The Wedding Series – Gift Registries

“The excellence of a gift lies in its appropriateness
rather than in its value.” ~ Charles Dudley Warner

A Stroke of Genius

In a stroke of marketing and customer-centric genius, the great and storied Chicago department store, Marshall Field & Company, established the first bridal registry in 1924 to provide a means for engaged couples to communicate their china, silver and crystal preferences. Thus began an enduring wedding custom that has provided a convenient means to help guests to provide just the right gifts that are appropriate and desired by the wedding couple, at any price.

Prior to the emergence of the Internet, couples went in person to their favorite department stores to register for traditional gifts. The fact that a registry had been established was spread discreetly by the mother of the bride or maid of honor via word of mouth either in person, by telephone, smoke signals, the U.S. mail, etc. In turn, a guest would then visit the designated store, sit down with the gift registry attendant (who kept a meticulous record of selected and sent gifts), look through a registry book, make her gift selection and have the store send it directly to the bride-to-be, usually prior to the wedding.

Today, on-line registries, often now included on a couple’s wedsite, have largely replaced the in the in-store gift-registry ritual, an option that is still available but not as common as it used to be.

History of Gifting the Wedding Couple

The history and legends behind wedding gift giving have taken some twists and turns over the years. As noted, in some cultures in earlier eras marriages were often arranged and love was not always a factor. According to some historical accounts, the groom’s family gifted (or paid) the bride’s family with land or something valuable for the privilege of marrying their daughter; this custom dates back to Biblical times.

Other customs required the bride’s family to offer a dowry to the groom’s family, usually either land or money. Legend has it that the bridal shower was established when a situation arose around a well-liked couple in which the bride’s family could not provide a dowry; friends and neighbors came to the young bride’s aid and “showered” her with the necessities that the couple needed to start their new life together. The concept of gifting in this case came from the heart and was genuinely meant to help.

In some cultures today the dowry custom is still observed, especially in China, South Asia, the Middle EastAfricaEastern Europe and even some communities in in Western countries.

The modern bridal shower is much more relaxed and fun, and usually hosted by the Maid of Honor or another friend to shower her with gifts and show their friendship and support. The idea of the Mother of the Bride or other relative hosting the bridal shower was considered in poor taste, as it appeared as though the family was soliciting gifts for the bride. The bridal shower has also served as a balance to the traditional bachelor party, in which friends of the groom provide a rousing last party before he had to settle down with his wife and behave. Over time, customs have reflected changing times, and the shower broadened to include both the bride and groom, while brides began enjoying bachelorette parties.

What has become the overriding modern tradition, however, is the custom of givlng the couple a wedding gift, with showers and other gift-giving celebrations optional and extra.

Are Wedding Gifts Mandatory?

No, and yes. From an etiquette standpoint there is no obligation to provide a gift to the bride or the groom. On the other hand, social convention mandates the giving of a gift to the wedding couple, and failing to do so can negatively impact one’s reputation and relationships.

Here are some tips for wedding gift-giving:

  • Stick to the registry(ies) when possible; however, it’s okay to give a gift off the registry if you have something else in mind that is special and meaningful between you and the wedding couple, and you’re sure it won’t be a duplicate.
  • Cash is fine and always appreciated; and there is never any minimum or maximum amount a guest should spend on a wedding gift; the amount you spend should depend on how well you know the couple and how close the relationship is. That said, if you are planning you’re planning to write a check for less than $50, you might consider instead selecting something from the registry or making a cash donation, if that is a registry selection. (There is mistaken assumption that the wedding gift should match the per-guest reception cost; but that is absolutely untrue.)
  • Send a wedding gift rather than bring it with you to the wedding. Although there will be provisions for accepting gifts at the wedding, thoughtful guests will avoid placing any additional burdens on the wedding party.
  • Send your wedding gift promptly. Somewhere along the way cropped up the idea that one could wait up to a year to present a wedding gift. Not true; if you can’t send a gift prior to the wedding, do so as soon as possible afterward.

The following are occasions when a wedding gift is not necessary or expected:

  • You receive a wedding announcement instead of a wedding invitation
  • You are invited to the reception only, or celebration party held after the couple returns from their honeymoon

Of course, it is perfectly okay to give a gift if you wish.

