How To Give A Wedding Gift

Always an option

Screw Pete, Chip ‘n’ Dips are great

So you’ve been invited to a wedding! It’s so exciting to be attending your first wedding as a real grown up person. If you’ve only attended family weddings with your parents, you’ve probably just been signing your name to whatever they’ve selected (which is fine! Keep doing this for random family weddings! Forever!). But now you are on your own. Here are a few pointers:

Do I have to give a gift?

Contrary to popular belief, wedding gifts are not obligatory. However, if you aren’t happy enough about a wedding to be moved to send a gift, you probably shouldn’t be attending! Your friends and family love you though, and if you are too poor to travel to the wedding AND give a gift, I’m sure they would prefer your presence rather than a present.

When and where do I send a gift?

You can send a wedding gift almost any time! You can send it as soon as you receive an invitation or up to a year afterwards! I would recommend sending it around 1-3 months before the wedding, though if you have a particular thing you want to get off their registry, you should swoop in ASAP before it gets taken! I say send, because generally you are going to want to ship the gift to the couple ahead of time, not bring it to the wedding. This may vary regionally, so consult with other guests about what they are doing if you can. Cards can be brought to the wedding because they are small. Traditionally, gifts are sent to the bride’s home, but with everyone shacking up these days, you can send it straight to the couple’s home, unless instructed otherwise.

Do I have to have the gift wrapped?

No, lots of people send gifts unwrapped, in fact some couples prefer it for environmental reasons. I like gift wrapping personally, and will spring for it (Bed, Bath, and Beyond has the prettiest gift wrap, in my opinion!) However, regardless of whether you send a gift or drop it off at the couple’s home, make sure you include a card with both your first and last name so they will know who it is from!

What’s a good gift and how much should I spend?

A good gift can be anything you think the couple will like! You can buy things off their registry or you can think up something all on your own! Housewares are traditional, but don’t feel confined by that if you have something else in mind. Money is okay too. Some people say it is crass, or something, but hey, everyone likes it, and in some regions it’s preferred! As for how much you spend, that is also up to you. “Covering your plate” is nonsense. Some people budget for weddings according to how close they are to the couple, some people spend a certain amount for any wedding, and some people just go with what’s in their budget at the time.If you can’t attend a wedding, you are not obligated to send a gift, especially if you aren’t close to the couple, but a nice card would be a great gesture.

Also feel free to chip in on a group gift with other friends. Just make sure everyone agrees upfront how much they can afford to chip in.

How do I know what they want?

Most couples will post their registries on their websites. also compiles wedding registry information from most popular stores like Bed, Bath, and Beyond and Macy’s and you can search for the names of any engaged couple you know! This is a good place to check if the couple doesn’t have a website. It’s also perfectly fine to ask the bride and groom, a close friend of the couple, or their parents.

I went to their house and didn’t see the gift I gave them. Do they hate me?

First of all, couples get a TON of wedding presents, it’s possible they just haven’t put it out yet or have to store some things until they move to a bigger place. Also, even with a registry, people get duplicate gifts and might have to return one. Or maybe they realized they don’t NEED a pasta maker after all because they can barely boil water. Either way, once a gift is given, it is up to the receiver to do whatever they want with it. I’m sure they truly appreciated your happy thoughts and your gift.

Should I Compliment My Therapist On Her Engagement?

Dear Uncommon Courtesy,

What is proper etiquette when you spot a diamond ring on the left ring finger of…your therapist?


Awkward On The Couch


Miss Manners says that back in the day, it was rude to remark on anyone’s possessions, but she concedes that those days are long over. Since Miss Manners spends a lot of time talking about how to deflect personal questions, I think her advice would be more along the lines of not asking personal questions, especially in a business situation.


Jaya: I think this ties well into bringing up any noticeable life change you see in another person. Engagement, pregnancy, tattoo, etc.

Victoria: Miss Manners has mostly dealt with people grabbing the engaged lady’s left hand or asking to try it on. Which are both pretty rude!

Jaya: Just because they have a public display of something doesn’t mean they want to talk about it. Oh god, those people are terrible.

