Planning a Wedding Registry

I think we’ve all heard the story about when Lily Beth moved into Jack’s rumbling old Victorian house and discovered that, while all the appliances were brand new (Thank you, Jesus!), the only actual “home goods” were as follows:

  • 1 couch (left by previous tenant)
  • 1 computer chair
  • 1 bed (one set of linens, washed weekly)
  • 1 broken lamp
  • 2 towels (origin: questionable)
  • 1 t.v. tray doing duty as a bedside table
  • 2 beer steins
  • 1 giant plastic cup from 7-11
  • 6 plates from Goodwill

Right. Surely, this story is legend by now.

My first order of business was to politely ask him to hook the water line up to the fridge, so we could have filtered water and ice. (Actually, it went something like, “Ohmygod, what is wrongwithyoupeople up here?! How do you not have ice?! It is JULY, Jack Tempest, and I do not know how they DO IT in the Midwest, but for those of us with REAL SUMMER, down South, our DAINY LADY BITS get very cranky when there is NO ICE.” But I digress.)

But my second order of business was to run over to Crate and Barrel and buy honest-to-god glasses and barware – not enough for an army, just enough for two.

And then I brought over my things – which, having always kept my own apartment whether dating or not, amounted to a weird conglomeration of items, such as two different potato peelers, a set of corn-in-the-cob skewers, a barely used set of gourmet cookware (cooking for one is not as awesome as those “Cooking for One!” books lead you to believe), a single spatula-spoon, a pink Kitchen Aid mixer, the world’s tiniest food processor – well, you get the idea.

So when we got engaged, I started a registry, but we were both at a bit of a loss.

We had enough china to host a damned mismatched dinner dance – the result of both my grandmothers, my mother, the death of Jack’s parents, and his brother’s divorce.

Likewise on the silver pieces and flatware – the only thing my mother salivated over more than picking out my wedding dress was the idea that she could hoist things off on me.

And Jack was a practicing carpenter and had every power tool known to man.

“…Towels?” I said, clicking through registries. There were so many places. So much stuff.

“Would we ever use one of those giant drink dispense stands?” I asked, still clicking.

Jack: “…”

Well, through my own wedding and a dozen more (working as a wedding coordinator and an occasional bridesmaid), here is what we have learned.

First Thing’s First: Inventory

Before Jack, I rented a tiny urban studio apartment. When I entertained, it was in restaurants or the larger homes of my parents. After Jack, I suddenly had a grand old house and not enough tools to cook a simple meal for four if my life depended on it, to say nothing of having a houseguest.

No matter how you’re styling your marriage (I have a girlfriend who’s married and balks at the term “wife,” preferring instead to be called “love partner”), Life Is Different After You’re Married.  Even if you’ve been living together for years, life is different. The law regards you as different, your families will regard you as different, your friends will regard you as different, even if they don’t admit it.

Look at what kind of a lifestyle you lead now, and what kind of a lifestyle you’d like to lead in the future. You may not entertain much right now, but would you like to in the future? Maybe you, too, have a smaller urban apartment where space is at a premium, and you intend to keep it that way? Maybe you’re on embarking on your second marriage, or like us, have already inherited enough stuff to choke a horse?

All these factors are going to influence what route you want to go with your registry. Take an honest walk around your home, opening drawers and closets. Don’t discount this advice – can you tell me, right now, how many towels you own?

There are a few items that everyone should take a moment to think hard about concerning their registry – those tried and true home staples that you can usually stand a few more of (or nicer versions of) when you get married. Remember, this is the one time (allegedly) that you’re pretty much allowed to ask your family and friends to give you things.


Linens encompasses almost everything fabric in your household minus the curtains and your clothes. Pretty much everything else is fair game for the “linens” category. Why do you need more linens? Because they wear out, over time. Because you could only afford a “good” set of sheets for your bedroom, and the guest bedroom is laying bare. Because you don’t have any cloth napkins, or only have enough for two people. Because your husband (JACK TEMPEST) bought 150-thread count sheets at the grocery store and it is like sleeping on notebook paper.

Whatever the reasoning, odds are you could use some more linens.