A Delicate Balance 

As a bride or groom, your goal is to achieve a delicate balance between your guests’ expectations that they are required by custom and a certain amount of social pressure to provide a wedding gift and the appearance of not having those expectations yourselves.

Following are some Do’s and Don’ts that will help you to achieve this challenging feat.


  • Consider your registry as a Wish List; the goal is not to receive every item on it, but to provide your guests with ideas of what you desire.
  • Select your gift options with both you and your guests in mind. For example, provide a range of items you need or want in varying price points to accommodate all pocketbooks.
  • Limit your registries to a few to avoid the impression that you are focused a bit too much on gifts.
  • Ensure that the store registry has a tracking system to which you will have easy and ongoing access to track gifts and givers.
  • Register early, as soon after your engagement announcement as possible, as a courtesy to your family, friends and guests to provide them with plenty of time to plan.
  • Register for gifts to receive as a couple, rather than as individuals, to reflect your life together.
  • Include your registry(ies) on your wedding website (AKA wedsite).
  • Provide registry information with shower invitations, as showers are specifically designed to present gifts to the bride and groom; tuck a card with registry information in with a snail mail invitation (not as part of it) or refer to the couple’s wedsite registry at the end of an email invitation.
  • Keep on top of your thank-you notes, which should be handwritten or neatly typed if your handwriting is illegible or you have a disability that makes it difficult to write. Send thank-you notes as gifts are received; putting them off until after the wedding and honeymoon creates both a monumental task for the wedding couple that is easily put off, and an unacceptable delay for guests. Too long of a lapse between receiving a gift that someone has gone out of her or his way to select, purchase and send, and sending a thank-you note — or worse, forgetting to send one — will damage your reputation and relationships. A nice gesture, as well, is to make a thank-you phone call when you receive a gift from someone special (no texts or emails), and then follow up with a formal thank-you note.


  • Include gift registry information with your wedding invitation. Despite some misguided advice to the contrary, this is the height of unacceptable.
  • Register for the same items on different registries.
  • Include only a cash option on your registry.

To elaborate on the last item, it’s become customary to include a cash option on bridal gift registries. This is especially true for couples who are older, established in their careers and earning an income, have homes — either separately or together — that are reasonably furnished and stocked and are saving for a honeymoon, down payment on a new house or renovation budget for the current one, to start a business and many other worthwhile projects. It might even be considered romantic to be saving for a particular project, such creating a garden or saving for a weekend cottage. Providing an opportunity for guests to participate in making a dream come true is perfectly acceptable, and most wedsites provide a handy option for this purpose. However, to soften what could be considered an unseemly bid for cash, give your guests options by including other traditional items of varying value or a charitable component.

Registry Gift Options

Creating your registry with a mix of the traditional and modern will result in an innovation as well as gracious presentation. As stated, there are many choices for gift registries:

  • Household: These time-honored registries help couples collect china, silver, crystal, linens, cookware, etc.
  • Financial: There are sites dedicated to helping couples save for a down payment on a house, build their stock portfolio or complete pet projects. Check with your realtor, financial advisor or banker to see what they advise.
  • Charitable: Such sites provide a way for guests to contribute to your pet charity(ies) in lieu of traditional wedding gifts.
  • Honeymoon: Setting up a registry to enhance one’s honeymoon has become popular. Check with your wedsite, travel agency or resort/hotel where you will be honeymooning for information and ideas.
  • No Registry/No Gifts: Some couples, especially those who are on second marriages, opt out of encouraging gifts. If a wedsite is established, a popular phrase for such a choice is, “No presents please, just your presence.”

Whether your guests consider some of the newer trends in registries crass or cute depends on how you present them. Always handle the subject of gifts with a whisper, not a shout, and with grace and humility. Set the tone with your registry welcome message, which might be something along the lines of, “Welcome to our Wish List. We appreciate the inquiries we’ve received, asking what we need or desire as we start our new life together. We’ve put together a list that is meaningful to us. Most meaningful, though, is your friendship, for which we are grateful. We look forward to seeing you at our wedding ceremony and celebration!”

Until next time,


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