Your Simple Guide to Wedding Terms

Photo by Pixel Studio Productions, Courtesy The Bell Tower on 34th

Every business has its own vocabulary, and the business of weddings is no exception.

Sure, you might expect your nuptials to be filled only with the language of love, but as you work with your wedding planner, caterer, photographer, and florist (among others) it’s important to know the difference between a bustle and a boutonniere, a place card and an escort card.

Here, I decode some of the terms you’re likely to come across as you plan your big day.

The Ceremony and Reception

· Black Tie or Black Tie Optional — A black tie wedding is a formal affair, usually held after 6 p.m. Men (we’re talking guests here) traditionally wear tuxedoes, and women wear cocktail dresses or evening gowns. The black-tie option is more casual; while women often still wear a long gown, men often wear suits instead of tuxes. These aren’t the only dress code options, of course. You can request your guests wear white-tie (even more formal than black-tie), casual, festive, or even tropical attire.

· Boutonniere — A floral accessory worn by the groom, groomsmen, ushers, and the fathers of the couple. A boutonniere can be pinned on the lapel or threaded through a buttonhole but either way, it is typically worn on the left side, over the heart.

· Calligraphy — The elegant or fanciful hand-lettering on invitations, wedding signs, wedding programs, escort cards, and more. Did you know the word calligraphy literally means “beautiful writing?” The art of beautiful handwriting. The term is thought to derive from the Greek words for “beauty” (kallos) and “to write” (graphein).

· Escort Cards — Printed or calligraphed cards that indicate where people will be seated at the reception. Etiquette requires a certain level of formality here. Use your guest’s full name: if she goes by Barb but her name is Barbara, use Barbara on the escort card.

· “First Look” — A newer tradition that sets the idea of “not seeing the bride before the ceremony” on its head. During the first look, the bride and groom take a few moments to see each other privately before all the activity begins. It’s a great time for taking some special photos. Most couples set aside 15 to 30 minutes for the first look.

· Place Cards — Cards at the reception that indicate exactly which seat each guest will sit in. Do you need both escort cards and place cards? Maybe not. But if you’re going to do without one, keep the place card to avoid a free-for-all at your reception.

· Pomander — A round ball covered in fresh or artificial flowers, pomanders can be used as decorations, centerpieces, or even as a bouquet for the flower girl. Pomanders are also known as “kissing balls” and are used to represent romantic love.

· Reply (or RSVP) Cards — Part of the stationery suite that includes your save-the-date cards and invitations, reply cards are an essential planning tool for you and your caterer. Mailed with the invitation, they are returned by the guest, indicating whether they’ll attend, how many people will be in their party, and, often, their choice of entrée. What, exactly, does RSVP mean? It stands for the French répondez s’il vous plait, which translates to “please reply.”

Wedding Attire

· Bustle — Loops, buttons, or ribbons attached to the wedding gown that allow the train to be pulled up and tucked away after the ceremony to make walking and dancing easier. There are over-bustles and under-bustles; it all depends on where the loops, buttons, or ribbons are attached, on the exterior of the dress (the American or over-bustle) or underneath it (the French or under-bustle).

· Cummerbund — Not the name of an English actor (that’s Benedict Cumberbatch), a cummerbund is a broad sash often worn with formalwear. It goes above the shirt but under the jacket. It is believed the cummerbund originated in Persia but was popularized by the British in the 1850s after they saw Indian soldiers wearing them.

· Tulle — The fine, soft mesh overlay that covers a wedding gown and is often used in veils. Tulle takes its name from Tulle, France, a center of lace and silk production in the 18th century.

The Members of the Wedding

· Best Man — An honorary role given to a relative or close friend of the groom. The best man is responsible for planning the bachelor party, and he’ll give a short speech at the reception. Did you know that a woman can be the best man? She’s usually known as the best woman or best person.

· Flower Girl — Usually a young girl who precedes the wedding party down the aisle, scattering flowers along the way. The tradition dates to the Roman empire, where a girl would walk down the aisle carrying a sheath of wheat, which represented prosperity.

· Maid or Matron of Honor (MOH) — Usually a relative or close friend of the bride, the MOH stands by the bride’s side on the wedding day, both literally and figuratively. She will help you get through the pre-ceremony jitters, make sure you look picture-perfect as you walk down the aisle, and hold your bouquet during the ceremony. The MOH is also responsible for planning the bachelorette party. The maid of honor usually wears a dress that sets her apart from the other bridesmaids or carries a distinctive bouquet. What’s the difference between “maid” and “matron?” A maid of honor is an unmarried woman; a matron is married. If the honoree is male, he’ll be called a man of honor.

· Officiant — Also known as a celebrant, this is the person who performs the ceremony and signs your marriage certificates. Your officiant can be an ordained member of a religious institution, such as a minister, priest, rabbi, or imam; a judge or justice of the peace; or even a special friend who has been ordained by a non-denominational or humanist group. In the Quaker religion, there is no need for an officiant; the couple can marry themselves.

· Ring Bearer — A young child who carries the rings down the aisle to the couple. Most wedding planners suggest choosing a child no younger than three to perform this honor, and even then, some special training is usually required. Why do ring bearers carry the rings on a pillow? It’s meant to represent the dreams of the couple!

· Usher — A group of the couples’ close friends, traditionally male, who help guests find their seats, escort grandparents and other honored guests, and hand out wedding programs. Ushers aren’t required — you can ask your groomsmen to stand in — but if you do include them a good rule of thumb is to have one per every 50 guests.

About the Author:

Roger Igo is the founder and CEO of special events venue, The Bell Tower on 34th, along with Houston catering service Excellent Events, and research resource, Venues in Houston. He is the author of “Keep On Going, The History of The Bell Tower on 34th,” a former radio host, a graduate of CEO Space International, and an alumnus of The Disney Institute.