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Weddiquette

The do's and don'ts of wedding gift-giving.

Photograph: Styling, Chris Jakab; Models: January Overton and John Almonte

When it comes to marriage, the betrothed couple seems to get all the sympathy for the anxiety a wedding provokes. But what about the guests? Questions like “Should I buy from the registry?” plague invitees from the instant the invitation arrives in the mail until the couple says “I do.” Etiquette expert Anna Post of the Emily Post Institute offers the what, where, when and how-to for wedding gifting.

Dollar signs
While we’ve heard that guests should typically spend between $50 and $100, Post says there’s no specific dollar amount based on something like how much money you imagine they’re spending on your dinner (though we say you should generally spend at least $50 no matter who’s getting married). “You’re not paying admission to the wedding,” she says. Consider your relationship with the couple; for instance, you’ll want to spend more on your best friend than your second cousin once removed.

On or off…the registry
Take a look at the registry, at the very least, to get a sense of the couple’s taste. If you buy from their selection, “you obviously know the couple will like it.” That said, if you happen to see a different version of an item that’s on the registry that simply screams the couple’s name—for instance, a hand-painted teapot versus the basic Bodum they selected—feel free to purchase the one you found. Should you opt to ignore the registry entirely, Post offers two rules of thumb: Buy something that’s one of a kind but not so unique that it won’t blend in with the rest of their possessions (Post opts for handmade vases and glassware from Vermont-based glassblower Simon Pearce). Or, give the couple something they can easily return or exchange with a gift receipt.

Extra credit
Post says the rules for engagement gifts vary from region to region. Her mom likes to send a pair of Champagne flutes with a bottle of bubbly to toast the occasion, whether or not there’s an actual engagement party. As for shower gifts, that’s the time to treat the bride like a bride (not a birthday girl) by pampering her with items like elegant lingerie. Otherwise, go with goods for the home. And when it comes to the bachelor and bachelorette parties, ask the host. There’s a good chance a tiara (for bachelorettes), a solid tolerance for alcohol and a sense of humor is all you’ll need.

Cash in?
If you’re giving money, Post suggests gifting in the form of a check. As for certificates, Post doesn’t care for them when you can buy an equivalent in the form of an object (for example, a book versus a Borders certificate), but if you’re buying a certificate for an experience you know they’ll love (such as sailing lessons for a nautical couple), that’s just fine.

Sooner or later
While we’ve heard you can send a wedding gift up to a year after the ceremony, Post doesn’t recommend waiting that long. Send the gift before the wedding or bring it with you. While gifting after the wedding is fine, Post says the sooner the better.

Side dish
No, you are not expected as someone’s guest to bring a gift, nor is the person who invited you expected to compensate for your company with a bigger gift. That said, if you’re invited as a couple, consider your gift as one item from two people (in other words, you might want to upgrade that mini–food processor to a full-size version).

Read more wedding tips in this week’s wedding feature.

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