Tips, advice, and all the information you need to know about attending an elopement as a guest

If you’re reading this blog, chances are you’ve recently been invited to attend an elopement for a very special couple, but you may find yourself asking “What is an elopement?” and “What elopement etiquette should I be aware of?”

If this sounds like you, then you’ve definitely come to the right place. We’ve created this elopement guest etiquette guide to help you prepare to attend an elopement as a guest and celebrate the happy couple in your life.

Two grooms elope on a mountain surrounded by family and friends

What is an Elopement? What do you need to know?

First things first. What exactly is an elopement? While you might think of a couple running away to a courthouse to get married in secret, the definition of the word has changed dramatically in the past 2 – 3 years. Elopements are no longer about running down to the courthouse, repeating after the judge, and signing the paperwork. Sure, that is still considered an elopement, however, in recent years, elopements have become so much more.

Elopements today are smaller, more intimate wedding celebrations that are filled with meaning and INTENTIONAL EXPERIENCES. Instead of focusing on what others want or expect, or what is traditionally done at weddings, the emphasis on an elopement day is centered around the couple and their love for each other and what is important to them.

This means that each elopement can look a lot of different ways as each couple is different. What is meaningful and important to one couple may look different than what is meaningful and important to another couple. The important thing to remember is that there is no right or wrong way to elope.

How are Elopements Different from Traditional Weddings?

Guest List Size

One of the biggest differences between an elopement and a traditional wedding is the size of the guest list. Most weddings have over 50 (if not 100-150) guests and typically include a wide range of people from the couple’s family members to friends, coworkers, and acquaintances.

On the other hand, elopements are much smaller with usually no more than 30 guests. While some elopements have no guests at all, the ones that do typically include people whose relationship is very meaningful to the couple; the ones they couldn’t imagine celebrating their wedding day without.

Location and Timeline

The location of an elopement vs a wedding is also one of the biggest differences between these two days. Weddings typically take place at a venue and follow a set structure where the reception immediately follows the ceremony. Of course, the timelines and details can change from couple to couple, but guests can typically expect to see a similar flow at each wedding.

An elopement can take place anywhere from the couple’s backyard to a beach on the Oregon Coast to a mountaintop in Italy. Oftentimes the location is meaningful to the couple and can be a place that is special to their relationship, or a place that they have always dreamed of going together. Because each location is so unique, there are lots of different ways an elopement timeline can look. Some couples have a sunrise elopement ceremony followed by adventure photos and a reception dinner in the evening while others have a two-day elopement which allows them to spend more time with guests and still get the elopement experience they dreamed of.

When it comes to elopements vs weddings, there are many other ways they are different from each other, but the most important thing we hear from couples who choose to elope is that they want a day that is filled with intention, meaning, and experiences. Knowing what is important to the couple and what they want to prioritize can help you as an elopement guest as you help them celebrate one of the most important days of their life!

An elopement doesn’t mean ditching all traditions, it just means ditching the ones that don’t make sense and keeping the ones that truly matter.

Why Couples Choose to Elope

Grooms hug loved ones after eloping in the mountains in the North Cascades
Elopement guests look on as bride and groom exchange vows in the mountains

There are lots of reasons couples choose to elope. What matters to each couple is so unique to them, but here are a few reasons couples plan an elopement vs a wedding.

  • Value Experience – couples who choose to elope value meaningful experiences over traditions and expectations
  • Less Stress – we’re not saying that elopements have NO stress, but they typically are a lot less stressful than wedding planning, because instead of worrying about what everybody else wants, couples can focus on what matters most to them
  • Intimate Day Focused on the Couple – many couples who choose to elope want the day to be focused on their love rather than on a wedding event
  • Cost – while elopements are not always cheap, they typically do cost less than traditional weddings because they cut down the need for a venue and catering for a large guest list which are usually two of the biggest costs for a wedding

Want to learn more about elopements and why couples choose to elope? Click on the link below to learn 6 common misconceptions about elopements plus even more reasons why couples elope!

Elopement Guest Etiquette – How To Have An Amazing Time As A Guest

When it comes to attending an elopement as a guest, there are a few elopement etiquette “rules” that will help you feel confident going into the day.

