My fiancé and I are in our late 30s and we already have a fully equipped kitchen, so I won't be asking for pots and pans on our wedding registry. But we are considering asking for a $2,400 espresso system. I don't expect any one person to buy that for us obviously, but if 10 people wanted to go in on it together, that's something I actually want. Is it tacky to even put it on there though?
Dear Wedding Jitters,
Before I answer your question, let me dispense with what has now become a common misconception regarding registries. The first wedding registrants did not ask for household necessities. Their lists were more likely to include luxury items such as "sweet pickle forks" and "asparagus tongs," according to Vicki Howard, author of Brides, Inc. These were upper-crust young women who wanted "silver, crystal, china, and fine, fine art," and around 1900, stores that sold jewelry and other luxury items began to keep lists of what such women wanted so they would not receive duplicates. This was a common problem, Howard says: "Old wedding gift lists that brides kept in the late 19th century have multiples of ... crystal vases or seven candelabra." That is, lists recording what people bought them.
In 1924, Marshall Field's, the Chicago department store, also began to offer a registry service, and other department stores followed. In order to sell more stuff, these stores coaxed brides to think more broadly about what to ask for. When specialized bridal magazines appeared (beginning with Brides in 1934), editors also began to encourage women to ask for more products as a way to sell advertising. By 1960, says Howard, wedding registries included items as mundane as "lazy Susans and TV trays."
These days, in part because more couples are getting married later in life, it's once again customary to ask for luxury items. Only now, rather than candelabra, it's gift certificates for favorite restaurants, honeymoon contributions, or, like a couple I know, special spoons for eating osso buco.
It's natural to feel awkward about telling people what gifts to get you, particularly when you are asking for stuff you don't need. Nonetheless, you still should have a registry. It may be because we live in a grossly materialistic society or because it's an ancient way of solidifying kinship ties, but whatever the reason, people are definitely going to get you stuff. And if you don't tell them what stuff to get, you will end up with a bunch of junk you do not need or want. Even if, like Prince William and Kate Middleton, you ask guests to make donations to a favorite charity, plenty of people will still insist on buying you silver chips ’n' dip trays or crystal cruets.
Still, know that if you ask for an espresso machine that costs about the same as a week in Hawaii, some guests will find this to be insane and ridiculous—unless you ask for it in the right way. When people give gifts, they like to imagine the recipient getting pleasure from that gift (which is why it is bad form to ask for cash). Help your guests understand what the espresso machine means to you, with words something like these: "We have everything we need but realize some of you may wish to show your love and support for us by giving us a gift. If so, please use PayPal to make a contribution toward the espresso machine pictured here. Coffee is an important part of our relationship, because every morning we love to drink it and read the New York Times in bed together. This will make our morning ritual extra-special for years to come."
As it's not possible to write such a missive on the bridal registry section of, say, Williams-Sonoma, I would recommend setting up a separate web page with links to your registry, or registries (here are some gift and registry ideas from CHOW). That way you can add as elaborate a disclaimer as you want. Of course, only provide the link to said web page if asked. It's fine to register for a top-of-the-line espresso maker, but it is crass to act as if you expect one.