The Rules of Engagement: Party Etiquette Dos and Don’ts

By Kathleen Squires – Holidash News!  – 04/23/2010 – 8:54pm


Congratulations! You’re officially engaged. Time to worry about the wedding, right? Wrong. While many couples jump right into nuptial details, some overlook the essential first steps of properly announcing, and celebrating, the engagement. We consulted experts about engagement etiquette: how to start a union on the right foot-without stepping on too many toes.

Sharing the News
Good news these days spreads as fast as texts, Tweets, emails and status updates will allow. But no one wants to find out about a close relative or friend’s engagement on Facebook. Who you tell, how soon you tell, and the order you tell them in is especially important today. “If your grandparents find out casually from your aunt, that’s not the right order,” advises Anna Post, spokesperson for The Emily Post Institute and author of Do I Have to Wear White? Emily Post Answers America’s Top Wedding Questions (Collins). “If either of you have children, talk to them first. Otherwise, go to parents, siblings and grandparents.”

Tell your close friends next. To make the task easier, “Make a list and decide who is special to you and your partner. Ensure that you tell these people before you release your news to the world,” adds Sue Fox, author of Wedding Etiquette for Dummies (Wiley) and founder of Etiquette Survival.

To Party or Not To Party?
An engagement party is certainly not mandatory, but there are a few instances when having one might not be appropriate. “If you’re going to just get married at city hall, having an engagement party is like rallying the troops then not going out to battle,” says event designer Kristin Banta who is currently planning Millionaire Matchmaker Patti Stanger’s wedding. “Also, if you are having a destination wedding, and not everyone is included, you have to be careful of the politics so feelings aren’t hurt.”

Post says to consider personal situations as well. “If relatives are mourning the death of a close family member, for instance, it might not be the right time.” Fox points out that pending divorces might also make a party inappropriate. “In that situation, consider having a small dinner with immediate family instead,” she says.

Once the wedding is on (and all key friends and relatives are informed), it’s never too soon to throw an engagement party. According to Fox, “It should really be held within a few weeks of the proposal, but it’s fine to hold the party up to two months after the engagement to give family members a chance to mingle.”

But Banta warns not to let it linger too close to the wedding. “Especially in that final eight weeks,” she says. “You’ll have so many things that you have people attending-showers, bachelor parties, luncheons — no matter how well-intentioned, people will start to get resentful that their every single weekend is about you.”

Hosts, Guests, Invitations and Gifts
Though tradition calls for the parents of the bride to have first crack at throwing an engagement party Banta finds that “usually it’s the couple themselves” who plan the engagement festivities. “Especially these days-people are getting married older, there are same sex unions — the traditional rules don’t have to apply.”

What if you’re feeling more old fashioned? Banta notes that If the couple opt out of hosting their own party, then “someone in their inner circle” should do the honors.

Who should be invited to an engagement party? “Close family and friends are considered first,” says Fox. Banta agrees, and adds that “usually it is more of your core circle, and not the entire guest list for your wedding.” Out-of-towners should not be expected to attend, especially if they are making the trip for the wedding — in fact, Post recommends that those invites be kept to “people you are very, very close to.”

And then there are the former spouses, who are often still present, for better or worse. How to handle including your children’s other parent? Extending an invite to exes is fine, as long as both partners approve.

The bottom line: All of our experts agree that the most important rule of invite etiquette is that everyone who is invited to the engagement party must be invited to the wedding.

How to invite depends on the formality of the occasion. “Evites are fine if you are sure all of your guests use email and check it regularly,” says Post. “If it is a formal party, however, people might not take it seriously enough” if you send a virtual invitation. Fox says invites via phone are “not normally recommended unless you plan a very small, informal gathering,” while Banta supports the traditional paper invite for “leaving a lingering impression.”

Although Post points out that it is not incorrect to register before the engagement party, gifts should not be expected at this function. “Never mention ‘gifts’ in any way on the engagement party invitation,” adds Fox. “If gifts are brought, open them at another time.”

Mistakes Not to Make
So what are the most common etiquette errors that crop up around engagement parties? Fox says that the first misstep comes when the couple shares the news that they are engaged. “Not being sensitive or diplomatic to someone that may object to the announcement is a mistake. Set up a time for a private discussion as soon as possible.”

Once you’ve announced, it’s time to party — but keep it small. “Inviting too many people is the most common mistake,” says Post. Her advice? Save the big guest list for the wedding.

Finally, because the engagement is all about paving the way for the marriage, it is important to get immediate family together before the prenuptial festivities start. “Make sure that the families have met before the party, and they should have broken bread,” suggests Banta. “Overlooking that, especially in the beginning, can create problems.”

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