With cell phones, e-mail, social media, and far fewer formalities to follow, these days the good news that a couple is on the way to becoming Mr. and Mrs. is usually spread fairly quickly. But that doesn't mean an engagement should not be celebrated, or even formally announced, with a party. Here is what you need to know about planning a prewedding soirée.
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When to Throw an Engagement Party?
It is nice if the engagement party comes soon after the engagement, while the news is still fresh. The couple might even decide to announce the engagement at the party, although for maximum impact the host will need to concoct a good excuse for gathering so many friends and relatives together in one place.
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Who Throws the Engagement Party?
Traditionally, the engagement party is hosted by the bride's parents, but friends of the bride and groom and other relatives may want to organize the gathering as well.
The couple may opt to have two or more parties: one for relatives and family friends, for instance, and another for their own friends. If there will be multiple gatherings, a good rule of thumb is to let the bride's parents have the opportunity to be the first to celebrate the engagement.
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How Formal Should It Be?
A cocktail party hosted by the bride's parents at their home is the classic example, but it is by no means the only option. Part of the delight of an engagement party is that it allows the host room for improvisation and inventiveness. Jessica Strand, a bride from Los Angeles, says, "My own engagement party was very formal, at a country club." But to celebrate a good friend's engagement, she gave a casual backyard party one warm spring evening. "We put up tables on the grass," she says. "I made flower arrangements, and I made the food myself."
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Who Should Be Invited?
The traditional rules of etiquette suggest that guests invited to the engagement party should also be invited to the wedding; however, the guest list will likely be shorter. Often the idea is to make this a more intimate event than the wedding itself.
But this is no longer the only accepted approach. Now, because so many people have very small weddings or hold their ceremonies far from friends and sometimes even from family, the engagement party often includes people who may not be invited to the eventual wedding.
For a traditional party (which is to say, one given by the bride's parents), both families should be invited, whether or not all members will be able to attend the event. You will also want to invite close friends of both your families as well as your own close friends.
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How Do You Welcome Friends and Family?
Everyone at the party will want to have a chance to speak to the happy couple, so create a space where the bride and groom, and their respective parents, can comfortably greet guests as they arrive.
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How Do You Organize Toasts?
Once the party is underway, there is also the matter of toasts. At an engagement party given by the bride's parents, the etiquette regarding toasts is quite clear: First, the bride's father proposes a toast to the bride and her fiancé. Then, the fiancé rises and toasts his bride-to-be and her parents, and then his own parents. At informal events hosted by friends, of course, anyone can make a toast at any time. Certainly, the engaged couple will want to toast the host.
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Should You Anticipate Gifts for the Bride and Groom?
Even though gifts are not customary at an engagement party, some guests will inevitably arrive bearing them. This is a natural impulse: It is part of the celebratory nature of weddings and parties.
Consequently, the couple may want to compile at least a preliminary list of selected gifts and china and flatware patterns at a wedding registry; the couple's parents should be apprised of where guests can find this information so they can tell anyone who asks. For an informal party given by friends, it is unlikely that the guests will arrive with anything more substantial than a bottle of wine or some flowers, the same tokens they might bring to any festive event.
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Giving an engagement party is a special act of generosity and affection on the part of your family and friends. Among the many memorable stops along the road to a wedding, it is the first, and so lingers in memory with a special significance. The bride- and groom-to-be may want to give a thank-you gift to the host that's as special as the party was—for example, tickets to a show or a first edition of a book they love.
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Should Invitations be Sent by Mail, or are Email, Phone, and Word-of-Mouth Invites OK?
Because engagement parties are typically thrown one week to three months after the proposal, let the date set by the host be the guide to spreading the word. If your parents, for example, opt for a more spontaneous celebration—say, the weekend following your proposal, then go with e-vites and phone-only invitations to ensure that invitees living within a reasonable distance can make it. However, invitations can be mailed if your engagement party is taking place closer—or just past—the three-month mark. Typically, those celebrations will be a tad more developed (after all, the host or hosts has more time on their side to pull off the celebration), so the invite can specify dress code and other details, like overnight accommodations for those traveling from further flung locations, and perhaps, the couple's wedding website if it's up and running (there will always be a handful of guests eager to gift you, and this is how they'll find your registry).
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What Should Guests Wear?
Without any guidance, guests tend to dress for the time of day, with an afternoon affair skewing more casual, and an evening one—7 o'clock or later—calling for casual cocktail or cocktail attire. The surefire way to ensure everyone arrives looking his or her best is to specify the dress code on the invite, or spread the information by word of mouth, especially as engagement parities get more thematic—these days, a Mexican fiesta is as likely as a more formal function, and you don't want Aunt Susie arriving in her favorite LBD, when all other guests are rocking sombreros.