  • Two sets of sheets for each bed in the house (that includes fitted sheet, flat sheet, and pillow cases). This is a good time to register for those fancy pillows you want as well.
  • Good dishtowels. You know those cheap towels you bought at Schmall-Mart in college? The ones that are like trying to dry a dish with a plastic bag? Those aren’t going to cut it anymore. Register for at least half-a-dozen absorbent, big dishtowels.
  • No-lint glass towels. That’s right. You’re not inept at cleaning glass, you’re just using the wrong tools: no one can clean a glass properly with a paper towel. They make special towels for that. Get at least two.
  • Hand towels for the bathroom. I see people forget this most often – using the powder room in someone’s home and having to dry your hands with toilet paper does not make one generous towards one’s host.
  • Bath towels and bath sheets. A bath towel what you’d use to dry your hair; it’s the smaller towel, usually measuring about 27×52″. A bath sheet is the larger towel you’d wrap around your body, running about 35×60″. Think you already have enough towels? Register for at least three more matching sets – the guiltily good kind.
  • Wash cloths/wash towels. These babies are up to you – it’s a personal preference. I don’t like wash cloths and prefer to use the larger wash towels, while Jack adores those little square suckers.
  • At least two bathmats for each full bath in your home. You’ve been using a towel, haven’t you? Maybe the crummy towel that someone (JACK TEMPEST) rescued from the middle of the street one day? It’s okay. We all have. But towels are not bathmats – hell, using a towel on a tile floor can be downright dangerous, as it’s not meant to stay in one place like a bath mat is. Register for two so you have something to put down while the other is in the laundry.
  • At least two exquisite blankets – one for summer, one for winter. Maybe it’s that duvet that you would never buy for yourself (because damn, girl, are those expensive!) Maybe it’s a gorgeous quilt that is just the right color of blue. But he who hesitates is lost – register for it now, while you’re not the one doing the buying!
  • 12 decent cloth dinner napkins. The easiest way to dress up a dinner party.
  • 12 decent cloth cocktail napkins. The easiest way to dress up a cocktail party.

Kitchen Appliances

Here’s a particularly good category, because appliances are expensive! And that’s okay! It’s okay to register for expensive things – remember that there will always be that couple that feels awful about canceling on you at the last minute, but sends you that $200 pasta maker you wanted to assuage their guilt, or that great group of college friends who chip in together to buy you a set of luggage or a powersaw. Whatever the item, don’t be afraid to register bigger than if you were trying to afford it yourself – that’s the whole point.

  • A stand mixer. We rely heavily on KitchenAid’s products – they’re tried and true, and they come with warranties and product support. At $349.99, their Artisan series mixer might be one of the most expensive things on your registry, but to us, it was worth it . Being able to throw in some heavy cream, confectioner’s sugar, vanilla, and virtually walk away and come back to fresh whipped cream makes me look much more domestically capable than I am. Plus, as you get older and more culinarily daring, you can purchase additional pieces for your KitchenAid – that little knob-looking thing on the front? You can attach a cheese grater, juicer, pasta maker, can opener, you name it, to that sucker.
  • A hand mixer. Sometimes there are things you just can’t put in a stand mixer. We love our little 5-speed Ultra Power by KitchenAid, and for $49.99, it’s a steal. If you do not invest in a stand mixer, at least buy a hand mixer. Your wrists will thank you.
  • A food processor. We have a little Cuisinart Mini-Prep food processor ($39.95) that has been invaluable to us over the years – from pulsing flour and butter for baking to creating a fine dusting of parmesean for alfredo sauce, it has been a lifesaver without being one of the larger, pricier models. Plus it’s small, so it’s easy to store away under the counter.
  • A coffee maker. So once upon a time, Lily Beth and Jack used a pretty crappy coffee maker purchased from the grocery store for $15. It was fine. It got the job done. But then they spent a week with Jack’s brother and sister-in-law, James and Maria, in California. Jimmy and Mere were serious about their coffee. Jack and Lily Beth admired their fancy coffee maker, but stood their ground on their own thrifty grocery store purchase – at least until they arrived home and found that Jimmy and Mere had shipped them, as a belated wedding present, a fancy coffee maker. And lo, the guilty pleasure of setting up the coffee the night before and having the timer kick the coffee maker on before they were even out of bed was born.
  • A waffle maker. Yes, a waffle maker is one of those completely superfluous items you can live without, especially if you’re not a waffle person. However, if you think you may once, at any point, want a waffle, then there’s just no substitute. When Jack and I were first married, I wasn’t working, and he was on a touring show that required him to get up at “the butt crack of dawn,” as my mother says. Because I wasn’t working, it was a piece of (pan)cake for me to traipse down to the darkened kitchen at 5:00am in my bathrobe, with one eye open, and take some pre-made waffle mix out of the fridge, throw it in the waffle maker while I sliced some strawberries and tossed some eggs in a pan. Jack got off with a good breakfast each morning with minimal fuss from me – in fact as soon as he was out the door, I went back to bed.
  • A deep fryer. Now, I come from a long line of Southern ladies who fry things, and none of them have ever owned a deep fryer. I have watched my mother fry everything from chicken to pickles to homemade french fries in a three-inch deep frying pan. If the thought of fried food makes you want to curl up and die, then dispense with the deep fryer. But if you’re like me, trying to balance a work schedule with your never-ending desire for fried okra, then consider a deep fryer.
  • A crock pot or slow cooker. There’s a reason a crock pot is the stereotypical staple of PTA moms everywhere: it’s indispensable. It keeps soups and queso warm, it’s an easy alternative to a double-boiler for melting chocolate, and it’s perfect for throwing in pot roast or stew and then largely walking away while it cooks all day.


