Pets, babies & social media at weddings: a data-driven exploration of how wedding etiquette has evolved

A couple on their wedding day petting a dog

In this guide:

While the legal groundwork of getting married has remained the same for many years, wedding traditions and protocols are constantly evolving. The wedding celebration goes far beyond signing the register, with couples seeking to express their love and personalities in a way that is unique to them. The possibilities are endless, whether you’re looking to create a small, intimate event or a big party that incorporates all your friends and family.

Regardless of the diversity of wedding celebrations, there are some accepted rules of etiquette that most couples will choose to follow. But how have these changed over the years, and what are the standard protocols for the modern couple? In this guide, we’ll explore how couples draw the line between respecting tradition and embracing new norms.

Chapter 1

Before the big day

Dog at a wedding ceremony

You’d be forgiven for thinking that wedding etiquette only covers the day itself, but there are some things you need to consider during the build up as well. From announcing your engagement to crafting your invitations, traditionally, there has always been a ‘right’ way to do things. Let’s understand what this looked like in the past, as well as the fresh twist couples have put on these milestones today.

Engagement announcements

In years gone by, high-society engagements were announced in printed form in the newspaper. Not only did this make family and friends aware, but also wider social acquaintances. In the era before social media, it was a good way to get the information out to a lot of people at once, rather than having to call multiple households.

There was even a correct way to do this, with famous etiquette company Debrett’s publishing guidance on the wording of these announcements. This still stands today, with modern guidance covering a range of scenarios that reflects societal changes. Since traditional snippets in the paper included the names of the couple's parents, the rules laid out the phrasing for parents who were married, divorced, widowed or separated. These new rules also state how same-sex couples can announce their upcoming nuptials.

But in the modern era, while some couples do still choose to announce their engagement in the paper for nostalgic reasons, most nearlyweds will take a more digital approach. Older research suggests that around 86% of couples choose to announce their engagement via social media, often accompanied by a close up photo of the ring.

Despite this, it’s always best to let your closest friends and family know before a public announcement. It’s up to you whether you choose to call your nearest and dearest, wait until you see them in person or send a photo of your brand new ring, but make sure the most important people in your life find out from you directly, not from social media.

Granted, this approach isn’t for everyone. Research has shown that 4 in 10 newly-engaged couples would consider posting an engagement photo before telling their family, with a quarter prioritising a social media post over letting their parents know. This may be a generational change, with the same study showing that a third of 16-24 year olds would like at least 50 likes on their engagement photo post — suggesting that Gen Z may have a more relaxed approach to etiquette rules for these big moments.

A dog in a field in front of a couple

Engagement parties

Would you consider throwing a party to celebrate your engagement with family and friends? If the answer is yes, you may be in the minority — typically only 26% of couples choose to have an official event to celebrate their new status.

This is likely because the role of the engagement party has changed over the years. Previously, the party was a chance for the father of the bride-to-be to announce the engagement to family and friends, with the guests having no idea about the upcoming nuptials beforehand. Going back even further, an engagement party marked an official betrothal, where the couple made vows to each other in advance of their binding wedding vows. Back when marriage was not always entirely dictated by romantic connection, this milestone was an important show of commitment.

Things have moved on since then, with many couples tending to announce their engagement themselves. So, while some couples may still throw a party, they’re likely to have shared their news beforehand, with the event simply acting as a chance to celebrate. However, in some cases, such as in Hindu culture, the engagement party retains an important part in the wedding process, demonstrating a lasting commitment before any binding vows are exchanged.

A couple enjoying a drink and stroking a dog

Who typically pays for a wedding?

Weddings are a special occasion, and as such, they cost more money than a typical party. You’ll want to ensure that your day is everything you’ve dreamed of, from the preparations right to the last dance. With so much choice for engaged couples, costs can soon add up, so it’s important to budget accordingly to ensure you meet all of your requirements. But who should be footing the bill?

Typically, the bride’s family have paid for the wedding day. This stems from the historical tradition of providing the bride with a dowry, back when marriage was a transaction between two families. The dowry was designed to cover the bride’s living expenses, based on the fact that most women didn’t earn a wage or own property. Even as times moved on, many parents still chose to cover wedding expenses for their daughters as a gift, especially if they were living at home before the big day. In comparison, the groom would have been expected to pay for some expenses himself, including the engagement and wedding rings, marriage licence and gifts for the groomsmen and the bride.

