Congratulations — you just got engaged! What’s a better way to celebrate than throwing an engagement party? As The Emily Post Institute so succinctly puts it, an engagement party is a couple’s first taste of wedding planning. There is a guest list to put together and invitations to send out. Even guests like family and close friends can share in the joyful news by giving the happy couple a congratulatory gift.
Much like rehearsal dinners and actual weddings, engagement parties do follow general etiquette. Some of these rules, such as the origins of engagement parties, have evolved through modern times. Certain traditions are still observed including who pays for the party and which guests should receive an invitation. Before preparing to walk down the aisle, plan for the engagement party with the help of our engagement party etiquette primer.
The Origin of an Engagement Party
What is an engagement party? Many couples may define the term as an event that celebrates an engagement. However, tracing the origins of an engagement party takes us centuries into the past.
Kaitlin Cooper is a San Diego, California-based wedding photographer. Cooper got engaged to her fiancé at the beginning of September 2019 and celebrated her engagement party shortly afterward. As a bride-to-be, Cooper did a bit of research on the roots of engagement parties which took her across the pond to Greece.
The original engagement party, as it turns out, was not quite the fun fêté we know it to be now. Engagement parties are said to have originated in ancient Greece. They did not include the bride, groom, and a gathering of family and friends. Instead, an engagement party consisted of a conversation. The conversation was held between the groom and father-of-the-bride.
What did they talk about? “The father essentially passed the economical and financial dependencies of his daughter over to the groom,” Cooper says.
Not quite the romantic backstory you hoped to learn about? The good news is that this historical aspect didn’t last too long. Since ancient Greece, engagement parties evolved with the changing times. That means a little less dowry discussion and a lot more celebrating love and happiness.
Karen Norian has helped plan hundreds of elopements and intimate weddings across the US at Simply Eloped. Norian has also studied the changing trends in engagement parties. Traditionally, the bride’s parents hosted these parties. They had an instrumental role in helping keep the engagement a surprise.
“Engagement parties were once masked as regular get together events,” Norian explains. “The father of the bride-to-be would then surprise his guests by announcing his daughter’s engagement to everyone in attendance.”
Today, especially in the era of social media, most individuals know that they are attending an engagement party. The event is meant to celebrate the couple’s engagement. It also introduces the two families to one another as well as future wedding guests.
Who Pays for an Engagement Party?
Before we cover individuals to include on the guest list, let’s talk about money. Who should pay for an engagement party?
Tradition has largely dictated that the bride’s parents host and pay for the engagement party. However, today’s standards have slowly dated this rule. Now, many couples plan, host, and pay for their engagement party out of their own pocket.
What is the proper etiquette if your parents insist on helping finance your engagement party anyway? You may consider designating their funds towards a specific purpose.
Cooper and her fiancé chose not to ask either set of parents in helping to plan or pay for their engagement party. While the couple did not ask for financial help, Cooper’s parents genuinely wanted to pitch in with a contribution.
“My parents insisted on contributing towards a portion of our engagement party because they were so excited we were finally engaged,” Cooper says. “We let them help pitch in and buy some of the food we served for it!”
Who Should You Invite to an Engagement Party?
It can be extremely difficult for a newly-engaged couple to figure out who should, or should not, get an engagement party invitation. There’s not much traditional etiquette established here. Brides and grooms may choose to invite as many loved ones as they like to the event. They may also keep it small and intimate. In a world where our connections are ever-growing, ranging from coworkers to Twitter friends, who should receive an engagement party invitation?
The easiest baseline is to start with the couple’s family members and individuals you have mutually agreed should be in the wedding party. Do you still struggle to wrap up the guest list? Norian suggests asking yourself one question: Do I want this person to celebrate with me on my wedding day? Remember that any guest who receives an invitation to the engagement party will likely assume they will be invited to your wedding. Asking this question gives the couple the chance to mutually make judgment calls together.
Guest List Invitation Must-Dos
What happens now that you’ve narrowed down the list of individuals you’d like to attend your pre-wedding engagement party? The next steps are to create a guest list and begin prepping invitations. Follow these helpful rules of engagement for additional guidance!
Do…Use Joy’s Guest List Manager
Please don’t tell us your organization method was going to be “write everyone’s names down in a notebook!” Joy’s guest list manager organizes your guest list and keeps the details of your big day conveniently in one place. Use labels to categorize guests, assign plus-one invites, and track RSVPs. Working from an existing spreadsheet? No problem — import it in and let Joy take care of the organization. Added bonus: Joy’s guest list manager is completely free, and any freebie you can snap up while wedding planning is good.
DO…Outline the 4 Ws in Your Invitation
That covers who, what, when, and where. Guests should easily know just from reading the invitation where the engagement party will take place, the time and date it begins, and if you may bring along a plus-one. More granular details may also be included in the invitation, such as whether food or drinks will be served and the length of the engagement party. You can also include a URL to your wedding website in the invitation if you wish.
DO…Make It Easy to RSVP
If you decide to send a physical invitation, include a card (and envelope) for the guest to mail in their RSVP. Encourage individuals with digital invitations to check their inboxes and RSVP as soon as they are able.
DO…State Whether Guests Should Bring a Gift
Guests may presume they need to bring a gift if not told otherwise. It’s important to address and answer this common question in your invitation.
DO…Personalize the Invitation
Add a little bit of both your personalities to create truly special invitations. Use the wedding colors that you and your partner have mutually decided on, or include a photo of yourselves together.
Engagement Party Etiquette
It’s almost time to get this engagement party started! Guests and hosts alike will be excited to celebrate but are still encouraged to observe certain aspects of etiquette. Guests are expected to wear appropriate attire, mingle, and be mindful of alcohol consumption. Hosts will be busy making the rounds. The happy couple should greet every guest in attendance and thank him or her for coming.
One of the greatest, yet often unspoken, golden rules for guests attending an engagement party is not to make the event about themselves. Stacie Stine, a digital calligrapher for couples’ wedding vows, encourages guests to ask the happy couple a few questions. Stine says that regardless of what is going in the guest’s personal life, these questions are meant to make the couple feel valued and celebrated. A good example is asking about the proposal. You’ll learn fun, behind-the-scenes details, and the couple will be more than happy to recap how it happened.
One piece of banter that is unwelcome at an engagement party is marital advice. Avoid using outdated sayings such as “locked it down” or asking when the couple plans to have children. These conversation starters are quick to spoil the mood during this celebratory time.
Engagement Party Gifts
If your invitation encourages guests to bring along an engagement gift, what’s the best thing to bring? Here are a few simple suggestions.
- A bottle of wine or bubbly
- Champagne flutes
- Wedding countdown blocks
- A gift card to a home living store such as Crate & Barrel, Bed Bath & Beyond, or Target
- A card that congratulates the pair on their engagement
Do not feel pressured to bring along a fancy gift! Traditional wedding etiquette encourages major gift-giving to take place during bridal showers. Most large purchases may be made through various wedding registries, which the couple will provide more information about at a later date.
There’s only one thing left for hosts and guests to do at an engagement party. Eat, drink, and be merry! Enjoy this special time together and feel the love.