Most of us probably remember acting up as a child and being admonished with "What would your mother think?" Well, in Lizzie Post's case, we're guessing it was, "What would your great-great-grandmother think?"
As a direct descendant of famed etiquette expert Emily Post, Lizzie has continued in the family business, making a career for herself as an author and go-to spokesperson for propriety. Admittedly, though, the rules have changed a bit since the days of dear great-great-granny Post—particularly when it comes to weddings. From ceremony details to registries, couples are less concerned with the prim and proper and more concerned with the personalized and practical, Post says.
In fact, she's partnered with Marshalls, and a recent survey put out by the department store found that "one in three couples are planning nontraditional weddings and 83 percent are tossing traditional elements aside if they are not meaningful to them." Furthermore, 42 percent are forgoing the long-held tradition of registries altogether, and 39 percent of couples who did opt for a registry, are still hoping to be surprised.
So, what does this mean for anyone trying to do right by a couple whose wedding they were invited to attend? What sort of gifts are appropriate to give or ask for?
To find out, we spent an afternoon chatting with Post about all things #wediquette. Read her thoughts below—including whether or not you actually have to keep those wedding gifts that you hate.
Brides: Are there any etiquette practices that have gone out of style that you wish we still honored?
Post: I still believe in thank you cards. How nice is it to actually receive a note in the mail from someone as opposed to just a text message?
Any aspects that you're glad are over?
The thing I get most excited about, in terms of where wedding etiquette has gone, is that it's much more personal to the couple. It's much less about this stuffy presentation of one family to another. The merging of families is important, but not because it's some kind of symbol of success. Wedding registries nowadays aren't anything like they used to be. Couples are getting married later, so many already have the traditional gifts for the home. And, few people entertain on a formal level anymore, so we're using much more everyday wear—things that are going to be used a lot.
What's the perfect wedding gift for these modern times?
Something surprising, and something that isn't as traditional. Guests are bored with giving the same things all the time, and then we learned from the survey that couples are really excited about getting those surprises. Back in the day, you'd register for your Tiffany's silverware; people were supposed to buy you one fork, not the whole setting. It was a way to be within a person's budget and give something really special. But the new approach is to find quality-brand products at prices that can work with a budget. You don't have to go in and get just the punch bowl. You can get the server and the glasses that come with it. It becomes a whole set of something rather than just the one item.
What's your number one gifting tip for wedding guests?
If people have a honeymoon fund, or anything suggesting they're interested in travel or trips, get them luggage. That's my go-to, and nobody ever thinks of it. You need something that'll hold up when it's getting tossed through TSA lines. Very few people have a really good set of luggage they didn't pay a fortune for, you know? And it's not like someone's going to be like, "I can't use that."
Your thoughts on contributing to cash funds or one-time excursions?
Experiential gifts are huge right now, and it's true that giving someone an experience is always going to feel better than giving them a gift card. But tying a little tangible gift to the experience is, I think, the best way to go. You know the couple that you're shopping for. I have friends who love wine—I can purchase them some beautiful wine glasses that I'm going to feel good about giving and they're going to feel good about receiving, and then do something like a wine tasting voucher. The pairing of the two allows them to open a gift in the moment, and also have something to look forward to.
Any items guests should not buy?
You want the gift to be appropriate for the type of party. If you're going to a bridal shower with a theme, respect that. But for example, if you're doing an "around the clock" shower, and you drew the late-night hours, it's tempting to buy lingerie. Just make sure the other person is comfortable opening something like that in front of other people and that sizing isn't going to be a sensitive issue. When in doubt, this is the time you go with a gift card because it just makes it so much easier on the other person.
Any advice for choosing gifts for the bridal party?
Brides and grooms always struggle here, and panic because they think only the most incredible gift could ever suffice for the love and support they're getting. That's not true. Work within your budget and pick something personal or special to the people in your party. Expensive jewelry is a common go-to, but I don't think that's one of the best ones. People have really different styles and jewelry is a really personal thing. I'd rather see people lean towards home items or travel items. Stationery is an easy gift with lots of potential to personalize that people don't think of as much.
What's the general rule for sending thank you cards? How long can you wait to send them, especially if some gifts come in before the wedding?
There are two different ways you can go: You can always send that thank you note right away so they know you received the gift and you've checked it off your list of things to do. Or, you can send a text or email as soon as you get the gift saying, "We just received your gift, thank you so much. Expect a handwritten note to follow." Etiquette says to send a "thank you for coming to the wedding" note anyway. If it's a hectic, busy work week and you know you're not going to get around to sending out the notes as early as you want, it's a courtesy to let people know that you did receive what they mailed. I like the idea of writing thank you notes for your gifts as you receive them, and sending out thank you notes for attending the wedding itself after the fact. Then, you can include an event photo and address any presents that were brought to the reception.
What's the etiquette on regifting or returning a gift you don't want?
It is okay! You can absolutely get rid of things and put them back out into the world to be exchanged and cycled through by someone else. It's funny how many people say, "Oh, I have to keep this. It was a wedding present," but never do anything with it. Take a photo to remember it and your time with it can be done.