To Have and To Hold: The Rules of Bridal Shower Etiquette
All is Fair in Love, War and Bridal Showers, Right?
It might be true that “all is fair in love and war,” but that is not necessarily true when it comes to bridal showers. Although there have been many new variations on traditional bridal showers and additions, like bachelorette parties, many of the customs relative to weddings in general, and bridal showers in particular, remain.
Obviously, there is no bridal shower police force, and no one is going to throw you in the wedding party clink if you break with any of these traditions. But before you decide to set new precedents when throwing a bridal shower, you might want to consider including at least a few of the traditions that have gotten us this far.
A Brief History of Bridal Showers
Bridal showers are parties held in honor of a bride-to-be in the weeks before her wedding date. They emerged as a tradition in the 1890’s and are mainly a US custom, although they are also commonly held in Canada and Australia. Origin of the term “bridal shower” also dates to the Victorian era, when presents were put into a parasol which, when opened, would “shower” the bride to be with gifts.
However, European versions predate the modern form. It is possible that the first bridal showers were actually held to help poorer families raise a dowry (monies and goods promised to a man and/or to his family in return for marrying a daughter of the household).
No matter its origin, modern bridal showers are gatherings where female friends (and/or family, co-workers, etc.) gather to honor the bride-to-be, celebrating her impending wedding and giving her gifts. Bridal shower gifts (unlike their more raucous bachelorette party counterparts) are often household items, although some also elect to give more personal gifts (like lingerie).
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Who Should Throw the Bridal Shower?
According to custom, one of the duties of the maid of honor of the wedding party is to throw a bridal shower for the bride to be. That is, unless the maid of honor is an immediate family member of the bride-to-be; in which case, perhaps it would be more appropriate for another attendant or even a close friend who is not in the wedding party to throw the bridal shower.
It is absolutely taboo for any bride to host her own bridal shower. And it is also considered bad manners for the mother of the bride or sister of the bride to throw the bridal shower. That said, there may be times when it becomes a necessity for the mother or sister of the bride to host a bridal shower; furthermore, since a wedding is such a special day, the mother or sister of the bride may want to help provide input for the bridal shower, even if they are not technically hosting the bridal shower.
It is also possible that a bride will be treated to more than one bridal shower, and so individuals who are neither part of the wedding party nor a member of the bride or groom’s families might even throw the bride to be a shower. Examples of this include bridal showers held by a woman’s co-workers, or those with extensive family and friends – lists of invitees that would make it impractical to hold just one bridal shower or where desired invitees live in geographically distant areas.
Who Pays for the Bridal Shower?
Typically, the host or hostesses (which might include all of the bridesmaids) bear the costs relating to the bridal shower. But for bridal showers which are more elaborate with an extensive guest list, or for an event-centered bridal shower or a bridal shower held at a specific location, others (such as the family of the bride, or even the groom, if the bridal shower is being held for their side of the family) may also contribute.
If the bridal shower is event-centered or held at a special location, guests themselves may even help to bear the costs of the bridal shower. If you plan to hold a bridal shower where guests may need to bring money, be sure that you clarify this information and any other special instructions in the invitations you send for the bridal shower.
Bachelorette parties are not bridal showers; rather, they are the bridal party’s version of the groom’s bachelor party. Generally at bachelorette parties, guests will expect to go to a restaurant, bar or a similar location, be entertained, and will expect to pay their own way (and maybe even contribute to the cost of the bride-to-be’s refreshments for the evening). Gifts are not always exchanged, although sometimes guests bring personal gifts for the bride to be. The individual or individuals hosting the bachelorette party typically do bear the cost of invitations and bachelorette party favors for the group.
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When Should You Hold the Bridal Shower?
Bridal showers are customarily held from one to two months prior to the wedding date. However, there may be times when it is necessary to hold a bridal shower earlier than that.
Your best bet is to discuss directly with the bride-to-be so that you know her schedule and any pre-wedding limitations she may have.
Where Should You Hold the Bridal Shower?
Although there are no customs or rules of etiquette when it comes to the location you will hold a bridal shower, it is widely accepted that guests should not have to pay for meals or food at a bridal shower. So if you will be holding a bridal shower at a restaurant, according to custom, the hostess (or hosts) should pay for all of their guests food. If you are going to hold a bridal shower at a restaurant, you might want to work with the establishment ahead of time or even pre-select menu items. This will help control your costs and it will also help the restaurant to better serve your guests.
Many traditional bridal showers are held in the homes of the hostess, at community centers, social halls, and churches; however, bridal showers held by co-workers might even be hosted in the conference room or lunch room of a workplace.
Thanks to the internet and the ability to connect via services such as Skype and other internet conferencing platforms, bridal showers can even be held at or attended by guests in physically remote locations. An example of this would be inviting close friends of family of the bride-to-be who live far away, are in the military, who recently moved or who are separated geographically for some other reason to “attend” the bridal shower via the internet.
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Who Should Be Invited to the Bridal Shower?
By custom, certain individuals should be invited to every bridal shower thrown for a bride to be, although as the guest of honor, the bride to be should have the final say on the guest list (unless, of course, you are planning a surprise bridal shower).
