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Bridal Shower History

Updated on September 11, 2011

The Bridal Shower

Evolution of Bridal Showers

It is pretty much a given that if there is a wedding, it will be preceded by at least one bridal shower, if not more. But did you ever stop to consider how the custom began? Bridal showers also have their own special set of etiquette and customs that are worth learning about before hosting or attending one. These are the origins and traditions of bridal showers, as well as practical advice about how to plan a shower.

The story of the first bridal shower dates back to around the 16th or 17th Century in the Netherlands. In that era, it was expected that when a young lady married, she would come into the marriage with a dowry. The dowry could consist of cash, land or livestock, or the household goods needed to establish a home. In the tale of the original bridal shower, a lovely young Dutch girl fell in love with a kindhearted miller. So kind hearted was the object of her affection that the young lady's boyfriend often gave free bread to any villager who could not afford to pay him. The miller was rich in friendship and respect, but poor in cash, due to his generous ways.

When the lovely young girl announced her intention to marry the miller, her father strenuously disapproved, and threatened to withhold her dowry. He wanted his daughter to marry a wealthy pig farmer, rather than her one true love, the poor miller. The people of the village learned of the young couple's situation and decided to repay the miller for his years of kindness. Though none of them alone could raise enough money to provide a dowry for the bride, the villagers realized that together they could each contribute enough to assemble a sizeable trousseau of household goods. They "showered" the miller and his bride-to-be with linens, china, vases, and all of the other items which they would need to set up their home as newlyweds. Thus the custom of the bridal shower was born.

Bridal showers became popular in the United States in the 1890s, when the idea came into fashion among the ladies of the upper middle class in the late Victorian era. They did not lack for the means to establish a household, as most had been working on filling their hope chests with their trousseaus since childhood. The custom of the shower was adopted less to fill a need and more for the camaraderie it offered ladies during the exciting engagement period. Certainly, the brides did not mind receiving a few extra special items to start them off in their new roles as wives either.

Who Hosts A Bridal Shower?

By the 1930s, bridal showers had spread across the United States. The bridal showers of the early to mid 20th Century were much simpler than the elaborate affairs that have become the norm. By the 1950s, showers had taken on a form which is fairly similar to what we see today, including many of the same themes, games, and gift categories. Gifts were definitely more modest for the average shower in the 1950s then they are today. A collection of kitchen implements, a single plate, and the like were typical 1950s shower gifts, which according to an etiquette book of the time should cost about $5. The truth is that many couples in the modern era already have the basics of a household, having lived independently from their parents for a number of years before tying the knot, so shower gifts are more likely to be luxuries. Girls in the '50s were usually married by the time they were 20 years old, so they needed a great more many of the essential household items than a bride today who is likely to be 26 years old at minimum.

Bridal showers are usually hosted by the maid of honor or a group of bridesmaids. It is not considered proper etiquette for the mother or sister of the bride to host a bridal shower, as it may look as though she is being greedy on her relative's behalf. Because they are at least ostensibly to help a new bride set up her home, bridal showers are also limited to first time brides. Showers for second time brides are never appropriate, even if she missed out on having one the first time around. The friends of a second time bride would, of course, be free to celebrate the upcoming nuptials in some other manner that does not require all in attendance to bring a gift. Along those same lines, a bride is generally not honored with more than one or two showers (if families living at great distances mean that the bridal shower is taken on the road, then the hosts should at least avoid inviting the same guests to multiple showers to spare them the expense of buying gift after gift for the same bride).

Bridal Shower Invitation

Who Is Invited To The Bridal Shower?

So who should be invited to a bridal shower? Invitations should be limited to those who will also be invited to the wedding itself. It is the height of rudeness to ask a person to come to your shower and give you a present without in turn inviting her to be a part of the wedding itself. The people generally asked to a bridal shower are the bridesmaids and maid of honor, the mothers of the bride and groom, sisters of the bride and groom, and of course, the bride herself. In some families aunts, grandmothers, and other female relatives will also be invited to the shower. It depends in large part on how close they live to where the party will take place. An aunt who lives in California might be left off the guest list for a shower in Florida, as she might feel obliged to send a gift even though she is unable to attend. You want to be careful to avoid the appearance of shaking people down for as many shower gifts as possible, since unfortunately, there are those who have done exactly that.

