How NOT To Be Rude When Giving A Wedding Gift

Shan-lyn Ma will be the first to tell you she's a professional wedding guest. And, when it comes to gifts, she knows the drill: get the invite, find the registry, become depressed by the registry, pick something (anything), and send it — wishing it was something the couple would be excited by. It had become such a frustration that when it came time to start a business with her former Gilt colleagues, the retail pro knew exactly what they had to do: Reinvent the wedding registry. Zola is doing just that. Unlike traditional registries limited to one store (or a few, if you're lucky), Zola lets couples register for anything from any store. They can add in experiences like hotels and dinners, allow multiple people to chip in, or ask for plain-old cash. All of it lives on one easy-to-find, beautifully designed site that can be personalized, like some kind of Tumblr of love. With 80,000 registries since its launch in October 2013, Zola has amassed a ton of info on what couples love, hate, and want. As CEO, Ma is listening. We met up with her at Zola's Manhattan office where she showed off her new CEO style (newly upgraded by a few pieces from Neiman Marcus) and was nice enough to let us ask her everything we ever wanted to know about weddings gifts. And, that's a lot. Get every question answered, ahead.
Photographed by Victoria Will at Zola.
Is it rude to buy a gift that’s not on the registry?
"It's always best to buy from a couple's registry. That way you know it's something they really want. If you're going rogue, make sure you do so only for a couple whose tastes you know incredibly well (and make sure the gift's returnable), or go for something experiential that they will totally love doing."

If you're invited to an engagement party, bridal shower, and the wedding, do you really have to bring a gift to each one?
"If you know you’re going to be invited to multiple wedding celebrations, set a budget for gifts ahead of time and allocate money based on the 20-20-60 rule. Spend 20% on an engagement gift, 20% on a bridal shower (or other pre-wedding party), and 60% on the wedding gift itself."
Is it ever acceptable to not give a gift? Like if you've paid a substantial amount on airfare and a hotel, do you get a pass?
"No. Although gifts are never mandatory, you should always give something if you were invited to the wedding. But, if you’re in the bridal party or are traveling to a destination or out of town, it’s okay to spend less on a gift than you normally would." On average, what do people spend?
"There’s no set rule, but we find most people base the decision on their relationship with the couple. For coworkers, acquaintances, or distant relatives, it's typical to spend about $50. But, if you're attending a friend or relative’s wedding, it's $100 to $150 plus."
What about if you're not attending the wedding — should you still give a gift? How long is too long to wait?
"Late is better than never. If you know the couple well but can’t attend the wedding, giving a gift is still appropriate and much appreciated. They’re starting out their new lives together, so every thought counts. And, they'll be touched that you’re thinking of them, even if you can’t make it to the big day." Should you spend more on a gift if you're bringing a date?
"Yes, we see on average people spend one-and-a-half to two times more on a wedding gift when it's from a couple compared to a single guest — the idea is you are adding another person to the guest list."
Is it tacky to go in on a gift with friends?
"Definitely not — especially if it’s a bigger-ticket item. There are now features like Group Gifting, which make it easier than ever for multiple friends or family members to give a gift together."

Is okay to just buy part of a gift (i.e., two sets of silverware when four were asked for)?
"Definitely. Couples won’t expect you to buy complete sets, especially if they’re on the pricier side."
Photographed by Victoria Will at Zola.
What about DIY gifts?
"If you know the couple really well and are very familiar with their tastes, then DIY gifts can be sweet. If, however, you’re not that close with them, then we recommend sticking to the registry to ensure that your gift is a hit!" What annoys couples when it comes to wedding gifts?
"Unless you’re giving the couple cash or a check in a card, don’t bring a present to their big day. And, straying from the registry is rarely welcome. They spent a lot of time thinking about their newlywed home and carefully selecting gifts to fill it. While you definitely want to get them something that feels special from you, keep in mind that it’s ultimately their day and they’ll appreciate anything from their registry, as it’s why they made it in the first place: to make gifting easy for you."
Photographed by Victoria Will at Zola.

More from Living

R29 Original Series