How do you hope chest as an Offbeat Bride?

Guest post by Lindsey
1949 Lane Cedar Hope Chest advertisement from Etsy seller LaOohLaLaBoutique
1949 Lane Cedar Hope Chest advertisement from Etsy seller LaOohLaLaBoutique

One of the major issues I've had with wedding websites and magazines (and really, why Offbeat Bride has been such a relief) is this feeling that I should have considered all of this before. I must have been dreaming of my wedding since I was five, and I of course know what my colors and my theme and my flowers will be because all of this matters and this will be the happiest day of my life and, oh, I guess my groom will show up too.

Part of this pressure has come from older members of my family asking about my hope chestDo you have anything to put in your hope chest? and There's a linens sale coming up if you want to pick up some things for your hope chest and even I saw a hope chest on Craigslist if your fiance hasn't picked one up for you.

All of this is to say that I haven't considered a hope chest at all, and really that the concept of having a hope chest from a young age freaks me out a little. I mean, shouldn't young girls and women be thinking about bigger things than stockpiling household goods? Do we ask young boys and men to consider this? (No, we don't.)

But here's where things get complicated: I LOVE crafting. There is something so charming and appealing to me about pouring my blood, sweat, and tears into creating things that my fiancé and I will use time and time again in our lives together, rather than putting all of that effort into a flower arrangement or dance choreography for a wedding.

I also LOVE organizing. The idea of having everything I need to effectively adult on hand, to compile all of the things we really do need but have been putting off buying despite three years of cohabitation (e.g. a toolset) and to put it all nicely in a box! Love it.

So, I wonder… Is there a way to combine a love for creating and preparing with a rejection of the expectation that I should be creating and preparing?

What have other Offbeat Bride readers done about hope chests?

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Comments on How do you hope chest as an Offbeat Bride?

  1. I had no idea hope chests were still a thing! But honestly this is all about how you look at it. If you want to buy things that you’ll use only after you’re married- buy them. Put them wherever you want to. This feels no different to me than buying Christmas presents months ahead of time and putting them in a box in the closet for safe keeping. So do what you want lady! Just because a tradition had creepy sexist origins doesn’t mean that’s why YOU are choosing to do it.

    • This is totally unrelated to this post but how is your tribe profile picture still showing up? Even if I sign in to the tribe first mine keeps defaulting to the avatar that everyone starts with. What is your secret!?

  2. I’ve never heard of a Hope Chest before. Are/were they common in the US? In the UK there used to be a tradition of the bride bringing a trousseau of linens etc with her to the marriage, which was partly about showing off your needlework skills, but was also an aspect of the dowry, since the woman was reducing her financial impact on her husband by not requiring him to buy new sheets! I don’t know anyone who still does it now (but then, I don’t know anyone who hasn’t cohabited before marriage).

    Eh, anyway. What it really comes down to is what you’re comfortable accepting, and what you’re comfortable declining. I suppose part of it is whether they’re telling you your FH ought to be buying you these things (which is between you and him anyway), as the advert above suggests, or whether in your community it’s common for friends and family to contribute too. Be honest with people if they want to gift you things: “I feel like we don’t need the traditional hope chest items as a couple, since we’re already living together, but what would be really useful to us and our home together would be a tool kit.”

  3. When I was a tween/teen, my grandma would give me items for my hope chest like linens and napkin rings. Those were disappointing holidays for a 9 year old! I didn’t save any of them and I don’t plan to make a marriage hope chest now.

    The only hope chest I would consider would be for a future baby, because it would be sweet to craft things now to use later. But we’re not going to start trying for 5-7 more years so it feels weird to start it now.

  4. What in the hell is a “hope chest”? I’m a lifelong American, raised in the South and I have never, until this day, heard of a “hope chest”. Somebody help me out! I don’t want the future hub’s family to ask about this chest thing and I just give them the deer-in-the-headlights.

  5. The only one I’ve ever heard mention a Hope Chest was my exes mother. I had never heard of that before and at 16 thought it was really old fashioned and weird. It’s like a concept out of Little House on the Prairie. I love Little House as much as the next person but there’s a reason people don’t live that way anymore!
    However, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with wanting to have the things you need for your life together either. That just makes good sense. We’ve been living together for three years, have been married for just under four months, and we don’t have a fire extinguisher! So, I think get the things you need, or even register for them, and cut the “hope chest” thing out of the equation. Just get the things, use the things, and that’s that!

