In a perfect world, a bridal shower is a meaningful way to celebrate the bride, and a forum for family members, friends, and coworkers to mingle before the main event. Gifts are given to either make the lady of the hour feel pampered or to enhance her home. The food is tasteful, and planned activities (if any) are low-key and optional.
However, there are a lot of things that can complicate a bridal shower. For starters, some brides don't actually want one. They might be mindful of expenses and don't want their loved ones to shell out for yet another bridal event. Or they might be weary of the spotlight. Add in difficult guests, overly fussy tea sandwiches, and forced activities, and a bridal shower can fail faster than you can say, "crudités platter from Costco."
But it doesn't have to be that way.
I asked dozens of brides — past and present — what they secretly yearned for and what they downright detested. Taken together, here's some sensible advice for you. If you're planning on throwing a shower for a friend or family member, be sure to heed these words.
1. Think about what the bride likes.
This party is really meant to honor her. One fromage-loving bride I spoke to was surprised with a shower at a cheese-centric restaurant — despite the fact that her best friend is lactose-intolerant and gags a little at the smell of cheese. So sweet! Another bride showed up to her shower at a horse stable because her maid of honor likes to ride. Less sweet!
2. If she says she doesn't want one, she probably means it.
Some brides find the whole shower thing to be uncomfortable. "I didn't want one and my mother insisted on throwing some crazy luncheon at a restaurant. I was quietly dying inside the whole time," one bride says. If you're still set on having a shower, see if she'd be okay with a small, gift-less gathering in someone's backyard or a trip to a BYOB painting class. Something less formal can still be nice and appease any family members pushing for something more traditional.
3. Consult the bride on the guest list.
She probably knows she's getting a shower, so it's not like you're ruining the surprise. Talk to her to see how many people and which ones she wants at the shower. Some brides were more comfortable having a tiny party for their inner circle, while others liked having a larger bash.
Another key point: Make sure everyone on your guest list is actually invited to the wedding. Otherwise, it can be mega-awkward for everyone involved. Give the bride final say on who's invited to avoid discomfort or hurt feelings.
4. Tell her when it's going to be.
Bridal showers are typically thrown two weeks to three months before the big day, but don't leave the bride-to-be on edge that whole time. Every bride I spoke to said they either knew or wish they had known when their shower was. This way, they wouldn't get caught off-guard on a sweatpants-and-bad-hair day. Note: You don't have to tell her where it will be or what to expect — just tell her the date (and make sure it works for her!).
5. Help her pick an outfit.
Again, you don't have to tell her where the party will be or what the theme will be, but you'll know if that white maxi dress she wants to wear is a good idea or not. Let her show you her possible outfits and help her pick one to make sure she's dressed appropriately.
6. Consider a "display shower."
Some brides said they were super uncomfortable unwrapping all of their presents in front of their guests. Other brides just felt like it went on forever. Instead, try something called a display shower. "You tell guests not to wrap their presents — bows and gift tags are okay! — and then everything gets put on a table for the bride to see," one newlywed explains. This way, everyone can walk around on their own and see the gifts. "More time for chatting, less time being bored," she says.
7. Do not get her anything raunchy!
No matter how funny you think it will be, do not get her anything raunchy or sexy. Even if you think she'll appreciate it, her mom and future mother-in-law are going to be there — and they might not. It's just better to play it safe and get something off her registry. If there's no registry, get pots or board games. No one is ever offended by pots or board games.
8. Think very hard before introducing silly games.
If the bride isn't one to get a kick out of cheesy rounds of bridal trivia or wedding dresses made out of toilet paper, it might be best to refrain from those activities altogether.
9. Have a beginning, middle, and end in mind.
"My shower was totally awkward," one bride confessed. "It was decorated to the max, but no one really knew what to do, so we kinda just stood around the whole time." Think about how the party should flow. Start with cocktails and finger foods; then move on to an optional game or two in the middle; and end with dessert, tea, coffee, and goodbyes.
More Bridal Shower Advice for You
Calling all brides and married folk: What advice do you have for people throwing a bridal shower? Tell us in the comments!