Americans are known for a lot of things, and one of them is getting back up after getting knocked down. Believe it or not, this is especially true when it comes to marriage and divorce.
Although recent studies show that anywhere between 40 and 50 percent of American marriages end in divorce, the brides and grooms in those dissolved relationships will probably enter new ones in which they marry again.
In 2013, two in five new marriages included at least one partner who had been previously married, according to the Pew Research Center. One in five new marriages involved partners who had both walked down the aisle before.
This means brides and grooms aren’t giving up on love if it doesn’t work out the first time, and they are willing to take the plunge again. What this also means is encore weddings—weddings that happen after one’s first—are happening all the time.
If you’re considering trying your hand at marriage again, or are invited to an encore wedding, you’ll need to know the etiquette.
For the Bride
Let’s face it: You’re the star of the show. And since all eyes are on you, it’s a must that you know encore wedding etiquette.
Believe it or not, white wasn’t always the color of choice for wedding dresses. In fact, up until the 19th century, it was common for brides to wear red, as a symbol of fertility, or black, if the soon-to-be husband was a widower. But Queen Victoria changed all of that when she wed Prince Albert in 1840.
Instead of donning the same tired dresses that so many brides wore before her, the sassy Queen designed her own dress and decided she wanted to wear white.
Since then, the color caught on. Tradition states that white should only be used for the first wedding—the color has long been associated with purity and, well, virginity. But is that tradition really important? If you spot a gorgeous dress that happens to be white, do you have to forgo the fabulous frock because of your past relationship?
“Absolutely not,” says Jenny Orsini, owner and creative director of Jenny Orsini Events. “Gone are the days of traditional wedding dress colors and rules about second marriages and proper attire. In today’s day and age, brides should only follow one rule: Keep it elegant, classy, and fabulous! But following color-appropriate rules? That’s a thing of the past.”
And as for style? Encore brides tend to veer away from conventional dresses, says Kelly Heyn, owner of SociaLife, a wedding and event planning company.
“I have found that many brides tend to veer away from classic and traditional gowns completely,” she says. “Some choose to wear white but keep the style of their gown informal by wearing a shorter, cocktail-style dress.”
So it seems that encore wedding dress etiquette states that there actually isn’t any etiquette other than to feel comfortable with, and fabulous in, your choice.
The Bridal Activities
Let’s face it, part of the appeal of being the bride is all of the extracurriculars that come with the title. From bridal showers to bachelorette parties, brides get to have all the fun.
But does that mean you’re obligated to have all the pre-wedding hoopla again? Lots of brides don’t and choose a more low-key route, says Orsini.
“A lot of my encore brides choose to forgo the typical large bridal shower and opt for a more casual brunch or dinner with their closest family and friends,” she says.
So if that’s your style, do you. But if you want a big bridal shower and an even bigger bachelorette party, then go crazy with it. This is your wedding, and you should do what you want. Those who don’t agree can choose not to attend.
For the Guests
If we’re being honest, being a guest at a wedding is a pretty sweet gig. For the small price of a few hours of their time, they get free food, entertainment, and a chance to witness two people promise to love each other forever. But unless they know the rules for guests at second weddings, they likely won’t be invited back if there’s a third.
From dowries to wedding chests, the idea of gaining gifts as a result of marriage has been around for centuries. And when wedding guests began giving the happy couples presents on their big days, deciding what to buy was the biggest question. Nowadays, the present predicament extends to whether or not guests are expected to bring gifts when it’s a second or third marriage.
Just because it is a second marriage doesn’t mean it is not as special or important.
Before you scoff at the idea of not bringing a present to the nuptials, consider this: Wedding gifts are expensive. On average, a person spends anywhere from $73 to $245 on a wedding present depending on where they live. The typical cash present also sets guests back by about $160.
If you’re attending a lot of marriage ceremonies, the cost of all these presents can add up to a shocking amount. Money becomes an even bigger potential issue when you go to multiple marriages for the same person.
So what is a wedding guest to do? Should they bring gifts, even though the soon-to-be-newlyweds have been through this before?
“Yes, guests should still be expected to bring presents and attend any other event that coincides with the wedding,” says Heyn. “Just because it is a second marriage doesn’t mean it is not as special or important. If someone is paying for you to be a guest and attend their event, then it is only proper etiquette to bring a gift.”
In all likelihood, however, you were invited to the wedding so that you could be there, not so that you would bring an epic gift. Chances are your presence is the only gift the couple wants, but you should still bring a little something anyways.
Bringing up the Ex
It’s probably not a secret to your guests that they are attending an encore wedding. They likely know that you had a life before the person you’re about to marry now, and that there may even be byproducts of that past life, like children. But because a wedding is all about the future, the past that involves an ex shouldn’t be brought up, right? Not necessarily.
For best results, survey the room before you risk the chance. Avoid talking about the ex if you know it will cause problems. However, as long as you’re respectful about the person, the room shouldn’t gasp in horror upon hearing their name. It’s perfectly appropriate to ask about them, especially if the person is still well-received among the guests. But you may not want to focus on them too much; a casual inquiry is fine.
For the Couple
Brides and grooms with previous marriages under their belts may be unsure or even cautious about what is appropriate for second and third marriages. Is having all the trimmings going overboard, or should you just do what you want?
Wedding receptions are usually laced with customs and traditions. Dances, garter and bouquet tosses, and all kinds of reception rite-of-passages are typically seen at first weddings, but encore weddings often feature less of that, says Orsini.
“With most of our encore weddings, the couples tend to steer clear of some of the more ‘old school’ traditions such as the garter and bouquet toss,” she says. “They still cut the cake and have special dances, however.”
And when those customs do take place, they often involve what seems to be a staple at encore weddings: children.
“What we often see are the children playing a bigger role in the wedding,” says Orsini. “Brides and grooms having encore weddings often have older children, and they are very important on the wedding day. Brides often dance with their sons, or older daughters actually serve as maids of honor. I definitely see a greater emphasis on the children.”
Types of Weddings
Second weddings are typically known for being more low-key than first weddings. Perhaps it’s the stress, money, or craziness that planning and having these large nuptials can bring that makes some take their encore marriages in the opposite direction. But sometimes it’s the fear of what others think that makes some downsize their weddings.
When it comes to your special day, however, you shouldn’t care what others think, says Heyn.
So do what makes you happy, as long as it’s a good party!
“I think brides and grooms should pay attention to what is most important to them and how their personalities are reflected throughout the wedding day,” she says.
“If they are big entertainers and they love to throw extravagant parties, then why not have a large wedding? If they are more conservative and would never have had a large wedding in the first place, then they should choose to have a more relaxed and intimate wedding. They shouldn’t be looking back on the past but rather living in the present and celebrating this new part of their lives.”
Some brides and grooms may think that they’ll seem a little extra if they want a big wedding with all of the fixings, particularly if they already had a big event for their previous relationship. But this shouldn’t stop you from doing what you want, says Orsini.
“If they want the trimmings and a big blow out wedding the second time around, I say go for it!” she says. “I’m a very big proponent for clients getting what they want and not worrying too much about what people may think. We all know you’ll never please everyone! So do what makes you happy, as long as it’s a good party! Bottom line is, your guests just want to come and celebrate with you. Why not give them a big party, if that’s your vision?”
You’re likely not trying to upset anyone by getting married a second, third, fourth, fifth, or hundredth time; You probably just want to have a wedding the way you want. Guess what? There’s nothing wrong with that. Last time we checked, you and your fiancé(e) are getting married, not anyone who has something negative to say about your marriage. So do what you and your future spouse want to do, and if that includes having the wedding of your dreams more than once, so be it.