Engagement Party Tips and Trends

Engagement Party Tips and Trends
Engagement 101 (2009)
By Wendy Townley

It used to be that engaged couples announced their pending nuptials in the most conventional of ways. Paid listings in local newspapers, save-the-date cards and word of mouth often proved to be the simplest and most traditional methods of spreading the good news.

But engaged couples – not to mention their excited family members and friends – have transformed the standard announcement of a wedding celebration to a party all its own.

Say hello to the engagement party with drinks and Womens Cocktail Dresses.

The event, which has gained in popularity among engaged couples during the last five years, usually takes place about three months following the wedding proposal, says event planner Lyndsey Hamilton. And the themes and concepts revolving around the engagement parties vary as much as the couples themselves.

“The engagement party is definitely viewed as an element to planning the wedding,” Hamilton explains from her office in New York. “It’s one of the first parties you have to announce your engagement.”

Oftentimes, Hamilton says, couples hire event planners to organize not only the engagement parties, but all the details surrounding the wedding ceremonies and receptions, as well.

Engagement parties can go as formal to featuring sit-down dinners, to backyard barbecues, to Sunday brunches with a lighter fare. In all cases, Hamilton says, the engaged couple wishes for the party to be just that: a celebration of their upcoming wedding.

In one engagement party Hamilton planned, the groom invited 30 family members and friends to a party in Laguna Beach, Calif. Surrounded by loved ones, the future groom popped the question to his future bride. In fact, the couple’s dog even wore the ring around his collar. What was initially an informal get-together, in the future bride’s eyes, transformed into a celebration. The couple is planning a destination wedding in Hawaii.

Engagement parties are folded into the trend of multi-day events. Couples who plan rehearsal dinners, wedding ceremonies, receptions and brunches the next day add an engagement party at the beginning of the celebration.

San Jose-based event planner Crystal Lequang agrees that today’s engagement parties have evolved into mini-weddings.

“It’s an honor to host the engagement party, and, quite often, several people are meeting each other for the first time,” Lequang says. “The engagement party is now a line item and part of the wedding-planning process.”

And couples find that engagement parties are a more enjoyable way to celebrate the upcoming wedding as opposed to a simple save-the-date card dropped in the mail. While traditional invitations are often used, Lequang said couples often use email to invite guests. Another popular (and free) option is to use Web sites dedicated to event planning and online invitations.

“The handwritten invitation or a personal phone call always works, as well,” Lequang says.

According to Chicago-based wedding blogger Darci Leckrone: “I’ve seen examples of engagement party invitations that include pictures of the couple, their pets and – for an extra personal touch – some are even handwritten,” Leckrone explains. “The possibilities are only limited by your imagination.”

Hamilton says many couples will incorporate details of their wedding ceremony and reception into the engagement party. If a bride opts for pinks and purples at her ceremony and reception, she’ll bring the theme and colors into the engagement party.

Leckrone adds that engagement parties are an opportunity to be relaxed and fun with the décor: “You can incorporate some of your favorite, quirky elements that you normally wouldn’t showcase in a formal wedding.”

When it comes to gifts at the engagement party, etiquette dictates that such language should be omitted from any type of formal invitation. Word of mouth, personalized bridal Web pages and even e-mail have proven to be effective ways to communicate where the couple is registered.

However, Hamilton says many engaged couples do not expect gifts at their engagement party; rather, they consider the event a celebration among family members and friends.

For several of her engagement party clients, Lequang has seen family members and friends present more thoughtful gifts to the couple. Rather than shopping from the registry, guests are bringing framed photos of the couple: something more sentimental than napkin rings or a toaster.

“There is more of a personal touch for gifts brought to an engagement party,” Lequang explains. “The couple is always excited when they receive these types of gifts.”

What some wedding planners call advice booklets could easily be incorporated into today’s engagement parties. Picked up in packs of five, the booklets or notepads can be placed at each table. Small, hand-stamped instructions on the first page encourages guests to offer advice for the newly engaged couple. The handwritten sentiments will make the engagement party keepsake that much more personal and memorable for the couple for years to come.

