There’s more to a wedding than the ceremony itself. In fact, many couples celebrate their marriage with a series of events leading up to the special day. There are engagement parties, bachelor and bachelorette parties, rehearsal dinners, the list goes on. Of all the traditional pre-wedding events, though, only one is dedicated to giving one or both of the people to be married a moment away from all the craziness of wedding planning and preparation, a chance to relax, be lavished with love and attention, and let someone else do all the work. It’s called the wedding shower.
What is a wedding shower?
A wedding shower is a traditional pre-wedding event with the specific purpose of “showering” one or both members of the engaged couple with gifts. It’s usually hosted by a close friend or family member of the couple to be married, and the guests also tend to be their closest friends and relatives.
Different Types of Showers
There are two main types of wedding showers: the bridal shower and the couple’s shower (also known simply as the “wedding shower”).
Bridal showers are strictly for brides and their female friends and relatives, including the mother of the groom. Traditionally, the purpose of the bridal shower is to give the bride gifts related to her future role as a wife. These often include items from her wedding registry, kitchen and home goods, and lingerie. Watching the bride open all her gifts is one of the main activities at the shower. It is even traditional to appoint one guest to create a “bridal bouquet” using the ribbons from the gifts the bride receives as she opens them. Many bridal showers also include wedding-themed games, like the toilet paper wedding dress contest where teams compete to see who can create the best wedding dress entirely out of bath tissue in 20 minutes. The traditional bridal shower menu includes light snacks or hors d'oeuvres and desserts, rather than a full meal. Bridal shower brunches are also popular. Bridal showers are often hosted at someone’s home, where the women-only rule can be most easily enforced.
The couple’s shower or wedding shower is a celebration of both bride and groom, or, in the case of same-sex couples, bride and bride or groom and groom. The guest list is gender-neutral, including friends and family of both partners – mutual friends as well as individual friends and relatives of each. Anyone can host a couple’s shower, including the couple themselves. Because this type of shower is a relatively new phenomenon, there aren’t as many rules associated with it as there are with the bridal shower. Couple’s showers tend to be more about mingling and less about structured activities like games. While material gifts have traditionally been an important part of the bridal shower, couple’s showers are more likely to focus on the gift of their loved one’s company. Guests may still bring gifts, but the ritual of opening all presents in front of all guests is less likely to be one of the event’s main activities. Instead, the couple may open presents as they receive them or wait until after the party to open them. Because a couple’s shower tends to have more guests than a bridal shower, it is more likely to be held in a private event space in a restaurant, bar or hotel than in someone’s home. For large groups, to facilitate mingling, light appetizers are still a popular food choice.
When Should a Wedding Shower Take Place
Wedding showers are always held before the wedding – usually at least two weeks, but not more than three months, prior to the big day. Saturdays and Sundays are the most popular days for wedding showers, and they can be held in the morning, afternoon or evening.
Organizing a Wedding Shower
The most important thing to keep in mind when planning a wedding shower is the feelings of the guests of honor. When in doubt about any decision, ask them what they would like.
Setting the Date
Tradition says the wedding shower can happen anywhere from two weeks to three months before the wedding. There is a lot of flexibility to this guideline, though. The most important thing is that the timing works for the guests of honor and any other key guests (best friends, siblings, parents, etc.).
Scheduling the shower on a weekend will usually be best for accommodating guests’ schedules. Any time of day or evening is acceptable. And the standard shower length is two to four hours.
Invitations should go out at least two months before the event if there are any out-of-town guests, and four to six weeks ahead if all guests are local.
Making the Guest List
This is one area of shower planning where the host should ask for the wedding couple’s input if possible.
Typically, the wedding shower guest list includes the wedding party and the couple's closest friends and relatives. Close friends of the bride and groom’s parents, and close relatives of the host, may also be invited.
The shower is meant to be a fairly intimate gathering, so try not to invite too many people. The average number of guests is 30 to 50, though this may vary depending on the size of the couple’s social circles and families.
When it comes to who to invite, the only hard and fast rule is that everyone invited to the shower should also be invited to the wedding. One exception to this is if the couple is having a destination wedding or other ceremony with a very limited guest list.
