Love - and Wedding Gifts - '90S-Style
Jura Koncius 1996, The Washington Post, St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)
THE SEASON of The Big Haul is upon us.
One-third of all marriage ceremonies take place in June, July and August. Because weddings are probably life's No. 1 gift-giving occasion, a lot of hand wringing goes on this time of year for all those couples reg istering their gift choices and for guests trying to select an appropriate gift.
Wedding rituals, including the often-touchy subject of presents, are shedding traditions at the end of the century faster than 2.3 million brides a year can adoringly whisper "I do."
"Throughout history, weddings have mirrored the values of the cultures in which they have taken place: the hopes, dreams, doubts and fears," according to "American Marriage Today," a special 1996 report by Bride's magazine.
The hope of a 1990s betrothed couple may be to receive the His and Hers kayaks they listed on the gift registry. The fear of some of their invited wedding guests might be that there won't be any gift with a price tag under $200 on the couple's wish list.
"It's hard to buck this trend of materialism. Just look at the Onassis auction," says Letitia Baldrige, one of America's foremost etiquette experts, and social secretary to the White House during the Kennedy administration. "Brides consider a wedding as loot time."
As the business of weddings has escalated into a $32 billion annual boost to the economy, a growing aggressiveness on the part of some couples has become apparent when it comes to presents. About 90 percent of today's couples do register somewhere - up from 60 percent in 1984, according to Bride's. Registries have become so commonplace that sometimes invited guests are annoyed if the couple isn't registered.
The vast majority do register for formal entertaining gear, which they likely will keep and use for the rest of their lives. In addition, growing numbers sign up for a truckload of other items for themselves and their house, sometimes at several different retailers.
"Running into a lot of greed?" says Judith Martin, who writes the syndicated "Miss Manners" column. "I'm not saying that greed is absolutely new in weddings, but the idea that you needn't disguise it came up in the age of frankness and total communication."
With the rise in the average age of all brides and grooms (now 29.2 and 31.7), increasingly over-scheduled lifestyles and the steep climb in dual-career marriages, many couples have become bolder about making gift preferences known - even for marriage number two or three.
Frequently today, engaged couples already have established households, whether separately or together. Many couples know exactly what they want and don't hesitate to communicate that.
Brides and grooms are being courted by retailers offering goodies that might include special charge accounts with extra privileges, free gifts and discounts on future china purchases to fill out their patterns.
Actually, some guests never consult a registry at all and have never given the slightest thought to doing so. As Millie Bratten, editor-in-chief of Bride's magazine, says, "You are not obligated to pick something off the list. It's meant to be a useful tool."
And if you don't, they may never know exactly how much you spent.
Today's world of wedding gifts has its roots in something old but has come up with its own 1990s spin on something new:
Multiple gift registrations. No longer need couples restrict themselves to just one store. The bride and groom may hoof it to, say, Neiman Marcus for their Hungarian china, French crystal and Italian silver; to Pottery Barn for their cereal bowls and doormat; and Bed Bath & Beyond for pillow shams.
Advance notice, like it or not. In the old days, guests would quietly ask a member of the family or a bridesmaid if the couple had registered and where. Today, stores such as Bloomingdale's will, at the couple's request, mail announcement letters to invited guests informing them of where the couple is registered. …