12/02/2011 12:55 pm ET Updated Feb 01, 2012

Does Wedding Etiquette Matter Anymore?

When I was 21, I attended a wedding and tried to leave the house without wearing pantyhose. My mother would not have it. I argued (potentially, whined), that nobody wore hose anymore. My mother declared everyone wore hose to weddings.

It was July in Tennessee. Nobody wore hose ... except my mother and me.

Still, she didn't make up that wedding etiquette rule. Hose used to be standard wedding attire. So when did the rules change? More importantly, do we even need them anymore?

In fact, weddings have become so personalized -- I attended a dinosaur-and robot-themed wedding just last month -- that sometimes it seems few rules apply anymore. Once upon a time, engaged couples decided between a buffet or a sit-down meal -- my brother and his now-wife had a gourmet pizza truck drive up to their reception. And why shouldn't brides and grooms celebrate in ways that have the most meaning to their dinosaur-, robot-, gourmet-pizza-loving hearts? As a guest, playful, personalized weddings sure beat attending the staid, cookie-cutter weddings of yore.

Not that I'm recommending everyone throw away their wedding etiquette books. In fact, I think everyone should have one. After all, etiquette wasn't simply made up one day by stuffy women who had nothing better to do. Some forms of etiquette have surprisingly practical origins. Double envelopes, for example, weren't dreamed up in some extravagant why-have-one-when-you-can-have-two world. They had a purpose. And they still do. But that purpose has changed.

The practice of using double envelopes began in pre-postal service years when footmen delivered invitations by horse, and envelopes became filthy en route. So an outer envelope protected the inner envelope. The footmen would deliver the invitation to the recipient's servant, who would remove the outer envelope and present only the pristine inner envelope to the invitees.

Now that we have a postal service, the main purpose of an outer envelope is to get the contents to the proper address. The purpose of an inner envelope, on the other hand, is to explicitly indicate who's invited. So if your wedding is for adults only, the recipients may pay less attention to an outer envelope with only their names on it - they're the ones handling the mail after all, not their children - than they would to an inner envelope that's only purpose is to declare who's invited (i.e., not their kids). Double envelopes also make it clear we're going to a formal event, so we can dress accordingly.

Now, I'm not saying double envelopes are for everyone. I'm simply saying that what may seem like a relic from some long-ago time can still help us today in ways we don't always realize. Etiquette can still guide us -- and sometimes we need the assistance. Etiquette helps the thank you notes of the world go out. (Be honest -- would you write thank you notes unless someone at some point told you that you should?) It's a lovely tradition when you think about it -- simply putting down on paper your appreciation of another person's thoughtfulness.

Double envelopes may not continue. Certainly, they're neither budget-friendly nor earth-friendly. And there are other ways to get across appropriate requests regarding attire and children attendees -- from indicating your preference at the bottom of an invitation (one-time no-nos that are gaining more acceptance) to placing these requests on your wedding website. And online wedding invitations are on the rise, so if you haven't received one, get ready. I've been invited to three weddings via email. It suited the more casual vibe of those weddings, where two of the brides wore cocktail dresses instead of gowns, and all three took place outdoors.

Etiquette evolves. But we should know the rules and understand their purpose before we discard them.

That said, I hate to think what Emily Post is doing in her grave right now. Thankfully, she never saw the day that a food truck drove up to my brother's wedding. My mother, on the other hand, handled it well, though she still wore hose.