Engagement party etiquette has changed a lot over the years. The protocol used to be that the bride's family would host an engagement party to celebrate the event and invite family and friends.
It was the first of many formal duties the brides family held.
Today, it's perfectly acceptable for anyone to host an engagement party, even a group of people who can then share the expenses and organizational tasks.
Although it's not considered proper etiquette for the bride- and groom-to-be to throw themselves a party, it's becoming more common.
Whether or not they actually HOST the party or just incur the expense is at their discretion and is often decided upon for practical reasons rather than traditional ones.
Many couples today feel that the financial burden of the party (as with the wedding itself) should be their responsibility.
This shift is likely due to the fact that newly engaged couples are generally older and more established than they used to be when all these traditions began. And let's face it, we no longer look at tradition in a 'traditional' way.
We definitely don't feel as tightly bound by what our ancestors did nor do we feel the need to uphold every aspect of how things were done in the past . We do love knowing about it, taking bits and pieces from it, and then starting our own new traditions that are in keeping with who we are and how we live today..
Traditionally, the party was held between 30 and 90 days from the moment she said "Yes!" and, always, at least 6 months before the wedding date.
The general idea here, is that the party should be as close as possible to the proposal but far enough away that guests and hosts have time to organize their calendars, especially for more formal affairs.
Keep in mind that a party is not a requirement nor has it ever been.
Regardless of how casual or formal you go, engagement party etiquette requires that the invitations for the party be mailed 4 to 5 weeks prior to the event and that the invitation wording clearly indicate the date, place and time along with any other important details.
This gives everyone time to enter the date in their calendars and shift anything they may need to in order to attend. It also means that more often than not, the invitations are sent out prior to any details for the event being finalized or even planned.
In terms of guests, engagement party etiquette requires that both families be invited so that they can all meet each other, mingle, and get to know one another in a social setting. After family, close family friends are traditionally included.
Engagement party protocol states that only those who will definitely be invited to the wedding are invited to the party and that it is very bad form to do otherwise.
Traditionally, this meant that the engagement party guest list could come close to the numbers for the wedding itself, or conversely it was much smaller and limited to just close family and very close friends in order to keep the party a more manageable size.
Traditional engagement parties that followed both etiquette and protocol were quite formal—they were almost like mini weddings. Invitations were professionally printed with RSVP cards and all social formalities were followed.
Proper etiquette dictated that the bride's father make a formal engagement party toast early in the evening which would be followed by a response from the groom where he would toast his fiancée and her family, then finally his parents.
Then, the floor would open up for anyone who would like to raise a glass to the couple and their families.
Today, you can still go that route, however it's also perfectly acceptable to have a casual get together with a fun and more relaxed environment.
In terms of gifts, engagement presents are not required and not part of traditional protocol since the same guests will be invited to the wedding where gifts are certainly expected. However, close friends and family may choose to do so and it is at their complete discretion.
If some do bring gifts, proper engagement party etiquette dictates that you don't make them part of the celebration or put them on display. Discretely put them aside and open them in private after the guests have left.... and don't forget about those Thank You cards!
Today, although there still aren't any hard rules concerning gifts, the presumption is that if it's an intimate gathering and includes only very close friends and family that gifts may be brought, but it is still by no means any sort of requirement.
Most often, people choose to bring a hostess gift or send flowers—it's basic social etiquette regardless of the event. Flowers help the hosts make the place look more celebratory while alleviating some of the cost burden on them. Others send flowers to the newly engaged couple and some do both. It's really up to them and there is no right or wrong here.
Engagement parties today can be any type of celebration from the most elaborate affairs, to cocktail parties, to casual backyard events or an afternoon tea.
You can have entertainment, play engagement party games, or have an intimate family gathering. It's really a question of preference.
But, even though much of the formality has been dropped when it comes to the ritual of an engagement party, that doesn't mean that proper etiquette towards guests and family shouldn't be upheld.
Want to know more?
Our engagement party ideas page discusses the pros and cons of at-home parties vs. commercial venues and how color can play a major role in creating a festive atmosphere. And speaking of atmosphere, so many people ask us about party colors and engagement themes because they're so important for turning a simple party into an event and celebration.
Finally, some valuable tips on figuring out the flowers for an engagement party.
Check out our party planning page for help with throwing a successful bash. It has a downloadable worksheet for party planning and an RSVP Guest list organizer.
Like we've said throughout the site, this time is all about you and your style as a couple. So know and understand engagement party etiquette and take what you want from it, but in the end, do what feels right for the both of you!
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