Welcome back to Southern Etiquette! To recap, my first column addressed a contentious issue which y’all responded quite passionately to: wearing white to a wedding. The consensus seemed to be that it was stylish to dress your bridal party in shades of white and cream, but that to be safe, it was better to steer clear of white clothing as a guest. Check out the debate here.
But on to our next topic: the engagement party guest list. My older sister recently got engaged (YAY!). As I’m sure you can guess, this is VERY exciting to me. She and her now-fiance are planning an August 2010 wedding on the coast of Maine. They live in the Midwest; my family lives on the East Coast; and his family lives on the West Coast. K+C will be heading East for the Christmas holidays, and my parents are thinking of throwing them an engagement party. Lots of our family friends are eager to see and congratulate them, and (as my Mom says) the house will already be dressed for Christmas, so why not?
(Images from Erin + Patrick’s rehearsal dinner (see more here!), photographed by Laura Negri Childers. And no, my house does not look that cool.)
The only problem? Not everyone invited to this supposed engagement party will be invited to the wedding, because K+C are planning a relatively small shindig (on an island, remember?). Emily Post says in no uncertain terms that this is not okay:
“Generally the guest list is limited to the couple’s relatives and good friends. It can be as short or as lengthy as you want — and can comfortably accommodate. However, it’s poor taste to invite anyone to an engagement party who will not be on the wedding guest list.”
I certainly don’t want to be thought of as having poor taste, but it seems to me that maybe this isn’t as big of a deal as Ms. Post seems to think it is?
So, dear readers, help a girl out. (Well, really you’re helping a girl’s Mom out. Hi, Mom!) What do you think? Would it be an etiquette faux pas to invite those to an engagement party that aren’t invited to the wedding? Sound off below!
Images in header c/o Millie Holloman
Emily & Mom,Yes it would be a bad idea to have an engagement party and not invite them to the wedding. That said, it doesn’t mean you can’t have a fun Christmas party and "announce" the engagment. (you guys totally lucked out on the timing) This way it is just a fun house party and no one’s feelings will be hurt if they don’t get an invitation later but they still get to see and congratulate the couple. Good luck!Robin
While I may agree with Ms. Post regarding traditional weddings, I think there are always exceptions to the rule. Aren’t rules meant to be broken anyways? If everyone attending knows the wedding will be a small affair, and are not expecting an invitation, I don’t think it’s in poor taste to invite them. On the other hand, if they know they can’t go to the wedding, and then find out they are also not invited to the engagement celebration, they may get their feelings hurt a bit. If you don’t want to stray too far from traditional etiquette, perhaps call it something different than an "engagement party."
We are dealing with a variation of this problem. Due to job changes/life changes, etc, it seems that a lot of the people invited to our engagement party aren’t really people that we are close to anymore. It’s awkward no matter what we do.
It’s a tough call, but I think Emily Post is right in this situation. It’s one of those situations where it seems okay beforehand, but once you are at the engagement party and you’re conversing with guests who are not invited to the wedding reception, you’ll see why social experts navigate away from this type of situation. Those guests will be asking when and where the wedding is, as they’ll expect to begin looking ahead on their schedule and planning to attend. I attended a friend’s engagement party where this was the situation, and the bride was horrified by the end of the night after all of these conversations – even several people saying, "I can’t wait to get my invitation in the mail!" She and her mother decided to sit down and retroactively add 20-30 people to their wedding attendee list, out of a feeling of obligation. Obviously that’s not an option with a destination wedding, so your mother/sister would have no option but to let those people down gently. And, for any wedding on a budget, that is adding several thousand dollars to your reception budget and could break the bank.Can you argue that it is presumptuous for those people to make statements assuming that they’re invited to the wedding? Of course…but keeping the guest list the same for all wedding related events is the easiest way to not even have to worry about that. I think most people will assume they’re invited to the wedding if they’re invited to the engagement party, and it’s pretty awkward to have to field those questions knowing that they’re not.
Congratulations! My older sister just got married and it IS a very exciting time. I think as long as all the guests invited to the engagement party know that it’s going to be a small wedding it would be fine. I hope that helps!
If this is considered a "destination wedding", as it sounds, then certainly guests to the engagement party should not really expect to be invited. But if the "limited guests" live in the same town as the wedding, well….sort of sounds like the beginning of some resentments…sorry.
