Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Bridesmaid's Guide: The Bridal Shower

Advancement within the military institution often points to great success in domestic politics. Ruthlessness and cunning are qualities required for both. Hence, in a reciprocally beneficial relationship, one often glorifies and aggrandizes the other.

The bridal shower is the most well known, and the most feared, of the bridesmaid's responsibilities. The tradition is believed to date back several centuries to Holland, where a young woman was deprived of her customary dowry because her father disapproved of her marriage to a poor miller. Supportive friends and villagers "showered" her with gifts for her new household. Perhaps the Dutch bride received plates, cookware, and a farm animal or two; the gifts certainly reflected the community's intent to give the new bride what she most needed to set up her own home. Such is still the tradition today.

Unlike the straightforward bridal showers of yesteryear, today we attempt to dress up the objective by playing silly games and telling embarrassing stories about the bride's past. We provide the guests with a little entertainment before we thank them graciously for their gifts and send them on their way. The prime directive of showers past and present has remained the same: people get together to give the bride lots of useful loot so she can feather her nest. Rather than villagers banding together, it is now obligatory for the bridesmaids to sponsor this event and solicit gifts on the bride's behalf.

Throwing a bridal shower is a time-consuming and costly venture. For some brides, this is the most important pre-wedding event. Not only do you need to satisfy your own sense of duty by throwing a beautiful party you can be proud of, but you have to take into consideration the bride's expectations of what a shower should be. If she's a sweet, old-fashioned girl who is fond of coordinating her headband to her purse, you should think twice before throwing the shower at your favorite local barbecue joint. Remember, this shower is for her; you may have to compromise your personal style a bit to plan an event you'll both remember fondly. Does this mean that when you plan Buffy's shower you must outshine her coming-out party at the Waldorf-Astoria, sacrificing yourself to the great Visa god? Absolutely not! You can throw all kinds of perfectly wonderful (and tasteful) bridal showers to complement a variety of tastes and still have enough money left over to pay your phone bill.

Superstitions: It's good luck if the first gift the bride-to-be opens is the first gift she uses.

Traditionally, the maid of honor and/or the bridesmaids throw the shower a month or more before the wedding, but very often a relative or the mother of the bride or groom will want to be involved in the planning as well. Although etiquette frowns on an immediate family member hosting the shower, the sad truth is that it can be difficult to recruit assistance for this task. Accept the volunteers who come forward, regardless of blood ties. If you're a woman with a career and a personal life, you'll welcome the extra hands. Have you heard the old tale about the hen who asks everyone in town to help her bake bread and doesn't find a willing participant until the bread emerges fresh from the oven? Planning a party is similar: everyone wants to savor the fruits of your labor, but no one wants to contribute time, energy, or dough. Manners mavens may be sticklers for the rule that bans mothers and sisters from sending the invitations, but we believe that nowadays, with so many brides marrying later in life and paying for their weddings independently, the immediate family's involvement is acceptable. If Mrs. Lowenstein insists on footing the bill when you plan the shower, and you're struggling to make your next car payment, take her up on her offer. Your friend won't love you any less and you won't go broke. Just be sure that Mrs. L. is going to let you plan the shower; accepting money can be a tricky business. Oftentimes, inflexible opinions accompany financial support. If Mrs. L's money has strings attached that are going to cause you migraines, make do with the money you collect from the other bridesmaids along with what you can contribute yourself.

The following advice has been designed to guide you through the bridal-shower planning process and will help you plan an event you and your fellow attendants can be proud of.

Superstitions: The giver of the first or seventh gift opened will be the next one married.

Six months before the shower, start planning. Get together with the other bridesmaids and the maid of honor to discuss the basics of the shower. The maid of honor should head up this effort, but don't wait for her to call. If you don't hear from her by at least four months before the wedding, contact her. If everyone lives in the same town, get together for lunch, dinner, or margaritas to discuss ideas for the shower. When all the attendants are old friends, organizing the shower can be a breeze; but five women who have no relationship to one another other than a shared mutual friendship with the bride may not readily cooperate with one another. In fact, the fur can fly. Remember that this shower is for someone you are all close to and it doesn't matter if you still blame Jodi for stealing the bride's previous boyfriend. She's forgiven Jodi and moved on (clearly!) and so should you. Now is not the appropriate time for grudges. Resist the temptation of cattiness and focus- on the primary objective: an outstanding shower for your friend. Besides, there's plenty of time to verbally bash the offending party after the reception.
Superstitions: The giver of the third gift opened will be the next to have a baby.
Define your budget. Whether you're one person or twelve, the budget is the single biggest determinant for the style of shower you will throw. A dinner party is more lavish and expensive. A brunch or tea is also quite elegant, but will be a fraction of the cost. Knowing how much money everyone has to spend will help you make this decision. While it is the maid of honor's duty to head up the efforts behind the shower, you are expected, unless otherwise stated, to contribute both financially and otherwise to the event. When "the sky's the limit," terrific. But in most cases, pooling resources is the best way to put together a great party as inexpensively as possible. Creativity and friendship, more than money, produce the best shower.
If you are throwing the shower alone, consider any resources that may be available to you (your parents' home, a bride's relative's home, your own apartment, and so on) and set a firm budget.

