The Complete Guide to Engagement Parties
Whether you're planning an engagement party or recently engaged yourself, we're guessing you have a few questions about this pre-wedding bash. At the end of the day, an engagement party is exactly what it sounds like: a party to celebrate the engaged couple and their upcoming wedding. Think of it as the official kick off to your wedding festivities—the first of many chances to raise a glass to the soonlyweds and mingle with close loved ones. Read on for the essential ins and outs of planning an engagement party.
What is an Engagement Party, Anyway?
Once your engagement news is out, everyone you love will want to congratulate you—and let's be honest, a party's a lot more fun than a phone call. An official engagement party is also the perfect time to introduce key loved ones for the first time (like your parents) who are about to be seeing a lot of each other—and possibly helping plan your actual wedding together—over the next few months (and years!). "It's the first time you'll have different groups of friends and generations really getting to know each other in a more intimate way," says celebrity wedding planner Jung Lee of Fête NY.
The Etiquette of Engagement Parties
As with many modern wedding events, your engagement party can be as formal or relaxed as you'd like. Engagement party etiquette isn't as hard and fast as it once was. When it comes time to plan yours, consider the mood you'd like to set. White tablecloths and candlelit dinners are classic for a reason, but if you and your partner are more of the draft beer and karaoke types, there's no need to stick to formal traditions. That said, it's worth familiarizing yourself with engagement party etiquette before attending your own. Here are just a few traditions to consider:
When Do You Have an Engagement Party?
The engagement party typically falls within a few months of the proposal—kind of the sweet spot between carefree, just-engaged life and the start of serious wedding planning. You'll want to give guests about one month's notice (six weeks if you're inviting long-distance friends), so send party invitations out a few months after your engagement.
Who Throws the Engagement Party?
Traditionally, the bride's parents are expected to host the first official pre-wedding celebration, then the groom's parents can throw their own party (yes, you can have more than one engagement party). But this way of doing things is by no means the rule. Both sets of parents can come together to cohost an engagement party, the couple can throw one themselves or friends of the couple can do the honors. Just keep in mind that if the couple does the inviting, it's their responsibility to foot the bill too. And your friends might volunteer to host before you even ask—but if you're thinking of asking them to host, be conscious of the financial implications of hosting before doing so.
Do You Need to Send Engagement Party Invitations?
You (or whoever's hosting) should send official engagement party invitations, but don't confuse the word "official" with "formal." Your invites can be more formal if you like, but feel free to choose simple, playful or informal paper invitations—or even opt for digital invites. Basically, make sure you put more effort into it than a haphazard text or email. If you've chosen your invitation designer already, ask if they offer a special rate on invites. And don't worry if you haven't settled on a wedding color palette or even a wedding date—your engagement party invitations don't have to match the rest of your stationery.
Beyond the party date, time, location and RSVP info, don't forget to include a link to your wedding website on the invites. This also means you'll want to have most of your website finished before sending out invitations. Your personal website is the easiest way to spread the word about your wedding registry, in case guests want to send or bring you an engagement party gift. You don't have to have the whole site complete—a link to your registry, a few photos and the story of your proposal should do the trick for now (you can always update it later).
Who Should Be Invited to the Engagement Party?
Old-school etiquette states that everyone invited to the engagement party must be invited to the wedding too—case closed. But these days, with the formality of this event evolving and more couples living and/or getting married far from their families and friends, engagement party guest list expectations have changed. At least in some cases, engagement parties can definitely include people who aren't invited to the nuptials. For example, if your friends want to plan an informal party at a neighborhood bar and email invites a few weeks before, it's totally fine to include people you aren't sure will end up making the wedding guest list (coworkers, newer friends, friends of friends and so on). Or if your parents' good friends want to host a cocktail party at their home in your honor, let your parents invite mutual friends and business associates you might not have room for at your wedding.
However, if you two or your parents are hosting, the old rule sticks: When the wedding hosts send the engagement party invitation, it's considered part of the official wedding festivities, and guests assume they're invited to the wedding too. To avoid hurt feelings and an awkward situation later, start working on your wedding guest list now, then trim the engagement party list down to your wedding party, immediate families and close friends.
Where Should an Engagement Party Take Place?
