Being modern: Wedding lists

a Dualit toaster. A set of Riedel wine glasses. A Nespresso coffee machine. A flat-screen TV complete with state-of-the-art DVD player. Fluffy Egyptian-cotton towels. Pure silk bed linen... What about the cuddly toy? Never mind. Didn't they do well?

The summer wedding season is nearly upon us and that can mean only one thing: gift-list panic. Move too soon and you run the risk of feeling impelled to buy something that costs three times more than you wanted to spend. Get there too late, and your options will have narrowed to a less-than-dazzling cup and saucer.

Even worse, you may be asked to make a donation to a charitable cause (or 10) of the couple's choosing. In the case of Kate and Wills last year, that included an "interactive theatre company for the under-fives" and the Canadian Coast Guard Auxiliary. Great causes all, no doubt. But not the ones, perhaps, closest to your own heart.

So how did we get here? How did a simple and old-fashioned idea become so complicated by modern mores? The practice of compiling a wedding list – or "bridal registry" as they call it in the US – began at the Marshall Field's department store in Chicago in 1924. Back then, it solved many thorny problems. As a young couple building a home together, it was safe to assume that newlyweds needed everything. But how to ensure they didn't get 10 of one item and none of the other?

These days, approximately 60 per cent of couples live together before the big day, a statistic that suggests many use their wedding lists to upgrade the run-of-the-mill products they already own.

And now they don't even have to think of what to put on the list. Modern couples can simply walk around John Lewis with a scan-gun, zapping any items they fancy. Fun, but it's hard to escape the feeling that this is a form of legitimised shoplifting for the middle-classes. The subtext is buy what we have chosen because we don't trust your taste. And the practice is spreading. Bridal-shower lists? Baby-shower lists? What was that about it being better to give than to receive?

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