Everything you need to know about planning the first (of many!) pre-wedding celebrations.
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After you've enjoyed the initial bliss of newly-engaged life, it's time to start thinking about the engagement party. These days, the first of many pre-wedding celebrations is often an informal event attended by friends and family of the soon-to-be bride and groom. But that doesn't mean that all sense of formality and etiquette go out the window. When it comes to planning an engagement party, you have a lot of choices. Do you want a casual backyard bash, or a more formal restaurant celebration? Do you need to invite all of your friends, or is it okay to keep this guest list small? If you've already started planning this pre-wedding party, these etiquette questions and more have likely already cropped up.
Not sure who throws this particular affair? Where it should be held? When? Have no fear—we've gathered your most pressing engagement party questions and answered them, so that you can continue planning with ease. While there are general guidelines to these pesky questions, it's important to remember that each part of your wedding—from the pre-wedding to the post-wedding celebrations—is completely up to you. Each event should be personalized to your actual style, comfort level, and budget.
There are a few things, however, that you absolutely shouldn't skip when preparing for this particular party. Be sure to host the event in a space where you and your new fiancé can greet guests personally—they're there for you (and to hear that sweet proposal story!), after all. When it comes time for speeches, be sure to toast the host, whether that be your parents, a friend, or a soon-to-be-in-law. You want to thank them for kicking off your wedding whirlwind with gusto!
Photography: Rachel Havel Photography
The engagement party should come 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 bring friends and relatives together in one place.
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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 the Engagement Party 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. Some engagement parties are very formal (think country clubs!) and others, less so. A casual backyard party with homemade food and fairy lights will also do the trick.
Photography: Leo Patrone Photography5 of 12
Who Should Be Invited to the Engagement Party?
The traditional rules of etiquette dictate 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—times have changed! Now, since many people throw small weddings or hold their destination ceremonies far from friends and even family, the engagement party often includes people who may not be invited to the eventual nuptials. Pro tip: For a traditional party (like one given by the bride's parents), both families should definitely be invited, whether or not all members will be able to attend the event.
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Photography: Kayla Barker
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.
Photography: Kati Mallory Photo & Design
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 also want to make a speech of their own before the end of the event.
Photography: Jake & Heather8 of 12
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. With this in mind, the couple may want to compile a preliminary wedding registry gift list—then, the couple's parents can inform any gift-happy guests about where this info can be found. 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.
Photography: Alissa Noelle Photography
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 has 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 beloved bottle of Champagne.
Photography: Steve Steinhardt
Engagement parties can be thrown one week to three months after the proposal, so let the date you choose inform how you spread the word. If your parents, for example, opt for a more spontaneous celebration—say, the weekend following your proposal—then go with e-invites 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. These paper invites could also include the couple's wedding website if it's up and running (for the guests eager to gift you, this is how they'll find your registry).
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Photography: Lauren Fair Photography11 of 12
What Should Guests Wear to an Engagement Party?
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. And don't rule out a good theme. As engagement parities get more and more thematic—these days, a '90s-themed celebration 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 scrunchies.
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What Should the Bride and Groom Wear to Their Engagement Party?
Again, this all depends on the dress code you and your host specify. Brides-to-be, if you're throwing a springtime outdoor garden party, opt for an eyelet sundress. Planning an evening fête with a set menu? A slick, fashion-forward jumpsuit fits the bill. As for the guys, take note of time of year and day. Male fashion might range from a light-hued suit for a daytime affair to a darker, fitted, and more classic ensemble at night (tie optional).