Engagement Party Planning Basics
What It's For
People will want to congratulate you on your engagement, and let's be real: A party's a lot more fun than a phone call! It's also a great time to introduce key people from your lives who are going to be seeing a lot of each other (and possibly helping plan your wedding together) over the next year or so. "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.
Traditionally, the bride's parents host the first official celebration, then, the groom's parents can throw their own party. A less traditional, but perhaps more appealing option, is to have both sets of parents come together to cohost an event. However, these days, more couples are tossing tradition aside altogether and throwing the engagement party themselves (just keep in mind that if you're doing the inviting, it's your responsibility to foot the bill too). Friends of the couple can also host (and may even volunteer to), but before you ask, be conscious of the financial implications.
When to Have It
The engagement party should fall within a few months of the proposal—otherwise known as the sweet spot between carefree, just-engaged life and the start of serious wedding planning. You'll want to give guests about a month's notice, so we suggest getting those invites out a couple months after the proposal.
Whose Turf to Have It On
The location really depends on who throws the party. If your hosts are local, you will likely be celebrating in your 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 and friends live in Chicago: You may decide to have your party in your hometown (and enlist someone local to help you plan), host it in your current locale or even throw two parties. Just beware of tiring out your guests and bridal 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—you may not want to ask guests to travel twice. “More of my clients are having multiple engagement celebrations because their friends and family are spread all around the country, but everybody wants to honor them," Lee says.
Where to Have It
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 having a more elegant affair, you might want to rent out a private room at a restaurant, country club or wine bar. For something more low-key, a house, backyard or favorite local dive might be a better choice.
Whom to Invite
Etiquette used to state that you weren't to invite anyone to the engagement party whom you weren't inviting to the wedding, case closed. But now more couples live and/or host their nuptials far from their families and friends, and the formality of engagement parties is evolving, so expectations have changed. Engagement parties can now often include people who aren't invited to the wedding. If your friends want to plan an informal party at a neighborhood bar and email the 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). And 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 parties and guests assume they're invited to the wedding too. To avoid a sticky situation later, start working on your wedding guest list now. Then trim the engagement party list down to your wedding party, immediate family and closest friends.
How to Invite
Feel free to keep the invitations simple. You can even make them yourselves or send out a digital invite. If you've chosen your invitation designer already, see if they'll give you a special rate on engagement party invites. Don't worry if you haven't settled on a color palette or don't have a wedding date in mind yet—your engagement party invitations don't have to match the rest of your stationery. Also, make sure you have most of your wedding website done before the engagement party invitations are sent out so you can include the URL. The website is the easiest, and most subtle, way to spread word about your registry in case guests want to bring you a gift. You don’t have to have the whole site complete—just a link to your registry, a few photos and the story of your proposal (don’t forget to submit it to How He Asked!) will do.
What to Serve
There's no need to plan a five-course meal with a four-hour open bar. Anything from passed appetizers or tasting menu stations to a family-style buffet or casual cookout will work. Or get creative and serve up dishes that share something about you. "I had a bride and groom known for having Sunday Mexican dinners, so they had margaritas, mini fish tacos and great guacamole—it just made sense and was a genuine touch," Lee says. As for dessert, serve it if you'd like, but it doesn't have to be cake. Consider gourmet ice cream sandwiches, assorted baked goods or seasonal treats like candy apples or cotton candy.
How to Set the Scene
While of course it's fine for the décor and details to reflect your wedding colors and theme, like your invites, don't feel like you have to rush to choose them just so your engagement party can match. You might even consider picking a style and theme that are completely different from your wedding day to mix things up. If you're planning a formal ballroom wedding, go for a laid-back backyard party with vibrant colors and an outdoor setting to celebrate your engagement. Just 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 wedding). However, the real trick is not to upstage the wedding. So if you're envisioning a casual beach wedding with simple décor, a fancy cocktail party at a swanky hotel with over-the-top centerpieces might make that beach bash feel like a bit of a letdown.
What to Wear
Your wardrobe will depend on the setting of the party. For brides-to-be, aside from the obvious (don’t wear an evening gown to a backyard barbecue), keep it simple enough that you don’t outdo your wedding look, but special enough that you still stand out. As for the grooms, while you don’t have to wear a suit and tie or a tux, you should match your partner in formality. And if you have a specific dress code for guests, make a note of it on the invitation.
Choosing your engagement party style is one thing, but finding your wedding style is a whole different story. Take our Style Quiz to learn your dream wedding aesthetic and how to communicate it to your vendors.