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I’m Louise. Blogger. Wife. Designer of TruLu Couture Veils + Accessories.  If you’d like to know more, check out my bio.

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The Engagement Party

Recently I have gotten a slew of emails from readers with the most intriguing questions and ideas. I so love when y'all write me. I do really enjoy interacting with the people who read this little blog. One reader in particular sent me a question that gave me slight pause on how to answer. Reader Kristine wants to know:

If we are having a wedding with around 100 guests, can we invite people to the engagement party that we don't intend to invite  to the wedding? (childhood friends, parents' friends, etc.) And when it comes to the wedding, how to we handle families? For example, if I invite my childhood best friend, and I want to invite his parents, do I have to invite his college-aged sister also? And does she have to have a plus-one? I don't want to make decisions now that are going to bite us in the butt in 18 months!


Now, down to the nitty-gritty of things. The fact that you're concerned with this means you're thinking ahead (good for you) and have concern and consideration for the multitude of friends and family you'd like to share in your celebration. This means you are a Good Person and everyone here at The Thirty-Something Bride (all three of us, Less Kitty included) really like Good People. However, you will find that being a Good Person means zippo when it comes to wedding stuff. Wedding politics can turn into a very slippery, unhappy slope if you don't set ground rules NOW. And by ground rules, I mean expectations. You probably have an idea of who you want to invite, an image in your mind's eye of what you will look like, the vibe of your day. If not, don't worry - it'll come. Just make sure that these expectations are something that you share with your immediate family and fiancé. This includes who will be in attendance at the plethora of parties that can happen surrounding your nuptials.

The engagement party is traditionally the place where families meet and get to know each other. The engagement party is not a requirement, even by traditional standards. Common sense (and Emily Post) says that you should throw an engagement party 30-90 days after being engaged and at least 6 months before the wedding. Protocol also says that it is indeed very bad form to invite people to the engagement party who you do not plan to invite to the wedding. Look at your engagement party list as you would your invite list. But you can't think about your invite list without thinking about your budget. And you can't think about your budget without first sitting down with all parties involved in the budget contribution. It's like the Circle of Life - all things lead back to The Budget in wedding planning. Always. It's infuriating, so be prepared. If you're paying for the wedding, the guest list is really in your capable hands, with absolute consideration for who all the parents want to invite. Note that I said consideration. If it's a combined financial effort, everyone has a say but keeping in mind that it is you and your fiancé's wedding. If just the parents are paying, the same applies - it's still your gig, but the parental units have more leverage.

"Protocol" also states that a couple shouldn't throw themselves an engagement party - generally it's the parents of the bride or groom who host. This doesn't mean you don't contribute though, particularly when the outcome of who is invited to the engagement party affects who is in attendance on your wedding day. So does that mean that you can't celebrate your engagement with your childhood BFF? No, it does not. The great thing about weddings these days is that you can occasionally flip the big, fat finger at protocol and do what you want.

Ask yourself some questions. Do you really want to have party that celebrates your engagement? Do your respective parents? Would you rather save the money and apply it to your wedding so that you can invite a few extra distant friends? You can throw a small engagement party for family/close friends only - those people you know for sure you want to invite to your wedding. Keep the "maybe" people off that list. If you want a bigger soiree for everyone else, I'd consider just throwing a regular ol' party and invite everyone. Don't call it an engagement party. Have it around a holiday and disguise the party that way: a Groundhog Day Bash, a Memorial Day BBQ, a Fourth of July Fiesta. Keep it casual and flash your new ring as often as possible. Just remember that this will add to your budget woes (if you have them). Even a BBQ can end up costing an arm and a leg if you've got 100+ people there.

As for the college-aged sister of the childhood BFF? No, you do not have to invite her or a plus one. In fact, you don't even have to invite the parents unless you really want them there. You're not throwing a huge wedding - you'll be surprised at how 100 people can add up super-duper fast - keep your invites for the people in your life who are there for you through thick and thin. These are the people you want at your wedding, not the peripherals of people who are related to your rock-steady friends (unless they are spouses of the rock-steady friends). 

Very soon after I was engaged I attended a party for a friend who was releasing a book she wrote. I was definitely planning on inviting her and her husband to our wedding. I also know her parents. At the book signing, her mother congratulated us and said she couldn't wait to see me all dressed up on our wedding day. I think the look on my face said exactly what was in my head: OH MY GOD. I TOTALLY WANT YOU AT THE WEDDING BECAUSE I THINK YOU ARE WONDERFUL, BUT YOU ARE NOT ON OUR GUEST LIST. My friend's mom graciously let me off the hook (Southern women are so classy) but I felt terrible. However, it didn't change the fact that it was her daughter and husband who I would invite and not the parents.

So in case my ramblings are unclear, here is a final synopsis:

Engagement party? Keep it small. No friends of friends or plus ones or anyone you do not plan to invite to the wedding.