Bridal shower invitations should be sent out about four weeks before the event, which typically takes place around two months before the wedding. A sample traditional invitation would read: "Please join us for a / bridal tea (or bridal shower) / in honor of / Hannah Leigh Smith / Sunday, May 16, 2009 / 3 – 5pm / 1201 Green Avenue / Annapolis, Maryland / Hosted by: Jessica Dean / R.s.v.p. 555-2121. Shower invitations by no means have to be formal, however. Pretty fill-in-the-blank stationery is popular, as is more creative invitation wording. If there will be a theme, it should be mentioned on the invitation. Strict etiquette says that it is never correct to list registry information on any invitation, although some might not follow that rule to the letter since a bridal shower is by definition a gift giving occasion (registry details should never appear on the wedding invitation, under any circumstances).

Bridal Shower Themes

Many bridal showers will have a theme. Popular themes include kitchen, linen, lingerie, or around-the-clock. More modern themes are barware or gourmet foods. The theme gives guests guidance about which type of gifts to bring. Presents for a kitchen theme bridal shower might include a toaster, a serving bowl, or a collection of nice spatulas and wooden spoons from a place like Williams-Sonoma. For a linen shower, guests might bring a set of placemats, decorative pillow shams, or a set of embroidered napkins. A lingerie shower is what its name implies, and can be a bit of a dicey proposition. The best idea if invited to that type of shower is to stick with something feminine and tasteful, like a pretty nightgown that the newlywed can take on her honeymoon.

The around-the-clock shower is one in which each guest is asked to bring a gift that corresponds with a particular time of day. The guest assigned to 7am might bring an alarm clock, 8am could bring a French press coffeepot, noon a set of iced tea glasses, 6pm a cocktail shaker, and so on. It can be a really fun and creative idea for a bridal shower that has a large enough guest list to assign each guest to a different time of day. Of course, many bridal showers will not have a gift giving theme, and in those cases, the presents are usually either something pretty for the home or for the bride herself. Items like picture frames, pitchers, and handcrafted wooden bowls are always safe gifts that any bride will be able to use. Gifts which the bride can use on her honeymoon are also appropriate for bridal showers. Ideas include monogrammed tote bags, leather travel journals, or other pretty travel related items.

Close friends and family members of the guest of honor might decide to give her a more personal gift. It is common for the mother and mother-in-law of the brides to select a more costly gift for her than the rest of the guests will. One of the mothers might decide to give the bride a set of jewelry for her wedding or a monogrammed set of bed linens, for example. The maid of honor might also wish to give the bride a more personal gift, such as a personalized sterling silver compact. Sometimes the bridesmaids will decide to go in together on one larger gift from the bridal registry rather than each buying a small gift.

Bridal Shower Games

Bridal showers typically emphasized the traditional female role of wife and homemaker, which in fact many bridal showers still do today, even when the guest of honor is a powerful career woman. This is particularly evident in many of the classic bridal shower games. When planning a shower, it is important to keep the tastes of the guest of honor in mind. There is no need to have any sort of games or activities if the bride would find them to be too dated or old-fashioned. For those who enjoy bridal shower games, there are many from which to choose. One of the most hilarious is the game in which the guests are split into groups of three or four to design a wedding gown for the bride...made from toilet paper. The "designers" wrap the bath tissue around one of the women in their group to create a fabulous bridal gown within a certain amount of time. The bride gets to choose her favorite, and the winners are given small prizes.

Another classic bridal shower game is a word scramble or word search puzzle which is made up of wedding related words, such as bride, honeymoon, gown, ceremony, and so on. Also popular in some circles is a memory game in which a tray full of kitchen items is brought around the room for each guest to see for a few seconds. The guests then quickly write down the names of as many of the implements they saw on the tray as they can remember. Whoever gets the most whisks, spatulas, and potato mashers right is the winner. There are several other activities which are customary at bridal showers. One is a game which tests how well the guests know the bride (a variation on this tests how well the bride knows her groom). Semi-obscure questions are assembled about the bride's life (favorite color, name of first boyfriend, childhood pet, how she met fiancé, etc.), and the guests have to see how many they can answer correctly. This is the one traditional bridal shower game which also translates well to a party in honor of the contemporary bride for whom kitchen theme games would seem inappropriate.

