Wedding Etiquette Tips for Brides: Engagement

Our experts share can't miss tips for brides and weigh in on tricky, frequently asked engagement questions like "What do I do if I hate my ring?". and more

Updated 12/14/12

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He asked, you said yes, and now the real questions start! Who should you call first with the good news? How long should an engagement last? And what if (gasp!) you don't like your ring—should you tell your fiancé? Our wedding etiquette experts are here to help you navigate the wild road to your wedding with their essential tips for brides-to-be.

01 of 22

Who pays for the bachelorette party?

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The bachelorette party is one event where the hosts aren't necessarily expected to foot the bill for everyone. In fact, the hosts are often more "organizers" than traditional hosts; they take charge of getting a group of friends together for a night out. Typically, everyone chips in to cover the cost of the bride's food and any drinks, since she's the one being honored. Any arrangement you come up with for funding the evening is fine—just be sure that everyone knows what to expect before the night begins.

If the event is more of a classic party being hosted by one or a few people at a single venue, then the traditional rules of hosting apply: the hosts covers all of the costs: food, drinks, decorations and any party favors.

While gifts aren't usually given at bachelorette parties, it is popular to give the bride an inexpensive little something to commemorate the evening—usually a token like a T-shirt (or perhaps a more intimate garment) saying "Bride-to be" or "Taken." In this case, the group usually either decides on a gift together and all chip in, or one person takes the initiative and pays for it herself.

02 of 22

Is it okay to invite my best male friends to my bridal shower?

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Of course. But even men who are super in touch with their feminine sides would probably run screaming from the room if forced to endure a traditional shower, complete with girly games and an abundance of pink ribbon. A hipper, more inviting option is a coed party where, along with the usual female suspects, the groom, his male buddies, and assorted husbands and boyfriends congregate for a meal. Serve grown-up drinks like martinis and margaritas, and lose the lingerie in favor of fun presents with a his-and-hers theme. For example, the groom gets grilling tools; the bride gets a hammock. Another great group gift is a set of luggage for the honeymoon. Crank up the music and make sure someone's got a digital camera on hand. As long as you mix things up, everyone will have a blast at this all-inclusive party.

03 of 22

Do I have to open gifts at my bridal shower?

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'Fraid so, since receiving gifts—and opening them—is the main focus of a shower. But don't worry: Even the shyest of brides can sail through the gift-wrap spectacle with a little pre-party planning. Figure out a few gracious stock responses that you can use after unwrapping each gift ("Thank you so much—I love it!" or "Oh, wow—how gorgeous!" are good ones); this will prevent you from fumbling for words. Next, recruit a witty friend who can think on her feet to sit beside you, oooh and ahhh where appropriate, and fill in any dead air in the case of an uncomfortable silence. Sharing the spotlight with someone should help you relax and enjoy raking in the loot.

04 of 22

Should we invite out-of-town family and future in-laws to the shower?

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Absolutely invite them. It's a nice gesture that shows you're thinking of them and wish they could be there, even though it's unlikely that they'll attend. By the way, you don't have to invite every female on your fiancé's guest list. A shower is supposed to be a party for a bride's closest friends and family members, so send invites to his immediate kin (mother, grandmothers, sisters) and maybe a few of his closest friends. It's doubtful that they'll think you're being greedy—in fact, they're more likely to feel slighted if you leave them out.

05 of 22

When are you supposed to ask people to be attendants?

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Ideally within a month or two of the engagement, but there are no set rules. You'll first need to figure out how large a bridal party you want, which is often determined by the size of your event. (If you're having only 40 guests, 10 attendants will look off-balance.) Whatever your approach, be sure to ask everyone around the same time, especially if would-be members of the party are in the same social circles.

06 of 22

I'm pregnant. Can I have a big wedding? And should we invite the family members who are against it?

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If you want a big wedding, then go for it! The old rules that say a bride with a child should have a quick-and-dirty ceremony are just that, old. If it's important to you and your fiancé that these family members be present, a compromise would be best: Have a small-scale reception after the ceremony and invite the relatives to that. A few weeks later, have a huge blowout with the friends and family who support you. That way you'll get to have your big wedding—but without the big drama.

07 of 22

Do we have to have an engagement party?

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You aren't required to have an engagement party, but it isn't a bad idea. Often it's the perfect opportunity to introduce parents and attendants to each other before the wedding. And don't think you're doomed to a stuffy cocktail party. Anything goes when it comes to engagement parties—from backyard barbecues to clam bakes—so make it as laid-back as you want.

08 of 22

Who should I tell first about my engagement?

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Your parents and his should be the first people you tell about your engagement. You don't want them hearing about it from another person—even if that other person is a grandparent, sibling, or aunt. If you can't tell them in person, call them. Sending an email is fine to announce your engagement to your friends, but your parents—especially if you are expecting them to help pay for the wedding—deserve a phone call. After you tell both sets of parents, you can see, call, or email anyone you are close to and share your exciting news: grandparents, siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins, close friends.