    • Young ladies growing up used to put things in them for when they “hopefully” married one day. Hand made embroidered, sewn, knitted linens, baby clothes, family heirlooms. Special china or decorations, silver, etc. The cedar chests keep out moths and and other things and it was a big deal and tradition. P.S. I never had one either and I have been married twice.

  6. I actually started a hope chest years ago (basically whatever kitchen gadgets I could get cheap), but I ended up taking them out bit by bit to cook. Oh well, I tried, right ? I’m fairly certain my mom had one, although I doubt I’ll suggest a future child should start one. That’s what Amazon registries are for, I guess 🙂

  7. I agree with Lia when she says, “Just because a tradition had creepy sexist origins doesn’t mean that’s why YOU are choosing to do it.” I never had a hope chest and it honestly never crossed my mind until now, but now that I’m thinking about it, I should’ve put the “chest” part of that on our wedding registry: they’re great for storage in plain sight! Plus, if you get a cedar one (which, based on that ad, appears to be the traditional type), it’s really great moth repellent for whatever fibers you store in there: linens, off-season clothing, yarn, etc.

  8. Maybe it could be something you and your FH do together, with a fun name that just has things you can look forward to using after the wedding. Not necessarily house things, just anything nice-my friends did a “Spousal Stockpile” with super fancy sheets, video games they wanted to play together, new cookbooks, a home beer kit, etc. It was a fun way for them to plan something nice just for them beyond the actual wedding.

    • This is almost exactly what I was going to suggest!

      OP – Sometimes renaming something can really help to remove the item from it’s cultural past – you can still enjoy the tradition of collecting things for your future in a nice box/dresser/treasure chest/whatever, but you don’t have to refer to it as your “hope chest.” Why not make it your “Bride’s Booty,” or something else fun and unique to you?

  9. As a later in life bride (46) I had certain ideas since youth about what I might like in my (whenver it may be) wedding, so I guess I had sort of a “hope scrapbook” where I cut out, like, pretty headpieces or shoes, more thinking bridey stuff. Almost none of it I actually went with, but it was kind of like a style board that I ended up just absorbing into my psyche. I didn’t look at this scrapbook when I started actually planning, but after the fact I was curious and a lot of my aesthetics came through anyway. All that to say, if you have a home organizational thingie you want to design/garage shop/crafting table/tool assembly/zombie preparedness kit, why not start gathering the bits, either for real or in photos/Pinterest. Call it a WANT BOX instead of a HOPE CHEST. Offbeat just means true to yourself, I think, which when you think about it says a lot about the WIC.

  10. My mother ended up with one in her teens, though nothing was put into it related to her marriage to my dad. She used it to store my brother’s and my childhood keepsakes – drawings, pre-school reports, certain baby clothes, pictures, her diaries of that time in her life. I don’t think she’s looked in it for at least 25 years. She told me I’m getting it and all its contents when she passes on.

    Anyway, I wasn’t aware of all the customs attached to it until now. It made sense back when it was practiced, but has become obsolete in this day and age. Please understand where the older relatives are coming from, and be gentle when explaining to them why you have no need of it. They will be shocked and scandalized, but society has evolved beyond needing this custom. Good luck.

  11. I suppose I learned about the concept from my mother, who always liked the idea. At some point she said that we could use one of our cedar chests as a “hope chest” for me if I was so inclined. She framed it in terms of “for when you grow up and move into your own home,” rather than in terms of “when you get married.” Over the years she would set aside certain things for me, sometimes things I already ‘had’ but wasn’t ready to use such as a quilt from my grandmother with the family tree sewn on the back, and teacups I liked that she was ready to move out of her collection. It’s still at my mom’s house right now, but probably the next time I move, I will take it to my new residence.

    For me, it was about making nesting plans and family sentiment, rather than about aspirations of marriage. I am married now, but that was never an implicit “goal” in my narrative. I think if you like the idea of crafting and creating for *your* future, you should do so and enjoy the process for what it could mean to you.

    • Yeah, that’s how my mother framed it. Not as ‘stuff for your and your husband’, but as ‘things you want when you leave home’.