One maid of honor we know found herself hosting an enormous shower just because the bride's mother had handed her an extensive guest list. Not only did she find herself stuck with the bill, but she was unable to pay her bills that month and her phone was shut off. She was so outraged that she refused to speak to the bride after the wedding; they are no longer friends.

The only person this attendant really had to blame was herself. Don't think that because you're a bridesmaid, you have to throw some elaborate affair because the mother of the bride wants you to (unless of course she's paying for it)—and don't be strong-armed into it. While you should plan an event which will reflect your fabulous taste and your feelings for the bride, a gracious bride will be pleased with any effort you make, no matter how inexpensive. If she's not, she's not much of a friend.

What can you do when confronted by an overbearing mother of the bride? Take a stand. We don't suggest throwing a temper tantrum, but you should explain, in no uncertain terms, that you have a fixed budget of X dollars and that you and the other attendants have already decided upon the kind of shower you will be throwing, as well as the guest limit. Don't Apologize. Outline your limits and make it clear that while it would certainly be lovely to throw a shower at the most expensive restaurant in town, unfortunately it's not within your budget. Don't be afraid to remind her tactfully that a bridal shower is a present for your friend and although it is traditional, technically it is not obligatory (believe it or not). The shower is your gift to the bride. The bride's mother wouldn't insist on helping you pick out your wedding gift for the couple, would she? A shower is a ritual expression of your concern that the bride have what she needs for her new home, and it is inexcusable for the mother of the bride to impose her standards on how you express that concern. Set your limits in the beginning, be realistic, and stick to them.

Traditions: Save the ribbons from the shower gifts and use them to make a mock bouquet for the bride-to-be to carry during the rehearsal. (See "The Rehearsal and Rehearsal Dinner.") After the rehearsal, the bride tosses this faux bouquet and whoever catches it will be the next to marry. (The origin of this is unclear, but it is believed that these ribbons represent the bride's fertility. We have no idea why, but who wants to argue with tradition?) Some bridesmaids collect the ribbons and use them to stuff a "good luck" pillow for the bride.

Divide up the responsibilities and expenses. The key word for a successful shower is equity. Don't assume that the matron of honor is going to foot the bill just because she's a Kennedy twice removed. It's not fair for one person to be expected to contribute $500 while someone else only puts in $50, just because she has more money—unless, of course, she offers. If someone is severely strapped for cash, she can contribute additional services, such as addressing invitations or baking the shower cake. Everyone needs to be very clear up front about what she can contribute so that no one feels that she was taken advantage of later on. If one of the bridesmaids is a phenomenal baker and another has a large space in which to throw the party, take that into account. Add up the contributions, including your budget, and you'll have your guidelines for the shower. Use the list of responsibilities to keep track of responsibilities and expenses, and divvy them up accordingly.

Traditions: In some regions of the country, it is customary for one of the bridesmaids to volunteer to make a hat for the bride-to-be out of the discarded gift wrappings. Cardboard from a box top usually makes up the base of the hat; a small sample from each gift is used (either the ribbon or a scrap of wrapping paper). This practice takes a little more dexterity than making a faux ribbon bouquet, but the hat then serves as a sort of "good luck" memento for the bride. Usually the bridesmaids make her wear the "garbage" (as Murphy Brown would say) on her head and then take pictures of her. We have no idea where this tradition began, but we think this may serve as some kind of insurance for the attendants, since the bride almost never gets the negatives.


Projected Cost

Actual Cost

Nonalcoholic beverages








Crackers and cheese

Vegetables and dip





Theme decorations





Cocktail napkins





Invitations/ postage

Camera/ film

Party games/theme accessories

Coffee/ coffee urn

Place cards


Cleanup goods

Plastic wrap

Paper towels

Plastic bags

Shower cake



Rentals (tables, chairs, and so on)


IMPORTANT NOTE: SAVE RECEIPTS! After the shower you can tally up your expenses and ask individuals for any unexpected, additional expenses. Discuss doing this at the onset of planning so that everyone expects it later on and is prepared. Nothing is more awkward than discussing finances with virtual strangers; the fewer surprises, the better.

