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Bridal party before wedding in Charleston

Dana Cubbage Weddings

Bridal party before wedding in Charleston

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The perfect Southern wedding weekend

Throwing the perfect Southern wedding is much like planning the perfect Southern spread of delicious food for any gathering of family and friends.

There's a simple recipe to planning the perfect Southern wedding with every bit of Southern hospitality, etiquette and traditions.

Practice makes perfect
Ahead of the rehearsal dinner the wedding party and key family members will gather at the ceremony site for the wedding rehearsal. The bride will come prepared with the ribbon bouquet her maid/matron of honor made for her at her bridal shower, and the coordinator will tell each wedding party where and when to stand or walk and how the ceremony will be conducted.

Traditionally, the rehearsal dinner is a time for the groom’s family to shine. This night adds to the excitement of the wedding without the full formality of the wedding day regardless of the venue chosen. It’s a more personal and relaxed atmosphere than the big day and gives the groom’s family the opportunity to be in the spotlight. Often, after the dinner, a welcome reception with an open bar occurs, in which out-of-town guests are invited to show gratitude for their travel.

The venue can range from reserving the back room of a restaurant to the ballroom of a country club and is a great chance for the groom’s family to showcase their style. When hosting a rehearsal dinner, be mindful of the proximity to the ceremony site that the rehearsal will be held. Food should match the formality of the event and can range from a plated steak, chicken or salmon option with cocktail attire to an backyard I-Do-BQ cookout (get it – barbecue and weddings) complete with string lights and casual dress. Don’t forget to consider the venue’s proximity to other wedding weekend events if you’re aiming to be the most thoughtful and hospitable host. Since the groom's family throws this event, they get the opportunity to add personal touches like framed photos of the couple as children juxtaposed to their engagement photos.

Toasts during the rehearsal dinner are informal and less structured than the wedding reception. A toast should always be made in good taste and not offend any guests or guests of honor. With that said, anyone may give a toast to the couple during the rehearsal dinner after the groom’s father begins followed by any one else from the groom’s side that would like to give a toast to the couple.

As the rehearsal dinner is traditionally held the night before the wedding day, stay hydrated and (try your hardest) to avoid over-imbibing!

Make it official
Brides in the South can have upwards of 10 bridesmaids and the groomsmen often match in quantity. If you're a soon-to-be bride or groom, make sure you spend time with these friends, who have likely been with you through thick and thin (and late nights marinating over texts to that soon to be spouse). Southern women often have a bridal session before the big day for her portraits to be taken in her wedding gown; this offers more time to have photos taken with her wedding party the day of the wedding. This Southern tradition is one that is also very practical especially when the chance of rain (hopefully you buried the bourbon!) is always looming around these parts.

The bride will walk down the aisle with her dad for him to give her away. Remember ladies: Walk slowly and hold your bouquet lower than you think feels right. You will have practiced with a ribbon bouquet so you've got this! Sweet Southern touches of seersucker suits on guests in the crowd will be in your vision but keep your eyes locked on your soon-to-be spouse at the end of the aisle. Once your vows are said and you've kissed, it's finally official.

Traditionally, a receiving line is customary after the ceremony where, couple-by-couple, the bride and groom greet each guest and thank them for their attendance. Today, it is more than acceptable for the newlyweds to visit each table during the reception instead. This is slightly less personal but much more efficient if the guest list is a large one.

A cocktail hour offers the wedding party and close family the opportunity to take additional photos while guests dine on small plates (maybe even pimento cheese!) and indulge in the open bar. The guests will be asked to take their seats in the reception venue according to the seating chart you so expertly crafted according to our guide. The wedding party will enter the reception space, couple by couple, while their names are announced. This need not be formal and many choose to do a funny dance to get the party started. Finally, the newly minted married couple will be announced as they enter the space last and proceed to have their first dance. 

Once the first dance has mesmerized and caused a few tears to fall, toasts are customarily given. Toasts are our culture’s way of offering goodwill and praise to those that we are celebrating. These should always be genuine, kind and respectful if you’re aiming to remain loyal to our Southern etiquette. The first toast at the wedding reception traditionally is the father of the bride, as her family is hosting. Next, the best man, followed by the maid/matron of honor, if she chooses to offer her congratulations and best wishes. The groom, bride or the newly married couple together will then be able to thank the guests for their presence, followed by the groom’s family if they would like. If other toasts are welcome, the groom or father of the bride may announce this. Keeping a toast celebratory, personal, concise and well-planned is the best method to making an impact on the couple and eliciting the reaction of the other guests you’d like to receive.

When socializing with the bride and groom, guests should be respectful of the time that they are allotting as often the couple needs to speak to many people. Topics of conversation can range depending on how close the guest is to the couple but it *should* go without saying to never mention death, children or divorce to newlyweds unless you’d promptly like to be sat at the children’s table. The newlyweds will depart the reception in a classic car, horse and carriage, or even a golf cart after an exit framed typically by sparklers, rice or a chant from their alma mater.

Depending on the personal interests of the couple, and more likely if they are having a reception end between 10:00 p.m. and midnight, an after-party may be appropriate. After the guests have indulged in some late night bites, guests may be apt to want to continue the celebrations elsewhere. The after party could be arranged at the hotel bar for a couple of hours or it could be the wedding party just heading to a local dive — whatever tickles their fancy. As etiquette is, in its essence, being respectful of others, don’t pressure the couple to go out if they would like time to celebrate their love together — the night is, after all, about just this!

If the wedding weekend is in a city in which the newlyweds do not currently reside, they may plan a morning-after brunch for the wedding party, family and out-of-towners to attend. This could be held at a country club’s restaurant, a nearby spot or at someone’s home. It’s a great opportunity for the couple to catch up with their close friends and family and receive well-wishes before leaving for their honeymoon.

Even if you plan everything about your perfect Southern wedding to a T, just like you’ve designed your perfect Southern home, something is bound to go awry. Whether that is something minor like your veil being taken by the wind or something more pressing like rain on a outdoor ceremony, surprises will insert themselves in your life and thus, your marriage. It’s the act of getting through each with your partner and coming out stronger in the end that’s important.

Remind yourself about all the pre-wedding events
Go back to the beginning

Photo credit (hero): The Knot Facebook
Photo credit (oyster cake topper): Low Country Bride Facebook
Photo credit (fried chicken cone wall): Green Wedding Shoes Facebook


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Lindsay Davis is the Digital Audience Development Specialist at Southern Kitchen. She is the czar of all things content distribution with a background in digital marketing and analytics. She has worked with brands including StarbucksVeuve Clicquot and Florida Department of Citrus. A native of the Empire of the South itself, proud former Georgia Bulldog and American University alumna, she returned to Atlanta after exploring her education and career (and the food scenes) in Washington, DC and New York City with a fresh perspective on life and dining.