The location of your engagement party really depends on who's throwing it. If the hosts are local, you'll likely be celebrating in your own city, but if they live out of state, you may want to have it in their city. It comes down to discussing it with the hosts and figuring out the logistics to make it easier on everyone involved. Say you live in New York, but most of your family members and friends live in Chicago, where you grew up: You may decide to have your party in your old hometown (and enlist someone local to help you plan), host it in your current city or even throw two parties. Just beware of tiring out your guests and wedding party with too many invitations before the wedding day is even close. Also, when picking the party location, consider where you plan to have your wedding. If you're hosting a destination wedding, you may not want to ask guests to travel twice. Many couples celebrate with multiple engagement parties because their friends and family are spread all over the place.
As for a venue, depending on how many people you want to invite, you can make an engagement party work almost anywhere—it's really up to the hosts. When choosing the venue, think about the vibe you want to create. If you like the idea of a more elegant affair, consider renting out an actual event space like a private room at a restaurant, urban loft, garden, country club or wine bar. For something more casual, someone's home, backyard or a favorite local bar are all great choices.
How Formal Should the Engagement Party Be?
Traditionally, engagement parties were cocktail hours hosted by the family of the bride. Nowadays, the affair can be as big or small, formal or informal as you'd like! Part of the fun of a pre-wedding party is tailoring it to your precise vision. Some parties are incredibly formal and are hosted at country clubs and in ballrooms. Others are more relaxed, with backyard barbecues and tubs of beer on ice. Whatever your vision, be sure to communicate your hopes to the person hosting the party. They'll play the biggest role in determining how formal your actual engagement party is.
What to Do at an Engagement Party
Unlike bridal showers, engagement parties aren't typically as gift-centric (despite the fact that some guests will likely want to send or bring a gift). That means you probably won't devote any time to opening gifts in front of the group. Instead, this party's mostly about eating and drinking, catching up with old friends and introducing your families and different friend groups to one another. It's not uncommon for the host or one of the couple's parents to say a few informal words of congratulations, but a toast definitely isn't required. You could also play a few fun engagement party games like Wedding Bingo or a just-engaged version of The Newlywed Game. If the party's outside, set up lawn games or a fun DIY station to keep everyone entertained.
What to Wear to an Engagement Party
As with any event, your wardrobe will depend on the setting of the party. Aside from the obvious (don't wear an evening gown or tux to a backyard barbecue), keep it simple enough that you don't outdo your wedding look, but special enough that you feel special. We'll put it this way: You'll like be taking tons of pictures, so wear something you love and won't mind being photographed in over and over again. If you have a specific dress code for guests (think: "cocktail attire" or "jeans are fine!"), go ahead and note it on the invitations. (Read on for more engagement party ideas.)
What to Serve Guests
There's no need to plan a five-course meal with a four-hour open bar. Anything from passed apps or tasting menu stations to a family-style buffet or casual cookout will work. Or get creative and serve up dishes that mean something you. Are you two known for hosting friends for a home-cooked Italian dinner every Sunday? Sounds like a great place to start. As for dessert, serve it if you'd like, but it doesn't have to be an expensive tiered cake. Consider gourmet ice cream sandwiches, assorted baked goods or seasonal sweets like candy apples or cotton candy.
Should You Expect Gifts?
Gifts aren't traditionally part of the engagement party experience. Still, some guests will inevitably show up bearing presents. It's a natural inclination to want to celebrate your good news! Given that gifts are somewhat inevitable, you and your partner may want to start putting together a wedding registry even earlier than anticipated. Don't feel like you need to have your full registry completely finished before the party. Simply add a few things you know you could use—just in case someone wants to surprise you with a gift at the engagement party.
Engagement Party Décor Ideas
Like your invites, don't feel any pressure to rush into choosing your wedding colors or theme just so your engagement party can match. You might even consider picking a style or theme completely different from your wedding vision to mix things up. If you're planning a formal ballroom wedding, maybe go for a laid-back backyard party with vibrant colors, DIY details and an outdoor setting to celebrate your engagement. A few small arrangements from your local florist can dress up any space (and it's a great way to try out a potential florist for the big day). All of this said, if whoever's hosting your engagement party has a mind to go big or go home, they're welcome to (as long as you sign off on it, of course). Do what works with the host's budget and feels right to you as a couple.