Interestingly, our tradition of a bridal shower is rooted in the 1800’s. It began as a way for a young woman with no dowry to marry the man of her choosing. Her friends and towns people would supply her with the equivalent of one. As this party evolved and spread to North America, it became, according to an etiquette book in the 1920’s, completely spontaneous and informal. It wasn’t until the 1950’s that party planners altered the party to give it more structure. Still, even then, gifts were to be small, inexpensive items. What happened? Hmm.
If we look at why this party began and how it changed, we should ask ourselves about its present condition and future evolution. Are women as needy and dependent as we were in the 1800’s? Are we the same people as we were in the 1950’s? Hardly. But since we’re still hosting these, and they always involve gifts, let’s get our heads together on the rules. So…drum roll please….
The Polite One’s Top 10 Bridal Shower rules!
#10 Timing is everything!
Host no sooner than 2 months before the wedding, mostly since, plans CAN change. The wedding could be cancelled (ack!) or postponed.
Host no later than 2 weeks before the wedding. There’s enough wedding frenzy in those last 2 weeks.
#9 Wedding Guests Only
The main reason (surprise!) for the bridal shower is to share and intensify the excitement of the couple’s upcoming wedding. The guests will always be discussing the wedding, the preparations and all of the hoopla. That is really awkward for someone who’s not invited to the main event. Many people are confused about who to invite, but we don’t invite all wedding guests to the shower. (more on this later.)
Exception: Work place showers. The ladies at the office could gather a small group to shower the bride even if they aren’t invited to the wedding. The gifts are usually very incidental or one group gift. Accent on party.
#8 Closeness Counts
Since gifts are usually given at most showers, it’s best to only include those who have a deep relationship with the couple–those who love them. Otherwise, it looks like \ the dreaded gift grab.
So, who to invite? Must invites are; Mothers and step-mothers (if possible), grandmothers, sisters, and bridesmaids. If hosting a co-ed shower, spouses and male siblings would be included. But, be very careful not to invite too many. (more on this later.)
Multiple showers? No one except mothers and bridesmaids should be invited to more than one shower (and no more than 2 showers, total, plus the work shower). Guests to more than one shower are only obligated to give one gift. The gift from the bridesmaids could be a shared expense
#7 Just Say No…to the dreaded mega shower
The shower shouldn’t be hosted as a huge event that rivals a wedding reception. No, you don’t invite every female on the wedding guest list! Please remember that this is supposed to be a small, intimate affair. If you need a cut-off number, I suggest no more than 35 guests. However, some experts limit this party to no more than 15 guests. So, please use your best judgment here. Keep it small.
But, why? Why shouldn’t this be a larger event? The more the merrier, right? Sometimes, but since many still see this as a gift giving event, a large affair could be viewed as greedy and presumptuous, like “Hey, I’m getting married, so all of you, yes every person I’ve ever known, give me lots of gifts! I deserve them. After all, I’m getting MARRIED!” sigh…
Themes work well to help keep gift prices down. Just remember, gifts for theme showers are suggestions, not demands.
# 6 The host(s) pays, the guests don’t
Inviting guests makes you the host. The host provides the entire party, which means guests should arrive with a gift and a smile, nothing more. The one exception is the bachelorette and bachelor party.
Note: some etiquette experts are now suggesting that a polite person does not expect even bachelorette guests to pay for the bride, that everyone should simply pay their own way. This still means that there is no “host”. But, at least guests aren’t paying extra (bride’s expenses) just to attend.
#5 Don’t bill the bridesmaids!
This may come as a surprise to many, but bridal showers are optional pre-wedding parties. Even though the word “maid” is contained in the title “bridesmaid”, they aren’t the bride’s slave and aren’t obligated to host a shower. So, if a bridesmaid, or group of them, wants to host a shower there should be lots of discussion and communication, especially about cost. Plans, dates, and cost should be discussed and agreed upon before the shower invitations get sent.
#4 Mothers and Brides and Grooms, Oh My!
Moms and bridal couples have no place in the shower arrangements, other than suggesting available dates and guests. Even though some etiquette experts have decided this rule is old fashioned, I am a member of the many who do not agree. After all, it is still viewed by all that couples and families should not request or demand a shower. So, why would it be appropriate for family to host? Furthermore, when parents or other close family hosts, it is an extension of the couple, as if they are hosting from afar, which could appear as if the entire family is trying to garner as many gifts as possible. And, to be honest, this happens quite often. Mothers typically go a bit overboard when they host. It is only human nature to want more for our children.
#3 Don’t show me the money, honey
Cash and gift cards don’t make good shower gifts. After all, opening the gifts is part of the ritual for the gift giving shower. Imagine the bride opening gift cards and saying, “Ooohhh, $20 from Aunt Jane. Embarrassing, boring, awkward and just plain rude. The opening of the gift to see what Aunt Jane selected (even if it is off a gift registry) is still the focus.
Furthermore, some expect very generous gifts at their showers. Sorry to burst this expectation bubble, but shower gifts should be much less expensive than wedding gifts. Hey, the purpose of the party is supposed to be to generate “excitement” and anticipation of the wedding and not to try to shake down your friends and relatives. No worries, though, for most couples, there will be wedding gifts in their future. However, let’s consider the image of today’s double-gift-dipping shower and what it represents; it may even be fairer to guests to host showers as gift-less events. Same party with no gifts involved. It is most gracious and, believe it or not, many brides like this option.
Note: Registry cards may be included with shower invitations, but not written on the invitation.
#2 Don’t use any of the gifts before the wedding!
The number one reason never to use shower or wedding gifts before the wedding is if the wedding is cancelled or postponed the gifts need to be returned to the giver. No one wants to consider this possibility, but it happens–sorry. Make toast AFTER the wedding!
And, our number one bridal shower etiquette rule is…drumroll please…
#1 Always say please and thank you!
Sending thank you notes is our number one rule of bridal shower etiquette because, well, the gifts are the focus. So couples, write those thank you notes ASAP! Yes, the groom should help. Hey, he’s getting gifts too! Someone at the shower should be designated as the gift secretary, noting who gave what along with her address which can be gotten from the invitation list. Don’t forget, never ask guests to fill out the thank you note envelopes. Trust me, it’s been done. Big ewww….
The couple should give the host(s) a gift to thank her for being so generous. Suggestions include something small such as a bottle of wine, a box of candy or a plant along with a heartfelt note of thanks.
Interesting Shower Tid-bit: The term “bridal shower” most likely came about because of a tradition of placing wedding gifts inside a parasol. The parasol was placed over the heads of the wedded couple and opened to a “shower of gifts” on them both. Cute…but sounds possibly painful!
Bridal Shower Etiquette FAQ – Questions we’ve received in this topic
Q: My cousin has been married three times and for each I’ve given her a shower and wedding gift. Am I obligated to give ashower gift for her fourth?
A: No, you are not obligated to give her either gift. Those who have given shower gifts before are not obligated to give again.
Q: My wedding was cancelled. Since we used most of our shower gifts, may I keep them?
A: I’m sorry about your situation, but these gifts were given in anticipation of your wedding. So, it is expected that you return these gifts as they are. Alternately, you could offer to pay for the items.
Q: What’s the etiquette on opening gifts?
Be sure to ask someone to sit close to you so they can record the gift and the givers name so that you can write personalized thank you notes…
Grace and charm are of the utmost essence during the gift-opening process.. If you don’t care for the gift or have absolutely no idea on what it is, just pleasantly say.. “Thank you. I can’t wait to use it!” That statement will carry you a very long way.