Here Comes the Bride, Again-
. . . Second Weddings: Etiquette, Tradition and Planning


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Almost 50% of marriages today involve someone who has been married before, so it's no wonder that attitudes toward remarriages have changed greatly over time. What once was considered no cause for celebration, in the light of a past "failure," has become, appropriately so, cause for celebration of what everyone hopes will be the start of a long, happy and lasting relationship.

Years ago it was appropriate to celebrate a second wedding (or in better words, an encore wedding), in a quiet civil ceremony which might have been followed by a small luncheon. The keyword for second marriages was "quiet." Today, it is very much the norm for couples who have been married before to plan weddings just as elaborate as first wedding celebrations might be. The remarrying bride wants to have the same special experience as a first-time bride. This is not to say that there are not some rules of etiquette and, usually, several dilemmas specific to second weddings. This is where guidelines may be helpful.

Most second-time bridal couples take the position that it's not their second or third wedding, but rather, the first for them as a couple. For most, they will older, hopefully wiser and paying for the wedding themselves. Holding the purse strings means that the decisions will be theirs alone. They will, not doubt, consider the feelings and wishes of their respective parents, but, when all is said and done, they will be the ones who make the final decisions.

Second-timers are more mature than they were at their first weddings and they tend to be more comfortable knowing what they like. For that reason, most second weddings tend to be more sophisticated. That sophistication can manifest itself in the style of wedding that encore brides and grooms choose, and appear in everything from the type of foods they select for their menus to the kind of music they have play.

For most encores, the couples pay more attention to what the event means to them and their families and less attention to accouterments. Usually smaller affairs, most second-timers only invite close friends and family. The guest list and who is invited to a second wedding, also changes. Where with the first wedding, the list appropriately included many of their parents' friends and clients, the encore wedding list will include more of the couple's friends and clients. It's okay to invite ex-inlaws, if the bride and groom are comfortable with that decision. In keeping with sensitivity to the feelings of children and one's partner an ex-spouse is almost never invited. If the couple is amenable to inviting the ex, it's important to do so in a way that gives him/her "a way out" without feeling, or looking bad.

Announcing your engagement and impending marriage to the people who love and care about you will, hopefully, evoke the joyful response which is appropriate. There will, however, be some people for whom the announcement will be less than pleasant or even unpleasant, so sensitivity is the key. You will, of course, need to tell your ex-husband. Do this in as matter of fact away as possible, without sharing details. If you have children from your first marriage, be prepared for mixed reviews when you make your announcement. Leave time for questions. Leave time for them to be able to vent their concerns. Try to explain the logistics involved and how things will change for them. If you can put their mind at ease, the transition and the wedding itself will be more pleasant for all of you.

Click here for sample wedding announcements and invitations.

In the past, most guests for a second wedding followed the rules of etiquette that prescribed that gifts were not required for a second wedding. Today, gifts are now much more common. Most guests feel that a gift is appropriate when you attend any celebration, so they make no exception in the case of a remarriage.

If recently widowed or divorced, etiquette suggests that the actual announcement be made after, not before the wedding. Formal, printed invitations may be sent when there are more than fifty guests. With less than fifty, a phone call is more appropriate. Especially if your wedding will lean toward the informal, you can invite people verbally. If you wish to mail invitations, the rules for first marriages hold. The more formal their wedding, the more formal the invitation. It's especially appropriate with a remarriage for the invitation to make clear who is hosting the event.

As for an invitation to an ex-spouse, the guidelines of etiquette say "no." Many divorced men and women maintain a "relationship with their ex's and, in such cases, the "rule" is theirs to "break."

Part of the joy of celebrating a forthcoming marriage is the pre-wedding parties. Etiquette prescribes that there is no need for an engagement party, or wedding announcement, or a shower, but bridal couples today believe that there is no reason to forego either an engagement party or bridal shower for second marriage. If most of the guests at your engagement party attended the engagement party for your first wedding, it's appropriate, but not a hard and fast rule, to indicate "no gifts please," on your invitation. Alternatives to "no gifts please" are a suggested donation to a charity or promissory coupons such as "one night of baby sitting or dog watching."