Bridal Shower Cake


Bridal Shower Food And Decorations

Of course every party needs food and decorations. Some bridal showers are planned along the lines of a theme that is not about the gifts, but one which helps to determine the menu and décor. For a fun loving bride, one might host a luau theme bridal shower, complete with paper flower leis, tiki torches, and plenty of pineapple on the menu. Or the shower could be designed based on her favorite colors, like a pink and green shower. When no particular theme jumps to mind, a classic white bridal shower is always lovely. Decorations can run the gamut from paper bells and swags of tulle to simple vases of fresh flowers. For winter bridal showers, hurricane lanterns will create a cozy atmosphere on a cold afternoon.

The menu chosen will depend on the time of day and theme of the bridal shower. Many bridal showers are held in the late afternoon, and may be designated as "teas". For those traditional parties, the menu should include dainty food such as finger sandwiches (cucumber with the crusts cut off if you want to be ultra-traditional), chicken salad, an assortment of delicate pastries, and a cake of some sort. The cake can be a classic angel food, a rich cheesecake, or even a tower of pretty cupcakes. The beverages should be seasonal; lemonade and iced tea in the summer, cider and hot tea in the fall. Champagne and white wine are also staples at many bridal showers. If the shower is a Sunday brunch, mimosas and Bloody Marys are sure to be a hit with the guests.

Bridal Shower Gift Giving Is The Highlight Of The Event

The highlight of a bridal shower is when the gifts are unwrapped by the guest of honor. The presents are opened and everyone in the room has a chance to admire them. It is a very smart idea to designate someone with good penmanship to make a list of each gift and the name of the person it is from so that the guest can write her thank you notes later. It also helps if the notetaker knows who everyone in the room is, but it is not essential, as she can get the names from the cards with the presents. There is a sweet custom that all of the bows from the shower gifts are saved and attached to a paper plate. The bride then uses the plate with the bows as her practice bouquet during the wedding rehearsal.

One other thing that most showers include are bridal shower favors for the guests. These are provided by the hosts, and can be anything from pretty notepads with pens to scented candles or fancy soaps to homemade jams or relishes. If there is a party theme, the favors should tie in with it, otherwise they may be anything feminine, tasty, or pretty. The shower favors are separate from the tokens won by individuals if games were played at the party. Each guest should receive a favor before departing, even if she could not remember the bride's middle name and her toilet paper wedding gown ripped in half

Shower Variations And Thank You Notes

The all-female bridal shower has been the custom for years, but co-ed showers have become more common in recent times. They are sometimes called "Jack and Jill" showers, although if you want the men to attend, it might be better to avoid the cutesy terms and themes. Co-ed showers are held in honor of both the bride and groom, and are often more sophisticated affairs than traditional ladies only bridal showers, more along the lines of a cocktail party with gifts. If planning a co-ed shower, be careful to avoid dates which conflict with any major sporting events like the NFL playoffs or the World Series...many men are suspicious of the whole notion of a co-ed shower to begin with, and would be more than willing to jump on an excuse to decline the invitation!

After the bridal shower, the bride (or bride and groom in the case of a co-ed shower) have a few obligations. Each and every gift received requires a handwritten thank you note (yes, even though the guests were thanked in person at the party) to be sent out in a timely fashion. Thank you notes for a bridal shower should ideally be mailed out within two weeks of the party. There is no point in putting them off, as there will also be plenty of wedding gift notes to write at the same time, and letting them all pile up together is trouble. A smart bride orders a set of notecards for the many thank you notes she will be writing at the same time as the wedding invitations. If the stationery is monogrammed, it should have the bride's maiden name on it for any notes to be sent before the wedding. A second set of notecards with her married name (if she intends to change her name) will come in handy for gifts received after the wedding.

Finally,the host or hosts of the bridal shower should be thanked with a heartfelt note and a small gift. If the shower was thrown by a group of bridesmaids, their thank you gifts are in addition to their bridesmaid gifts, not instead of. Any gracious and thoughtful gift can work as long as it suits the tastes of the host; a small bottle of her favorite perfume, a pretty photo album, tickets to a show, or a gift basket filled with delicious treats would all be excellent ways to express appreciation for a beautiful bridal shower. Whether traditional or contemporary, the bridal shower is one of the most revered of our wedding customs, and it shows every sign of lasting for many more generations.


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