So that one pot from Schmall-Mart and skillet from Target got you through college, eh? Great. But there are some things that require more than one piece of cookware – in fact, most legitimate meals do. (There is no substitute for a stock pot, ladies and gentlemen.)

You’ll want to consider:

  • A stock pot.
  • A frying pan, 8″ minimum.
  • A covered sauce pan.
  • A covered chef’s pan.

Also, don’t forget the knives – for goodness sake, don’t forget the knives.  If you’ve been living on a single pan for mac and cheese dinners, I know you’ve been living on a single knife or two for all your cutting. And that’s okay, but it’s time to grow up.

When I was in my mid-twenties, I started dating a gorgeous Jewish boy named Ari. He was a chef. On our first date, he made me a chilled soup, game hen, and a chocolate milkshake-like dessert spiked with whiskey. It may not have been love, but it was certainly lust; I gained fifteen pounds over the next year. And I quickly came to realize that Ari would rather have his car stolen than his knives, and for good reason. Even when I did the cooking – he was fascinated by my low-country Southern fare – I was smart enough to notice that a proper bread knife is worth its weight in gold.

Knives are expensive, and necessary; your wedding registry is the ideal place to get someone else to foot the bill for this investment in your culinary future.

John over at One Man’s Blog has written an excellent (if not definitive) post on choosing knives for every budget, including advice on things like why a matching set is best (they’ll all fit in one block, they’ll require similar care, and they’ll have a similar balance and feel, allowing you to move effortlessly from one to another).


Maybe you’d rather stab your eyes out than bake something – after my bouts with Martha Stewart, I understand this. But if you think you’ll be making even something as simple as muffins, you need to consider bakeware, because baking is about the easiest thing to screw up without the proper tools.

First, don’t succumb to the urge to register for one of those big box sets; they’re almost always sub-par in quality. Opt instead for a few individual choice pieces that you can go inspect in the store without having to be that woman (Lily Beth) who sits in the aisle and takes everything out of the box. Calphalon, Cuisinart, and KitchenAid are all trusted brands, and you can easily evaluate their (and other!) products at a kitchenware store like Sur la Table.

Second, do some mental inventory. What do you bake? What would you bake if you had the proper tools? Cheesecake requires a specialized pan, as does coffee cake. Maybe you bake cookies by the dozen, or plan on turning out some mean cupcakes. Maybe you don’t really bake at all, but you’re known for your heart-attack-mac-and-cheese casserole. Whatever it is, decide what you do (and don’t) need; space is precious, no matter how large your kitchen, and you don’t want to clutter it with things you’ll never use.


  • 2 large muffin tins (because most mixes make 24 muffins)
  • 2 mini muffin tins.
  • Cookie and biscuit cutters.
  • 2 good cookie sheets – we like the insulated kind.
  • Ramekins. Ideal for individual desserts.
  • Loaf pans. Perfect for baking small loaves of delicious things for thank you gifts, new neighbors, or holiday parties.
  • Pie pans.
  • One rectangle and one square baking pan or dish. (A baking dish is glass; a baking pan is metal.)

Casual Dinnerware

So Jack and I made this mistake. Thinking we had a ton of china already, we figured we were good to go on dinnerware and did not register for any at all. Stupidly, this meant that the only thing we had to serve on were half-a-dozen 1970s plates from Goodwill, or my mother’s good Noritake – there was no middle ground for casual occasions or dinner parties with friends.