One of Leckrone’s favorite party favors, which she calls both “inexpensive and green,” are small greeneries guests can plant and watch grow as a reminder of the couple’s engagement.

“I’ve seen couples give small, terra cotta pots planted with a favorite flower; or even nicely packaged seeds that can be planted outdoors or in a garden,” Leckrone adds.

But what celebration would be complete without food? The fare served at today’s engagement parties again vary. Location will often dictate what’s served to guests, which numbers on an average from 30 to 100 people.

Many couples plan an informal picnic or backyard barbecue to celebrate their engagement. Others serve heavy h’or derves or a late-morning brunch.

Hamilton said the menus served at engagement parties reflect a larger trend at weddings: couples want smaller plates and lighter dinners.

“They don’t want the guests to eat too much, and the guests don’t want that either,” Hamilton explains. “We are tailoring the menus (at engagement parties and weddings) to a lighter dinner, with more time to dance and enjoy the event. The focus isn’t on the 90-minute, sit-down meal anymore.”

For the location of the engagement party, Lequang says couples first determine how many guests to include. The size of the guest list traditionally determines the location. Many engagement parties take place in the home of the groom’s parents or the bride’s. But a larger event is often moved to a restaurant’s private room or even a rented event hall.

“Although couples say they just want a ‘little party,’ many times the guest list grows and it becomes a large event,” Lequang explains. “But you still want the experience to be intimate and memorable.”

When it comes to entertainment and other events that are part of the engagement party, couples aren’t planning anything formal. In many cases, the couple will make a few remarks about their engagement, thank those who helped plan the engagement party and officially kick off the celebration of the upcoming wedding.

As with any type of event, Hamilton reminds couples to promptly mail thank-you cards after the engagement party.

Leckrone suggests selecting meaningful thank-you gifts (as opposed to expensive ones) for those who planned the engagement party.

“If your dad is a sports fan, try searching online for vintage ticket stubs to a rivalry playoff game,” Leckrone says. “Or if your mom is the type of person who seems to have everything, thank her by treating her to a pedicure at your local spa. That way, you can relax and spend some time together.”

Following the engagement party, Lequang says the soon-to-be joined families will plan a smaller event. For example, one of Lequang’s clients organized a wine tour following the engagement party for the couple, as well as their parents. The more intimate event was ideal for longer introductions, allowing for both families to get to know each other without worrying about entertaining guests.

When considering the ideas that abound for engagement party ideas, Hamilton encourages couples to look beyond the borders. Using bridal magazines and countless wedding blogs, couples should click through ideas from around the country.

“You really get to see what people are doing with their engagement parties and weddings around the country, not just in L.A. and New York,” Hamilton says.

A Midwest couple used their creativity in February 2007 when they hosted their engagement party at a friend’s home. Jill (Wallace) Schurman, 25, met her future husband, Ryan Schurman, 23, while working together at an Omaha insurance company.

After the couple was engaged, a friend’s home was the locale of the engagement party. Using a black-and-white theme, guests (and the couple) were asked to attend wearing black and/or white clothing. The colors of black and white were even extended to the tableware and décor at the engagement party.

“We thought it would be fun to have a dress-up party with a theme,” Jill Schurman says. Close friends topped out the invitation list and couples asked that gifts not be given.
“Ryan and I just wanted to celebrate this happy time in our life with our friends.”

But their collective families weren’t forgotten; the couple hosted a private celebration with both families shortly after the two were engaged.

“Becoming engaged is such an exciting time in your life,” Leckrone says. “It’s only natural to want to celebrate that milestone with friends and family. The wedding planning process can be stressful; it’s great to throw a party before you’re fully engulfed in all the planning and the details. Celebrating the engagement itself gives you a few moments to stop and appreciate the journey you’re about to embark on as a couple.”

Engagement 101 on the Web: www.engagement101mag.com