Planning a Bridal Shower: Making and Breaking Tradition

Amid all the hustle and bustle of wedding planning, there’s the hustle and bustle of pre-wedding parties. And one of the biggies is the bridal shower.

As legend has it, the bridal shower started long ago and far away. Once upon a time in Holland, a beautiful young Dutch girl fell in love with a penniless baker — a man below her station, her father said. The humorless man ordered her to give up her love and marry another suitor, a man with many pigs. When she refused, her father likewise refused to provide her with a dowry.

In those days, that was a deal breaker — the wedding couldn’t go on. But sympathetic townspeople rallied around the would-be couple, and one by one proffered up the bits and pieces that made a household possible: plates, cookware, fabric, candles. By the time they were finished, the couple had more than enough to marry on. And ever since, the bridal shower has been a smash hit in all societal classes and all over the world. In other words, the refined and domesticated shower started as a way to rebel against your parents. Who knew?

Fast-Forward to Now

These days, of course, it’s the rare couple who can afford to put on a wedding but can’t afford to buy their own plates, and most men and women marry who they please. Still, the bridal shower carries on. There’s just something about celebrating your impending nuptials with a gaggle of female friends that, for many people, adds up to one of the more memorable pre-wedding events.

If you’re the maid of honor, a close relative or one of the bridesmaids, perhaps the responsibility for planning this party has fallen to you. If you’ve never done one before, you’re probably wondering where to start. Most people began with these kinds of questions:

  • Who’s throwing the bridal shower, and are the responsibilities shared?
  • When is the shower?
  • Who will we invite?
  • Are we using a theme?
  • What kinds of foods are we serving, and is it potluck, catered or somewhere in between?

Answers to these questions depend on the situation, but here are some traditional ways of doing things, and some suggestions for breaking tradition in pursuit of a better shower.

Who’s On First?

The first detail to nail down is who’s going to throw the bridal shower. Traditionally, the maid of honor throws the party, sometimes with the help of other bridesmaids. In recent years, though, it’s become more common for others to get involved in the process. It’s also becoming more and more popular to have more than one wedding shower. After all, many of us have various circles of friends who rarely meet or interact — our office friends, our workout friends, our hometown friends. So it’s fairly typical now for a colleague to throw a party for the bride at “the firm,” while the maid of honor throws a party for the bride and her hometown and college friends.

The timing of the shower is also important. Traditionally, the shower takes place close to the wedding date, but not so close that it starts to hone in on the bride’s last-minute preparations. A month before the wedding is probably about perfect, whereas anything closer than two weeks out is too close for comfort. You don’t want to throw a shower too soon after the engagement, though. Bridal showers mean gifts, but a newly-engaged couple probably hasn’t had a chance to put up their registry.

Not you’ve gotten that out of the way, who’s going to attend? Bridal showers by nature are meant to be small and personal, so don’t succumb to the temptation to invite every female on the guest list out of politeness. On the other hand, you’ll want to be sure that her relatives and closest friends receive the summons. Is there more than one shower in the offing? This raises the complexity level, so make a point of getting together with the other host to coordinate your guest lists. Talk to the bride directly to make sure you’ve invited the right people, or if your shower’s a surprise, have a chat with her mom. Whatever you do, take care not to invite anyone to the shower who’s lacking an invite to the wedding!

Dreaming Up a Theme

Now for the question of theme. Planning any party around a theme tends to make the going easier, and the results more memorable. If you’re going to have one of those intimate gatherings in someone’s home, a theme comes highly recommended. But that doesn’t mean you have to use a tired or worn-out one — you can put your own spin on tradition.

One way couples are reinventing the shower is by holding co-ed, “couples” showers. This way, the groom and his friends can get in on the prenuptial fun — and possibly grill up some tasty treats for the partygoers.

A more traditional way to weave in a theme is to borrow the one the bride’s chosen for the wedding, or simply pick one that reflects her own tastes. A beach theme, for example, is perfect for the surf bunny bride. A “Law & Order” theme is sure to thrill the rising associate — be sure to “depose” each guest for their funniest or most touching memories of the bride. Lovers of the grape would probably adore a wine tasting shower. Feeling adventurous? Throw a Mad Hatter tea party, or even a poker party for the Vegas-loving bride.

But use the bride as your guide for themes not to venture into, as well. If she’s a bit modest or conservative, or Great Aunt Hulda will be coming, a lingerie party (or God forbid, a “hookers” theme) probably isn’t such a swell idea.

A Party With (Her) Personality

By default, the food at a bridal shower typically consists of the kind of hors d’oeuvres you can balance on a small plate while perched on the edge of a couch. But you don’t have to stick to the old ways. You can serve whatever kind of food tickles your fancy, ranging from an elaborate sit-down dinner to a backyard pig roast. It’s also not uncommon to just pick a local restaurant and leave the food to the professionals. When going this route, you don’t have to cover the cost yourself — just let your guests know you’re going dutch (here we are, back in Holland) in the invite.

Then again, there are some women — and you know who you are, Angelina — for whom the domestic little party around the coffee table won’t do at all. In that case, get out of the house. Be a day tripper and window shop at Tiffany’s. Be loud and goofy tourists in your own town, and take the double-decker bus. Or join a growing trend and hang out at the spa.

If the weather’s mild, you could even get together at the nearest theme park and go on the craziest, loopiest, most backward-and-forward roller coaster ride you can find. Some parks offer bungee jumping — that’s an activity you’re sure to remember. Or if you’re closer to the countryside, rustle up an hour’s worth of horseback riding, followed by a relaxed cool-down period at the local pizza parlor. Remember those Girl Scout days and how fun they were? Why not gather your group at the nearest skating rink?

So, if it’s up to you to throw the shower, don’t despair. You have plenty of guidelines to follow when you want, and plenty to toss out the window when it suits you. You can play board games in the parlor, or touch football at the park. Just keep the bride’s personality in mind, and you’re sure to serve up a big success.