Alongside engagement photos and the optional social media announcement, one of the first post-engagement rites of passage is building your wedding registry. In 1924, Chicago department store Marshall Field’s debuted the first wedding registry as a way to ensure that brides and grooms received gifts they actually wanted and would use, in celebration of their upcoming nuptials. Almost a century later, the tradition still stands—albeit with updated technology.
Traditionally, the wedding registry is used as a way for a couple to create their first home together—choosing items that craft an identifiable sense of style through unique china, crystal, flatware, and linen patterns. With a bevy of options, it’s hard to know where to start—and what you’ll actually use.
Below, a list of the top five things you should register for—and five we think you should avoid.
China and Servingware
As outdated as the concept may seem, registering for china is the first moment where you get to make an aesthetic decision as a couple. Take your time perusing the aisles. and be judicious with that bar code scanner gun. Ask yourself what colors and patterns speak to you both? If you happen to love an ornate design and your partner is more of a “plain white” kind of person, perhaps you can meet in the middle with a basketweave ivory pattern; something simple, yet still interesting.
If you like to entertain or plan on being the holiday hostess with the mostess one day, envision what your dream table would look like on Thanksgiving. It sounds silly, but these plates and dishes will last a lifetime—and many are passed down as family heirlooms—so choose a pattern you will love for years to come. Some registry experts recommend choosing two sets: one more casual for everyday, and one for fancy occasions. Sometimes one set in a really pretty pattern does the trick though—and can elevate the presentation of your morning eggs and toast. Just determine which way you think you’d be more likely use the pieces, and go with your gut.
Heritage brands with a variety of patterns and color schemes include Royal Copenhagen, Wedgwood, Juliska, Lenox, Bernardaud and Villeroy & Boch. And with the advent of registry game-changers like Zola, you don’t even have to set foot inside a department store to get what you want. If you’re more of the handmade, kiln-thrown variety, search for local artists, like New York based Isabel Halley Ceramics, and find pieces that have a special meaning to you and your partner.
Flatware and Silverware
Otherwise known as forks, spoons, knives, and the like. Again, invoke the Thanksgiving idea here—and be sure to lay out the china pattern of your choice down alongside your flatware selection to make sure you’ve created a scheme that works together. (If you’re registering online, try placing the images into a PDF to create a mood board.)
Much like china, flatware and silverware can be handed down through generationn—so pick something that you love, that feels good in your hands, and that can withstand the test of time. Here, you only need one set—and don’t go crazy on the superfluous extras, like dessert spoons. You really only need the basics. One place to amp it up? Steak and chef’s knives.
Stemware and Crystal
The third part of the old-fashioned trifecta, no table is complete without glassware. It’s common that modern couples use an amalgamation of kitchen items when they move into their first apartment together—plates from home, glasses from college. This is the first chance to create a cohesive set of items for your table, items that speak to each other and look beautiful when matched together.
Registry experts usually recommend registering for casual stemware and crystal—similar to every day and more elevated china—but again, you can trust your gut on this one. A classic set of goblets from Simon Pearce, for example, can blend seamlessly from your nightly glass of red to a toast of holiday Champagne. For a more elevated look, Waterford and Baccarat (among others) craft absolutely breathtaking crystal pieces—but again, go with your intuition. Know what you’ll use and choose what you love.
Once you begin the registry process, you know you’ll be embarking on a trip sooner or later—your honeymoon. Registering for luggage is a genius way to ensure you and your significant other travel in style. Whether you register for matching sets or distinct pieces for each of you, luggage is one gift that will certainly be used beyond your big day and for years to come. And since sets can sometimes be pricey, these are a perfect gift for family friends or groups of guests to all chip in on.
Again, here is an opportunity to create a cohesive style in your home that matches both of your personalities and tastes. Registering is a really great way to start fresh from an interior design perspective; an excuse to purge the things you each brought when you first moved in that no longer serve a purpose, and edit down your frames, pillows, throws, candles, vases, etc. into a complementary set of objects that speak to who you both are as a unit. Plus, you’ll need a frame or two for those engagement photos and the wedding!
Chances are, unless you’re an avid baker (or Ina Garten), you aren’t going to use that KitchenAid stand mixer very often—unless you pull an Azziz Ansari and embark on a pasta making journey through the hills of Tuscany. (Masters of None, anyone?) Electrics tend to be bulky and require space, and most couples already tend to have a quality toaster or blender. If you don’t find yourself with a Vitamix already in your cupboards, by all means—put it on the list. But only include the items that you really will use on a daily basis. Electrics become outdated quickly, and the longer you let that 12 cup food processor sit in your parents’ basement, the less likely that it will be relevant when you have space to actually use the item in question. One good splurge here: a quality espresso machine for the coffee lovers out there.
Some guests feel a little strange purchasing the sheets that a couple will be sleeping on. Linens can fall into questionable territory depending on the wedding guest, so don’t be surprised if the duvet you registered for is one of the last things to be purchased. Similarly, tablecloths require some foresight: Do you know for sure that you’ll be using the same dinner table five years from now? If not, better to think twice before registering for a D. Porthault cloth that won’t be usable when you move to your next apartment and swap a rectangular table for a round. Napkins are always a safe bet though—as is a nice napkin ring set.
Unless you really, genuinely enjoy baking, don’t register for a set of mixing cups and baking sheets that will only collect dust in the back realm of your cupboards a year after saying “I do.” If you happen to love cooking instead, a set of pots and pans (All-Clad or copper tend to really be worth the investment) coupled with chef’s knives and a few non-stick cutting boards, are always a very solid choice. Also, avoid including small one-off items like silicone spatulas and whisks, which could easily be picked up in one Bed Bath & Beyond trip.
Much in the same vein as a stand mixer—ask yourself: are you really going to use a pizza stone? If you’re the type to lay in bed reading cookbooks and check Bon Appetit on the daily, then of course, include it on the list. But if Seamless is the most used app on your phone and you only keep yogurt and wine in your fridge, maybe you should think twice. People are sending you a gift as a way to help you build your lives together—things that go to good use will bring good juju.
While a beautiful and thoughtful gift, from a standpoint of practicality, you’ll want to purchase stationery before you even register. Once your registry is available online, you’ll need to start writing thank you notes right away as the gifts will come rolling in—and you won’t have time to wait for someone to decide to purchase you your cards!
The above suggestions create a baseline for a solid, useful registry—but don’t be afraid to add things that veer from the traditional route. Honeymoon funds, donations to the couple’s favorite charity, and furniture are common on registries these days. Just don’t add a pair of shoes that you’ve been coveting; not the time, nor the place. The registry is about culling together items that you two can use as a couple, so try to keep that in mind while sourcing things for your list. And lastly—have fun! This is the first step on a whirlwind process that will ultimately end up taking you to the altar. Enjoy every minute of it, and once you get those Champagne glasses, toast yourselves—you’re engaged!