The Wedding Series – The Bridal Shower

When the villagers found out the bride’s father refused
to bestow a dowry on the newlyweds, they came together
and ‘showered’ the couple with gifts
so they could establish a home together.
And thus began the tradition of bridal showers.

The bridal shower is a time-honored affair that began as a very practical occasion to help young couples start their marriage with some essentials for the kitchen, bed and bath. While it’s still based in practicality it has evolved into a bonding of friends who wish to show their affection, support and goodwill for the bride and groom. For that reason, the shower is a smaller event consisting of close family and friends. Often it involves only women — the mothers of the wedding couple and the female attendants, close friends and family members. However, coed showers have also become popular and include the groom, the fathers of the bride and groom and close male friends and family; this is especially likely if the bride’s maid of honor happens to be a man of honor. Same sex couples, as well, might have a couples shower or each may have separate brides’ showers or grooms’ showers with their respective attendants and friends.

Whether a bridal shower is all female or a mix of women and men, tradition holds that it is the maid or matron of honor — sometimes simply referred to as an honor attendant — who organizes the shower with the other bridesmaids or female attendants.  Either the MOH may host the shower herself or she may arrange for someone else to host.

The characteristic of this particular occasion is that it is organized with the express purpose of showering the wedding couple with gifts; thus, despite any themes or games involved the opening of the gifts is the main activity and highlight of a shower. However, the focus of the shower should be primarily on friendship and affection and a gathering of close friends. Throwing a big shower for the express purpose of getting as many gifts as possible is in extremely poor taste and will reflect negatively on the host(s) and the wedding couple.

Thus, it’s important to reiterate that bridal showers are not mandatory, just as wedding gifts are not mandatory. All giving is at the discretion of each wedding guest. That said, because such customs are commonly observed, to be social and gracious it is expected that a shower will be arranged in honor of the bride or the bride and groom together, and that friends and family will participate.

Who Hosts?

Typically, the mothers and grandmothers of the bride or groom do not host a bridal shower — just as the bride and groom themselves do not host as it gives the embarrassing appearance of asking outright for gifts. But modern times have become more relaxed and it’s okay for the moms or other close relative to host the shower if there is a good practical reason. More commonly, the mother of the bride or groom or other close relative will donate her home, contribute to the cost, help with the invitations and decorations or in some way assist the MOH and bridesmaids or whoever is hosting.

Who is Invited?

The rule of thumb for the shower is that you need only invite those who are close friends of the couple, but whoever is invited must also have been invited to the wedding itself.

Exceptions include showers that are organized at the office by managers and coworkers or by volunteers with whom you work at a favorite charity or community organization or other group. The key here is that while they might not all be invited to the wedding or the primary shower, they think enough of the bride and/or groom to organize something on their own.

Proper Timing for a Shower

The timing of a shower depends on the amount of time between the receipt of the wedding invitation and the wedding date and how many other pre-wedding events are planned. Normally the shower signals that the Big Day is approaching and starts the momentum leading up to the wedding. If bachelorette and bachelor parties and a bridesmaid luncheon are planned, the shower should be held between six to eight weeks prior to the wedding, and depending on how far the invitees have to travel the invitations should go out approximately one month before the date of the shower.

Don’t expect invitees to travel a great distance for the shower if they are expected to travel to the wedding; asking guests to travel a great distance for the wedding and a shower is a bit much. On the other hand you don’t want to exclude anyone who is close to the couple. Just as with a wedding gift, if a guest cannot attend the shower she will usually send a gift ahead. Photos from the shower can be posted on the wedsite afterward, or comments on the activities and gift opening can be tweeted, and of course long-distance guests can attend by Skype for the main event, the opening of gifts.

Shower Types and Themes

Bridal showers can be as fancy or as casual as the host wishes, but it should be in keeping with the bride’s style — or the couple’s style if the shower is coed. It should not be fancier than the wedding itself. Thus, an evening cocktail reception, brunch, luncheon or afternoon tea at a restaurant or friend’s home or a backyard barbecue are all appropriate.