That said, you should always invite the bride to be, the mother of the bride and the mother of the groom. Sisters of the bride and groom are also generally invited to every bridal shower (but may elect to attend only one bridal shower).
Women (only) are invited to traditional bridal showers and they are usually close or extended family members, bridesmaids, close friends, acquaintances, co-workers, etc. It is not customary to invite a man to a bridal shower; however, if the bride-to-be has a close male friend or family member that she wants to include, it’s her day, so invite him!
You should never invite anyone to a bridal shower who is not invited to the wedding. While that is true, in the case of bridal showers where invitations are “open” to co-workers, church group or social club members, etc., there may be times when individuals elect to attend a bridal shower even though they will not be invited to the wedding itself.
There may also be times when an individual would normally have been invited to the wedding (or perhaps they are invited to the wedding but will be unable to attend). It is fine in this instance to invite them to attend a bridal shower; in fact, it will help to soften the sting of not being able to attend the wedding itself, if they get a chance to celebrate with the bride-to-be at her bridal shower.
Bear in mind that the more people you invite to a bridal shower, the greater the cost will be for you as the hostess. And if the family of the bride or groom wants a large number of people invited to the shower, it might be exceptionally appropriate for them to help bear the additional costs. As you plan the bridal shower, be up front with those individuals who are contributing names to the guest list in order to prevent financial embarrassment or hurt feelings.
Finally, some brides and grooms to be are electing to hold couples showers so that they can both attend and celebrate with other couples among their friends. this automatically doubles the size of your guest list, estimates for food, and the quantity of bridal shower supplies and decorations you will need to purchase so bear this in mind while planning.
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What Type of Bridal Shower Invitation Should You Send, When, and How?
You might elect to choose a bridal shower invitation that is in the same design or in a design which coordinates with the wedding invitations; although there is no rule that says you must do so.
In fact, depending on the makeup of the guest list or type of bridal shower you want to throw, you might instead choose bridal shower invitations which fit with your theme or type of bridal shower. There are countless choices available when it comes to bridal shower invitations, and the invitations you choose can also help you plan other aspects of the bridal shower, such as choosing the most appropriate bridal shower decorations, plates, cups, napkins, cutlery and other bridal shower supplies, and can even give you inspiration as you decide how to decorate for the bridal shower itself.
As with other similar types of events, you need to send bridal shower invitations early enough so that guests have time to RSVP, shop for gifts and clear the calendar of scheduling conflicts. As you plan your bridal shower, therefore, it would be prudent to speak with not only the bride to be but other important invitees (such as the mother of the bride or groom, bridesmaids, close friends, etc.) to be sure that you choose a date and time for the bridal shower when most will be able to attend.
Send bridal shower invitations about a month before the bridal shower, but no later than 3-4 weeks before the date of the bridal shower. Address invitations by hand, sending one invitation per guest (even if they live in the same house, except for minor children of guests who will also be invited). For more formal invitations, use formal language to address the bridal shower invitations, such as, “Mrs. Mary Smith” or "Miss Mary Smith" vs. simply “Mary Smith.” Include:
- The name of the guest of honor
- The day of the week, date and time of the bridal shower
- The address where the bridal shower will be held (and directions, if possible)
- RSVP information including a name, phone number and possibly even an email address, or a website where online RSVPs can be submitted
- Information about where the bride-to-be is registered for gifts or other instructions relative to gifts in the case of a specially themed bridal shower
- Any special information or instructions about the shower (such as keeping it a surprise in the case of a surprise bridal shower, information about the venue or any special activities that are planned for the bridal shower).
One Final Note (Pun Intended) When It Comes to Bridal Shower Invitations
Finally, when it comes to invitations, you will help the bride to be out in a big way if you purchase thank you notes that she can send to guests after the bridal shower at the same time and in the same theme as the bridal shower invitations you purchase. At the bridal shower, ask guests to self-address a blank envelope and place them all into a basket for a raffle prize drawing; this way, the thank you notes will already be addressed! During the bridal shower itself, be sure that an individual is tasked with the responsibility of writing down gifts as they are opened so that afterward, the bride-to-be can send these beautiful thank you notes before she is fully engulfed in the wedding activities that will occur immediately preceding and on her big day.
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What Will Happen at the Bridal Shower?
At traditional bridal showers, you will decorate ahead of time. Guests will expect to enjoy refreshments of some kind including at least light snacks and beverages and usually will play bridal or wedding-themed games or quizzes.
As the hostess of the bridal shower, you should have a plan for greeting your guests, taking jackets and handbags, giving them instructions upon arrival or at various points during the bridal shower and for acknowledging them when they leave. Since the bride to be is both guest of honor and will likely be in high demand during the bridal shower, you may need to take on these duties yourself or enlist other members of the wedding party or her family to help.
If you choose to play bridal shower games, it is traditional to reward the winner(s) of these quizzes or contests with a small personal gift by way of prize. Finally, it is traditional for you as the hostess to give each guest one or more bridal shower favors during the bridal shower or as they leave. You might choose bridal shower favors that coordinate with your theme, bridal shower invitations or other bridal shower decorations; or for the ultimate personal touch, you can purchase bridal shower favors customized or personalized with the name of the bride and groom, wedding date, etc.