Outfits: What to Wear to an Elopement as a Guest

We are big advocates of wearing whatever you feel comfortable in. You want to feel your best and like the way you look, while also choosing an outfit that feels true to who you are.

That being said, here are a few tips to keep in mind as you prepare your elopement guest outfit:

  • Think about the location – many elopement couples we work with choose to have their ceremony outdoors so knowing as much information about the location and the weather will help you know how you should dress. Is the elopement on a beach or in the mountains? Will the weather be warm or do you need to prepare for potential rain or snow?
  • Layer Up – the thing about outdoor weddings is that we can’t control Mother Nature. While we hope and plan for the best, we can’t control the weather so it’s important to be prepared with extra layers, especially if the elopement is taking place during the fall/winter months or in a higher elevation location like the mountains. It’s always better to have extra layers that you can take off than to be underprepared in cold weather.
  • Good Shoes vs Nice Shoes – choosing the proper footwear is one of the most important decisions when planning what to wear to an elopement. If the elopement takes place outside, we highly recommend wearing sturdy footwear like hiking boots or tennis shoes, especially if hiking is required. If you want to change into a nicer pair of shoes when we arrive at the ceremony location, that is ok. Feel free to bring them along so you can change at the top. The most important thing though, is to make sure you have something sturdy and comfortable to wear throughout the day.
Elopement guests cheer with bride and groom after their mountain elopement in Washington
Elopement guest photos in Canada

Elopement Ceremony Guest Etiquette

One of the most important moments of any wedding day is the ceremony. Being invited to an elopement is a special honor. You are one of only a few guests who are invited to the wedding.

What this means is that being fully present for the elopement ceremony is one of the best gifts that you can give to the couple. As tempting as it might be to pull out your phone and take photos or videos, remember, the ceremony is one of the most heartfelt moments of the day. Be fully in the moment (cry, laugh) with the couple and allow their photographer (aka us) to take care of the photos and document the moment.

Elopement Reception Guest Etiquette

It’s time to celebrate the happy couple! While not all elopements will have a sit-down catered meal, oftentimes there will be some type of reception-style celebration. Sometimes this can look like a catered lunch before the ceremony while other times it can mean a picnic-style cake-cutting on the trail right after the ceremony. Some couples may have everyone cook breakfast together or share in a pizza dinner at the cabin at the end of the evening. There truly is no one way for elopement receptions to look.

Because they can look so different, again, your job as an elopement guest is to just enjoy the moment and be present. If you are cooking breakfast together and you don’t know how to cook, that is ok. Just be in the moment with your loved ones and have fun (we’ll get lots of candid photos of everyone sharing in the moment together).

Elopement Gift Etiquette

If you are invited to attend the elopement, it is good etiquette to give the couple a gift. Some couples may plan to have a larger celebration after their elopement and may have a gift registry that you can look at, but if none is available or you aren’t sure what to get them, click here for a few helpful ideas.

Other Elopement Guest Etiquette Tips

Because elopements can be quite different than a traditional wedding, here are a few other elopement etiquette tips to follow as a guest.

  • Pack extra supplies – it’s always best to be prepared with a few supplies, especially if the elopement involves some hiking. Things like water, snacks, umbrellas, bug spray, hand warmers, or a first aid kit are all great things to carry with you as you never know what you might need while you are out on the trail.
  • Wedding dress – chances are a portion of the elopement day will take place outdoors and there might be moments when the wedding dress will lie naturally on the ground. While seeing this might be a new experience for you, just know that the couple is aware and ok with this experience.

Attending an elopement as a guest is such a special honor! You not only get to celebrate the start of the couple’s marriage, but you get to be one of the few who celebrate this special day with them. We hope that these elopement etiquette tips help you as you prepare to attend this elopement and remember, the best thing you can do to help celebrate with the couple is to simply be present and enjoy whatever the day brings!

To learn more about elopements or see some example elopement days from real couples, check out some of our other resources below.

Learn How to Elope & Other Elopement Planning Resources You Should Read

Check out some other real elopement stories from our beautiful couples

Henry Tieu & Sergio - Elopement Photographers

Meet Your Intimate Wedding & Elopement Photographers

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