Navigating the land mines of wedding etiquette is a delicate dance, and the most confounding of all has got to be the rules around gift giving. Do you give money? If so how much? Are registry gifts really preferred? Or should you opt for an original gift you've chosen yourself?
One couple recently opted for the latter, with disastrous results. Kathy Mason and her boyfriend recently attended a wedding in Hamilton, Ont. and gifted the newlyweds a food basket with assorted items like salsa, olive oils, baking goods and few fun treats — none of which were well-received, according to a story in the Hamilton Spectator.
After the wedding, Mason's boyfriend, received a text from one of the brides (it was a same-sex wedding), his former employee, requesting a receipt, claiming she was gluten-intolerant. Then, he received another from Laura, the other bride. As per the Spec:
"I'm not sure if it's the first wedding you have been to, but for your next wedding … people give envelopes. I lost out on $200 covering you and your dates plate . … and got fluffy whip and sour patch kids in return. Just a heads-up for the future."
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With more couples marrying later in life when they're financially established, the rules concerning who pays for their weddings have changed. "Now, couples paying for most or all of their weddings is more the norm than brides' families paying," says Peggy Post. Even when parents are writing the checks, they no longer have to follow strict guidelines about which family handles what (i.e., the bride's pays for the reception and the groom's pays for the alcohol). Instead, couples who accept their parents' financial help should decide "what items are their highest priority, as in the things they want to pay for and have more control over, and the items that are less important, that they would be okay with parents paying for and controlling," says Sharon Naylor, best-selling author of "The Essential Guide to Wedding Etiquette."
White is no longer just for virginal, first-time brides, nor do brides have to wear it at all. "Really, a bride may wear any color she desires on her wedding day," says Washington, D.C.-based wedding planner and etiquette expert Claudia Lutman. "Before Queen Victoria, who is solely credited as establishing the tradition of the white bridal gown, brides wore their best dresses, despite the color." (Dresses pictured, from left to right: Crashing Waves Gown, Trumpeted Pavot Gown, Sweet Tea Gown, Frondescence Gown)
While white is typically "reserved for the bride," according to nationally recognized etiquette expert Diane Gottsman, other experts see the tides changing on this rule. "As long as guests do not upstage the bride or appear to be in competition with her, a winter white or summer cream dress is now considered okay," says Lutman. As Post advised New York Times readers in March, what matters most is making sure you're not "unintentionally calling attention" or "causing offense to the bride." She said that guests should avoid wearing any outfit -- regardless of color -- if they doubt its appropriateness for the occasion. (Dresses pictured, from left to right: Crème Fraiche Dress, Persephone Shift)
Etiquette rules used to dictate that a bride's immediate family, particularly her mother, couldn't throw her bridal shower. "It was taboo because it was thought as being self-serving or raking in the gifts, but that's changed immensely," Post says. In fact, as more couples plan their own weddings, brides' mothers tend to feel left out as far as orchestrating the festivities goes, Naylor explains. Because of this, she says it is more than acceptable for a mother to "join in with the bridesmaids to co-host the shower, which skirts the etiquette 'don't.'" She adds that having mom's help can also ease the strain on bridesmaids who might be overwhelmed by the money they're spending on dresses, travel and other pre-wedding costs.
Unattached women who dread -- or feel downright offended by -- this tradition don't have to put on a happy face and make their way to middle of the dance floor when the DJ beckons. "As a single woman, if you don't want to chase down a bouquet, it is in your right to abstain," says Gottsman. "You shouldn't be chastised into doing it." But she warns that standing off to the side with your arms crossed or shaking your head at those clamoring for the coveted bouquet will come off as rude. Just quietly slip off to the ladies' room when the time comes if you'd rather not participate.
"It used to be considered bad etiquette to spread the news of the registry any way other than by word of mouth," says Naylor. "But that rule was created when everyone going to the wedding lived a couple blocks from each other." Now, she says, guests appreciate having these details on the wedding website so they don't have go searching for where a couple is registered -- it's actually bad etiquette not to post this information. While this rule has changed over time, Gottsman says it is still in poor taste to put any gift-giving guidelines on your wedding invitations.
While it's common in certain cultures (like Chinese and Italian) to give cash as a wedding gift, this wasn't always the case for Americans -- in fact, it used to be considered rude to ask for it. But Post says that giving money is becoming more popular as couples get creative with their registries. "It used to be that you only had traditional household goods and linens on your registry," she says. "Now, they are just so much more practical -- they can be for a home-improvement store, a wine store or even a down payment for a house." That said, couples should still provide a traditional registry for more old-fashioned guests, who might want to purchase a more conventional gift or feel uncomfortable giving cash, says Naylor.
While the rehearsal-dinner tradition began as a pre-wedding meal for those just in the wedding party, it's evolved into more of a welcome dinner for the out-of-town guests. Naylor says this shift can put a huge financial burden on couples, as the rehearsal dinner becomes "almost like a second wedding." To cut costs and avoid offending anyone, she suggests giving out-of-towners a list of restaurants in the area where they can go to dinner on their own or planning an evening cocktail party in lieu of a dinner. "It will cost less, and it will still give guests something to eat and something to do," she says.
As another way to trim their wedding budgets, "many couples are not including 'plus ones' for their single guests," says Lutman. This goes against the once-standard rule that unattached guests of a certain age should be allowed to bring a date. The tricky part about breaking this rule is deciding what constitutes "single" -- for example, a couple may have guests who are unmarried but live with their significant others. Naylor advises making a rule of inviting only "the non-married couples with whom you socialize." Though some guests might be offended, "it's one of those sticky things that is necessary in today's financial era," she says.
According to Naylor, this rule dates back to the days when it was customary to include a wedding photo with your thank-you notes -- and when getting those pictures from the photographer took at least six months. Now that photos are digital and take about half that time to receive, couples should put pen to paper two to three months after they say their "I do's." In fact, Naylor adds that couples are now expected to write a personal message to guests rather than just the standard "thank you for coming," so it's best to get a jump on those notes while the details of the night are still fresh.
Things spiralled from there, so much so that Mason's boyfriend, who is unnamed, wrote to the Spectator with his tale, and asking for readers' advice.
"At this point I am PISSED OFF to say the least. After mulling over it for a few hours I decided to send them both an email via Facebook (I would have sent it to their personal e-mail address, but I don't have either. That is how close we all are) This is the message I sent:
"Hi , I want to tell you how incredibly insulted I am in both of the messages you have sent me over the last two days. (Bride 1), I am sorry that you have intolerance to Gluten, I am sure that makes life difficult at times. However, to ask for a receipt is unfathomable. In fact it was incredibly disrespectful. It was the rudest gesture I have encountered, or even heard of."
You can read the full text of his letter here, which includes a long and searing text exchange between him and Laura.
So who's right? Is a gift basket with food items the wrong thing to give? Should the brides have requested a receipt or sent the scathing texts they did? Should the guest have taken his case to the Spectator?
According to wedding site The Knot.com, it's never acceptable to call a guest out for their gift, regardless of how little they spent or how inappropriate you think it may be.
"You don't necessarily know what their circumstances are; maybe they simply couldn't afford something more expensive. But even if they could, just let it go and send a gracious thank-you note," the site advises.
However, the wedding site was also quoted by ABC News, which said $75-$100 is the acceptable amount to spend on a co-worker. So does this maligned food basket fit the bill? Hey, at least it's not an ashtray, or one of these other "worst gifts" that were posted on Reddit.
It's your turn to weigh in: Who's in the wrong? The unhappy brides or the food-basket bearing guest? Let us know in the comments below.