Elaine Swann, founder of The Swann School of Protocol, shares with PEOPLE her top wedding etiquette recommendations guests should follow
Elaine Swann is an expert when it comes to wedding etiquette.
Aside from being the founder of The Swann School of Protocol, an institution dedicated to preserving and teaching the rules of etiquette, Swann served as a wedding coordinator for 10 years.
"I got into the etiquette business by being a student of etiquette," she tells PEOPLE in an exclusive interview. "I had some issues with being socially awkward and quite shy. My mom felt that it was important for me to grow into a more confident space, so she enrolled me in charm school. That led to me participating in everything from pageants to additional etiquette courses."
Swann adds that her work as a wedding coordinator has given her an "inside perspective on what's necessary to make a successful wedding," while also giving her a chance to bring her "etiquette knowledge to that business."
One common mistake guests make when attending weddings is ignoring the seating arrangement. "We find folks who will switch seats or try to sit in an area other than what they've been asked to," she says. "It’s important for people to recognize that the bride and the groom have really put a lot of time into the seating arrangements."
She adds: "Although it may seem as though it's a minor thing to the attendee, it really is something that's important to the bride and groom. So don't just change seats. It's not proper to do that, and it shows a lack of respect for the couple’s wishes."
Another wedding etiquette mistake she often sees is not dressing appropriately for the occasion. "It's crucial to choose your attire based on factors like the time of day, the style of the wedding, and the invitation's style. If you're unsure, reach out to the couple, a member of the wedding party, or family for guidance," Swann says.
She adds that an emerging trend in wedding etiquette is giving the gift of money, which, she says, is becoming increasingly popular in American culture.
"It's a practical gift that every couple will certainly use. Sending it electronically is convenient. Always accompany it with a thoughtful note and consider following up with a handwritten card for a nice touch," Swann continues.
Need more advice? The etiquette expert shares three of her main tips and tricks for wedding guests below.
Always Respond to an RSVP
It's important to respond to the wedding invitation because the bride and groom are relying on that information to plan their wedding — everything from the caterer to seating arrangements to how many favors to distribute for the guests rely on each guest responding. Oftentimes people feel as though if they're not going to attend, they should not respond, but you should.
And then, of course, utilize the response method that the couple has provided, whether it's mailing a card back or responding online.
Respect the Invitation
If the invitation is addressed to you alone, it means you likely do not have a plus one. Respect the invitation and do not bring an uninvited guest. If you're unsure, ask the couple if you can bring a guest, and respect their answer.
Be Present and Mindful of the Photographer
During the wedding, refrain from getting in the way of the photographer by taking photos with your phone. Wait until the bride and groom have posted their photos before sharing your own.
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