09 of 22

Does my boyfriend have to ask my father for permission to marry me?

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While it's more of a tradition than a requirement, many dads appreciate the gesture of being asked for their daughter's hand in marriage. However, since you can marry whomever you like, regardless of your father's wishes, nowadays most men ask for a father's blessing, not permission. If you think your dad may be upset if your future groom doesn't consult him ahead of time, tell your boyfriend to make sure to talk to him before proposing. If you're not sure what your dad would like and don't want to ask him, talk to your mom. She'll be able to tell you if your father expects to be asked.

10 of 22

If the wedding is cancelled, who keeps the engagement ring?

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Even though technically the bride isn't required to return the ring (at least in most states), it's the best thing to do, regardless of who called off the wedding. While the ring was a gift, it was more importantly a symbol of a commitment to marry. Since there will no longer be a marriage, do you really want to keep a reminder of a future that won't happen? After all, the ring isn't a consolation prize. The emphasis here should be on appreciating the relationship you once had, not on cashing out any material value. Returning the ring gives everyone a fresh start. In the end, you will need to let your conscience be your guide.

If, however, the ring was a family heirloom of the groom's family, there's no question: It should be returned. If you and your fiancé purchased the ring together, one solution would be to sell it and split the proceeds proportionately.

—Anna Post, The Emily Post Institute

11 of 22

My family invited several people to my engagement party that I'm not planning on inviting to the wedding. What should I do?

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If the invitations have gone out there's nothing much you can do. You can't call them up and un-invite them to the party. You need to schedule a time to talk with both set of parents about the size and style of wedding you and your fiancé want. Based on the size of wedding you want and the amount of people that your reception site can hold, you need to let both sets of parents know how many guests they can each invite—including relatives and friends. If the space allows more people, you may now have to invite these extra guests, or ask your parents to spread the word that the bride and groom have decided to hold a more intimate wedding with only immediate family and close friends.

Here's a general rule to follow: If you send an engagement party or bridal shower invitation or a save-the-date card to anyone, you will also have to send them a wedding invitation.

12 of 22

Can I propose to my boyfriend?

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Of course you can! You can make your proposal of marriage to him as traditional or as fun and informal as you want. And don't be afraid to get down on one knee either. While we're not suggesting you buy him a diamond ring, you could buy him another accessory he can wear every day—a watch, necklace, bracelet, or another style ring. Some brides-to-be who decide to propose to their boyfriends have bought themselves an engagement ring, and when the groom-to-be says yes she asks him to slip it onto her ring finger.

13 of 22

I hate my engagement ring. Can I tell my fiancé?

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You must absolutely tell him how you feel! And together you can pick out an engagement ring of equal or lesser value. Most guys will understand that your opinion counts for a lot, since YOU are the one who will be wearing the ring—and literally wearing it every day! And guys are cautioned all the time to discuss ring styles with their partner before making a purchase, so you have good reason to speak up. If you think his feelings will be really hurt or if you think voicing your thoughts will make him angry and resentful (and take away from the joy you are both feeling upon getting engaged) wait a year before saying anything.

In general, a new ring is in order if you dislike the color of metal, you dislike the shape or cut of the diamond (round vs. square, emerald-cut vs. cushion, etc.), the ring is too modern/too glitzy/too old-fashioned-looking/too plain, and your style is just the opposite.

However, it is NOT okay to say you want a different ring because you think the stone is too small or of poor quality. Because that's like saying, "You didn't spend enough money." You would never want him to feel that his choice was inadequate in that regard—surely he bought you the most beautiful ring he could afford, so if everything else about the ring works for (metal, stone shape, style) then hold your tongue. Five years from now you can discuss upgrading to a diamond of better quality.

14 of 22

I'm planning on having a very long engagement. By the time I get married, I will have been engaged for over three years. Is this appropriate?

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You can plan to be engaged as long as you want but you may not want to book any vendors or buy your wedding dress so far away from your wedding day. Styles and your own personal taste will change over the course of three years, so enjoy being engaged and start getting ideas from wedding Web sites and bridal magazines. Don't start signing contracts with vendors until about 12 to 18 months from your wedding date.

15 of 22

What do I say when people ask me how much my engagement ring costs?

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Um, who are these people? In no universe is it ever OK for anyone to ask a woman how much her engagement ring cost. Let us be clear: The only thing someone should say when you flash your rock is "It's so beautiful! How did he propose?" Cut. Scene. End of story.

Rant over. On to your question: Though you may be tempted to come back with a big fat "None of your business," rise above and dodge the question instead. Say something like "Oh, my fiancé would never tell. And I would never ask. Takes the romance out of it, don't you think?" That ought to give her the message.

16 of 22

My boyfriend says he wants to propose to me soon—and he wants me to help pick out the engagement ring. Is this appropriate?