Bridal showers often have themes that reflect the bride’s interests — such as nautical, literary, cinema, arts & crafts or botany themes, to name a few. When my daughter was a MOH recently she planned the bride’s shower around a coffee theme because of the latter’s well-known fondness for coffee! The invitations, decorations, guest favors and refreshments were all designed around coffee, beans, grounds and accessories –down to arranging for the creation of a grind of coffee specially blended and named for the bride and the heart-shaped coffee scoops! It was clever, attractive and very aromatic, as well as romantic!  Depending on the budget, the sky’s the limit on thinking up themes, either elaborate or modest. Just be sure that the theme, games and gifts are tasteful and consider everyone’s comfort and feelings.

Showers can be planned on a shoestring budget, if necessary. Invitations can be printed economically (VistaPrint allows you to upload your own design) or sent via e-vite; decorations and favors can be made or found at bargain prices through smart shopping; game sheets can be designed and printed on someone’s computer; and if the affair is held at someone’s home and everyone pitches in on food, drink and paper goods costs can be kept down even further.

As for the gifts, the hosts/attendants can chip in on a group gift if they wish — which might be more economical for each while providing the bride or the couple with a nice gift. If money is an issue for any of the attendants who are co-hosting or helping to fund the shower, their gifts may be a bit more modest. Just as with wedding gifts the amount spent on a shower gift should be guided by the closeness of the giver’s relationship to the bride as well as his or her financial situation. Whoever is organizing the group gift may either set an amount that each person can contribute equally, perhaps based on the cost of the gift in question. Or each person can contribute what she or he can and the gift purchased will depend on the amount collected. After all, some attendants might be able to chip in more than others. However, each person’s cash contribution to the group gift will be transparent to the bride — she will simply know that all the individuals who signed the card contributed to the group gift.

The point is to provide a tribute to the bride that includes an enjoyable time with close friends and family, along with some useful or luxury gifts that she will use and enjoy and in some cases cherish.

For additional ideas for bridal shower themes visit the Emily Post Institute’s Ideas for Theme Wedding Showers.

Games, Entertainment and a Little Tradition

Games are a part of a bridal shower and one of the requirements is that they should provide a lot of laughs. Don’t conflate laughs and fun with embarrassment; no one should be made to feel uncomfortable.

Some favorite games include Two Truths and a Lie, Love Bingo and Shower Gift Bingo. Entertainment can be the games or if the budget allows you can plan something elaborate like hiring a professional to conduct a cooking or baking demonstration or a quilting demo in which the guests can participate.

The timeline for shower activities usually involves:

  • Greeting
  • Refreshments (cocktails & hors d’oeuvres, luncheon, tea, barbecue, etc.)
  • Games & Entertainment
  • Opening of Gifts (which are passed around for each guests to see)
  • Wrap-up (comments and thank-you by bride

During the gift opening the bride reads each card aloud to her guests while the MOH or her designee sits next to the bride and makes notes of the gifts and givers and ensures that cards and gifts are kept together so that the bride and groom have a record for posterity as well as for sending thank-you notes. And please note that handwritten thank-you notes must be sent promptly even though the bride has thanked her guests in person at the shower.

A little tradition that is probably at least a century old is the gathering of ribbons and bows from the various gift wrappings and pulling them through a paper plate to make a ribbon bouquet; the MOH then presents the faux bouquet to the bride to use and practice with at the rehearsal.

Don’t Ask

Neither the wedding couple nor any member of their families should ever ask or suggest that anyone host a shower. Again, while showers are customary they are not mandatory and no one is under any obligation to host one. Showers must be given freely for a bride as a gesture of love and friendship, usually by friends of the couple.

A gift idea for the bride is sometimes a set of thank-you cards in her wedding or shower theme with envelopes that are already stamped and addressed to the shower guests, so all the bride has to do is write her personal notes, stuff the envelopes and mail them. But — and this is a big “but” — under no circumstances should shower guests be asked to address their own envelopes before leaving the shower. Apparently this has been done, but it is a real breach of etiquette, not to mention downright tacky.

Thanking the Host of the Shower

The bride should send a thank-you note and gift to the person (or persons) who hosted the shower. The gift(s) should be meaningful, whether small (a token keepsake, for example) or large (a massage at a local spa). It’s not the gift itself as much as the gesture that will be greatly appreciated.

Until next time,



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