I agree with Cait’s comment. I am in a similar situation and while I would love to include more people in my hometown engagement party, I am not able to include them all in my destination wedding. I contemplated, but then realized it becomes very awkward for those that are not invited to both. I have been told to have an Announcement party AFTER the wedding if you want to include more guests announcing the marriage.
Hi Emily (and Mom!), I think I’ll have to agree with Emily Post in saying that it’s in bad taste to invite people to the engagement party that aren’t invited to the wedding. I think it would hurt the feelings of those who weren’t invited to the wedding, and their thoughts may be something along the lines of: "What? I’m okay to come to the party (and possibly bring a gift), but I’m not okay to come to the wedding? I don’t understand," While I understand that your sister wants to have a small wedding (congrats to her, by the way!), some people might look past that detail when inquiring about their wedding invitation and have their feelings hurt. I definitely agree with the first post from Robin: have a "Christmas party" where she also happens to announce her engagement–kind of like in "Steel Magnolias" when Shelby’s dad announced that she was expecting a baby at their Christmas party. I hope this helps! And many blessings on your sister and her marriage!
Emily is right. This rule doesn’t just protect the guest, but it also protects the host. People are SO sensitive! Even if you let it be known that this is your arrangement, people will still talk and make you feel bad about not inviting them to the wedding. So just to keep yourself from being talked about and out of gossip, I would just only invite the people invited to the wedding. It will save a lot of frustration! And who needs added frustration during a wedding!!
I have to say, in a situation like this – when the wedding is a small destination event and assuming it is UNDERSTOOD that only a very small # of people will be invited to the wedding – inviting other people to the engagement party (or bridal showers, or other wedding events) is perfectly fine.
Hi Emily! I am actually in a very similar situation now. I am planning an August 2010 wedding and my fiance and I will be spending some time at home with my parents in Florida over Christmas. My mom wants to have a party while we are there and is planning to invite people who will not be invited to the wedding. We decided to handle it by not calling it an engagement party and we are not indicating that it is being given in honor of my fiance and me on the invites. We are also telling anyone who asks NOT to bring a gift. We figured that our guests would realize that my fiance and I will be there so they can come by to see us if they want, but it’s not technically an "engagement party." I think this is similar to what Robin and Brittany are suggesting. Hope it helps and congrats to you and your family!
I believe it would be in poor taste to invite guests to the engagement party but not the wedding. Etiquette rules like these are designed to avoid offense and to avoid awkward social situations — for a broad spectrum of people. While it might be alright for you, for example, who is to say it won’t hurt somebody else. Someone else suggested it, but perhaps it might be a good idea have a post-wedding party to include those people who were not invited to the wedding.
I appreciate that your sister is in a difficult position by trying to accommodate a select few for a limited venue, but she (and mom) wants to invite friends to the engagement party to celebrate! I am in a similar situation, as my fiance and I got engaged in England recently, but will be getting married in my hometown in Texas. We wanted to celebrate here in England when we got engaged, so we invited a lot of people to our party, knowing that we wouldn’t invite all of them to the wedding in Texas, where our wedding guests will consist of family and close friends. I think that lots of our invited guests to the engagement party were really happy to come and celebrate with us, but knew that they would not come to (nor be invited to) our Texas wedding. So, in conclusion, I think if there are people who want to celebrate with you but won’t be able to go to the wedding (because they can’t make the flight or won’t be included in a limited guest list), invite them to the engagement party- spread the love!
Keep it coming, y’all! This is very helpful feedback. The point you’re making about conversations we’ll have with guests at the party is extremely valid and something I don’t think we thought about much.
When I originally read this post I was firmly set on the side that this was an exception to Ms. Post’s rule, since it was a destination wedding but I was pulled away from the computer before I could reply and after reading others’ replies I have to agree that people ARE sensitive and that the best way to handle this would be to either have a Christmas party and announce the engagement or have an announcement party AFTER the wedding to let the uninvited guest express warm wishes. Of course there are always exceptions to the rule and I think inviting someone like a close friend to the mother to an engagment party, that isn’t invited to the wedding, and who knows she isn’t invited but requested to come, is acceptable but inviting an entire guest list of people that won’t be coming to the wedding is a recipe for misunderstandings and hurt feelings.
