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I Do, Part Two: Etiquette for a Second Marriage

The union between two individuals is always something to celebrate, and a second marriage is no different. However, there are some basic etiquette rules to follow when it comes to hosting or attending weddings two, three, or four.


A couple of weeks ago, I attended my 65-year-old mother’s wedding. My parents have been divorced for nearly ten years and the occasion was a joyous one. It tickled me to see how particular my mother was in planning and executing her big day. 

Having not been around for her first wedding, I had no idea how my mother would be as a bride. When my sister got married, my mother (wisely) stayed out of it, but when it came time for her to walk down the aisle to begin her second marriage, she had very definite ideas about what she wanted for her second wedding. I think she pulled it off fabulously. 

It used to be that second (or third or fourth) weddings unnecessarily carried a whiff of shame. The events themselves were expected to be small, quiet, and unobtrusive. Not exactly an uplifting message for the bride and groom embarking on their new life together. 

Luckily, attitudes toward remarriage and second weddings have loosened up. According to the Web site, more than 30 percent of weddings today are “encore weddings.” The rules of wedding etiquette are constantly evolving. No longer is the ghost of Emily Post standing over a bride’s shoulder, no matter how many times she’s been to the altar. Still, planning—or attending—an encore wedding can be confusing. There are a few guidelines to keep the affair festive and fitting. 

Ring a Ding Ding
The truth is, unless a widow or widower, you should have stopped wearing old engagement or wedding rings when you embarked on a new relationship. If you haven’t, an engagement is the time to retire any old reminders of your former spouse. If a former wedding or engagement ring has sentimental value, save it for your children or a niece or nephew, or perhaps have the stone reset. And don’t use your ex’s ring to propose.  

Hear Ye, Hear Ye
You should let your family, and especially any children, know about your engagement first. If you have joint custody, you should tell your ex directly. If your children are young, your ex may be able to help them understand the new roles in the family. If you don’t have children, you’re not required to tell your ex, but it’s considerate. If you don’t feel comfortable doing it in person or over the phone, sending a cordial, brief note is acceptable. You can post a formal engagement or post-wedding announcement in the local newspaper—in fact, this may help avoid awkward social situations—but keep it short and sweet. 

Who’s Paying?
It’s not kosher to expect parents to pay for a second wedding (and definitely not for a third or fourth), although some will offer, and you can graciously choose to accept or decline. Most encore couples pay for their own weddings. That’s one reason to keep it small and simple. 

Engagement Arrangement
Again, even if you’re younger, you should not expect your parents to host another engagement party. They’ve done their duty. However, if friends or family want to throw a party to celebrate or announce your engagement, let them if you wish. This is usually not a gift-giving affair, especially if you host it yourself. 

Registration, Please
The experts of etiquette are divided on whether encore couples should register for gifts. I would say no, especially if the majority of invitees were at your previous wedding(s). On the other hand, some planners say you should register even if you don’t want to. One way around this is to let guests know if they really want to give a gift, they can donate to a specified charity. Then again, some people will tell you to hop on that gravy train and register for things you missed the first time. You should not, however, register for expensive china, silver, and crystal, as these are associated with building your first home. 

If you’re a guest at an encore wedding, it’s tough to know whether you should give a gift. It’s acceptable to ask the bride and groom if they are registered. Consider giving an experience, like a gift certificate to a restaurant, a spa, or a bed & breakfast. Again, charitable donations are always a nice gesture for the couple who has everything. 

Making the Cut
This is your wedding and you can invite whomever you want. If you had a tiny service at the Justice of the Peace the first time and want to blow it out with three hundred of your closest friends now, that’s your prerogative. That said, normally second weddings are smaller than first weddings. Weddings beyond the second one are usually small. One idea is to have an intimate, family-only wedding and a larger party to celebrate with friends and coworkers later. 

Don’t invite any guests who may feel awkward about the new marriage—for example, your ex or your ex’s friends and family, even if you’re still close with them. Your wedding day should be about the future, not the past. 

