How to Plan the Perfect Bridal Shower

Expert Tips on Planning an Awesome Bridal Shower

Eleven women having a garden party with dessert table
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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 her establish a home with her future spouse.

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. 

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 greedy for asking their friends and family for more gifts.

Who Throws and Pays for the Bridal Shower

A bridal shower is typically hosted by the maid of honor. Many etiquette guides frown upon family-member-hosted bridal showers because it may be seen as rude or greedy for the family to ask for gifts for their own relative; in recent years, however, it's become completely acceptable.

Unless it's a surprise, involve the bride in the planning process. Ask her to create a registry if she hasn't already done so. Maybe she has 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.

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, decorate, etc.

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 and send her on her way with a deluxe spa gift certificate."

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, beauty salon, spa, or gallery.

When to Have the Bridal Shower

A bridal shower can be held anywhere from six months to a week before a wedding. If many guests are traveling from out of town, it may make sense to have it closer to the wedding so they can attend. Otherwise, four to eight weeks before the wedding is a good rule of thumb: it adds just enough anticipation, without creating more stress for the bride.

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.

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 her mother or fiancé. 

Remember to invite close female relatives of both the bride and groom, as well as all the women in the wedding party and the bride's close friends. While bridal showers guests are traditionally all women, today many are coed affairs that celebrate both the bride and groom, known as "Jack and Jill" showers. Before making a decision about whether to include men at the show, discuss the question with the groom-to-be to be sure that he is comfortable attending a shower and to ask for an appropriate male guest list if the answer is "yes."

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 open presents, have some nice music playing in the background. Make thank-you-note writing easier by assigning someone to write down the gifts and their giver. Fun bridal shower games are a great way to keep the party moving if they're conducive to the event space.