Pick a date and time. The key to planning any party, big or small, is to set the time and date. The date is crucial because it gives you a goal to work for and is your first established element of the party. The time will define the style of the shower: 7:30 P.M. for cocktail party or dinner; 3:00 P.M. for a tea party; 12:00 noon for a brunch. Keep in mind that most showers are thrown anywhere from two months to three weeks before the wedding. Whether the party is a surprise or not, make sure you clear the time and date with the bride's mother and fiance. You don't want to go through the trouble of planning the shower only to find out that the bride will be out of town on business that weekend.

Compose the guest list. A bridal shower is a more intimate affair than a wedding; customarily, only close friends and relatives of the bride and groom should be invited. Ask the bride for a list of names and addresses, or, if it is a surprise, get lists from her mother and fiance. Keep in mind that the bride may be thrown more than one shower and try to avoid inviting people who have been invited to another shower for the same bride. If anyone—for instance, a co-worker—has already been invited to another shower, be thoughtful and make it clear to her that only her presence, not another present, is requested.

Book the venue and entertainment. Once you've decided on the time, date, and place, you need to book the space you'll need for the shower. If you are having the shower in a friend's home, obviously, this doesn't apply to you. However, if you are holding the shower in a restaurant or rented space of any kind, you need to reserve the space as early as possible. The same goes for any' entertainment you have planned, be it a piano player or a palm reader. You don't want to send out 40 invitations and then find out that the restaurant where you were planning to hold the shower isn't available.

Superstitions: Folklore says that the number of ribbons the bride-to-be cuts while opening her gifts corresponds to the number of children she'll have.

Once you have the aforementioned basics set, you're ready to begin planning the details of the shower. The following timetable will give you a general format for you to follow from three months before the shower to the moment the doorbell rings, so that you can plan your schedule, use your time efficiently, and suffer from as little stress as possible during the bridal-shower planning process.

  • Call other bridesmaids if the planning has not yet begun.

  • Purchase the invitations.
  • Complete the invitations.
  • Reserve rental equipment (tables, chairs, and so on).

  • Address and mail the invitations.

  • Order any catered food you are planning to serve at the shower.

  • Regroup with your co-hostesses and confirm responsibilities.
  • Discuss whether there will be a gift from the bridesmaids for the bride.
  • Choose an outfit!

  • Follow up with any invited guests who have not responded.
  • Order flowers.

  • Confirm delivery of rental equipment.
  • Purchase decorations.
  • Purchase necessary theme decorations.
  • Purchase your personal gift for bride and a card.
  • Purchase the bridesmaids' gift for bride (optional).
  • Pick up your outfit at the cleaners.
  • Book a manicure appointment for the day before the shower.
  • Confirm that you have all the equipment you need for the party (see the checklist).
  • Check in with your co-hostesses.
  • Purchase alcohol and other beverages.
  • Cook anything that can be frozen.
  • Stock up on ice.
  • Make sure you have scissors, tape, pencils, and note pads.
  • Be sure you have any necessary items for the games.
  • Confirm order and delivery of any catered food.
  • Begin to decorate.
  • Shop for main food items.
  • Clean the house (if the shower will be in your home).
  • Have the alcohol delivered.
  • Shop for fruits and vegetables.
  • Clean fruits and vegetables in the morning.
  • Iron any linens that may need it.
  • Plan the music (optional).

  • Have any catered food delivered at least one hour before the party.
  • Chop vegetables and fruit.
  • Lay out platters and main dishes.
  • If the shower is at your home, remove the prescription or recreational drugs from your medicine cabinet.
Celebrity Trivia: Grace Kelly's seven wedding attendants gave her a bridal shower in March 1956, arranging their gifts under a yellow umbrella that matched the gowns they would be wearing at the nuptials a month later in Monaco. Mrs. Alfred Hitchcock attended.

Money-Saving Tips
  • Have the shower at a home—anyone's home. It's cheaper than a restaurant.
  • Make the food yourself. Catered food can get expensive. But if you can barely boil an egg, be fair to your guests and volunteer to be responsible for decorations instead. Then delegate the cooking to the other bridesmaids.
  • Instead of fancy centerpieces, use inexpensive potted plants in terra-cotta pots. We recommend ivy; it's cheap and chic.
  • Instead of giving fancy chocolate favors with personalized boxes, bake some cookies and brownies ahead of time and freeze them. Package them up in your own little cartons (plenty of gourmet stores sell them and they're not expensive) or pretty tissue paper. Many stores stock do-it-yourself decorating items that make even drab goods look pretty nifty.
  • Other cheap favors include tiny potted plants or assortments of exotic tea bags wrapped in ribbon.
  • Serve fresh berries instead of elaborate desserts.

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