Cordially Invited
Wording encore wedding invitations can be tricky. Usually it’s determined by how old the couple is and who’s paying for the wedding. If the couple is hosting, their names should appear first, as in “Linda Smith and Lawrence Sharp request the honor of your presence ...” Grown children sometimes choose to host their parents’ weddings, in which case their names may come first or after the bride’s and groom’s. Couples may also choose to include the names of their young children in this way. 

You in no way need to mention on the invitation that this is an encore performance. In fact, do not mention it. 

Showers, Naughty and Nice
Friends or family members should ask second-time brides (and grooms) if they want a shower or bachelor/bachelorette party. (And that’s a shower; more than one is excessive.) Great themes for encore showers include stock the bar or cellar, spa pampering, cooking/grilling, gardening, or dance lessons. As with any wedding shower, unless the wedding is private or family-only, only guests invited to the actual event should be invited to the shower. One exception would be a casual work shower with colleagues. 

Dress Rehearsal
As you’ve all been through this before, it’s not necessary to have a rehearsal unless the protocol of the ceremony is unfamiliar. A rehearsal dinner is also not necessary unless you have out-of-town friends and family you’d like to entertain. These don’t need to be lavish affairs, and toasting by guests should be saved for the wedding reception, if there is one.

What to Wear 
Despite popular belief, encore brides can wear white. Repeat brides usually don’t opt for bright white or poofy princess dresses with trains, although if you missed out the first go-round, here’s your chance! If you want to be understated, consider a suit, simple sheath, or cocktail dress in a beige, off-white, or light pink. Choose slimmer fits and stay away from elaborate beading and billowing chiffons and tulles. Whatever you do, do not wear the same dress you did at your previous wedding. (I had to say it.) 

One thing encore brides are discouraged from wearing is a veil, especially the blusher style that falls in front of the face. This tradition does still suggest virginity and while guests will suspend disbelief for the white dress, this would be pushing the envelope. 

Going to the Chapel
It is entirely up to you and your place of worship if you decide to have a religious ceremony or not. Some churches, synagogues, or mosques do not perform second marriages. Others may require you to jump through a few hoops. Whether civil or religious, your previous marriage must be completely legally dissolved. Make sure to have your paperwork in order before approaching the church or state.

“We Do”
It is considered a little gauche to have a gaggle of attendants at an encore wedding, although a single bridesmaid or groomsman is acceptable. Still, there are ways to include friends and family through readings, singing, or candle lighting. Many remarriages involve blended families, and whether religious or civil, it is nice to include children in the ceremony if they want to be included. In some instances where families are joining or new spouses are adopting their stepchildren, couples choose to include special vows to acknowledge the new family. 

Repeat brides often wonder who should walk them down the aisle and it really comes down to personal preference. Many encore brides choose to have their children, parents, or friends (male or female) walk them down the aisle. In some wedding ceremonies, the officiate will ask, “Who gives this woman to be married to this man (or woman)?” One person may speak on your behalf, or all of them may. (My mother had the entire family present chime in with “We do.”) Some brides choose not to be walked down the aisle by anyone but themselves, and others will approach on the arm of their spouse-to-be. Your day, your way. 

Receiving Line
While convention used to lean toward no reception or a small luncheon, you really can do it however you’d like these days. Have an intimate dinner at the restaurant where you met or a backyard barbeque. Have cake or cupcakes. Have a string quartet or a DJ. Dancing and cutting the cake are perfectly acceptable. Toasts are definitely in order but should not get out of hand (see below). Two traditions that should not be included, however, at a repeat reception: the bouquet and garter toss. 

No one needs to pretend this is your first wedding, but toasts are not the time to talk about previous marriages or, worse, bash exes. If you’re afraid someone is steering a toast in the wrong direction, do not be afraid to cut him or her off. Again, the theme of the day is focusing on the future, not the past. 

The Honeymoon
You’ve just planned and been through a wedding—get yourselves to a tropical paradise, stat! Some newlyweds choose to bring their children along, especially if they are young and still at home. This is fine and a great way to start making memories with your newly blended family, but be sure to get some time to yourselves, whether it’s staying a few days longer or taking a separate trip later. Who wouldn’t want two (or three or four) honeymoons? 

In the end, this is your day, and who cares if it’s your first, second, or third? It’s your first with your new spouse. So celebrate!

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