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I’ve never been married, but I’ve been to my fair share of weddings, which means I’ve also spent a good number of hours scrolling through bridal registries. While registries are thoroughly practical, they also tend to suck the thoughtfulness right out of the gift-giving process, leaving you to wonder whether your dear friends will really cherish that preordained food processor you bought them.
On the flipside, going rogue and gifting something completely uncalled for could land you in Fondue Pot Territory, as the gifter of something that no one wants, needs nor realistically will ever have occasion to use. So where’s the happy medium? I’ll tell you: It’s gifting the happy couple something they didn’t even know that they wanted/needed.
I polled some recently married friends for feedback on the most beloved wedding gifts they received that weren’t on their registries, and the feedback was enlightening. Favorite gifts ran the gamut from veggie steamer to wine fridge to an Art Deco Tiffany bowl.
Another bride quoted the Mariachi band friends brought to her wedding in Mexico City, while my dear college roommate gushed over the Settlers of Catan board game she’d been secretly geek-lusting over for years. The favored gifts were either highly personalized or something the receiver was certain to get a lot of use out of. Fulfill either of these criteria and you’re sure to pick something good.
An obvious caveat: Only stray from the registry course if you know the couple well. You need to have a good sense of what kinds of tastes you’re working with and what kind of lifestyle it will fit into. Lesser acquaintances, like random co-workers or distant cousins certainly won’t scoff at receiving something generic they actually registered for, so save your creative juices for your nearest and dearest. That being said, here’s a list of Top 10 Gifts that will earn you an appreciative nod this wedding season.
Artwork was the number-one favorite gift for most couples. This could take many different forms, but framed prints are generally affordable and relatively easy for a couple to work into their home. Peruse the wares of a small gallery you know they’d like or look to online sites like Tiny Showcase or Thumb Tack Press, which offer a varied range of printed works (I’d normally direct you to the popular 20 x 200 but they’ve temporarily suspended operations].
If you’re artistically inclined and can make something for the couple yourself, all the better. One couple listed a drawing a friend made of the bride’s parents’ cabin among her most treasured gifts. Hint: For additional insight into what the couple is inspired by, stalk their Pinterest accounts.
2) A Molcajete.
Nothing says “forever” like volcanic rock. Molcajete (mortar) are hand carved from a single piece of basalt, making them rustically awesome and unique. They’re perfect for crushing whole spices, whipping up some guacamole or serving small snacks. This molcajete from Williams-Sonoma is a generous 8” wide.
3) Enameled Cast Iron.
Chances are, your friends will have some sort of cast iron item on their registry, but probably not an enameled version. This enameled 11” skillet by Lodge is every bit as versatile as the company’s basic version, but the blue finish makes it extra-handsome and a sure win in the kitchen.
4) Shared Toiletries/Weekend Bag.
The wedding gift I recall my parents being most attached to was a shared toiletries bag they’d use any time they traveled. Its style was terrifically 70s and clashed with every other piece of luggage they owned, but it was built like a tank and perfectly proportioned to hold the things a couple can share in common: lotion, hairdryer, travel-sized Q-tip packs.
It was an article they got continual use out and I’m pretty sure they even fought over who got to keep it in the divorce. (If fighting over a wedding gift doesn’t give it street cred, then I’m not sure what does). I’m a big fan of the thick leather Weekend Bag from Duluth Pack, which I’ve been the happy owner of for several years. I can also pretty much guarantee that unless the bridal couple is from Minnesota, or really into camping, it will not be on their registry.
5) Museum Membership.
A one-year museum membership is a great idea for outgoing couples that are attuned to cultural on-goings, yet not quite organized enough to have procured a membership of their own. Stick with popular museums in or near the couple’s hometown that also have a healthy calendar of events, so that even if they tire of the collections, they can still make use of film screenings or lectures. New York’s MoMA is a no-brainer, as are LA’s LACMA or Philly’s Philadelphia Museum of Modern Art.
6) Cashmere Blanket.
Who isn’t going to love a cashmere blanket? It’s like wrapping yourself in light cloud cover. And yet, most couples probably don’t even think to ask for one. They’re pricey, to be sure, but this Mongolian cashmere throw from Restoration Hardware is at the more affordable end of the spectrum. Select a neutral ivory or grey and they’ll hold onto it for years.
7) Monogrammed Bathrobes.
Newlyweds seem to get a pretty big kick out of things with their initials on them. Go a step beyond standard monogrammed towels and give them bathrobes instead. These plush Turkish Hydro Cotton Robes from Mark & Graham automatically come with a monogram of your choosing.
8) Miele Vacuum.
If you’re dead-set on gifting a practical appliance, at least make it something they’ll have a very long time: A Miele Canister Vacuum. How do you know they’ll have it a long time? Because these German-built beauties outlive most land mammals. So, unless the newlyweds own a Dyson, a Miele is infinitely better than whatever vacuum they currently have.
For the DIY gifter, there’s the wonderful world of terrariums. It’s easy to make a terrarium from scratch, requiring little more than a glass vessel, succulents, sand, soil and perhaps a little trinket or two. Not crafty? You can also order the Grow Old With You Terrarium from Uncommon Goods, which features a mini gray-haired couple snuggling on a bench. $125.
10) Cold, Hard Cash.
Let’s get real -- the best non-registry item a couple can receive is money. And lots of it. No, a check is not an inspiring gift, but you can at least make it memorable by writing something outlandish in the memo line. Good starters: “Baby’s New Shoe Fund” or “Booze and Therapy.”
What about you? What’s the best wedding gift you’ve ever given or received?