Victoria: Have people been grabbing you? (ed: Jaya recently got engaged!!)

Jaya: They have! It happened this a few weekends ago at a family party.

Victoria: Aaaaahhhh!

Jaya: Some family friend I’ve never met but who apparently knew ALL about me.

Victoria: LOL

Jaya: And would not stop asking questions about the wedding.  And it’s infuriating because it just makes me feel bad for talking about it to someone who is not invited.

Victoria: Yeah.

Jaya: However, a normal “congrats!” is totally fine

Victoria: I was going to say, in this case, I think a glance at the ring and a “do I owe you a congratulations?” is fine. Just like, if they have pictures of kids in their office, I don’t think it’s THAT bad to say, “cute kids” or whatever. Just don’t start asking tons of personal questions.

Jaya: And I think this goes doubly for a therapist. Obviously everyone has their own relationship with therapists, but generally the focus is more on the patient, right? Especially since there are rules about getting too involved, making your therapist a part of your personal life, etc.

Victoria: Yeah, I don’t know very much about therapy etiquette (therapists, please submit your thoughts to us!). I would think, for me, maybe its a little weird to be in such an intimate atmosphere and sharing so much about yourself and never asking any questions about the other person.

Jaya: It varies, but I think the therapist generally sets the tone. So saying congratulations at the end of a session is fine but asking lots of questions perhaps isn’t, in general but especially when it’s your therapist.

Victoria: Yeah, exactly, and if they seem like they want to talk more, then that’s great.

Jaya: And if your therapist doesn’t want to get involved, I’m 100% sure they are trained in how to gracefully discourage a patient from asking personal questions.

Victoria: Yeah, I would think they deal with these kinds of things all the time.

Jaya: It is strange though, these public displays of life changes. I had a coworker who was pregnant, and I never said anything, because by the time I could tell she was pregnant she had obviously been pregnant for a while. So it’s sort of weird going “congrats on the thing that clearly happened to you about six months ago.”

Victoria: I mean, I don’t think most people are annoyed or offended by simple congratulations for almost anything. It’s when the personal questions start piling up that it gets annoying.

Thank Goodness We Don’t Have to Do That Anymore: Mourn Like It’s 1861

Maybe we should bring back the timeless craft of making stuff out of dead people’s hair? The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

A lot of our notions of etiquette come from the Victorian era when the middle class was on the rise and everyone wanted to show everyone else how on point they were with all of the intricacies of etiquette. One area that was particularly elaborate and somewhat gruesome to us today is the etiquette of mourning.

Length of Mourning

A widow was expected to be in deep mourning of her husband for two years. Then a third year was “ordinary” mourning, and the FOURTH year was considered “second” or “half” mourning. Many older women remained in mourning for the rest of their lives, the most famous being Queen Victoria who was in mourning for her husband, Prince Albert for more than forty years.

Widowers were expected to mourn for a year.

Parents and children were mourned for a year, siblings and grandparents for six months, aunts/uncles for three months, and cousins for six weeks.

Mourning Dress

For a funeral, everyone had to wear black (unless the funeral was for a child or unmarried girl, in which case everyone wore white). Sometimes the family/funeral director would even provide black gloves and scarves for all the mourners.

Then again, I always love a veil. By Anders Zorn 1860-1920  [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons


Etiquette dictated what you could wear while you were in mourning (in relation to how much time had passed and your relationship to the deceased) right down to what kinds of fabric and jewelry was appropriate.

Men only had to wear a black armband over their regular clothes (though they were supposed to wear only white shirts instead of colored.) This was partially sexist and partially practical. Men’s clothes were much more difficult to dye than women’s clothes and typically when you were in mourning you would just dye all your clothes black instead of buying new, black clothes. The sexist reason was that men still had to go out and go to work and didn’t want to look too depressing.

