This Is How to Buy a Gift Not on the Wedding Registry

According to an etiquette expert

Updated 04/03/19

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Ah, the dreaded wedding gift. I’ve reached that point in my late 20s when pretty much half my weekends this year are littered with weddings, so gift giving has been on my mind a lot lately.

Whether it’s for a friend’s, a colleague’s, or a relative’s wedding, we’ve all gone through the same mental gymnastics. Maybe I’ll get creative this time, my thought process usually begins, followed by a sad Google search about “best unique wedding gifts.” Then I scroll down and down through some random Etsy page before ultimately returning to where all wedding gift shopping begins and ends: the registry. Without fail, I end up shopping from it. I’m pretty sure that at the last wedding I attended, I gave the couple a skillet I found on their Zola page.

It was just so easy! As I entered my credit card information and confirmed the shipping address from the comfort of my bed I thought, Maybe I’ll get creative next time.

In a way, registries are perfect—the couple has gone through the time and energy of letting you know precisely what they need for their new life together. And thanks to e-commerce, you don’t even need to leave your house to purchase a wedding gift. Heck, you can even do it all from the your phone without even getting up from the couch. But in another way, registries can feel impersonal. It wouldn’t be a registry without a mixer and a champagne bucket.

Registries can confirm things you already know about the couple. If they love cooking, they might be inclined to put a pasta machine on their registry, or perhaps throw an ice cream maker into the mix. Things they wouldn’t buy themselves. Things that are appropriate gifts. But registries can also pose unanswerable questions about the people you thought you knew. Are heavy, cumbersome, impossible-to-store pizza stones really necessary? Do you really need twelve napkin rings? Suddenly, the couple seem like total strangers.

Are these the people I thought I knew? And don’t forget the awkwardness of the lavish gift which goes unpurchased—at one wedding I attended last year, the couple requested a $110 muffin pan which to this day still sits on their registry with a bleak “Needs 1 of 1.”

So while wedding registries are a perfectly appropriate custom that make gift giving a seamless and streamlined process, I can’t help but wonder—does buying something the couple didn’t necessarily ask for make it any less worthy a gift?

To explore this question, I enlisted the help of expert Myka Meier, founder of Beaumont Etiquette, a manners and etiquette consultancy that, among other things, offers regular finishing programs and workshops at the Plaza Hotel in New York City. Meier trained under someone who previously worked in the royal household of her majesty, Queen Elizabeth II—so she knows the right way to cross her ankles when seated, and the right way to fold a napkin at luncheon.

According to Meier, shopping for wedding gifts “off-registry” is completely acceptable—so long as you follow a few straightforward guidelines. First, avoid buying furniture, large pieces of art, or other decor for the couple. “It’s very hard to know someone’s taste or if it will fit in their home,” Meier told Brides.

Next: “Skip out on gifts that are too skewed to one person in the couple. If the gift is mainly just for the bride, it should have been given at the bridal shower and not at the wedding, where gifts are for the couple,” said Meier.

If you’re going to be so bold as to go off-registry, make sure you’re actually going off-registry—purchasing the wrong brand or color of something for which the couple actually did register could create an awkward situation. “Be careful when purchasing everyday home items such as coffee makers, dishes, or blenders. These are likely all gifts they either already have, or have specifically chosen for their registry,” Meier adds.

Personalization is something to keep in mind as well. “If you know the couple love monograms, putting their new marital monogram on a lovely gift will likely be a good option,” said Meier. “A monogrammed champagne bucket with your favorite bottle of champagne for a couple who enjoy wine may be a great option, for example.”

But personalization goes beyond monograms, she said. “If you know the couple really well, you can even choose an experience you know they would enjoy, such as a spa gift card for a couple’s massage at their favorite spot to wind down post-wedding. One couple I know, who are very adventurous, received a hot-air balloon ride as a wedding gift.”

It can take a lot of careful thinking about the couple’s dynamic and their history to think of a personalized, off-registry gift. Because what you’re going for is that perfect coup de coeur, that moment they unwrap the gift and and feel pure joy. “At the end of the day, the best gifts are the gifts that will evoke emotion in the couple,” Meier told me. “If a gift becomes a keepsake, then you know you’ve done a great job. My favorite wedding gift was a small watercolor painting of the exterior of the restaurant where I met my husband.

It now hangs in our home.”

And of course, says Meier, don’t forget the number one rule for getting creative with your wedding gifts: “Make sure to give a gift receipt...and keep in mind that anything personalized is likely nonreturnable.”

With spring upon us and peak wedding season about to kick into high-gear, now is the time to start brainstorming those personalized, off-registry gifts. Because while shopping for those placemats and napkin rings and $110 muffin pans might give us wedding-goers an easy way out, there is still something so enticing and maybe even romantic about the prospect of taking a risk and completely knocking it out of the park.

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