Having an engagement party is not mandatory, but if you decide to
indulge in yet another way to celebrate your engagement here are some
ideas and guidelines for engagement party planning.
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These parties are better for longer engagements, a year or longer. If the engagement is going to be relatively short, six months or less, most people do not have an party. Between all of the planning that needs to be done for the wedding, bachelor and bachelorette parties, a bridal shower and rehearsal dinner, engagements that last less than 6 months are already a little rushed so planning another party (including the added expense) is usually not done.
There are two schools of thought on this so it is really up to you to decide what works best for you and your situation. The first is that whoever is invited to the engagement party should also be invited to the wedding. With that being said it is important to have the final wedding invitation list done before an engagement party occurs. The party itself should be pretty close to the actual engagement so the bride and groom do not have a lot of time to decide who is and is not going to be invited. This should be taken into consideration if still deciding whether or not to have a party. The second school of thought is that the engagement party should be a scaled down version of the final wedding list, it should only include people who live nearby and the people who are closest to the bride and groom.
Most weddings are black tie events and very formal. Engagement parties can be either formal, like the upcoming wedding, or casual. If you decide to make the party more on the fun and casual side you may want to send hand made invitations instead of ordering them. The invitation will help set the tone of the event. If the invitation is handmade, with say a comical picture of the fiancées on the cover the guests will be less inclined to believe it is strictly a black tie event. The invitation should specify whether or not it is black tie and any special things that the partygoers need to be aware of.
Themed engagement parties can be a lot of fun. There is no reason why a theme cannot be used, even if it is not carried over into any other part of the wedding. However a theme does not have to be used. Themes are more consistent with casual parties than black tie events. So if you do decide on a theme unless it fits in a formal setting make sure the theme fits with the clothing and attire being worn. Either way make sure the theme is made clear in the invitations.
Traditionally the parents of the bride pay for the engagement party but times have changed and either set of parents could pay as could the bride and groom themselves or anyone else close to them. No matter who does pay this should be worked out in the beginning, before you get too far in the planning stages.
The guests do not have to bring gifts but it is certainly a possibility.
Since it is not traditionally required the invitation should make no
mention of gifts and should have no mention of where the couple is
registered. However, some guests will want to bring gifts so even if
the bride and groom do not have a full registry done yet they should
have a small one or two started and the parents should know where so if
guests can and inquire before the party they can pass on the
information. Since the gifts will be an extra treat not a central part
of the party, any gifts received would be put aside till after the party
is over. Once the party is over they can be opened and thank you notes should be sent.