Dealing with as many brides & families as we do, I have to agree with Ms. Post… while so many wedding etiquette "does and don’ts" have fallen by the wayside, your sister would do well to adhere to the policy of ‘engagement party=wedding invitations’. They can always throw parties in the general area of the families & friends after the wedding & reception… gives them the opportunity to have 3 receptions!!
I just wanted to say that you’re rad, Emily. That’s all : ) Lara
I have to agree with tradition on this one.. Personally, I would be upset if someone invited me to the engagement party and not the wedding. Maybe if it was a distant cousin and I was invited to the engagement party by my mother or grandmother, I would understand, but if it was a college friend or a colleague or a close family friend, it would definitely ruffle some feathers. I really liked the suggestion of just having a regular holiday party and having your parents "announce" the engaged couple there. I think that’s a perfect solution!
I think because it is basically a destination wedding it is understood that people that you love can’t all be put on the wedding guest list. Having the engagement party is a great way to involve everyone else. I have been invited to showers before where I never expected a wedding invitation….I don’t see what the difference is.If your sister was having the wedding in your parents’ hometown it would be a different story, but I say the more the merrier.(keeping a holiday theme also will help.)
If they will not be invited to the wedding, they should not be invited to any gathering in celebration of the engagement. That is in poor taste……however…….it is Christmas, and who’s to say, as long as you keep your lips tight, that you can’t have a Holiday celebration without the big "Announcement" ? Keep it simple and low key…….
I’m siding with Mrs. Post on this one. If they are "close" enough to be invited to an engagement party, they should be invited to the wedding (same for showers). And also, I love you Emily! Your book was a great guide for my upcoming wedding. Thanks so much for your words of wisdom.
I also agree with Emily. I always look at the situation in terms of how I would feel if it happened to me. I would be upset and would wonder why I was invited to an engagement party and not invited to the wedding.You can’t assume that your engagement party guests will understand that you are having a small wedding and you didn’t make the list.However you (the hostess) presents it, people will make their own assumptions and generally will feel negatively about being left out. And that’s what it’s about really…..regardless of why, the bottom line is that the left-out guest will see it as you invited this person to the engagement party AND the wedding but only invited me to the engagement party?
Everything that I have read has said that if they are invited to the engagement party they have to be invited to the wedding. I think that people will assume that if they are invited into the engagement party that will be invited to the wedding. You can have a get together after the wedding for everyone that didn’t attend the wedding since you are having a small wedding.
Ok first, never assume ANYTHING is understood. While it makes perfect sense that it SHOULD be understood this is more of a "destination" thing… people aren’t very logical… and when it comes to feelings, it’s just not worth the risk. (Especially if these people are connected to each other and would be talking about attending etc. as time goes on.)Now, if you were to host the event specifically noting that it’s a celebration for the bride and groom in lieu of a large wedding (like so many do AFTER they return from small or destination weddings), then I think you’d have more people understand from the beginning it’s in place of a large ceremony. Unfortunately, they’ll probably be expecting a bigger event/party, bring gifts (that the couple may not be ready for), etc., etc., so this isn’t necessary fabulous, in my opinion.Short and sweet – don’t chance it. Either keep your lists the same (unless parties are thrown by the groom’s side, bride’s side, etc. that wouldn’t expect everyone at the wedding in general to attend) to avoid hurt feelings, confusions, and a lack of understand what should be understood ;-)
I was in a similar situation where my husbands family lived far away from my home town where our intimate wedding was being held. His mother threw us what we referred to as a "pre-ception", inviting all the extended family, friends, coworkers etc, many of whom would no be invited to the wedding. Maybe if it was referred to as something other than "engagement party"? Like "celebration of love" or something. Also, I think that if it is understood that the wedding will be small, most people will understand. However, as many of us know, you not going to be able to make EVERYONE happy, so in the end you just have to do what makes YOU comfortable!
