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Etiquette expert reveals the dos and don’t of gifting and reveals it’s fine to ignore a wedding list

Finding the perfect present can be a minefield, whether it’s a wedding, your partner’s birthday or a Secret Santa for a colleague you barely know.

If you find yourself struggling to strike the right note when it comes to gifting, London-based etiquette expert Jo Bryant has revealed the do’s and don’ts to make sure you avoid an embarrassing faux pas. 

According to Jo, there’s more potential for confusion than ever, thanks to the ‘rise in the number of gifting occasions’, including ‘modern gatherings like gender-reveal and divorce parties’.

It comes as research by TK Maxx reveals that more than half of people buy themselves a birthday present every year, with more than 40 per cent admitting they do it to ensure they receive a present they actually like. 

Here Jo reveals why you don’t have to abide by gift lists, how it’s fine to carefully re-gift unwanted presents, and how you could risk looking rude if you give something second-hand or hand over cash as a present.  

Etiquette expert Jo Byant gives her dos and don’ts of gift-giving, from being thoughtful and original to whether to re-gift or not 

DO: Forget the wedding list 

‘Wedding lists make it easier to choose a gift for the couple, that they actually want, especially now that most couples have set up home and modern wedding lists are so varied,’ Jo said. 

But if you have something different in mind, or can’t afford any of the suggested items, it’s not bad manners to go ‘off-list’. 

However, if the couple have asked for cash and you’ve decided to buy them something different, it might be wise to present it on a separate occasion.  

‘Be practical and organise a separate time to give the couple their gift – bringing it along to on the wedding day is impractical and often inconvenient for everyone.’ 

DON’T: Give money as a gift

If you’re pressed for time, there’s always the temptation to stick some cash in a card, but Jo advises against it, especially if the gift is for an adult. 

Equally, it’s not a good idea to say you’ll give a gift at a later date if you’ve run out of time. 

‘Money and gift cards are great for teenagers and young people who can be hard to buy for,’ she said.

‘But for other people you don’t know very well, it is always best and good manners to give an actual gift at the appropriate time, rather than at a later date. 

‘Be organised and prepared with a well-stocked present drawer. Pick up a selection of items in advance when you’re out shopping and you won’t be caught out.’  

When it comes to wedding gifts, it is perfectly fine to go off-list, Jo says. Pictured: A gift with a card address to newlyweds, stock image

When it comes to wedding gifts, it is perfectly fine to go off-list, Jo says. Pictured: A gift with a card address to newlyweds, stock image 

DO: Keep it general

Shopping for someone you don’t know can be tricky, but Jo says that there are always clues about what they may want.

‘Think about what you do know about the recipient – hobbies, interests, travel, things you have in common etc,’ she said.  

‘Avoid anything that may not tally with their personal taste (i.e. fragrance or art) and keep it fairly general – somewhere like TK Maxx is great for this, they’ve got great gifts at great value, all year round.’ 

‘Good all-rounders are treat foods (biscuits, chocolates, preserves), drink (fizz, wine), good-quality stationery (notecards, luxury notebook), coffee table books (if you know their interests), or even something for the kitchen (if they are a keen cook / baker),’ she added. 

DON’T: Re-gift or purchase second-hand items 

To save time and money you could be tempted to hand someone an item that was gifted to you by someone else, but Joe said it’s very bad manners. 

‘You should never give second-hand items as gifts,’ she said.  

‘The exception might be to a very close friend or family member if it allows then to receive a higher-priced gift and you discuss it in advance,’ she added.  

‘Re-gifting should be approached with caution and secrecy – ensure the recipient has no connection with the re-gifted item, and that it is in pristine unused condition.’

DO: Pay attention to wrapping  

Jo stressed the importance and the effect a well-wrapped present can have.  

‘First impressions always count, so take some time to wrap your presents beautifully and pay attention to detail,’ she said. 

‘If paper and tape are beyond your skill set, opt for a gift-bag and tissue paper. After all, you have spent time, effort and money on the gift, so don’t let poor or careless presentation ruin the effect,’ she added.  


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