Women did have to wear all black. In addition, it couldn’t be just any black, it had to be very matte black, so you will see a lot of references to crepe/crape as a fabric choice (a slightly crinkly fabric that does not reflect any light.) Women also had to dress fairly plainly without a lot of embellishments and jet jewelry was the only appropriate kind (other than hair jewelry, which we will get to in a moment.) In addition to all of this, widows had to wear veils over their faces.

Widows didn’t have to wear the crow look for the whole period of mourning. For instance, the widow’s veil could be shortened after the first year! Exciting! The very dark, matte fabric was for deep mourning. For ordinary mourning, you could wear shinier fabrics like silk. For half mourning, you could wear muted colors like grey and lilac.

Children wore a mixture of black and white so they wouldn’t look too sad.

Hair Jewelry

Hair jewelry designs. [Via Flikr user LEOL30]

Hair jewelry is pretty much what it sounds like- jewelry made out of hair! It was very popular during the Victorian period because hair does not decay and therefore makes a great memento of a person who has died.

The hair could just be a simple lock inside a pretty setting or it could be arranged into fabulous shapes and scenes. Simple braids of hair were also worn as bracelets. Hair wreaths hung on the walls were also very popular-see if you can spot one the next time you are in a period house museum.

Like most things related to Victorian mourning, the trend probably relates very closely to Queen Victoria’s mourning of Prince Albert. In fact, the trend disappeared almost entirely right after her death.

Weirdly, only jet jewelry was thought appropriate for deep mourning, though hair jewelry could be worn for the lighter mourning periods.

Being Social While in Mourning

Since mourners were supposed to be sad, they didn’t really go anywhere. It was supposed to have made them more sad to see other people being happy. A rule of thumb was that as long as you were wearing mourning clothes, you shouldn’t go to fun events because mourning clothes and fun clash or something. When you were in lighter mourning you could attend the theater, small functions, and informal events.

Post-Mortem Photography

Photography was first invented during the Victorian period. Combined with extremely high childhood mortality rates, photos of dead people became extremely popular! Sometimes the corpses were shown in a coffin or a bed, looking like they were sleeping. Other times they would be propped up or posed with relatives to look more lifelike. The practice died out (ha-HA!) with the advent of snapshot photography when people started taking pictures of you shortly after you had emerged from the womb and your death photo was no longer the only chance for someone to get an image of you. See some examples here if you are not too faint of heart.

As a note, I am calling this Victorian mourning, but Emily Post was still talking about all of this in her 1922 book and Amy Vanderbilt was still talking about it as something that was just dying (ha-HA! again) out in my 1967 edition of her book.

Etiquette At The Theater/Movies, Or Why Can’t People Ever Remember To Turn Off Their Cell Phones!?

This is a theater I would patronize. [ Flickr user Mark Wallace]

Going to the theater used to be something that people dressed up for. Ok, people used to dress up for everything. My mom wore a corsage the first time she went on a plane. Anyway, in the great democratization of entertainment, this is not so much the case anymore. And that’s pretty great! You don’t have to wear a tux to go to the symphony (but you absolutely can if you want!). You don’t need an usher at the movie theater. But despite the slightly relaxed atmosphere, you (and everyone around you) did just pay $15 to see The Croods 2: Crood Harder, so here are some tips to make sure that money doesn’t go to waste.

In General

  • Arrive on time. If you are late to the movies, be quiet as you get settled and try to find a seat fast. If you are late to the theater an usher will either assist you or instruct you to wait in a room with a monitor of the show until there is a pause in the performance.

  • Silence your cell phone and put it AWAY. Come on, people, you know this. You should not speak on, text from, or even glance at your cellphone in a darkened theater. Even in your lap, people can see it and it is extremely distracting. (In Broadway theaters, using your cellphone during the show is actually illegal and you can be fined!)

  • Be quiet at all times: no talking and try to keep food noises and rustling to a minimum.

  • When passing people to get to your seats: there is some debate of whether to face the people you are passing or to face away. Victoria prefers to face away to avoid awkward eye contact and Jaya prefers not showing her butt to strangers. Either way, do your best not to step on them or their belongings. If someone is trying to pass you, do your best to clear a path and scoot your legs to the side or stand up.

