PREPARING FOR MARRIAGE. The bridal registry

Although the phenomenon of the bridal registry began modestly in the early 1930s, currently over 5,000 such registries flourish in department stores, specialty and gift shops, furniture and gourmet shops, bookstores - and even in museum galleries. These bridal registries account for a large chunk of the $11.3 billion in retail sales that the bride and groom in the United States, their families and friends, spend annually to set up new homes.

They are maintained by registrars, who help the couple make pattern choices by showing them merchandise and giving them information and advice about style, color, price, and suitability.

The concept behind the registries is the controlling and organizing of the flow of wedding gifts in order that brides and grooms will not get a mishmash of presents, but items that they want and need and will appreciate.

Most registries work in this fashion:

The couple lists their decisions on bridal registry forms (including style number, color, quantity desired, description, and brand name). These forms are given to friends, and purchases are checked off the forms by the registrar so no duplication can occur.

Stores generally see that the selections are gift wrapped and sent to the bride's home.

For centuries, says Barbara Tober, editor in chief of Bride's magazine, people have wanted to give brides and grooms ``something to get them started'' in their new home. The idea began years ago when families liked to give pieces of a chosen sterling silver pattern to their daughters at birthdays and holidays for their hope chests.

Family jewelers began to keep lists of these family preferences in notebooks as a guide to future gift givers. And as engaged couples came into their shops, they learned to keep a wedding gift list of a couple's pattern choices, as a guide to gift givers.

Today the options for the bridal registry include not only the usual silver, china, and crystal, but also furniture, television sets, and household tools.

Modern couples come in with brand names and patterns well in mind. Grooms are very much involved in the decision-making process. They, rather than the brides' mothers, often accompany the bride-to-be to the registries.

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