Today, many couples choose to pay for the bulk of their wedding themselves. Especially in a situation where both partners have an income, and where they choose to live together before the wedding, it can feel outdated to ask your parents for financial input towards your big day. With the average wedding now costing around £18,400, these celebrations go far beyond a simple ceremony and party in the garden.

Interestingly, research from 2022 showed that 63% of couples received some level of financial input from family and friends towards their wedding day, which is an increase of 2% from the year before. This suggests that some costs may be shared, even if the entire bill isn’t covered by the one family.


Once you’ve settled on your perfect wedding date and venue, you’ll need to turn your hand to the sometimes challenging task of selecting your guests. The average number of guests at a UK wedding in 2022 was 81, an increase from the previous year — perhaps no surprise, given the impact of the coronavirus pandemic. As much as you might wish you could have everyone with you, you’ll likely be limited by the size of your venue as well as your budget.

So what are the rules around who to invite, and how do modern couples send out invitations? Let’s take a look.

Who to invite

In the past, the couple’s parents may have been given a certain number of invitations to hand out based on the fact that they would have been the main financial contributors. Now, with modern couples taking on the majority of the bill, there’s fewer expectations for parents to be able to request that their siblings or close friends be there. However, if your parents are contributing at all to your day, it’s polite to check whether there’s anyone they’d really like to invite.

Research shows that acceptance rates sit around the 83% mark, with 17% of guests declining. This is an increase from 2021 and 2022, where the acceptance rate was 72% and 75% respectively. So when you send your invitations, leave time to invite some more guests if your original list can’t all make the big day.

Wedding websites and e-invites

It’s often hard to remember the internet has only been in our homes since 1993, given the huge role it plays in our everyday lives. For many years, paper invitations dominated the wedding market simply because they were the only option, particularly if you had guests who lived away from the local area. But the internet gave couples a different alternative: wedding websites and e-invites.

The benefit of being able to send out invitations and receive replies digitally is that a lot of the hard work is done for you, and for your guests. You don’t need to set time aside to open paper invitations and mark the response on your sheet, and guests don’t need to visit the post office. It’s also better for the planet, which is important for couples who are hoping to throw a sustainable wedding.

It’s no surprise, then, that around 30.4% of modern couples are choosing to go paperless, with 40.7% opting for both paper and electronic invitations. However, even this digital form of communication is not free from etiquette rules. Emails may go into spam inboxes, or get accidentally deleted, resulting in a delayed reply. Experts state that it’s fine to send a follow-up email as a reminder after a reasonable amount of time, but don’t chase your guests unnecessarily. Providing a clear RSVP date can help when it comes to managing expectations.

Gift registries

Originating in America in 1924, gift registries, also known as wedding lists in the UK, allow the couple to select a range of items that they’d like to receive as presents. Guests can then buy the items directly from the merchant, therefore ensuring that there are no duplicate gifts. Historically, couples did not live together before marriage, so a registry was also a way to equip the newlyweds with everything they needed to set up a house together.

With the number of cohabiting couples rising from 1.5 million in 1996 to 3.6 million in 2021, there’s less emphasis on practical items like tea towels and kettles on the modern gift registry. Instead, couples are increasingly asking for contributions to their honeymoon, pet items or simply upgraded versions of home items that they may already own.

When it comes to sharing the gift registry information, online lists are becoming increasingly popular, or lists that cover shops that have multiple locations. The geographical spread of many wedding guests means lists that focus on one shop are no longer practical.

Chapter 2

On the day and beyond

A bride at a wedding ceremony with a dog

Once the announcements have been made, engagement parties thrown and the invitations sent, your big day will arrive sooner than you think. Your nuptials are a chance to create a celebration that is unique to you and your partner, and it’s never been easier to craft a bespoke wedding than in the modern era.

With all this freedom, however, sometimes comes the need to consider etiquette that wouldn’t have existed in years gone past. Let’s explore some of the newest wedding trends and the rules around them.

Pets at weddings

The connection between humans and animals goes back centuries. With 57% of UK households now owning some kind of animal companion, it’s understandable that couples would want this important member of their family to be present at their big day. In fact, a poll of 1000 pet owners by ManyPets showed that 85% of British couples feel that their pet is vital to their relationship.

From dogs to horses, and even more unusual creatures like alpacas, there’s a way to incorporate any pet through the wedding proceedings. On the other hand, having a pet present can add a level of chaos that might not be welcome at such an auspicious occasion. So are pet parents actually incorporating their furred and feathered family members? Let’s explore.