Should a member of your family or a close friend offer to throw you a bridal shower, as a second-time bride may gracefully and gratefully decline. If the bride is okay with being given a shower, the shower announcement should be kept as informal as possible. Oftentimes, to stay within the boundaries of good taste, the shower is a non-traditional one. Instead of china, linens and housewares that the bride, in all likelihood, already has, a gourmet food, wine, library (books), or garden shower is a thoughtful alternative. These variations on the theme, will provide a bride with items she can enjoy and doesn't already own. The only thing which is unacceptable is to ask for gifts of cash.

One of the most pleasant aspects of a second-time wedding is the ability of the couple themselves to do it "their way." There are far fewer restrictions on the couple because it is most likely that they are paying for the wedding themselves. Not having to take into consideration the wishes of parents and the control that holding the purse strings bring, allows the couple to have their taste, their creativity and their character reflected in this style of the wedding. Second weddings still tend generally to be more informal than first weddings, but certainly that's not rule. The sky's the limit with regard to the type of wedding that's appropriate. Consider all the options: a brunch, a theme wedding, a barbecue, an at-home wedding, a beach party or traditional wedding. Probably the only thing to which to pay especially close attention in the planning of a reception is the children, yours and/or his. In the interest of future family harmony, your wedding should be a shared family event. It's easiest to do this if your reception is informal one, so that children can participate joyfully. If you have your heart set on formal wedding, consider the possibility of hiring child care and have a mini-reception for the children, along with child-oriented entertainment, in another room.

With regards to the wedding ceremony, the second is much like the first. You will need to take into consideration any legal or religious logistics such as a prenuptial agreement, an annulment or a special dispensation. Leave yourself sufficient time to take care of these issues. The couple will want to discuss the content of the wedding ceremony with their clergy person or wedding officiant, because you may not be comfortable with some of the text. This is an ideal time to create your own special wedding vows, which can incorporate special meaning to both of you. You can be creative and write your own, or you can get ideas and passages from one, or more of the many books on the subject.

Because most second-time brides have already been "given away" at their first weddings, it would be peculiar to be given away again, especially since it would be the divorced spouse who would be giving her away. In most second weddings there is no processional. The bride simply enters from a side. There is also no need for bridesmaids, albeit one or two close friends may "stand up" for the bride and groom.

If there are children involved, it's especially important to have them participate in an active way, so they will be made to feel an important component in the wedding.

That participation can begin in the planning phase of the wedding. Older children can help address invitations. Younger children can stuff and close envelopes. Some second-timers go so far as to have the children make the invitations. At the very least, they can be assured of originality.

One of the really pleasurable ways to include children is to shop with them for special clothing and, perhaps, even for wedding jewelry. Almost everyone, adults and children alike, feel special when they are wearing "fancy" garb purchased especially for the wedding and wedding-related functions.

Here are several other ways in which your children can be included:
1. They can distribute wedding favors to the guests.
2. They can distribute wedding programs.
3. They can to distribute directions to the reception (if at a different location than the ceremony).
4. They can serve as escorts and greet the guests.
5. They can be page turners for the organist or other soloist.
6. They can hand out flowers to the guests.
7. They can hand out rice, birdseed, bubbles or confetti to the guests.
8. They can "man" the Guest Book and/or Gift Table.
9. They can take candid pictures of the family and bridal party.
10. They can encourage guests to use their table cameras.
11. They can carry a basket and collect the disposable cameras.
12. They can be the photographer's/videographer's "people pointers" and identify special guests.
13. They can help guests find their seats at the ceremony and at the reception.
14. They can help to distribute the wedding cake.
15. One of the girls can be the flower girl (ideally between the ages of 4-7).
16. They can serve as junior bridesmaids (ideally between the ages of 8-12) and groomsmen.
17. One of the boys can be the ring bearer. 18. An older child can serve as Best Man, Maid of Honor, or escort to the bride.
19. If one of the children is talented musically, they can be invited to share their talent at the reception, or present a reading during the ceremony.
20. You can make the ceremony a family event by adding vows to the ceremony that include and tangibly show you and your new spouse's commitment to the children and to your new family.
21. At the reception, the "first dance" can be one that includes not only the married couple, but also each of the extended family members . . . mom, step-dad, dad, step-mom, and all the kids.
22. After the reception, when the gifts are opened, the children in the family can assist, and/or keep track of the gifts by writing a list. (P.S. Give them some Scotch tape in order to fasten the cards to the gifts.)
23. Let them help to decorate the ceremony and/or reception site.
24. Let them help with the set-up of the reception location (favors, place cards, guestbook, toasting glasses, etc.).
25. After consulting with the children, and getting their okay, prepare a vow with your child(ren) has the child promise to love and honor the new partner. In a real sense, it will give the children the feeling that they too are getting married.