    • I’ve had “hope chest” stuff since I was 13 (I’m 28 now). It was really more of a “when you have your own place” than a “when you get married” type of stash. I have service for 8 in a Corelleware pattern I picked out then (I love corelleware, it’s cheap and pretty durable) and silverware, plus I had plenty of dishtowels and whatnot when I moved into my first apartment by myself at 23. It really saved me when I was mostly broke to not worry about having the basic stuff.

      Having lived out of my parents’ house since I was 18 (except for coming home during the summers in college) I have most of the basics. I don’t need a trousseau, really, as we already have most of the linens and things we need. However, if someone offers us nice sheets “for [my] trousseau” I will definitely take them up on it!

      My mom has a large cedar hope chest in her bedroom and I sometimes wish I had one too – as someone mentioned, it’s a lovely way to store “special” things. The cedar smell is just a bonus. 🙂

  12. My mom had a hope chest that her and my grandmother filled as she grew up. My memories of it were very different. Growing up she had it at the foot of her bed and is where she stored her treasures (or at least that is what I called them); heirloom jewelry, special items that her kids made for her, special fabric that she didn’t want to loose, etc. She still has it and it is one of my favorite things she owns. I should ask her why she never suggested the idea to me.

  13. I have wanted a cedar chest for years. Not because of the dowry context but mearly because it seemed like a sweet and sentimental way to store cherished items. My mom had a gorgeous maple one and it some childhood halloween costumes of mine in it, her wedding dress, old report cards, and important papers and newspapers she wanted to keep. Really I just wanted a special place to keep my knit and crochet items so that it wouldn’t get attacked by moths. I have found them on Craigslist for about $100 but alas time and money never worked out.

  14. The concept of a hope chest or a trousseau goes back the 15th century in Europe and even later in the Middle East. This was a time when marriages were more about politics and economics than personal relationships. Often it wasn’t even the bride that started collecting these things. It could be her mother or even grandmother. It was traditional for girls to be given gifts for their trousseau as early as the day of their birth. My very old fashion grandmother bought a bolt of white silk for me on the day I was born and brought it to the hospital. All of these things weren’t about just setting up house, but as financial protection for the daughter. Unlike a dowry, which went to the groom and was his property, the trousseau was always the property of the bride even after marriage. In Italy, the groom would buy the bride one or more trousseau chests and often give her gifts for her trousseau as a sign of good faith. He wasn’t going to take her dowry and run. For wealthy families the hope chest would be filled with expensive things that could be easily sold, (jewelry, ceramics, paintings, silk) should times get tight. Queens had whole countries symbolically in their trousseau. For poorer families it was a way to ensure their daughters would at least have the basics when she left home. In a time when men controlled all the money and you were literally giving your daughter away, you’d want to make sure she had some good blankets and a warm coat. The hope chest was very big in the US during the colonial period but started to loose popularity as early as the 1890s though Lane and other companies tried to bring it back as a much-needed wedding purchase in the 1940s. I think if you wanted to revamp the tradition you could ask your relatives to invest some money is a “oh shit” fund for you, or maybe pass down some heirloom items to you or some practical things like tools. You could cross gender lines and build a hope chest with your FH or with his family, maybe even both of you could have your own as special individual space in the marriage. You mentioned you like to craft. I think a lovely trousseau would be to make a quilt with your family as a way to carry on tradition and send you off into your married life a little bit warmer and snugglier.

  15. I’m confused why anyone in the 21st century would need a “hope chest”. I mean surely you’re allowed to have nice linens or kitchen tools or home things if you’re single?!

    I, too, thought this was an obsolete tradition that dated from a time when women went directly from their parents’ home to their husband’s.

    (On the other hand, someone just sent my fiance and I easily the nicest wine glasses we have ever owned as an engagement present, which is kind of nuts considering nobody ever gifted me with these before, when I liked wine just as much as I do now…)

    • Carrie Bradshaw was right about “Think about it. If you are single, after graduation there isn’t one occasion where people celebrate you … Hallmark doesn’t make a “congratulations, you didn’t marry the wrong guy” card. And where’s the flatware for going on vacation alone?”