Wedding? Inviting a friend does not mean you have to extend an invitation to the friend's entire family. Additionally, plus ones should be reserved for spouses or people who are in a committed relationship, particularly if you're having an intimate wedding.

Sadly though, lots of people don't get this. I didn't get it when I was younger. I actually had the audacity to ask for a plus one once so I could bring a date. I know, I know.  I was so lame. I just didn't get it. I didn't understand anything about weddings. In hindsight though, I think it was probably OK because that couple is now divorced and the groom (my friend) is now living with his male life partner. *Ahem* I think everyone involved probably wants to forget that wedding ever happened at all....

The answer is that there is no solid answer. There is a lot of bending and swaying that you will have to do. You'll be maneuvering around the guest list up until the last minute too - verbal invites a la the groom, distant relatives who think they deserve an invite even though you're closer to your hair stylist than them, people who refuse to RSVP or change their answer every other minute....the invitation thing can be a bear. Hold fast to your wedding intentions, but also be a little flexible - it will save you stress and hair pulling. Choose your battles carefully and with thought.

Having said all this, I'm sure Kristine would welcome any additional advice on her engagement party invitation issues. Discuss....


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Reader Comments (9)

We actually did the unthinkable and had an engagement party mostly for people we couldn't invite to the wedding. My husband is a teacher and you would be amazed and how tight-night those work relationships become. The ENTIRE staff at his school thought they were going to be at our wedding. Um . . . what? So we had a huge, super, super casual (like at a bar with a backyard casual) party and people paid for their own drinks. My parents supplied a huge cake and giant submarine sandwiches and chips and people had a really great time. We just told everyone that our wedding was going to be just for family and everyone seemed really cool with it (they may have been cursing me behind my back, but I really don't think so). It was fun, it was casual, it was easy.

Okay, I'm taking over the entire comments section. I definitely would have preferred doing it Louise's way, but I didn't know what else to do with all of those teachers! Haha!

January 6, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterveronica

We're in Los Angeles, my parents are in San Francisco, and his parents are in New Jersey. They're not meeting until our wedding week, and our wedding is going to be teeny tiny.

We're throwing our own engagement party to celebrate with our friends who we want to be there, but understand our life as two freelance artists on an extremely tight budget.

I think the economy of the last few years has dictated a new etiquette out of necessity: I mean, we just registered the other day and Bed Bath & Beyond printed up cards for us to put in our invitations so guests knew we were registered there - and Emily Post would have a hissy fit at that, but I really don't want my entire family to have to call my MOH to figure out the "secret" of where we're registered because it's bad form to show you're expecting a gift. When I'm a wedding guest, I want to bring a gift and I want to know what I should get the couple!

Etiquette is evolving. Go with what you want.

January 6, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLira

I've never had an engagement party, but I have always been told that if someone is invited to the engagement party or to a shower, they should also be invited to the wedding. I like Lira's idea of evolving etiquette, though. It seems to make so much more sense than inviting the same people to 3-4 gift-expected events all about the same wedding.

But what do I know? I'm serving take-out at my wedding.

January 6, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSarah

I know this was supposed to be a serious article. Why is it then, that I was in stitches half way through?

January 6, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSharon

@Sharon - because you 're ever so slightly looney tunes.

January 6, 2011 | Registered CommenterLouise

excellent advice...we had a SUPER chill engagement party...meaning...we picked up a round of drinks for our friends and family that could join us for a relaxing karaoke night at the hole-in-the-wall we met at on karaoke night 3 years before...no etiquette panicking required...the more formal your celebration, the more important i think etiquette is - although it's always important to a degree and what not. best of luck and congratulations!

January 7, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterlizzie

Wow! Thanks for all the input everyone! I really appreciate it! While we aren't planning on actually tying the knot until 2012, my parents do seem excited to throw us an engagement party- they were caterer's in their "past life", so these things are not as big a deal to them as they seem to me! Plus, our mom's have become very close in the two+ years we've been together, but his dad and stepmom have never met my parents, so it should be a good opportunity for everyone to come together before the actual wedding. I did start making a guest list (for the wedding), because while I LOVE the idea of evolving etiquette, I certainly don't want to set a bad precedent now. I think we'll keep the engagement party relatively small, including just our in town families (and his parents, who are out of town), and some old friends (people we will absolutely include in the wedding). Fortunately, the guest list is shaping up to look like we will be able to include most of the people we want to in 100, without making too many cuts! Yay for small blessings at the beginning of this quest! You can all remind me of this when I'm pulling out my hair in a couple of months!

Thanks for the post, Louise! I really appreciate it!

January 7, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKristine

I do not believe in "evolving etiquette" when it comes to certain things like who should be included on the wedding guest list versus engagement party list. If someone isn't important enough to be invited to the wedding, then they should not be included in any of the pre-nuptial celebrations. People are people and feelings may be hurt. It's just plain common sense.

January 10, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterKim

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November 23, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterDerek Page

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