I think Cait’s post is a pretty accurate preview of what can happen. While etiquette rules can seem ornery and complicated sometimes, I think they can sometimes work to protect from greater hassle down the road. A friend of mine threw an engagement party/end of exams party and invited a bunch of fellow students who weren’t on the guest list for the actual wedding. A few of them thought the invitation to the party automatically meant an invitation to the wedding. As they departed the party, they thanked the hosts and said, "See you at the wedding!!" At that point, there’s not much recourse other than adding in the ones who mistook the meaning of the original party invitation.I also agree with the posters who mentioned the sensitivity people have when it comes to weddings. Yes, people "should" understand that guest lists have to be limited, but what they may not understand is why they don’t rank high enough to be on the guest list. It’s definitely rude for someone to invite themselves to any occasion, but it’s also unseemly for a potential host to give the impression that they are going to extend an invitation to someone who will never receive one. And. I think this is where those pesky etiquette rules save the day.
It would be in poor taste to invite people to an engagement party when they are not invited to the wedding. Even if the wedding is going to be small, people are still going to feel left out and bitter. A solution: have the engagement party not on Christmas but either Christmas Eve or Boxing Day. That way, you can choose the guest-list, the house will still be decorated, and the couple will still be in town!
I’m in this situation currently. I’m engaged and one of my mom’s good friends is throwing us a big engagement party right around Christmas. She didn’t limit us on the number of guests we could invite, but she insisted that it wasn’t in good taste to invite anyone that wouldn’t be at our summer wedding. I agree because once someone gets an invitation to an engagement party, there’s an expectation that they will be invited to your wedding celebration. Since the wedding is several states away, most people wouldn’t make the trip if your sister is worried about her guest list, but I think it’s right to invite them. Otherwise, just call it a Christmas party.
I’ll have to agree with Emily Post as well. I think it’s just like bridal showers, if they’re not inivted to the wedding they shouldn’t be invited to the shower/engagement party.
We ran into engagement party issues as well. Other people decided to throw a party for us, and some of the people helping to plan were people we hadn’t been planning on inviting! We had wanted to keep it really small but in the end we invited so many more people to the wedding than we’d planned. But it worked out beautifully and no one’s feelings got hurt. I think if everyone knows from the beginning that you are having a small wedding it leaves less room for problems, but I do think a lot of people get hurt or offended about invitations. I like the idea costume diva had, make it more of a reception with dancing and such and people won’t be missing out on the good time!
II agree with Robin’s comments. While I am all for etiquette, I think this is a unique situation. Theirs really is a destination wedding. Have Mom and Dad host a Christmas party or drop in. It is a great opportunity pre-wedding since they will be East. At that time K&C can tell people that the wedding will be a small, intimate affair. I thnk family and friends who know them and the situation would understand.
YES. It would definitely be inappropriate.
Thanks to all you wonderful readers for helping us out with your thoughtful comments. I am also of the "original" Emily’s thoughts on engagement party guests, but wondered if I was being too old-fashioned?! We traditionally have a New Year’s Day Open House, but the bride and groom will be in CA with the groom’s family on the first. So I think we’ll just have an Holiday Open House and if anyone asks- we’ll just say yes, that the bride and groom will be here, but not mention anything about an "engagement party". Keep the comments coming and thanks again!!
I think the large party is fine as long as all the guests are invited to the destination wedding. A long distance wedding will encourage only those guests to come to the actual wedding who are close enough to the bridal couple to wish to spend the money to come…however I believe that if you are having a local engagement party that it makes perfect sense to have a special local reception to receive the newlyweds once they return from the destination event. I think that a couple should consider the feelings of those they tell. One of my close friends called multiple friends and family members upon her engagement only to choose to have such a small wedding that the guests felt that there were some VIPs missing… (Expenses were not a factor in their decisions…) By VIPs, I mean very close aunts and uncles and cousins…meanwhile infants were included in the guest list because the bride felt guilty not including some friends kids…and those same friends were missing the relatives! It’s such a lovely honor to be included on a guest list…but not at the expense of lifelong family members…
How about the guest being able to bring a date to the engagment party but not to the wedding? To keep the wedding smaller the bride does not want some of the single guests to bring a date. If I am giving the engagement party can I address the envelope Mr Ted Adams and Guest if he is not allowed to bring a guest to the wedding?
My fiancee’ and I are being given a engagement party this upcoming weekend. The brother of the groom decided to propose yesterday & they will both be at the engagement party. As of today, mostly everyone there now knows about their engagement & is questioning why they had to do it the week of our engagement party? Am I being silly or is this something I should question? How do you handle something like this?