A Freewheeling Discussion Of Wedding Registries

Last week, I put forth the idea that it might be nice to host a little party for a friend who's gone through a hard breakup (and lost half their stuff), giving friends a chance to show support and maybe even bring gifts to help re-feather the nest. Unfortunately I used the words "shower" and "registry", registry in particular being a hot-button term. People have a lot of feelings when it comes to registries, so I thought it would be good to have a good old-fashioned public forum. I'll go first: I've never ordered anything off a registry, but I'm always glad they're there… Allow me to explain:

A registry gives me a sense of a couple's style. In the past year alone, I've attended two weddings for couples whose homes I've never seen. I very much wanted to get them a gift, but had NO idea what their decorating style was like. Perusing their registries gave me an invaluable glimpse into their taste: "bright, colorful, maybe Moroccan, old-world, festive", or "organic, dark woods, greens, natural fibers, hints of glam". Their style — and especially their color palette — helped me find and make gifts I thought would fit right in.

It also lets me know what they already have. Maybe I found a Heath teapot I think they'd love, but they already registered for (and received) a ceramic teapot. Okay, then maybe a complimentary sugar bowl and creamer instead. Seeing what they're already getting allows me to avoid repeats, or to pick repeats wisely. For example, maybe they've been given an exquisite set of wine glasses, but I know they love to sit around their fire pit out back drinking wine, so I give them a set of sturdy, stemless glasses they can relax about.

I've never received a "tacky" mention of a registry in an invitation. This was a pet peeve mentioned quite a few times in the Breakup Shower post, but I've never experienced it. Registries have always been mentioned along with the supplemental material (maps, hotel info, fun add-ons) or on the wedding website (especially handy since I'm already using the computer!). These two methods seem to be the most common modern ways of handling registries.

However, I have no problem with them being mentioned in the invitation. As I understand it, the proper, traditional way to find out about a couple's registry is to… ask the bride's sister, I think? Or her maid of honor? But what if there are two brides, or no brides, or no sister/maid of honor? And how in the world would I get in touch with her sister or maid of honor? I love etiquette, generally, but this coy beating-around-the-bush, with the guests pretending they're not considering buying a gift and the couple pretending they'd be absolutely shocked that anyone is considering buying them a gift, seems clunky and outdated. Sharing registry information is not the same as blatantly demanding presents: it is presenting helpful information to guests who have a lot on their plates. And good, kind, sweet couples truly don't expect presents, so there's nothing improper about them providing guidance to those who chose to give.

Registries are helpful to guests who might not be close to the couple. Think of your dear childhood friend you haven't seen since high school, or your great-aunt, or your parents' friends you haven't seen since you were "this tall" — how are they to go about knowing what you like, and how to chose an appropriate gift? Besides giving guests a sense of your style, a registry provides them with the chance to buy a gift they feel is wedding-appropriate for a wedding-appropriate amount of dollars. That might sound crass, but bear with me. If I'm shopping for my best friends, I might know that this $5 memento I found will make them happier than anything else — or maybe I'll print a photo from their early courtship. In my gift-giving, I have the luxury of intimacy and history. I know them and what they'd love, whether it costs $5 or $100. But if you don't know the couple well, you might feel more comfortable buying them something from their registry. If your budget is $25 you can get them that beautiful wooden bowl, or if your budget is $500 you can get them the KitchenAid, but either way you'll feel like you're getting them something proper for their wedding.

We all run out of time. I LOVE spending a ridiculous amount of time finding and/or making wedding presents, obsessively picking out the right box and tissue paper and ribbon. It makes me happy, and I hope the love I put into it shows through, even if my gift isn't perfect. But I know that someday, there will come a wedding that finds me totally strapped for time. Maybe the travel is crazy, or I'm working a million extra shifts so I can take time off to attend, or maybe I'm sick, but for whatever reason, I won't be able to do my usual Ultimate Wedding Gift Challenge. When that day comes, I'll be so relieved to pick something off the registry, pay to have it gift-wrapped and shipped, and check it off my list (with love, of course).

And don't forget, using the registry is completely optional. That's what's so great: if you're the type of person who despises registries, you don't need to give it a second thought. But if you're the type of person who absolutely depends on registries, and would feel lost and intimidated trying to chose a gift without one, the registry is there for you! Win-win.

Okay, I think that's all I've got for now — I'm handing the mike over to y'all. All I ask is that rather than throw around words like "tacky" and "terrible", we try to figure out solutions. If you truly hate registries, help us find a way to help guests like that great-aunt or long-lost next-door neighbor. And let's also not forget the happy couple, who are handling the accommodations, wining and dining, dietary restrictions, travel arrangements, and entertainment of possibly hundreds of guests. A wedding is a celebration of their love and life together, so any solutions we can find to make their lives smoother and happier are much appreciated. Go forth and discuss!

(Image: Brook Farm General Store)

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