What Is a Bridal Shower? Planning and Hosting Tips

Expert Tips on Planning an Awesome Bridal Shower

bridal shower decor

The Spruce / Ulyana Verbytska

A bridal shower is a fun, celebratory occasion that allows the bride's close friends and family members to spend time together before the big day. It's also a practical opportunity for guests to "shower" the bride-to-be with gifts to help the couple establish a home.

Bridal showers originated centuries ago during the days of dowries. When women wanted to marry "unsuitable" husbands, their families refused to provide a dowry, so friends of the couple gathered to pitch in and make up for the lack of a dowry by helping them set up their home.

Today, bridal showers are a time to share stories and advice, eat and drink, and pay special attention to the bride. But before you start planning, make sure the bride wants a shower in the first place. A bridal shower is often a fun afternoon, but some brides might feel uncomfortable with all the attention or asking friends and family for more gifts.

Bridal Showers vs. Wedding Showers and Bachelorette Parties

There is a subtle difference between a bridal shower and a wedding shower. The bridal shower focuses on showering the bride with gifts and advice for marriage. A wedding shower can be an event where the couple is showered with gifts and tips on married life. A bachelorette party is very different from a bridal or wedding shower, however. The bachelorette party is held right before the wedding as a fun way for the bride's friends to celebrate the end of pre-married life.

how to throw a bridal shower illustration

Illustration: The Spruce / Madelyn Goodnight

Where to Have the Bridal Shower

A bridal shower can take place anywhere. Traditionally it is held at the host's home, but any place works; popular options include a favorite restaurant, park, or banquet hall. Depending on the size of the guest list and the bride's preferences, showers can also be held at a paint-your-own-pottery studio, salon, spa, or gallery, for example.

When to Have the Bridal Shower

If many guests are traveling from out of town, it may make sense to have the shower closer to the wedding so they can attend. Otherwise, four to eight weeks before the wedding can work because it adds just enough anticipation, without creating more stress for the bride or the couple.

Any time of day is acceptable for a bridal shower. Many bridal showers are held during the afternoon or early evening as a luncheon or dinner party. Brunch bridal showers are not uncommon either.

Who Throws the Bridal Shower?

A bridal shower is typically hosted by the maid of honor. In recent years, it's completely acceptable to have a bridal shower hosted by a family member, as well. Unless it's a surprise, involve the bride in the planning process.

Ask the bride to create a registry if it hasn't already been done. The bride or the couple may have a particular shower theme in mind, like a lingerie shower, a kitchen item shower, or an around-the-clock shower in which guests are assigned a time of day for selecting a gift.

Who Pays for the Bridal Shower?

For an informal, casual shower the host generally picks up all the costs, but for a more elaborate shower, the host may talk to the other bridesmaids at the beginning of the planning process and ask them about chipping in or splitting costs. Beyond financial assistance, the host can and should ask the bridesmaids to help plan, set up, and decorate.

In some cases, it's appropriate for all guests to pick up a portion of the costs for a shower. For example, an invitation to a restaurant bridal shower might read, "We'll celebrate with a Dutch lunch (entrees cost about $10), followed by cake and champagne in the garden." A spa invitation might read, "We've got the room reserved at XYZ spa. Call the spa directly to book your appointment. Instead of a present, please bring $25 to pay for the bride's treatments."

Whom to Invite

You want to be absolutely sure that you're not inviting anyone to the shower who isn't invited to the wedding, and the only way to know that is to get the guest list. Ask the bride for a copy, or, if the shower is a surprise, ask a family member or the fiancé. 

Remember to invite close relatives of both the bride and groom, as well as all the bride's wedding party and close friends. "Jack and Jill" co-ed bridal showers are common today. Before making a decision about whether to have a co-ed shower discuss the question with the groom-to-be.

What Happens During a Shower

Most of the bridal shower will be spent eating, laughing, telling stories, and opening presents. Food can be as simple as light bites, crudités, and sweets, or as elaborate as a themed spread that celebrates the couple.

As the bride opens presents, play calming music in the background. Make thank-you-note writing easier by assigning someone to write down the received gifts and from whom. Add in a few fun bridal shower games  to keep the party moving.

How to Plan a Bridal Shower

Determine the Cost

Figure out a budget for the shower. The cost will include invitations, decorations, rental of a venue, food, drinks, a cake, and small parting gifts or game prizes for guests.

Choose the Date

The rule of thumb is to have a bridal shower four weeks to eight weeks before the wedding. It can be tricky because you don't want the shower too close or too far away from the wedding. A safe date is usually six weeks before the nuptials.

Pick a Location

Besides having a shower at someone's home or at a restaurant, there are alternatives to consider. For more ideas, start by scouting hotel facilities, public or private gardens, beach pavilions, breweries, and wineries to see what dates are open for your event.

Invite Guests

Time sending out the invitations to guests so they have enough time to plan it into their schedules. Your budget and venue will determine how many guests can be invited to the shower. Aim to send out save-the-date notices six weeks before the shower date and invites (by mail or digital) about four weeks before the shower date.

Choose Food and Themes

There's no shortage of food and theme ideas for bridal showers. You can always choose a traditional tea theme or do something a bit more unusual that reflects the bride's or the couple's interests. Plan a menu or if you are having the shower at a venue, the staff will be able to coordinate the menu for you.

Plan Activities

Though it's a tradition to open gifts at a bridal shower, and it passes time, the bride-to-be doesn't have to do so. You can plan about three games or activities besides gift-opening and eating. Activities will help guests who may not know each other feel more comfortable. There are many bridal shower game variations that are fun, yet elegant, such as bridal trivia.