    • Well, I’m not getting married for a while, and my boyfriend and I aren’t actually cohabitating yet (we’re planning to at some point, but we work jobs in different towns right now and it hasn’t worked out), but when we do move in together, we’re planning on nixing both of our beds (both full size) and getting a king size bed that we can more easily fit on. We each have linens only for our current beds. I can see buying things like that after moving in being a problem, where the easy solution is to have a collection beforehand (like, my parents are keeping a set of silver for my sister and I, to be given when we’re living in a place where we’ll stay for a long time, preferably a place we own) that someone keeps to give you when you reach a milestone, though I see that milestone being more like moving into a place you own or moving in together or something like that.

  16. I’m not doing one for my wedding, but I did do one for when my now fiancé and I did a cross province move. We were on a very small budget and moving from a shared house with many roommates in BC, to an apartment of our own in Alberta. I used a big Rubbermaid container that would be easy to haul around and loaded it up with things that would be practical in a “home” but not so much for a shared house; linens, new mugs, printed tea towels, new towels for the bathroom, a new shower curtain, new sheets, bath mats, bowls, silverware (as a lot of ours was falling apart); as well as things that would remind us of home as my fiancé had never not lived in Victoria, and Victoria had been my home for 7 years. So things like tea from our favourite shops, mugs from favourite diners, the You Gotta Eat Here Cookbook (has recipes for restaurants across Canada, including several from Victoria). I also sewed a number of things like placemats, tea cozies, napkins and a plastic bag holder. Most of the stuff came from Target (which was closing down in Canada at the time), second hand stores, or small shops in Chinatown (giant pasta bowls!) No one really expected me to have any kind of a hope chest but in that context, it made a lot of sense and I did receive some really useful things for it that Christmas. I’d moved out at 18 and my fiancé had moved out in his early 20’s, so our stuff really did need some refurbishing-especially since I was gearing up to go into a field with some degree of entertaining (I am a social worker in a church, with plans to go back to school for ordained ministry.)

    Interestingly, now that we have the larger apartment, I’ve inherited my grandmother’s hope chest, which is an antique now-at least 80 years old! and it is storing the wedding stuff as we make and purchase more things. The cedar smell is still there and it has a lot of space. They really are wonderful.

  17. My mom had a “hope chest” (no actual chest, but a collection of housewares she had bought for me) not for when I got married but for when I was moving out on my own. It included a nice set of pots and pans (that I still have and use daily almost 20 years later), some bakeware, a knife set, and a few other things. To me, it was a very feminist act, and had we a larger family with more women I think it would have felt even more that way as they all would have contributed to it (as was a tradition in my mom’s family). It was like being given tools to be independent and self-reliant. I think adapting “hope chests” for different occasions is a cool idea. Like a marriage hope chest could have things for a couple to enjoy, and maybe best assembled AFTER the engagement is announced by family or friends. Or a “first house” chest, “new child”, “new business”, basically anything that could help support the hopes and dreams of the recipient(s), whatever they may be.

  18. I have a hope chest – my dad made it for my mom in high school wood shop, if you can believe that! There’s nothing in it but I love having it because of the story behind it. It’s in my dad’s garage until I get a house that has enough room for me to bring it home!

  19. My grandma gave me her old cedar hope chest when I graduated high school. She didn’t really frame it as a traditional hope chest, thankfully, and I didn’t use it as such. Now it’s where our sex toys live.

    • Oh man my aunt gave me a box she decorated for me when I was five that says “princess Kristi’s Treasures”

      So guess where MY sex toys live! XD

  20. I think that first, you need to unpack what about the idea of the hope chest is unsettling to you. Is it the sexist roots? The feeling of obligation — either to the tradition or to your own offbeat-ness or even both? Is it something completely else? Once you’ve unpacked that, I think you’ll have a better idea of how to address the issue.

    For instance, I am not found of hope chests for their sexist roots. But, I freaking love being prepared. So in that vein, I would probably reframe the whole experience: perhaps make am emergency survival kit (I have one of these in my car) if I was committed to the idea of it all being in one place, or register the stuff my partner and I need on our registry, or even just be like “hey dude, I think we should probably have real tools instead of just this staple gun and wrench. What d’you say to hitting up Home Depot today?” I once dated someone whose father insisted that buying yourself new sheets once in a while was a perfect way to best stress and enrich your life, so you could even frame it that way if you wanted.

