A truly great wedding feels like the most epic party of the year—one that happens to cost an arm, leg and practically every other appendage on the bride and the groom. According to a recent study from The Knot, the average cost of a wedding in 2016 was $32,641—up $2,688 from ‘15, which suggests the pricetag for a lifetime of happiness continues to spike with each new lavish Pinterest idea.
So when you score an exclusive invite to an expensive wedding, know that you’ll have to justify your presence—and not just with presents. You’ll need plenty of charm, charisma and dance moves, too. Since the same study also revealed that newlyweds pay an average of $245 for every wedding guest, here’s how to be a million-dollar guest and give your hosts a killer return on their investment.
The Knot’s 2016 Wedding Guest Study asked more than 1,000 people to reveal how much they spent on attending any given bash, and the stats are pretty stark: The average guest dropped $888 on various expenses last year, including attire ($81), travel ($321), hotels ($322) and gifts ($118). That figure sounds about right; research from RetailMeNot shows you should tweak your gift budget based on your relationship with the bride or groom, spending $195 for your sibling and $89 on a good friend.
More important than how much money you spend, however, is what you spend it on. The truth? Wedding gifts are much simpler than you think. Research in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology found that gift recipients were happier with presents that they explicitly requested than those they didn’t; in other words, stick to the registry. This falls in line with a recent Bankrate study that shows Gen Xers and Millennials are much more likely to shop off the registry than simply give cash or a check.
But that’s not to say every registry is filled with boring appliances. In fact, more and more couples are electing to create honeymoon registries on sites like Honeyfund and Traveler’s Joy; according to data from The Knot, 22 percent of newlyweds now use such registries.
This makes sense: Cornell University research shows experiential gifts bring more long-term happiness than material goods. Wouldn’t you rather pay for your friends to kiteboard in St. Thomas instead of getting them a blender? As a bonus, scientists at the University of Pennsylvania say that if you buy someone an experience, they’ll feel more connected to you.
Whatever you do, steer clear of crystal glassware, as-seen-on-TV appliances and relationship books. In a recent survey from Wayfair, 1,500 brides and grooms agreed that these were the worst wedding gifts to receive.
Save the stuffy, bulky black tux for the fall; if you’re going to a summer wedding, odds are the attire will be considerably more casual, comfortable and colorful. Pick a lighter suit that will breathe—something like a linen blend (i.e. wool or silk), which is great in warmer temperatures, but doesn’t wrinkle the second you move.
When it comes to colors, have some fun. If blue is your go-to hue, opt for a brighter shade, or try something in an earth tone. Add a pocket square that pops and pick a subtle patterned tie to show off a bit of your personal style. Just remember to ditch the socks: A pair of double monkstraps or suede loafers look great when you show a little ankle.
Want some inspiration? Start with these 5 Wedding Suits For Under $500.
You don’t need a Toastmasters membership to know there are a few basic rules of thumb for delivering a winning wedding speech: 1) Don’t make it about yourself 2) Don’t insult the bride and 3) Don’t talk for so long that you cut into the dancing time. Your goal should be to give a brisk—i.e. two minutes at most—speech that’s more heartfelt than hilarious, though you can crack a few PG jokes that cast the groom as a good guy, not a sleazeball.
Need a theme? Talk about how you’ve always admired the newlyweds’ strong friendship. Not only will you endear yourself to the crowd and the couple, but you’ll boost their odds of growing old together, too: In a study from the National Bureau of Economic Research, married couples who said they were best friends reported having almost twice as much life satisfaction than other pairs. Affirm their friendship instead of telling a Vegas horror story and you’ll end up on YouTube for the right reasons.
And hey, if you’re coming up blank, you can always outsource your speech. Just email the two Brooklyn writers behind Speech Tank and they’ll send you a unique outline, draft and revision based on your buddy’s big day. The audience will think you’re a genius—and you won’t have to correct them.
No, you can’t control the music, even if you did DJ every Thirsty Thursday back in college. But most wedding DJs honor a handful of requests from guests that aren’t on the newlyweds’ pre-selected playlist, so it’s your job to ask for a few surefire jams that will elevate the party—and to make sure the rest of the guests trace the tunes back to you.
You can never go wrong with Michael Jackson, Beyonce, the Beatles, Stevie Wonder, Outkast, Queen, Rihanna, Van Morrison, the Jackson 5 and Justin Timberlake—the top 10 artists who appear in the most wedding reception playlists, per data from FiveThirtyEight.
Want to get really specific? Dutch cognitive neuroscientists teamed up with a British electronics brand to analyze the listening habits of people in the U.K. and found that these 10 songs all share similar elements (lyrical theme, musical key, and a tempo that hovers around 150 beats per minute) to make them the most uplifting tunes in the world. Request a few of these and you’re scientifically guaranteed to have a good time:
1) Queen - “Don’t Stop Me Now”
2) Abba - “Dancing Queen”
3) The Beach Boys - “Good Vibrations”
4) Billy Joel - “Uptown Girl”
5) Survivor - “Eye of the Tiger”
6) The Monkees - “I’m a Believer”
7) Cyndi Lauper - “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun”
8) Jon Bon Jovi - “Living on a Prayer”
9) Gloria Gaynor - “I Will Survive”
10) Katrina and the Waves - “Walking on Sunshine”
Of course, great jams won’t mean jack if you don’t dance along to them. There are several reasons you should cut a rug instead of hanging at your table all night: For starters, no one remembers wedding wallflowers—but they do remember the guy who shepherded the “Cupid Shuffle” and conducted an epic Bon Jovi sing-along, complete with hair-metal moves. Your ultimate goal is to make the bride and groom (and their families) glad they invited you.
And fine, you have an ulterior motive, too. According to data from The Knot, 19 percent of newlyweds report that some of their guests hooked up at their wedding and four percent even say those wedding rendezvous led to committed relationships. There’s no better way to meet a prospective partner than to bust a move: In a German study, women paid more attention to guys who danced than those who didn’t, and also found them more attractive and masculine than stubborn men who stood still.
The best part? You can have two left feet and still impress. It turns out that people don’t actually judge your feet when you dance—they look at your upper body instead, finds research from Northumbria University in the U.K. When you use big, fast arm movements on the dance floor, it signals upper-body strength, the scientists say. Start prepping your fist pumps.
BONUS: THE MEMORIES
If you play your cards right, you’ll end up all over your friends’ professional wedding photo album. But if you want a quicker, cooler way to preserve the good times and draw a crowd, bring our favorite party gadget: The Polaroid ZIP Mobile Photo Printer ($123, amazon.com). Snap Insta-worthy photos of the crew at Table 5 in an epic conga line, and instantly send them to this pocket-sized printer. In under a minute, you’ll have 2x3”, full-color prints that you can hand out to your favorite bridesmaids.
Additional reporting by Justin Tejada