I have a phobia of wedding lists. They always seem very presumptuous. Friends ask for monstrous amounts of things that I’m sure they don’t really want. I look at their lists and my heart sinks. I know I should buy something, but what to choose from all the overpriced paraphernalia?
I wonder if the guests of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle felt the same way when their royal wedding invitations arrived. It had been announced that the pair didn’t want presents and instead, donations should be made to seven charities that reflected their ‘shared values’. But then came the news that their ‘private’ wedding list would be held with Soho House. Does a royal couple really need their friends and family to buy them stuff to set them on their way? And as for Soho House — really?
Soho House is an ‘exclusive members’ club’. Exclusive, that is, except for the fact there are now more Soho Houses in Britain than there are Butlins holiday camps. The club has an outpost in the Cotswolds called Soho Farmhouse, which offers a distinctly metropolitan vision of country life. There are charging stations for Tesla cars, no-swim zones and the grass is concreted over. Everything — bicycles, wellington boots, window panes — comes in 50 shades of teal.
The Soho House aesthetic has been the backdrop to Harry and Meghan’s story so far. Their first date was at a Soho House and Meghan’s three-day hen do was held at Soho Farmhouse. The global membership director Markus Anderson is a good pal of hers and is said to have introduced the couple at the Invictus Games.
Meghan was also a Soho House ‘brand ambassador’ so it’s unsurprising that she now wants to decorate her new home (or homes) to look like outposts of the club. Fortunately for her, the Soho Home range includes replicas of many of the club’s fixtures and furnishings. Will Meghan and Harry have gone for the ‘vintage leather moustache back club chair’ or the ‘Portobello silver cashmere throw’? Will there be options for guests on stricter budgets? Perhaps the eye mask (£12) or the wall-mounted chrome loo brush (£20)?
Meghan and Harry’s Soho House list is an example of flashy modern wedding culture. Gone are the days when a wedding list was a way for parents and their friends to help a newly married couple set up home. Nowadays, many couples live together before they get married, and — give or take a trip to Ikea — already own most of the things found on old-fashioned wedding lists.
So while modern wedding lists still contain some conventional items, they more often than not resemble a letter written to Father Christmas by a greedy child. Popular items for the modern bride and groom include GoPro cameras, outdoor pizza ovens and Sonos speakers. I’ve even heard of one couple asking for a drone.
Brides-to-be tell me earnestly that their parents’ friends would all like to give them something that they really need. Better to be clear about what you like than end up with ten porcelain milk jugs. But the balance at many weddings has shifted; younger friends of the bride and groom normally far outnumber the older friends of the parents. So the modern wedding list isn’t really intended for parents’ friends, helpful as it may be. It is aimed at the couple’s peer group, as a way of signalling what sort of brands best represent their new life together.
Almost every big shop offers a wedding list service. The idea of a bridal list — or registry — being held at a department store is an American invention. In 1924, the Chicago-founded department store Marshall Field’s pioneered the concept. The past decade has been boom time, as wedding list companies migrated online. Nowadays, it is quite normal to be sent a link to an online wedding list and guests can pay by card — or even Paypal — for the presents, which will then be delivered to the couple after their honeymoon. John Lewis found itself in trouble this week after its wedding list website licence temporarily expired, sending shockwaves through the bridal community.
Some couples are upfront about the fact that they have everything they need. Others pursue ‘the honeymoon option’. Hundreds of companies exist which allow wedding guests to contribute to ‘experiences’. BuyOurHoneymoon.com is one such. It claims to offer a ‘polite way of asking for cash gifts’, to ‘let your guests give you the world’. Examples of the sort of experiences that can be booked include a shark-feeding lagoon tour, an evening of Polynesian dance and an Ernest Hemingway-inspired safari.
I’m all for giving presents. I just wish the wedding list wasn’t such a carnival of commercial greed; a contest to see who can spend the most. One friend tells a horror story about a wedding she went to where there was nothing on the list for less than £200. Modern weddings are already so expensive for everyone involved. An over-the-top list adds to the spiralling costs. A recent invite to a friend’s engagement drinks asked for ‘no presents’. I wasn’t expecting to bring one but should I have been? Will the engagement present be the next new social pressure? Baby and bridal showers have already crept into British culture from America, bringing with them demands for more, more, more presents.
There are some wedding list ideas that aren’t quite so exasperating. Some couples ask for a donation to charity, which is kind--hearted if a little worthy. Others ask guests to bring a book or a bottle of wine. Both have the advantage of not pressuring friends to spend a fortune: a cheap paperback could be just as well received as a first edition. The same cannot be said if you opt for the cheaper items on a digital wedding list, since the bride and groom know exactly how much you paid — and therefore how much you value them.
There is another way. Avoid the list entirely, trust your instincts and give the couple something you think they will like. The Queen is expected to give the newly-weds a house on the royal estate: a home for Meghan’s cashmere throws and leather club chairs.