Now that the wedding season is upon us, it's time to consider not just what to wear on the day, but also what gift to give. Meghan Markle and Prince Harry who will tie the knot later this month, are asking guests not to give gifts, emulating the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge who set up a charitable gift fund for their wedding so guests could make a donation instead of buying extravagant gifts.
The fund generated £1 million benefitting 26 different charities. Despite that, among the presents Kate and William received were a cocker spaniel from Kate's brother, a tandem bike from Boris Johnson and a song from George Michael. Markle and Prince Harry have already urged donations to seven charities that include ones supporting the homeless, children with HIV, conservation, women's empowerment and sport for social change.
Royals aside, what are the rest of us supposed to do? Do wedding lists still exist in this day and age when couples getting married have usually set up home together beforehand or are tying the knot second-time round?
Some people advise couples to be upfront and direct about having a list and indicating in a straightforward way that cash would be very acceptable
"It's one of those things a bridal couple don't think about until it's too late and then they start ringing their parents in a panic for advice," says Tara Fay, a wedding planner with years of experience.
I never had a wedding list and remember being presented with a hostess trolley, a generous gift from a friend of my parents, trendy in the 1970s, but regarded by me with total dismay and incredulity. I was then living on a budget in a top-floor flat, 90 steps up, and dinner parties were far from my mind let alone ones with trolleys. However, a canteen of silver cutlery from another friend of my parents – the last thing I could have afforded – was more welcome and still does duty to this day. As for the Waterford crystal, that has long since disappeared, broken, chipped or clouded from being put in the dishwasher.
“Believe it or not,” says Fay, “but crystal, china and silver are still popular, things you would not buy yourself and having a list is important even if you just want cash”.
In the US, where the wedding-list trend started in the 1920s when a bride and groom did not generally live together before their nuptials, a “bridal registry” was a way of helping young couples to set up home in a post-trousseau age. Today with most couples living together, and given the increasing cost of weddings, a gift of something more memorable than cash is what most guests probably prefer to give.
“If you want cash, you need to word that desire carefully,” cautions Fay. “I know people who send out invitations saying ‘we want your presence not your presents’, but that doesn’t always work either.” Some people advise couples to be upfront and direct about having a list and indicating in a straightforward way that cash would be very acceptable.
“Another way,” says Fay, if the couple want cash, is to tell the parents and the bridal party to spread the word. Sending gift lists with the invite is very American, but generally people will make it their business to find out what the couple want. All the big stores here have a version of a wedding list of some description.”
Arnotts, for instance, offers an online wedding shop (arnotts.weddingshop.com) with a portfolio that includes Le Creuset, Kate Spade and Sonos and free delivery within Ireland and the UK. Some popular gifts are Kate Spade Library Lane dinnerware, from €18.50; LSA mixed bouquet vase, €48.50, Vera Wang for Waterford pair of toasting flutes, €68, and Samsonite Cosmolite luggage range from €395. Top choices at Brown Thomas, which also has a wedding list service (brownthomas.weddingshop.com), include KitchenAid mixer, €665; Le Creuset round casserole dish, €310, and DeLonghi espresso coffee maker, €250.
Go to an art gallery, pick a few ideas for presents and then get a group of friends to buy a piece that might take the couple a long time to save for themselves
Fay has some good ideas, based on her wide experience of dealing with bridal parties. “If they have a house or are renting, go to an art gallery and pick a few possible ideas for presents that would suit their taste and then get a number of friends to collaborate on a piece that might take the couple a long time to purchase. For garden enthusiasts, you could put money towards plants or trees. Money is often given towards a honeymoon, but that is money that has gone, although they will have a memory afterwards.”
So what about “destination” weddings, usually abroad, where it costs the guests quite a lot to attend?
“If it has cost you €500 to get there, that’s €1,000 for a couple and is a financial commitment which will be understood as a gift. However, at home even if you are only attending a party after the wedding, you may still feel it necessary to make a gesture of some sort, so it is a good idea to get a group of friends together to collaborate and buy a bigger piece rather than a number of smaller ones.”
Finally, if the couple are into their wine, she suggests why not help them start a wine cellar?
“Put a label on to the bottle which says who gave them the bottle, so they are reminded of that when they open and drink the wine.” Now that’s a gift worth a toast.
OUR FAVOURITE WEDDING PRESENTS
John Molloy whose Memo fragrance Floraiku was Fragrance of the Year in the WWD awards: "Our favourite wedding present was a big nice wooden marquetry box. I love its simple and soft design. But what made it more special is what a friend of my father told me when he gave it to me. He asked me: 'Did you write love letters to your wife when she was your girlfriend?' I said yes, of course. He nodded and said, 'Make sure you never stop. This box should be filled with the ones you will write in the future'. After 13 years of marriage, I am happy to say we will soon need a new one."
Aisling Farinella, stylist: "David and I got married in Sicily and the best wedding gift was so many of our friends venturing into the Sicilian mountains, braving the cliff hangers and winding road to celebrate with us in my dad's home, Gangi. My friend, designer Simone Rocha, gave me a present of my wedding dress which was hugely special. It wasn't just the beautiful dress but the care she took making it for me and she came to my house on the morning of the wedding to help me dress. The last wedding present I remember buying was an amazing ceramic bowl from Santo Stefano in Sicily which I carried home for my friends Cliona O'Flaherty and Chris Judge"
Valerie Forde, communications director Kildare Village: "Michael [Quinlan] and I just got married on March 31st and most of our friends gave cash or vouchers, but there was one special gift. It is a unique lamp which we received from our neighbours, two retired doctors in Ranelagh to whom we are very close. It was made by a nephew of one, Eoin Shanley (copperfish.ie), using natural and upcycled materials. My mother is an artist and when my best friend got married I gave her one of my mother's silk paintings of Galway, where we are all from, and flights to Salzburg where we all went together at Christmas to see the markets.
Trevor White, founder The Little Museum of Dublin: "My favourite wedding present – though it is not very romantic – was a subscription to The New Yorker which comes weekly. And it is a present that we now give too. It becomes very addictive and punctuates a good marriage. It costs €130."
Dominique McMullan, digital editor Image. "My favourite wedding gift was a set of heavy oak chopping boards, handmade for us by a close friend. They are so beautiful that they are hung on the wall and never used! Knowing that our friend spent so much time designing, handling and shaping every corner makes them priceless. The last gift I gave someone was a framed map with the location where they met. It was a house party many years ago and we still talk about that night to this day."