So, what is a gift list? Basically it’s a drawn up list of things guests can buy for you–a good idea to avoid ending up with six toasters and three kettles. But do you not fancy what’s left on the list? Would you rather branch out with an original gift of your own? We examine the etiquette of present‐buying.
Although gift lists cover the whole range of price and taste, experienced wedding‐goers and gift buyers for all kinds of special occasions know that you have to be pretty quick off the mark when it comes to choosing the goodies. Leave it a bit late and you may find that, by the time you get around to it, all the mid‐priced or interesting prezzies have gone and you’re left with the choice of breaking the bank, looking like a cheapskate, or plumping for the last plate in a dinner service.
Perhaps you feel that the gift you give says something about you, and a wastepaper basket just won’t do? Or maybe buying from a list just doesn’t feel personal enough?
Should you do your own thing? And are there any rules you ought to remember if you do decide to branch out?
To list or not to list
Wedding etiquette is changing all the time. A decade to two ago, lists weren’t particularly common, and including one with your invitation would have been considered rather rude. Now it’s standard practice ‐‐ but that doesn’t mean guests have to pick a present from one.
Although there are no hard‐and‐fast rules, the list is basically a guide ‐‐ you don’t have to stick to it. What’s more, many shops will accept returned wedding presents if you do make a howler. So, whether it’s because you’ve been left with the Aston Martin section of the list, or you just think you could do better, you’re always free to go ahead and use your imagination.
Do remember, however, that the couple have compiled their list for a very good reason. It contains the things they really want and even if some of the gifts may not seem that exciting, they are all things that you can be sure the bride and groom have asked for. So if you do decide to bypass the list, do it for a good reason. Be sure that what you buy is something the couple wouldn’t have thought of asking for, but that they’ll really like. And to be on the safe side, why not give them the receipt so that they can take it back if they hate it?
“We didn’t make a list when we got married, which was a bit of a mistake,” says Jackie. “My sister‐in‐law bought me a hideous lamp which looked like a human brain. I just don’t know how she could think we’d like it. It went straight into the loft. On the other hand, we got a lovely picture and a really original sculpture which we certainly wouldn’t have got from a list.”
Taste can be particularly hit and miss. You may think that a pink and orange lava lamp is gorgeous, but will they? Deanne recalls that she and her partner thought the idea of buying from a friend’s wedding list was a bit boring.
“We bought them a vase from a quirky little gift shop,” she said. “We loved it. But we could tell from their expressions when we gave it to them that it was a BIG mistake.” She adds: “We wanted to get them something that reminded them of us. A few years later, when we were talking about it, they said: ‘Well, we certainly remember what you bought us!’ I was quite happy about that ‐‐ I think.”
Think about using your skills to give a really special gift. When decorator Wendy’s best friend got married, she painted her flat for her as her gift. And when artist Mel was invited to the wedding of two fellow artists, she decided to make them something ‐‐ a wooden collage, to be precise.
“I didn’t know them terribly well,” she says. “‘I thought it would be better to give them something I’d created, rather than buy something for loads of money that they hated. And as artists themselves, I felt they really understood and appreciated my efforts!”
What about money?
If all else fails, here’s something we all appreciate ‐‐ cash. A few years ago, it would have been considered incorrect for guests to give gifts of money, but now it’s becoming more acceptable and, in some cultures, even expected. For a young couple, a cheque could be an ideal gift, although bear in mind that money would not be appropriate for a middle‐aged pair. However, it is not really the done thing for the couple to ask for money as a gift, except perhaps from very close relatives.
You can’t go far wrong with a really good bottle (or case) of wine. And, while a gift voucher may seem like a cop‐out, bear in mind that you would probably be quite happy to receive one for your favourite store ‐‐ and so will they. It’s also important to remember that you’re buying for a couple. Try to pick something both of them will like.
If you’ve wracked your brains but you can’t think of a thing, it is perfectly acceptable to ask the bride if she wants anything that isn’t on the list. And, if you’re really stuck, take heart from etiquette experts Debretts, who point out that, from the couple’s point of view, it would be impolite to accept any gift with anything but gratitude, whether it was on the list or not. So get shopping!