guests were in messy rooms and that can be awkward! If the ceremony is recorded, your messy bedroom will always be part of a couple's big day and you don't want that," White said.
When in doubt, you can always avoid showing your actual house in the background and opt for a little more ambiance.
"If you're not proud of your background or don't think it's appropriate to be in a wedding ceremony recording or photo, you can choose a virtual Zoom background," White said. "Otherwise, go outside or have your back to a wall so your messy house doesn't spoil the couple's virtual wedding."
5. Other etiquette rules, like speeches, still apply
Online weddings are uncharted territory for many of us, but most typical etiquette rules still apply for a virtual celebration.
"Be a good guest, much like you’d be in person, and follow any requests of the couple (think: attire, 'bring something to toast with us,' etc.) Be attentive and respectful, making your congratulations known to the couple at the appropriate time," Kay said.
One of the most important things you can do for a virtual wedding is show up on time. In other words, don't be that person that casually pops into the ceremony 10 minutes late.
"We encourage guests to enter 15 minutes prior to the ceremony time to do greetings, wish the couple well and ensure the tech and internet connection on their end is working. It's disrespectful to come late to a virtual ceremony as there is a chime when a new person enters the room" White said.
As with in-person weddings, it's not polite to post photos (or in this case, screenshots) without the couple's permission or try to multitask during the ceremony. "Close all the other windows on your computer. You're part of a once-in-a-lifetime moment. Your emails can wait!" Francisco said.
Virtual weddings might seem a bit less formal than in-person celebrations, but that doesn't mean they're a free-for-all. And the typical etiquette rules still apply when it comes to making speeches on the couple's big day, so keep yourself on mute until it's time to mingle.
"Generally, speeches are reserved for family members or members of the wedding party. Only prepare a speech if you’re asked to — otherwise share your sentiments in a wedding card. Use the chat box or look to the wedding VIPs for clues. There may even be a host who will guide guests in congratulating the couple," Kay said.