Next time you scroll through a registry to choose a gift, thank Macy’s for making it easy.

By Betsy Cribb
Updated January 22, 2021

Gift giving has long been an element of wedding tradition—one that's nearly as old as the institution of marriage itself. In ancient times, gifts were more about financial gain for the bride or groom's family. For instance, in archaic Greek history, circa 800 BC, there was a "bride price" (yikes) given to the bride's family by the groom's family in exchange for her hand.  This eventually evolved into a dowry, which consisted of the money, land, and other material assets a bride brought with her to the marriage. By the 15th century, the dowry was shelved in some cultures in favor of a decorative "marriage chest," filled with all the things a bride would require in her wedded life. Fast forward a few hundred years more, and this tradition made its way to the American South as a "hope chest," in which a young woman would store the linens and other clothes she'd need as a wife.

The development of the wedding registry itself happened in more recent history. As marriage became less transactional over the years, the emphasis on gift giving shifted from the couple's families to the guests themselves.

Festive table decor. Many pastel colors. Luxury wedding, party, birthday. Copper chairs and dishes, gold, silver cutlery. Chinese, European, chinoiserie style. candle, mozzarella, persimmons. Above.
Credit: Vadim Kuzubov

Smaller stores and boutiques likely had their own homegrown versions of wedding registries by the start of the 20th century. As with registries today, shop owners would help brides-to-be select china, crystal, and silver patterns for their new homes and then assist friends and family in purchasing those items accordingly.

But it wasn't until 1924 that the wedding registry went mainstream, when Chicago department store Marshall Field's (now owned by Macy's) established their first bridal registry, thus inspiring similar chains to do the same. In 1935, Marshall Field's even constructed a "Bride's House" on its eighth floor, a showroom filled with all kinds of items to guide the young bride-to-be as she made her registry selections.

These days, the wedding registry has become even more streamlined, with nearly everything accessible to guests online through websites like Zola and The Knot. A few clicks, and your gift-giving work is done…unless you prefer to sneak a peek at the bride's choice of place settings in person, and in that case, plenty of Southern stores still offer registries the old-fashioned way, which we love.

Of course, you don't have to shop exclusively from the registry. Just know that if you choose to go rogue and accidentally gift the couple a blender they already have…well, that's on you.