Ashlee Simpson and Evan Ross, Johnny Depp and Amber Heard, and Nick Carter and Lauren Kitt are just some of the famous couples who have recently thrown engagement parties. While Ashlee and Evan opted for a feather-themed party in their home, Johnny and Amber danced the night away with a 1920s-inspired bash. The lines have blurred on what is and isn’t expected of the couple, so to make planning easier, HELLO! Online has put together the ultimate guide on how to throw a fabulous engagement party.

Who hosts the party

Traditionally the bride’s parents host the engagement party, but nowadays it’s more common for the couple to organize the bash themselves or for friends of the bride and groom to volunteer and get involved. You could host two — the first for relatives and close family friends, and the second for your own friends.

Who to invite

The engagement party used to be a more intimate event for the couple’s nearest and dearest, but nowadays more couples are using it as an excuse to invite people that might not necessarily be included in the wedding — such as newer friends, colleagues, parents’ friends — or people who can’t travel far to the wedding. This is particularly true for informal parties hosted by the couple’s friends for example.

For a traditional and more formal party, guests who are invited to the engagement party should also be invited to the wedding as a rule of thumb, so it’s best to organize your wedding guest list before you throw the engagement party.

If the party is held at your parents’ house, both families of the bride and groom should be invited as well as family friends.

When to have it

Ideally, the engagement party will come soon after the proposal while the excitement is still fresh, and before the stress of serious wedding planning kicks in. Give guests about a month’s notice and schedule the party for about nine to eleven months before the wedding.

Where to have it

Most venues can work to set the scene for an engagement party. If the party is hosted by the bride’s parents, a cocktail reception at their house is a classic option. You could alternatively rent out a private room in a restaurant, a bar, a pub, a garden or an estate.

The theme

The theme of the engagement party will center around the couple, but just make sure it matches the wedding theme. If you’re having a beach wedding, for example, a swanky cocktail party at an estate might outdo the actual ceremony. You could have a strict theme such as “vintage”, or just loosely tie everything together with a color palette.

The decor

Everything to do with the couple and the all-important moment of saying “Yes” will be the theme of the engagement party. Decoration can range from bunting saying “Soon to be” or “He put a ring on it” to Polaroid photos of the couple and their friends. Tea lights, bird cages, balloons, confetti and floral arrangements are always a nice touch for outdoor weddings. You could even have a “Love Story” board at the entrance with the dates of the milestones in your relationship and your actual wedding.

The invites

The most informal approach would be sending out an invite by email, but you may want to send paper invites in the post. You could ask your retailer if they have special rates and ask them to design your engagement invites, but don’t worry if you haven’t picked out your color palette — they don’t have to match the wedding invites.

The food and drink

You don’t need to host a proper sit-down dinner like the wedding, but instead have canapés, food trucks or buffet style stations where guests can mingle and help themselves. You could have burgers, fish and chips, meat skewers or even mini lasagnas. As for the drinks, you could keep beers in ice buckets or cold juice in jam jars if you’re having a garden party.

The cake

Cakes will most likely be the focus of the dessert at the party but won’t be as lavish as the wedding cake. They will be much smaller in size and often have sweet details such as “She said yes!” or the couple’s names imprinted on the cake. Dessert tables are becoming more popular so instead of cake, you could have a selection of macaroons, cupcakes, marshmallows, ice cream or baked goods such as cookies in the shape of a diamond ring.

The outfit

As the bride, you don’t want to outshine yourself before your wedding day, so pick a simpler outfit that will still make you stand out at the party. You may want to wear white, cream or ivory as a nod to your nuptials. A cocktail dress would work for a fancy bash, while a sundress would fit a more laid-back gathering. Guests should also stick to this rule and opt for more casual looks at the engagement party.