Salon's social bootcamp: "Mild friends" get married — how much present do you give?

Readers ask Fancy, our etiquette expert, how to navigate tricky social situations and live their best life

Published September 21, 2016 11:58AM (EDT)


Welcome to Salon's Social Bootcamp. Fancy is the pen name of Kirsten Schofield, a writer who spends her spare time considering modern etiquette, manners, and social mores. If you have a technical (which fork do I use?) or theoretical (how shall I assess the unspoken rules of conduct at my new pilates studio?) question, direct them to and she’ll do her best to shepherd you in the direction of correct behavior.


Dear Fancy,

Some friendly acquaintances/mild friends from a shared hobby are having multiple wedding celebrations. They’re doing a ceremony and reception on one day (I am not invited) and a brunch and shared-hobby-experience on the following day (I’m invited and attending).

What is my gift play here? Give a gift of the full value I would have given had I been invited to the wedding itself? Give a smaller gift? Give no gift? I don't have any experience with this and am not sure it's the right call.

Thanks in advance,

Not Gifted At This

Dear Gifted,

Before I answer your question, I must tell you that everyone here at Fancy HQ legit lol’d at the term “mild friends.” What a genius idea. I immediately integrated it into my vernacular to describe everyone except my emergency contacts and dearest Reddit pals. But you have a problem and it is my job to solve your problem. So as much as I would like to stand here all day and sort my friends into “mild friends” and “friends” piles, let’s get cracking.

This sort of wedding celebration is becoming more and more common as people get married older and live further away from their homes of origin. And it makes it so the old standards of wedding etiquette don’t really apply tidily. Having a far-flung life means gathering everyone in one place can be tough. It’s contentious for sure, but I’m not here to say if it is or is not an OK thing to do.

So many of us grew up in one place, then head off to college in Montreal or join the Navy or move to California to try and make it in Hollywood. Along the way, you make friends who are from Montana and Miami and Melbourne, and you fall in love with a girl from Mumbai. Add in your work friends, your Brazilian jiu jitsu friends and the folks from your improv classes and you have a 700-person invite list that necessitates every guest traveling 1,000 miles to celebrate with you. Thus, the tiered wedding celebration is born. It starts to make sense.

What doesn’t really make sense is how to navigate the gift giving, and it’s not like wedding-related gifts make a ton of sense anyway. Historically, nonfamily/best friend guests who didn’t travel to attend the wedding gave a gift roughly equivalent to the cost of their attendance. Invited guests who did not attend would send a small gift, and people who had traveled to see you wed either give a small token or nothing at all (with the idea being that their presence is the present). Now? Who knows!

In your particular case, you are not actually attending a wedding: You’re attending a pretty nice party. Consider what you’d spend on a hostess gift or a birthday gift for these folks, and get them a nice token of your good wishes for their new marriage. Alternatively, you could ask a bunch of your shared-hobby friends if they’d like to all toss a couple dollars into the hat for a nice item relevant to the interest you all have in common. This is a nice gesture from the community you all share that strikes a good balance between cost-effectiveness and expressing the right sentiment.

Overall, the point of presents is to say, “Hey, I like you and I’m glad to be invited to this thing you’re doing and I got you this little thing to get that point across without words.” Follow that guiding light and the choice you make will be the right one. Don’t sweat the monetary value or overanalyze if it’s the exact right thing for this not-wedding-but-marriage-related festivity. It’s really cool that these people want to have even mild friends share this big day with them. So bring a small gift and a big smile and you are all set.

Yours in low-level commitment,



Dear Fancy,

Some friends of mine have a baby who is about to have his first birthday. They’re pretty well-off and have asked us to donate to a certain charity instead of giving the baby a present. I want to honor their wishes, but how do I go about giving the present in someone else’s name?

Charity Case

Dear Charity,

I love parties of every kind, but let’s be real: One-year-old birthday parties are for the parents to get together with their friends and have beers and cake. When you are preverbal, every day is your birthday. People do whatever you want, you get to decide if you do or do not want to wear clothes, and you can refuse any kind of food for whatever reason whatsoever. What I’m saying is that your birthday party isn’t exactly different than your everyday life.

In that spirit, it is a little odd we give babies lots of presents on what is, to them, a random day in October. Asking for donations in lieu of whatever is a practice that has trickled down from funerals to weddings to birthdays, and here we find ourselves. Unless you yourself are in the habit of anonymously giving sums of cash to Doctors Without Borders, you’re not alone in this unfamiliar terrain.

If they have chosen a charity for you, start by going to their website. Most larger charities will have a page on their website about how to give donations in someone else’s name. But if it’s a smaller one, give it a ring and ask. If the organization hasn’t specified where it would like the gift to go, visit and look for a reputable organization that roughly corresponds to the honoree’s interests. Decide how much you’d like to give, and get to giving. Many of these charities will send an email or card on your behalf, but sometimes you will need to write the card yourself. Either way, the wording is about the same for any occasion:

Dear Jackson,

A donation to UNICEF has been made in your name in honor of your first birthday by Mr. Jay Gupta and Dr. Lily Chen. May the knowledge that this gift provides relief to those in need bring you joy on your special day.

That’s it! Substitute “in memory of” or “your anniversary” or “comfort” as appropriate and you’re all set (well, change the names of the givers unless you and your partner happen to be named Jay and Lily).

Thanks for your generosity of spirit, Charity Case. I’m glad to hear more people are on the “we have enough stuff” train.

Yours in ability and need,



By Kirsten Schofield

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Advice Column Birthdays Etiquette Manners Social Bootcamp Weddings