  • If you have a coughing fit, please step outside until it is over.

  • If someone sitting near you is talking, playing with a cell phone, or otherwise being distracting, it is perfectly acceptable to politely (POLITELY!) ask them to please stop as they are being very distracting. You can also fetch an usher.

For Live Theater

  • Flashing lights mean you need to return to your seat immediately as the show is about to resume.

  • You cannot take photos in the theater, not because the ushers are mean, but because the set design is usually visible and it is copyrighted.

  • You can clap after songs and scenes- follow along with the rest of the crowd. (Though not at a symphony. You clap at the end of the performance, not after each movement).

  • Standing ovations should only be for very extraordinary performances. This may be a losing battle because everyone ends up standing for every show anyway, but don’t feel obligated to stand if you don’t want to- you won’t be able to see though!

  • Do not sing along with the musical. Yes, some people need to be reminded of this.

  • A note on that guy who threw that woman’s phone across the room during a play: Yes, that woman was being incredibly rude by being on her phone, and we all probably wish we could have the balls to do what he did. But what is more disruptive, this woman forcing you to deal with her cell phone screen, or everyone having to deal with your outburst? If someone is bothering you, tell them quietly. If they don’t comply, you may want to alert an usher to what is happening. But don’t make yourself the center of the disruption.

For The Movies

  • Very quiet comments and discussions about popcorn during the previews are acceptable, but all talking should cease when the feature begins. Reaction noises are perfectly normal, of course (laughter, gasps, etc.). The occasional comment to your friend is fine, but any kind of actual conversation, constant running commentary and questions, or anything above a whisper is definitely rude.

  • Don’t bring small children to adult movies unless you are sure they can behave and are willing to leave if they are acting up. Children’s movies have more leeway. A movie theater seat is also not the place to change your baby’s diaper. And anecdote time! Victoria was once at a showing of The Karate Kid starring Jaden Smith and a woman put her toddler in a seat next to Victoria and then left! So don’t do that.

  • Don’t put your feet up on the seat in front of you if someone is sitting in it, or rock back and forth a lot in your chair. That type of motion carries.

Special Royal Baby Edition: British Titles

By Duke_and_Duchess_of_Cambridge_and_Prince_Harry.JPG: Carfax2derivative work: Surtsicna [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

A special royal baby post on British titles!

Firstly, the new baby’s title is His Highness Prince [NAME] of Cambridge. William and Kate’s official titles are Their Royal Highnesses the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and are properly referred to as such (or as just the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge). This title was given to them upon their marriage, previously William was HRH Prince William of Wales. As William was born a prince, he remains a prince and she is a princess, but the Queen has chosen to style them the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, and what she says goes. Becoming a Duke made William a Peer of the Realm, which is better than being just a plain prince (and a commoner). If they had been styled as Prince and Princess, Kate would have been referred to as HRH Princess William of Wales because she was not already a princess in her own right. Prince/Princess is their rank, Duke/Duchess is their title. “Princess Diana” was made up by the press and was never her official title. Princess FirstName is only used in the UK when they are a princess by birth.

The ranking of the British nobility:






In modern times, there isn’t that much meaning behind the titles except in rank. Dukes were first created (in England- the concept is older) by Edward III in the 1300s for his close family members and for a long time Dukes were only members of the royal family. Marquesses held pieces of land on the borders (marches) and because of their defensive position they were ranked higher than earls who held counties (earls are equal to counts in other countries, but the British use the Anglo-Saxon derivative of the Scandinavian word jarl) which were interior pieces of land. The title viscount doesn’t seem to have as much history or meaning as the others and is even now mostly only used as a courtesy title. Barons were originally the men who managed the land for a greater lord. Titles were often awarded to people for service to the Crown, so the greater the service, the greater the title.

Within each rank, age of the title indicates seniority. Life peers are titles given to people for the duration of their own life but which are not passed down to their heirs.