A dog on a lead

Popularity of having pets at weddings

While the pandemic reduced the size of most wedding guest lists and made it harder to involve pets, this has bounced back in the last couple of years. 2022 research reported by Hitched showed that Google searches for ‘pets at weddings’ had increased by 200% in a year, with a study by Guide Dogs reporting that 94% of couples would want to include their pet in their special day.

This may be to do with the more relaxed and less religious attitude we’re seeing towards wedding celebrations, allowing for the incorporation of personal touches that weren’t possible before. In fact, the Guide Dogs study supports this, with 35% of respondents saying they’d be open to including their pet in a wedding as they see weddings nowadays as less religious occasions, with 31% saying the same but because modern celebrations are less formal.

Unsurprisingly, the most popular pets to have at a wedding are dogs — perhaps because they are generally more trained and used to social situations. The ManyPets poll showed that 8 in 10 British couples would want their dog at their wedding, with two-thirds wanting their dog to walk down the aisle with them. Perhaps most shockingly, 79% of participants in the study indicated that they would prefer their dog to be at their wedding over their family members, which goes to show just how much we value our canine companions.

But what about guests bringing their dogs with them? 70% said they would be happy to bring their dog along to someone else’s nuptials if invited. However, 47% said they’d be worried about their dog’s behaviour during the big day — so perhaps dogs as plus ones isn’t something that we’re going to be seeing much of anytime soon.

The role of pets at weddings

Given the importance that we seem to place on having our dogs at our weddings, it’s no surprise that we want them to have a starring role. Guide Dogs found that the most common roles couples expect their dog to fulfil at their wedding are:


Taking part in the first dance


Walking the bride down the aisle


Being the ‘Dog of Honour’


Being the ring bearer

Link to data

Over half people surveyed (58%) said they would be happy to make changes to their plans for the big day so that their dog could be involved, with just over a third saying they’d only consider a venue if it welcomed their canine companion. This is in contrast to thirty years ago, where only 11% of survey participants looked for a dog-friendly venue.

If you do decide to allow pets at your wedding, then make sure that you’ve adequately prepared, so that they are as comfortable and calm as possible. If it’s your own pet, you may want to consider having them present for a small portion of the day, such as the vows, before arranging for a pet sitter to collect them.

Weddings, while joyous, can be noisy and full of lots of new people, which may be overwhelming or stressful for your pet. Having them with you for a calmer part of the celebrations, such as the ceremony, means you get the experience of having them with you without causing undue stress. After all, 32% of surveyed dog lovers admitted that they’d primarily want their pup with them to capture adorable content for their social media channels — so once you’ve got your photos, let them go home for a well-deserved nap before they enjoy a treat from your gift registry.

A dog ornament on a wedding cake

Babies at weddings

Deciding whether or not to invite babies to your wedding is a hard call. On one hand, you don’t want to exclude any guests who may be breastfeeding or have young children who they aren’t comfortable to leave with a babysitter. On the other hand, babies can be unpredictable, and you may be concerned that any meltdowns might take away from your beautiful day that you have spent weeks and months creating.

Making this choice can also be difficult to navigate given the societal changes around having children. With more babies born outside of marriage in the UK than ever before ( 51.4% of children ), and the average marriage age also rising to 31, couples may well find their friends have children already, even if they haven’t tied the knot.

It also means that couples are more likely to have children themselves before getting married — leaving the question of what to do during their wedding, given that presumably most family members will be in attendance. Let’s explore the place of children in modern weddings to help understand how they could play a role in your own day.

A baby being carried at a wedding

Children as guests

In terms of societal views, older research by YouGov showed that only 9% of respondents were in favour of not inviting children to weddings at all. However, 29% did vote that the list should be restricted, with children of close family and friends only being allowed. There’s a mix of opinions about whether the age of the child matters too, with the same study showing that 40% of people believed children under the age of 6 should be allowed, perhaps because of their reliance on their parents.

When you start planning your wedding, you may have a gut feeling on whether you would like little ones to be invited. Some couples are adamant they don’t want children at their celebration, whereas others may be happy to have babes-in-arms, but not children over a certain age. Your thoughts may be influenced by your knowledge of your ideal guestlist — if you have lots of friends with children, the chances are at least some of them won’t be able to come if you exclude little ones.

Invitation etiquette for children

No matter whether you decide to invite children or not, it’s important to make this clear in your wedding invitations. Otherwise, parents might automatically assume that children are invited, which can lead to awkward conversations down the line.

