For the unindoctrinated, a wedding registry is simply a societally sanctioned way for couples to tell their closest friends and family, "Here's a list of everything we want you to buy us."
Yet the custom cannot be blamed on modern consumer culture. In fact, according to the Bride's Book of Wedding Traditions, the first recorded instance of a bridal registry was at a Minnesota store in 1901. Department stores like Chicago's Marshall Fields came soon after, offering registries as a way for engaged couples to share their preferred china pattern with family and friends. In 1958, Williams-Sonoma got into the act, helping turn couples' attention to everyday items, too.
Today, there is an entire Wedding Industrial Complex devoted to making couples feel insecure unless they opt for jumbo-sized marital loot. Countless magazines, Web sites and blogs provide readers with long lists of "must have" items for newlywed life.
Stores ranging from your local cookware shop to Crate & Barrel hold exclusive events where brides and grooms can zap a scanning gun at merchandise without the disruption of other shoppers. Web sites enable a bride to monitor her registry 24 hours a day, allowing her to adjust with a few simple clicks if guests need more choices or if she changes her mind about the pasta maker.
Couples are no longer confined to cookware and department stores for registries. They can make statements about their identities to wedding guests by adding less standard items to their wish lists, such as camping gear, tools, furniture, and even home electronics (His and hers towels are passe. Today's newlyweds want his and hers iPods).