As Barry White sings, “Love is in the air, everywhere you look around.” And so are weddings. As a wedding guest for four weddings this year, I can tell you two things that strike fear into the heart of the invitee. The first is: what to wear? (What the heck is “Backyard Formal,” I ask you?) The other is: what to give? While wearing the wrong thing says you had a closet crisis, giving the wrong thing says something about your relationship with the bride and groom.
Wandering around Crate and Barrel, clutching a sweaty 9-page registry list in my hand last Sunday, I was knee-deep in the task of buying gifts for my childhood friend and everything took on additional significance. Was I a toaster-oven guest? Did we have a fondue friendship, or an ironing-board acquaintance? Will buying something off-registry say “Hey, look how well I know you” or “Hey, here’s something you didn’t want”? Looking around at my fellow shoppers with similar lists and looks of terror, I knew we shared the same fears: How can we give a gift that is meaningful, no matter what we can afford or what the registry says? Right there and then I came up with a game plan to get me through every gift-giving scenario this wedding season.
You want to give them something from the registry, but it feels so impersonal. How can you make registry items memorable?
Solution: Give them something on the registry, but add a small, inexpensive “present topper” that gives a personal nod. Giving the bride’s favorite childhood book, like Shel Silverstein’s The Missing Piece, or including some Salt Water Taffy from the groom’s Cape Cod upbringing will show that while you give them things they need, you’ll also acknowledge how well you know them.
Solution: Often when a couple doesn’t register anywhere, it’s a hint that they’d like cash as a gift. Ask someone in the wedding party whether that’s the case. If you feel uncomfortable giving stone cold cash, give a gift card to one of their favorite stores. If the answer truly is that each guest has carte blanche to give freely, chances are the couple wants to see some creative gift giving. Aim for something memorable. Give them each a bottle of wine from their birth year with the instructions that they open it on their first anniversary. Wine.com will locate some worthy bottles in any price range.
Solution: If you’re not a routine giver, now is a great time to shop for a charity you can champion. A good place to start looking is the Charity Navigator They evaluate various charities to determine which groups make the most of your money, and different causes are grouped under one website, so the search is easy. Finding a worthy cause that you’ll want to support again makes this the gift that keeps on giving.
Etiquette says a guest should “cover his or her plate.” In other words, give a gift that costs about as much as the couple spends in hosting you. But you’re an assistant, and you’re going to a white glove affair. How can you give something in your price range without looking cheap?
If your gift doesn’t carry a hefty price tag, it can still be rich in emotion. Go for something personal. Knit a pair of “his and hers” scarves. Monogram a clay pot you made with their initials. Enlarge and frame a special photo of the happy couple, or enlist the help of TogetherBook.com, and for as little as $30, they will pull together a professional mini-album of photographic memories guaranteed to summon the Kleenex.
Solution: So what did I end up buying? A toaster oven, with my grandmother’s recipe for toasted banana nut bread tucked inside. I also added a pitcher to serve fresh cream on the side. I like to think this gift says, “I value our friendship—and I know your new husband has a weakness for banana nut bread!” Now, if only I could find a dress to wear, I’d be set.
Maria Teresa Burwell is a writer, editor and a great scone baker with too many magazine subscriptions. She lives in New York.