If you’re not having children at all at your wedding, then consider including some sensitive wording, such as ‘we are sorry we are unable to accommodate children at our wedding’, or ‘we would like our day to be an adult-only occasion’. If you’re going to invite some children and not others, try ‘in order to meet guest number restrictions, we are only able to extend our invitation to the children of close family and/or our wedding party’.

Including your own baby in your wedding day

With many couples now choosing to get married after they’ve had children, there’s also a new opportunity to break from tradition and include your own little ones in your wedding day. Additionally, the percentage of people getting married who have not previously been married is falling. This means that one partner is now more likely to have been married before, and potentially already have children from that previous relationship who need to be considered.

Whether they’re a tiny ringbearer, flower girl or boy, or simply just stand next to you as you exchange your vows, having your child with you can enhance your day and show your commitment to your family unit. Just make sure that someone else is on babysitting duties for after the ceremony, so that you can enjoy your day in relative peace.

A child at a wedding

Social media and smartphones at weddings

We’re all used to seeing photos and videos of weddings shared on social media. Professional wedding photos have been around for a long time, evolving from posed shots in studios before the big day to a line-up on the steps of the church, to the more intimate style that is in favour currently. Even wedding videography has been around longer than you might think, although it only became popular in the early 1970s when portable video cameras became widely available.

However, the rapid rise of smartphone technology in the last ten years lets guests take their own constant stream of photos, rather than wait to see the professional photographer’s album or carry a digital camera. Photos can now be taken, reviewed, edited and shared in a matter of minutes, meaning that images of the happy day can be online even before the wedding is over.

While some couples like that their guests can take their own photos, others are understandably reluctant to have a sea of smartphones in their expensive professional photos. Let’s explore how this trend has evolved in modern weddings.

Someone taking a photo of a wedding on their smartphone

The popularity of unplugged weddings

Initially, smartphones were a given at weddings. They were new, and a good way to quickly capture images of the day that could be emailed or sent to family and friends who weren’t invited, as well as having them to look back on. Most weddings require an element of getting dressed up too, so guests took the opportunity to capture an image of themselves in all their finery.

However, in recent years, couples are increasingly jaded by the appearance of smartphones on their big day. Especially if guests are constantly on their phones or have them out on the table, it can feel like they have somewhere better to be, as well as the practical consideration that they’ll appear in all the professional photos.

As a result, many couples are opting to have an ‘unplugged’ wedding, where they politely request that guests keep their phones in their bags for the duration of the celebrations. While it’s impractical to ask guests not to bring their phones at all, given that most of us now rely on them, explicitly stating that you don’t want them to be seen can be a helpful way to maintain control. Not only does this keep them out of your photos, but it also helps your guests be present, enjoying the party with you rather than focusing on getting good content for social media.

It’s no surprise then that unplugged weddings are enjoying a boom in recent years. Research by Hitched showed that 75% of respondents would consider or are having an unplugged wedding, and further research by The Knot supports this, with 45% of people choosing an unplugged ceremony, which is up from 23% in 2017. Alternatively, some couples request no phones or cameras during their wedding ceremony, but offer guests free rein when it comes to the reception portion of the day.

Social media wedding content creation

On the opposite end of the spectrum, some couples are choosing to make the most of the technology available to them. A relatively new trend, some social media influencers are now offering a content creation service for weddings, where they capture photos and videos that are specifically intended for use on social media. This service is not meant to replace a typical wedding photographer, but rather offer couples the instant gratification of having images they can view and share immediately after their wedding day.

This is a trend that started in America, but it’s making its way over to the UK as a compromise between guests having their phones out, and having to wait several weeks for professional photos to be ready. It also means that more casual footage, such as the preparations, can be captured for you to view over and over again. With 83% of Gen Z couples saying that photos and videos are the most important part of their wedding day, this is a trend that we’re likely to see more of in the future.

A photo of a couple at a wedding being taken on a smartphone

Wedding hashtags

The popularity of wedding hashtags has waxed and waned over the years along with the unplugged wedding trend. Initially a popular way to share and collect wedding photos on social media, they’re now in decline thanks to the rise of unplugged weddings. The Knot’s research shows that having a wedding hashtag is down in popularity by 23% in comparison to 2017, with only 32% of couples choosing to carefully curate one for their big day.

Chapter 4

Useful links

Married couple posing with a dog