Register for at least 8 place settings if you don’t entertain much (that’ll at least cover you and the in-laws when they drop by), or 12 place settings if you entertain often (that’s you plus five other couples).

You may have an awesome color scheme in mind, but give some consideration to sticking to all white dinnerware – it’s easy to dress up or down with colored chargers, placemats, or napkins, and doesn’t have to be changed with the season. A crisp white can just as easily represent the 4th of July as it can the winter holidays.

If you just want to say “Screw it!,” then Pottery Barn’s Caterer’s Sets are an easy solution. Clean, simple, and inexpensive, a set of 12 dinner plates is only $49.99 and 12 salad plates only $39.99. They’re microwave and dishwasher safe, and they come with a durable storage box, making them as easy to tote out to the back yard as to the dinner table.

They also have a 12 piece stemware set for $49.00, and 36-piece flatware set for $99.

Fine Dinnerware

Not everyone needs to register for fine china when they get married. Perhaps you already have inherited several sets, or perhaps you just don’t feel that you’re “fine china” people and would rather direct that wedding-registry-energy towards power tools. To each his and her own.

Any way you slice it, though, china is a big investment. It’s meant to be passed down. (And I have to admit, even thought we don’t often use it, it’s kind of wonderful to see my great grandmother’s, grand mother’s, and mother’s china patterns. It makes me feel as if I have an insight into their own married lives, and that they are still with me.)

If you do think you’d like to register for china, it can be confusing.

A typical place setting (enough dishes for exactly one person) consists of five pieces:

  • Dinner plate
  • Salad/dessert plate
  • Bread/butter plate
  • Tea cup
  • Saucer

You may wish to expand this place setting by purchasing bowls or additional plates (enough for both salad and dessert, for example).

You’ll also want to consider different sizes of platters (from serving roasts to stacking miniature desserts), a few serving bowls (for veggies, sliced bread, or other sides), and a cream pitcher and sugar bowl (for after-dinner coffee or tea).


Whether fine crystal or regular glass, glassware beats the pants off plasticware every day of the week. Having a good set of glassware is an easy way to look like you went the extra mile for a meal, when in reality, you just picked it up at the market on the way home.


Coasters. Don’t be those people who make their guests stand around with their drinks in their hand for fear of leaving a ring on the tables. They can be cheap cork board coasters or crystal, as long as you have them.

Red and white wine glasses. Follow your own personal entertaining preferences. If you host dinner parties (or would like to), you’ll need as many wine glasses as you will place settings (that is to say 8 to 12). If you host a lot of cocktail parties, you’ll need more than that. And people (yourself included) will, at some point, break one or two of your wine glasses. If you’re concerned about keeping your set matching, buy extra from the get-go.

Water goblets. At least as many as you have place settings, and then some.

Old-fashioned/rocks glasses of both the double and single variety.

Collins glasses. I love serving mixed cocktails with three perfectly square, clear ice cubes in a collins glass. They’re also an easy way to make your guests feel special while drinking something as mundane as a coca-cola.

A glass carafe for water, and a pitcher for iced tea. I like to use my carafe to do double-duty as both a serving piece and something to place on the guest bedroom table when we have house guests. There’s nothing more annoying than waking up with drymouth at 4:00am in someone’s house and not knowing where the light switches are or the glasses in the kitchen.

A decent ice bucket, whether crystal or metal, with the requisite ice tongs or scoop.

Coffee mugs. So Jack and I have started the tradition of collecting a coffee mug from each place we travel. Stereotypical? Sure. But having my hand-fired “fish mug” from Bar Harbor or my elaborately gaudy Las Vegas mug to drink out of in the morning lefts me relive all our travels in the brief seconds it takes for me to pick out a mug, and it’s an easy open for after-dinner conversation when someone can look at the side of their mug and say, “How did you like Santa Fe?”

However, that being said, you may prickle at the thought of someone’s “CHICAGO: THE WINDY CITY!” coffee mug clashing against your fine china. If this is the case, invest in some legitimate, matching coffee mugs and tea cups for company.

A punch bowl with cups. I never thought I’d be a woman who served punch until I inherited my grandmother’s milkglass punchbowl, glasses, and ladle. Now I make it all the time – am, in fact, known for my gin punch. There’s just really no substitute for a punch bowl; I use the for summer parties, brunch, bridal showers, you name it.