The word peer refers only to those who hold one of these titles fully (or their spouses) and traditionally would be eligible for the House of Lords. Everyone who is not a peer is a commoner (and that includes people like Prince Harry as prince and princess are courtesy titles for the children and grandchildren of the soverign). Children of peers may hold courtesy titles (we will get to those in a minute) but they are not accorded the full honors of that title and they are still commoners. So yes, even though they were rich, and Diana was aristocratic, before their marriages both Kate Middleton AND Princess Diana were commoners.

Courtesy Titles

Children of peers are commoners but they get to use courtesy titles to show their relationship to a peer. Peers often have multiple titles, so they give their eldest sons one of the lesser titles to use as a courtesy, as they will one day inherit the greater title. So the oldest son of a duke might be referred to as the Earl of ____. (This only goes for the eldest son of dukes, marquesses, and earls). Though the son may be styled a Marquess or Earl, they do not hold the full courtesy of that title. For example, a Marquess is properly known as The Most Honourable [first name] Marquess of _______, but a courtesy marquess is not The Most Honourable, they are just the Marquess of ______ (and the “the” is dropped for correspondence)

Younger sons of dukes and marquesses are styled Lord [first name][surname]. Younger sons of earls and all sons of viscounts and barons are styled The Honourable (often shortened to The Hon) [first name][last name]. This is only used descriptively and in addresses, Honourables should be called Mr. ________.

Daughters of dukes, marquesses, and earls are styled Lady [first name][last name].

Sons and daughters of viscounts and barons also use the courtesy title The Honourable in the same way as noted above.


The widowed wife of a duke, marquess, earl, or viscount is the Dowager of that title. For example: widows of dukes are referred to as the Dowager Duchess of ______ or [first name], Duchess of ______. If there is already a Dowager Duchess when the duchess in question is widowed, she is always referred to as [first name], Duchess of ______. If a duchess’s son is unmarried when she becomes widowed, she remains the Duchess of ______ until he marries. (This applies to widows of marquesses and earls also, with Marchioness, Countess, or Viscountess filling in for Duchess.)

Widows of barons are known as Dowager Lady _______ or [first name], Lady _______.


Princes of the Royal Blood are usually created dukes when they marry, as Prince William became the Duke of Cambridge when he married Kate Middleton. There are also non-royal dukes who can trace their lines back to someone who was created a duke by a monarch. All the children and some of the grandchildren of the monarch are addressed as His/Her Royal Highness followed by their other title (the Duke/Duchess, Earl/Countess, Prince/Princess, etc).

In conversation/print Dukes/Duchesses are referred to as The Duke or Duchess of ________ or His/Her Grace. They are addressed directly as Duke or Duchess or Your Grace.

Marquess/Marchioness, Earl/Countess, Viscount/Viscountess, Baron/Baroness

In conversation/print and when addressed directly, these ranks are called Lord or Lady______ (where the blank is their holding, not their first name).


Many earldoms/barons can be inherited by women, so these women are properly called the Countess of/Baroness ______, but her husband gains no title or style from being married to a Countess/Baroness.

A baroness in her own right has the choice of being called Baroness_______ or Lady ________ (where the blank is their last name). Most choose to go by Lady as Margaret Thatcher, a Life Baroness, went by Lady Thatcher.


The Princess Royal refers to the eldest daughter of a monarch. Though as she retains the title for life and there can only be one at a time, if a monarch has a daughter and there is already a Princess Royal, she won’t be called that. Queen Elizabeth’s daughter Anne is the current Princess Royal.

His/Her Royal Highness (HRH) is a style given to members of the royal family.

I have been asked before why Prince Philip isn’t King Philip. The reason is that a King outranks a Queen and the ruler must be the highest ranked person, so when a woman is Regnant, her husband is Prince Consort instead of King. When there is a King, his wife is the Queen Consort as opposed to the Queen Regnant when a woman rules, though generally Queen Consort is just shortened to Queen.

This is an extremely simplified (but hardly simple!) explanation of a very complicated topic. For everything you could possibly want to know about British titles up to how to address the Queen, see The British Monarchy also has an excellent site specifically about the Royal Family And please see this excellent post by a royalty scholar