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, but it's also practical, as guests "shower" the bride-to-be with gifts to help her establish a home with her future spouse.
Historically 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 they 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 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 family to ask for gifts for their own relative, but in recent years it's become completely acceptable.
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.
Unless it's a surprise, involve the bride in the planning process. Ask her to create a registry if she hasn't already. Maybe she has a particular shower theme in mind, like a lingerie shower, a kitchen item shower or an around-the-clock shower where guests are assigned a time of day for selecting a gift.
Where to Have the Bridal Shower
A bridal shower can take place anywhere. Traditionally it is often hosted at the host's home, but any place works: a favorite restaurant, park, banquet hall, etc. Depending on the size of the guest list, showers can also be held at a paint-your-own-pottery studio, beauty salon, or gallery.
It's okay to not pick up all the costs, so long as you tell guests beforehand. 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."
When to Have the Bridal Shower
A bridal shower can be held anywhere from six months to the 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 works. 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.
Who 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. 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.
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.