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Definitely. In fact, 62 percent of couples now go ring shopping together. The question is, do you feel comfortable with being a part of the process? We're sensing from your question that you do not—and there's nothing wrong with that. Just tell your boyfriend that you don't want to do a joint shopping trip because you think it's more romantic to be surprised. But don't set the poor guy totally adrift. Help him the old-fashioned way: Show your mom, your sister, and/or your BFF some photos of rings you like, and ask them to give him some guidance. You're going to wear this rock until death do you part; try not to leave things completely to chance.

17 of 22

My engagement ring is a vintage piece. Do I need a vintage wedding ring to match?

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There is no rule that says that if one ring is vintage, the other has to be, too. The two rings should simply complement each other. Plenty of jewelry designers, such as Tacori and Penny Preville, now sell new wedding bands with a vintage feel. Can't find one you like? Ask a jeweler to custom design a wedding ring that works with your engagement rock.

18 of 22

How much is too much to spend on engagement ring?

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The answer depends entirely on your fiancé-to-be's financial situation. On average, a guy will spend about $5,229 on the engagement ring, but some guys spend a lot less and some spend a whole lot more. (Justin Theroux, for example, forked over about half a mil on Jennifer Aniston's rock—hello!) As a rule of thumb, most jewelers suggest that men shell out about three months of their salary. But if he's heavily in debt or concerned about his job security, he may want to scale back. Worried your boyfriend will be tempted to go overboard? Slip your opinion into a casual conversation. Try something like "You know, Jen was just telling me the other day that she really wishes her husband had spent less on the engagement ring so they could have had a bigger wedding budget to play with. I think some guys are going a little crazy these days. If a woman really loves you, she's also going to love the ring, no matter how much it costs. Honestly, I don't think anyone should spend more than $[fill in the max you want him to spend here], don't you?".

19 of 22

When I told my two (single) best friends that I'm engaged, I expected them to be happy for me—but they seem jealous instead. It really hurts my feelings. How can I deal?

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We're so sorry. This is not the reaction you want during one of the happiest times of your life. Know that this is not about you and so totally about them. Weddings bring up crazy stuff for people. Despite our best, most zen-minded intentions, we are constantly measuring ourselves against others, especially our peers. In this case, you've just announced that you are embarking on one of the most momentous rites of passage of your life. Your BFFs probably feel as if they're being left behind—and maybe losing you in the process, to boot. They may just need a minute to get a grip. Reach out to them, and make it clear that you want them to be with you every step of the way and that you will always need your girlfriends. (Note: Whatever you do, do not accuse them of being jealous of you. That's going to make them feel defensive and make you look like a raving bridezilla.) If these two are really your best friends, they're going to give you a giant hug, tell you they love you, and jump on that joy train. If they're still being surly, back off and start looking elsewhere for bridesmaids. You do not need any negativity with you in the dressing room on your big day.

20 of 22

My boyfriend and I don't have a lot of money, but he wants to propose to me. Is it appropriate to substitute a non-engagement silver ring for an engagement ring?

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Go for it. An engagement ring is any ring that symbolizes the love and commitment between you and your fiancé. So whether it comes out of a coin-operated toy dispenser or from the chicest jeweler in your town, all that matters is that you love it. And, yes, it is possible that a few judgy family members and friends will be a little, well, judgy about your simple silver ring. But who cares? If we had to choose between getting married to our soul mate this year or waiting years for him to save up for a rock that might live up to their standards, we know what our choice would be. Besides, there's nothing to stop him from upgrading you to the diamond of your dreams as an anniversary present someday.

21 of 22

Is it appropriate for my sister to help my boyfriend pick out an engagement ring for me?

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Absolutely! In fact, you want someone who knows your style to be at his side, steering him toward the rings you'll love and away from the rings you just won't. Feel free to get as specific with your sis as you want. If you're obsessed with emerald-cut diamonds, tell her. If you've been spending every lunch break shopping for rings online, send her links to all your faves. If you'd rather have a bigger diamond with a few flaws than a smaller diamond with none, slip her that nugget of info, too. With your sister on the case, he'll get a sounding board, you'll get a ring you'll adore, and she'll have the thrill of being part of one of the biggest moments in your life. Everyone wins.

22 of 22

My boyfriend has hinted that he's proposing soon. How do I tell him the type of engagement ring I want without being overbearing?

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You could try the old trick of opening a copy of Brides to your dream ring and leaving it on the coffee table. Or post a photo of your favorite ring as a screensaver on your computer or phone. Or start commenting on other women's rocks. ("Did you see Donna's ring? It's princess cut, which I think is really pretty, but I'm not a big fan of the gold.") But, let's face it, not every guy will get the hint. Your best bet is to talk to your BFFs, sister(s), and/or mom about the kind of ring you want and have them give your guy the scoop—or even volunteer to go shopping with him.

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