Where should the wedding shower be held?
A wedding shower can be held anywhere that’s large enough to accommodate all guests comfortably. A spacious home or private room in a restaurant, bar or hotel are all good choices.
What to wear at a wedding shower
If a wedding shower has a dress code, it should be noted on the invitation. If no dress code is mentioned, use the theme, venue, and time of day of the shower as your guide. And keep in mind that it’s a special occasion, but not usually a formal one. If you have any doubts about what will be appropriate to wear, call or email the host. Their contact information should be included in the invitation.
Wedding Shower Activities
Wedding showers are often less structured than traditional bridal showers. Activities generally include mingling, eating, drinking, toasting the wedding couple, and sometimes opening gifts. There can be entertainment like a band, a DJ, or something uniquely tailored to the couple’s tastes. Some wedding showers are even organized around an experience. Examples of shower experiences include a winery tour and tasting, a hot air balloon ride, a meal at a fancy restaurant, or a white water rafting trip.
One very unstructured activity that’s a real crowd-pleaser and great for getting guests interacting is a wedding photo sharing tool. Guests take pictures with their phones and upload them in real time to a display that everyone at the party can see. They can also add captions to photos and print hard copies to take home.
If you do decide to plan structured activities like games, try to stay flexible. If there isn't enough time for all the planned activities, that’s okay. The important thing is that everyone – especially the guests of honor – have a good time.
For a couple about to be married, the days leading up to the wedding are filled with joy and excitement – and lots of work. The wedding shower stands alone as the one pre-wedding event dedicated to giving the wedding couple a chance to sit back, relax and be the recipients of lots of love and attention from their closest friends and family members.
For years, wedding showers were only for brides and the women in their lives. Today, couple’s showers, which include both partners and their closest friends and family members, are a major trend. These inclusive gatherings put a premium on quality time with loved ones and on everyone getting to know each other.
While gifts have always been an important part of the wedding shower, there is an increasing variety of rituals and etiquette around shower gift-giving and receiving. Some couples are opting to leave the opening of gifts until after the shower. And some are even choosing to have showers organized around experiences and ask guests to contribute to the cost of the experience rather than bringing a gift.
In spite of all the new developments, the most important thing about the wedding shower is to lavish the guest of honor (be it the bride, groom or both) with love, attention, and wishes for a happy and successful marriage.
Whether you're organizing a wedding shower or attending one, keep this in mind and you can't go wrong!
What happens at a wedding shower?
The couple arrives early, along with the shower host(s), and is there to greet guests when they arrive. Guests typically bring gifts and place them in a designated place. Gifts may be opened at the shower or afterward, depending on the couple’s preference. Food and drinks are typically served, and guests should have a chance to eat, drink and mingle with each other and the guests of honor at a leisurely pace. Some showers also include organized activities like games. Others are more like a cocktail party, where the main activity is socializing.
What is a wedding shower vs. a bridal shower?
"Wedding shower" usually means a co-ed shower that celebrates the couple as a whole, and includes both partners’ friends and family members – male and female.
A bridal shower is usually a celebration of just the bride, with only female friends and relatives in attendance.
What do you give for a wedding shower?
First, look to the shower invitation for guidance on gifts. It may list the couple’s wedding or shower registry, or offer other information about the expectations around gifts. Some showers have a gift theme like kitchenware, bedding, or even a request for contributions to the cost of a trip the couple would like to take.
Otherwise, good shower gifts include:
- Gifts the couple can share.
- Gifts that relate to something unique about the couple’s relationship, like the fact that they like to go camping together or that they both love the Yankees.
- Gift cards – but make sure to personalize them. For example, give a gift card to a restaurant or store you know they both like, or where they are registered.
Who throws a wedding shower?
Anyone can throw a wedding shower. Traditionally, the wedding party or the mother of the bride hosted the event, but this has changed over the years. Often, a group of close friends or relatives – or both – will team up to host the shower, dividing responsibilities and the cost. Some wedding experts say it is also acceptable for a couple to host their own wedding shower. And having more than one shower is fine, as long as the guest lists are different. In addition to the shower or showers to be attended by close friends and relatives, one or more work colleagues may host a “work shower” at the office.