Be brief and discrete when letting guests know that a wedding has been canceled, advises Jill-Marie Zachman, owner of First Impressions Etiquette Training and Image Development in Waterville.
In other words: no gory details.
"Of course, people are curious, but you want to be gracious and courteous," she said. No reason needs to be given unless it's being called off because of death or illness.
If "save the date" or wedding invitations have gone out and time permits, send a formal announcement by mail in which the parents of the bride announce that the marriage will not take place.
If it's called off just days or weeks before the wedding date, a phone call, short hand-written note, or e-mail is acceptable, although "an e-mail should be a last resort," Ms. Zachman said.
She said close friends and relatives deserve a phone call in addition to the formal mailed announcement, as do long-distance guests who would be making travel arrangements.
Don't forget to send word to newspapers that carried a wedding announcement, and to update your wedding Web site — but not until guests are notified in the appropriate manner, Ms. Zachman said.
Sometimes the wedding itself isn't canceled, but must be downsized because of a tight budget. In that case, or if it's being postponed indefinitely, send out a carefully worded announcement saying that the wedding will not be taking place as scheduled, or will take place at a later date, Ms. Zachman suggested.
Here are some other considerations:
What should the couple do with any gifts they have received?
All gifts, including shower and engagement, should be returned. Even gifts that were monogrammed or already opened.
Does the bride return the ring? Or would that depend on which party cancels the wedding?
If the ring is a family heirloom, absolutely yes. If not, it is dependent on who breaks off the wedding. Some states have set protocol that regardless who breaks it off, the ring is returned.
Any suggestions for how to answer people who ask, "What happened?"
It's best to be brief and general with most. Stay away from the blame game, excuses, or details of a messy situation. You will be respected for your discretion and graciousness.
If the wedding party already has incurred some expense for gowns or tuxes, should the bride or groom compensate them?
As horrible as the bride and groom may feel, etiquette says it's not necessary to reimburse the bridesmaids or the groomsmen for their gowns or rentals. However, a bride may try to negotiate on their behalf for a partial refund, or try and locate a resale shop. The groom may want to help negotiate a refund as well, or offer to reimburse for some of the down payment.
If the groom is the one who canceled the wedding, the groom's parents or the groom himself should offer to compensate the bride's family for any deposits they cannot get back.
If you're a friend/relative of a bride or groom whose dream has just gone down the drain, what are the do's and don't's of what to say or do?
For whatever reason the wedding was canceled, more than likely there may be feelings of loss, grief, sadness, or anger. In such cases:
• Be available to listen.
• Give little or no advice unless asked.
• Be a source of strength and provide a shoulder to lean on.
• Stay away from telling stories of others you personally know or read about who went through the same thing.
• If it's your friend who called off the wedding, respect his or her decision. Stay away from saying, "I'm so glad you came to your senses" or "It's about time you woke up." Though you may be right, this is no time to point that out.
• Your friend may not be thinking clearly and may need encouragement to get things done. Offer to help with tasks that must get taken care of ASAP [such as] notify the florist, DJ, caterer, etc.