Updated wedding registry etiquette

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sign gifts alternative wedding ideas from Offbeat Wed (formerly Offbeat Bride)
Photos by Shannon Cottrell and Lauren Elisabeth Photography

Wedding registry etiquette is not on anybody's list of favorite things about their wedding. As one Offbeat Bride said:

The f***ing registry is one of the biggest fights and headaches I have had with my mother and family throughout our Wedding planning. My fiance and I have lived together for five years, we already have the essentials and we don't want stuff that we don't need.

Wedding gift registries cause waaaaay more angst than they should, whether it's the discomfort of feeling like you have to register for goods when you hate materialism or the pain of having your friends and family refuse to give you cash for your honeymoon (or, worse yet, tell you it's supposedly tacky to register for it). People give you gifts because they love you, and you love their gifts because you love them, so how does all that love add up to so much misery?

I set up our registry on Zola.com because neither one of us wanted to register in a store (not our idea of fun) and this way we could pull from anywhere (independent artisans as well as big stores) and also set up a monetary registry (for a home) at the same time. I thought it would make it easier for everyone, one place to go to and everything is organized so nicely. It even has an exportable thank you spreadsheet!

Well, it didn't go over too well with the family. I've been told that we should do Target or Amazon or some other big chain as well (no), put more “traditional items” on the registry (again: no), and that we should not have a monetary registry because it is tacky/rude (no, no, and more no).

Fortunately, registry etiquette can help. Here are some steps to make the registry experience less stressful — from the friends and family point of view.

We already have lots of suggestions for alternative wedding gift registries and ways to make the process easier and more fun.

But how can you keep your registry experience from spoiling the rest of your wedding– and maybe your relationships, too?

Make your decision

At the end of the day, it is our registry and therefore it is our choice what we put on it. We are not forcing anyone to give us a gift nor are we expecting gifts in the first place, but should someone want to get us something I'd rather it be something we'll actually use.

Whether you register at several stores, don't register at all, request charitable donations instead of gifts, or send out an email asking for cash, someone will be unhappy with your decision. Don't make one plan and then change it repeatedly in response to feedback. That will just stress you out and confuse everyone. If possible, get your mom or your BFF to filter the feedback and just not tell you about what they hear.

If people complain to you directly, resist the temptation to say, “It's our wedding,” not that you're wrong, but because that never convinces people. Instead, go with something like, “I understand completely. Don't feel you have to use the registry if you'd rather not.”

Be practical

The practical origin of the registry was to allow each of your friends to buy you one place setting of china or silver and be confident in the knowledge that all the dishes and cutlery would match.

Now it's more like a virtual wish list, but the point is still to make life easier for your friends and family. These are practical suggestions, not manners issues, even though they are basics of wedding registry etiquette:

  • Register for things you need or want at a number of different price points
  • Consider registering at a national chain or an online store as well as at that special artisanal boutique.
  • Register for more things than you expect to receive — like two or three per guest — so that there will be plenty of choices.
  • Try to register early so guests can find engagement or shower presents.
  • List and link to your registries at your wedsite so people can easily find the information.

No gifts?

As we said, someone will always complain! As one Offbeat Bride bemoaned:

We said “no gifts” (we don't need anything, we don't have anyplace to put it even if we did, plus we're having a destination wedding and feel weird asking for stuff when we're already asking all the guests to drop a decent chunk of cash on travel) — and some people have been telling me that THIS is rude — that we NEED to provide a list of things we want so that people who want to buy us presents ANYWAY (despite our wishes) know what to buy. Whaaaa?

Yep, someone will always complain. But in this case, there is a traditional response: “Your presence at our wedding is the best gift you could give us.” Then just change the subject.


Modern online wedding registries often help you keep track of the gifts you've been given. Write your thank-you notes as you receive the gifts and you won't be overwhelmed. This is really about registry etiquette, in the sense of manners, than practicality.

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Comments on Updated wedding registry etiquette

  1. I’ve definitely seen this becoming more of a trend over the years. Its 2020 and there really aren’t any rules anymore. Every couple should be able to do whatever they are comfortable with as it pertains to their wedding.

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