    Basically, I think you need to unpack the idea and then make it work for you — whether that means bucking it completely, reframing it, or getting yourself a chest and filling it with the stuff you’ll need.

  21. My mom had a “hope chest” for me, but it was for a start when I moved out, not necessarily when I got married. it had kitchen, bathroom, and bedroom stuff in it (towles, a toaster, ect..). so I had almost everything I needed when I moved into my own place. I plan to do the same thing for my kids, even if I call it something else.

  22. I have a hope storage room in my parents basement…

    I found some super cheap dishes and silverware that I couldnt pass up and my moms been saving tupperware she finds cheap (resale and garage sale!) as well as a kitchenaide mixer and a bunch of other stuff…
    So when my man and I move out we’ve pretty much got about what we need!

  23. As someone whose had a hope chest since she was born, I find this idea to be perfectly compatible with life as a modern 21st century gal. The things my mother and I have collected along the way have been immensely helpful to setting up house in a dorm room, then a post-college apartment, regardless of my marital status. It’s allowed me to gather things I love from antique shops and yard sales when I see them and love them at a great price, rather than wait to get married to have a registry where people will give me things in one chunk that I may or may not love. My hope chest includes amazing mix and match blue and white dishware as well as aprons I’ve sewn myself, vases from my European travels and fabric to use in “someday” projects. I see it not as something waiting to be used in a marital home, but rather a collection past me has squirreled away for my future self to enjoy.

  24. I was given a hope chest when I was 18. Most of the women in my family have had one so I didn’t find it “weird” or “sexist”. It’s practical for storage even after the wedding and mine doubles as a bench seat at the foot of our bed.

  25. I guess I have a sort of hope chest, if by hope chest you mean random things strewn about that I hope to take to my first home. But that is simply for saving money later, and not so I am a complete wife kit, batteries included. I had never heard of it being a wedding preparation thing. It sounds so strange when you put it like that… I thought my family was having me set one up for myself, not for being a doll complete with accessories.
    Makes me wonder if they meant it in that way.

  26. Growing up, I everyone I knee just refered to any wooden chest as a hope chest. One of my friends kept all her barbie dolls in her hope chest, another friend’s mom had a chest in the living room filled with blankets for sleepovers that she called a hope chest. It wasnt until I got older that I learned the origin of what hope chests were for.

    Personally I feel like in this day and age keeping “maybe I’ll need this someday” stuff around for that long seems like borderline hoarding. Like I make baby clothes for friends a lot and people think I havr a stockpile of baby clothes saved up for when/if I have kids. To me, that would make me feel like a crazy person since even though I want kids, there’s no guarantee I’m going to have them.

    But after having read the comments on this, I do like the idea of having a “moving out” stash for any future children I may have (boy or girl), but I probably wouldn’t start collecting things for them until they were in high school.

    But the bottom line is, if you’re comfortable accepting gifts, then let people help out. Even if you don’t physically have a hope chest you can use a section of the back of your closet as a hope chest. Even though you may have all the bare essentials of what you need, its really nice to have to extras, like a couple extra sets of bed sheets in case you spill a drink on your bed and cant do laundry that day or if you cook/bake having kitchen gadgets is no necessary but so nice. Even something like having new dishes that are in a color you like instead of hand-me-down/thrift store dishes can really just brighten your day at meal times, as dumb as that sounds.

  27. I still have my hope chest that my mom gave me for Christmas one year. Im engaged and I already have my house and everything in it, so I gave my hope chest to my daughter, who is ten and now has it over filled with her stuffed animal collection. But in time it will be filled with things that she will need to move out and be on her own.

  28. What did you end up doing? As many of the others have said, I haven’t heard of hope chests as still being around either. Families vary so much!!!

  29. As an Xer raised by a bra burning hippie, hope chests were a taboo subject in our house. My bff’s older sister had one & I remember thinking, “how desperate of her to feel that marriage was all life had left.” …Then, I met the man of my dreams & was married just weeks before my 21st birthday. Fast forward 26 years later, I found myself with more conservative values & a 23 year old daughter planning her wedding. The “hope chest” we built for her was more about her independence than about married life. Yes, it contained heirlooms such as quilts, photographs, & crystal. But, it also contained cook books, a budgeting/finance binder, commonly needed kitchen items, & towels, things she would need to live on her own…not necessarily as a bride.

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