My most tried and true secret is Hendrick’s recipe for their Persephone Dram Punch, made with Hendrick’s gin, pomegranate soda, and a huge ice cube. You can view the printable instructions for the punch here, and make the requisite enormous ice cube by pouring distilled water into a cardboard milk carton and then freezing it.

Other than that, you’ll have to make your own decisions on how often you plan to serve more complicated things, like martinis, or champagne, that require special glasses. Crate and Barrel is a good source to pick up inexpensive sets of these things – we own only two martini glasses, for example, because neither of us drink them (I take my gin with tonic only, please) and we have them on hand just in case some guest feels up to making a martini.

The Miscellaneous

This category will bite you in the ass – you get pretty much one chance, in life, to outright ask your family and friends to buy you things, and this is it. This is the category that, a year after you’re married and contemplating how expensive patio furniture is, you’ll smack your forehead and go, “Christ on a cracker, how did we not register for this?”


  • The various and sundry kitchen items that you may be lacking on, such as knife rests, salad tongs, a meat fork, a good ice cream scoop, a heated carafe for keeping coffee hot at the table, a 20-piece casual flatware set, a variety of mixing bowls, a cupcake carrier, a tea kettle, a butter dish, etc.
  • Patio furniture.
  • Mattress pads for each bed you have.
  • Luggage (including a suit or garment bag for carry on). Our best friends got together and bought us a sturdy five-piece set, and it was hands down the best thing we received.
  • A sewing machine. Don’t let this fool you – I registered for a sewing machine, because I grew up sewing. Yet while I was working 80 hour weeks and Jack was on layoff from performances, he taught himself how to use my little Singer and ran up some curtains for every window in the house.
  • A good vaccum and a good iron. I’ve found both these things are extremely necessary, and yet, very hard to convince yourself to buy.
  • Bathrobes. The good kind. With monograms. Such a guilty pleasure.
  • Power tools. Doing some home renovation? Now’s the time to register for that nail gun, power saw, drill set, stud finder, and the like.
  • Lawnmower and/or snow blower.
  • Boxes for storage. I had a hell of a time trying to store four sets of china for the first year we were married, until I spent Pesach with one of our friend’s families and saw that the matriarch stored her china in beautiful quilted storage boxes. Check out some at or The Container Store. While you’re there, stock up on clever paper storage for your wedding day keepsakes (extra programs, menus, cards from guests) and photograph storage for those hundreds of prints you know you’re going to have made.

Lingerie Showers

Not exactly your wedding registry, but worth talking about. I’ve already written extensively on lingerie in general, but I don’t honestly see why a bride-to-be can’t have a separate registry for lingerie. Honestly – we know you’ve been sleeping in your underwear and an oversized “Race for the Cure!” t-shirt. Make the most of that obligatory shower by getting what you want.

The Act of Compiling Your Registry

There are some places that I just love, period, because they have a wide variety of stuff that makes it easy to register in one place. When I was a child, a bride-to-be would go down to the local department store in town and “create” a registry by picking out items that would literally be put together in a pleasing arrangement in a table in the store. People who wanted to buy an item for the couple had to physically drive down to the store, peruse the bride’s table, and then choose an item.

The Internet has largely made this practice obsolete, but as a bride (or a groom!), you’re still going to want to check out these items in the store before you register online. Don’t be afraid to be that woman who goes into a store with a little notebook in hand to jot down item names and bar code numbers.

Crate and Barrel, Pottery Barn, William-Sonoma, and Restoration Hardware are all wonderful places to register. But don’t overlook the department stores like Neiman’s or Macy’s, either.

Likewise, is pretty much the definitive place online for all things wedding. Check out their wedding registry section, which will give you a handy checklist, great tips, and a “What’s your registry style?” quiz to help you get started.

2 Responses to “Planning a Wedding Registry”
  1. Dana says:

    Wow. This is an amazingly thorough list. And I really like the advice to take a look at your life and lifestyle to determine what you need and don’t. This is probably one of the most important things one can do. So I’m curious if you considered including any alternative types of gift registries for people who don’t want all the more typical ‘stuff’…Who might be saving for something bigger like a home, or prefer the gift of experiences? There are so many great options available these days!

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  1. […] remember Alice from “Alternative Bachelorette Parties“) about my recent post concerning what to put on your wedding registry, she asked me whether or not I covered people like […]

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