There have been special ceremonies written (check your library and bookstore) specifically to incorporate the melding of families and you may wish to use one of these or write your own. Here are a few suggestions:
1- Have all the children, from both sides, participate in a unity candle ritual, or a prayer of family blessing.
2- Include the presentation of a family medallion to each child, as a symbol of the new couple's commitment to create a family bond amongst all the children. This is much like the symbolism of the wedding ring for the couple and involves designing and creating a specially inscribed medallion which is presented to each child. The medallion may be accompanied by a recitation which describes a commitment of continued love and family bonding. The ceremony may be followed by joining hands and a prayer of blessing for the entire family.
3- Consider designing your own child-centered "traditions." In addition, or as an alternative to the bouquet and garter toss, have a "teddy bear toss." You purchase a teddy bear, preferably one dressed like a bride, or a groom and it gets tossed "aimed at" the children, who scramble to catch it.

One last comment about children . . . second marriages can be a really difficult time for them and, in the rush and excitement of the day, they may get lost in the shuffle. It's a nice idea to set up a "buddy" for each of the children, perhaps a favorite aunt or friend they know. Having someone with whom they can share the day in a positive way can be an advantage for both the new couple and the children.

A second wedding is an opportunity for the bride to purchase or borrow something lovely to wear. A tailored suit, an evening dress, or a wedding gown are all appropriate attire. Many wedding consultants and etiquette experts advise the second-time bride against wearing pure white unless her first marriage was short, or she eloped. Today, however, some consultants are comfortable with the guidelines that say that any bride may wear a long, white gown, no matter how many times she has walked down the aisle and no matter what her age.

Brides who choose white for their second marriages tend to make their choice a less formal, less traditional gown. Most second-time brides are uncomfortable about wearing pure white. If that's how you feel, a shade of off-white or almost any flattering color is fine. Many brides opt to choose a dress which they can wear again after the wedding. A suit or cocktail dress is most appropriate, but pretty much all the borders can be stretched, except . . . etiquette consultants advise that orange blossoms, a symbol of virginity should not be included in the bride's bouquet. As for wearing a veil and a train, almost all etiquette-setters agree those should only be worn at a bride's first marriage, because the train and veil symbolize youth and innocence. They suggest that the second-time bride, in lieu of a poofy, or blusher veil, choose a wreath of flowers, or a beautiful bridal hat. Etiquette expert Peggy Post says it is acceptable for remarrying brides to wear a veil that cascades down the back, if it matches the formality of the wedding. You may wear a train, but it should be kept simple and "match" the formality and style of the wedding.

The bride's attendant (just one is most appropriate) should dress similarly and the groom and his attendant should each wear a suit (dark suits or tuxedos for evening weddings). If guests ask, dressy business clothes for daytime and cocktail-type attire for evening are fine.

What's most important in a second wedding is not so much what you don't do, as what you do! Keep in mind that this is a joyful celebration of new beginnings. Keep in mind that this is an occasion to celebrate with your friends and family. Keep in mind the delicate balance of old and new relationships and levels of comfort and sensitivity. Planning your second wedding with an open mind and an open heart will result in an event that creates special memories for everyone participates in it with you.

In future articles we will cover remarriages which follow the death of the previous spouse, as well as legal issues such as annulment and divorce. We will also cover financial issues which are pertinent and specific for couples who are remarrying. We do, however, have an article about prenuptial agreements. For that article, click here.

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