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Origin of the Wedding Registry

There was a time when newlyweds, upon returning from their honeymoon, would sit together over their morning coffee and enthusiastically open wedding presents—only to find gifts that they did not need, did not like, and/or did not want, sometimes in duplicates or triplicates. So in 1924, Marshall Field’s, the Chicago-based department store, introduced the concept of the wedding registry (also called the “gift registry”), where couples could select items, from within the store, which they wished to receive as wedding presents from their invited guests. (In those days, silver, china, crystal, and linens were the popular wedding-gift items, and when the concept of the gift registry spread nationally and internationally, registries were most often established at fine stores that sold such items). The registry, once established, would be monitored by store clerks who would delete items from the list as they were purchased, thereby reducing the chances of redundancy. And in cases where all the items in the registry were not purchased as gifts, the couple, in order to have the complete compliment of registry items, could then purchase any remaining items.

With the coming of the wedding registry came the etiquette associated therewith. Until the end of the 20th century, establishing a wedding registry was a matter of utmost delicacy since no dignified couple would want to give the impression of soliciting gifts from guests by way of the wedding invitation. Enclosing information about the existence of a gift registry with the invitation, then, was regarded as one of the most egregious wedding faux pas. But on the other hand, the argument for informing invited guests of the existence of a gift registry was beyond reproach. Within a decade after its invention, the gift registry was widely regarded as a good thing. Yet, it had to be handled with decorum. So it quickly became the custom for notice of the establishment of a gift registry to bediscretely spread via word-of-mouth. Traditionally, a bride would have her close relatives and friends release word of the registry, and invited guests would make their way to the retail store in order to purchase their selections. But those were the days when, for the most part, the overwhelming majority of invited guests would hail from the same or neighboring communities; word-of-mouth was an efficient means of spreading information; and getting to the selected “bricks-and-mortar” retail store would not be problematic.

But today, with cutting-edge technology at one’s fingertips, and with the proliferation of online shopping, it has become the norm for couples to upload wedding websites that provide guests with up-to-date details on the planning of the wedding, including everything from links to the websites of recommended hotels (as a convenience to out-of-town guests), to details of the menu options of the rehearsal dinner. So while enclosing gift registry information with a wedding invitation is still discouraged as presumptuous, indirectly directing guests to the registry, via an enclosed “Wedding Information Card” that identifies a general wedding website, has become not only accepted, but is regarded by many guests as a much-welcomed convenience. Then once on the website, guests can navigate to the gift registry page if they so desire. No longer do out-of-town guests have to travel with gifts or hurriedly purchase them upon arriving at the wedding destination. Today, a guest from halfway around the world can visit the gift registry retail outlet via the internet, purchase his gift online, and have it shipped to the couple.

Also, long gone is the day when registry gifts were limited to the accoutrements of fine dining. Today, couples tend to get married later in life—and have typically amassed many of their household dishes long before marriage. So as society has evolved, so has the concept of the gift registry. Manually updated paper registries have been replaced by scan guns and computerized inventories. And today, couples oftentimes opt for “non-traditional” gift registries: a honeymoon fund; house down payments; home furnishings; and home repairs, or even a favorite charity, for example. And the participating registry-hosting entities range from hardware supply stores to travel agencies to banks.

Despite the evolution of the gift registry, what remains constant, however, is that the gifts registered by the couple should be items that can be enjoyed as a couple. A pair of size 11D crocodile skin loafers is an inappropriate gift registry item, while a mahogany coffee table is. And gifts should never be brought to the wedding ceremony or reception. Instead, as a much-appreciated convenience to the couple, they should be delivered either before or after the wedding.

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