When Leslie Dubuque got engaged to Tuckley Williams, they wanted to collapse the ever-expanding catalog of pre-wedding festivities into a single, all-encompassing shower. Tossing aside the customary notion that showers are for ladies only, Leslie and Tuckley set their sights on a fun, coed, evening shower that would represent both of their personalities and interests.
Such is the preference of many couples these days. "I think brides and grooms are looking for different ways to celebrate their weddings," says New York City– and Los Angeles–based planner Lyndsey Hamilton. It’s not about women sitting around a table anymore, unwrapping lingerie and mixing bowls, she says. Instead, the modern shower, often held at venues like bars or restaurants, is far more stylish and personalized than its traditional predecessor. A new guard of brides—and their fiancés—are changing the landscape of country-club and living-room showers, eschewing its all-female cast and endless stream of registered gifts (to which they have to feign surprise), hoping to make the occasion a more memorable, happening party.
Offer Cues to Party Hosts
After a little coaxing and explaining, most brides discover surprisingly amenable hosts. Even those in their parents’ generation are happy to go along with the idea. "Obviously you have to be polite and gracious, but be vocal about wanting a coed shower," Hamilton says. "Then hand over the reins and give your hosts the chance to be creative."
Leslie’s friends from Texas, where she grew up, were thrilled to acquiesce. They threw the LA-based couple a festive Tex-Mex barbecue shower at a friend’s Austin home on a creek running through beautiful Zilker Park. Antique chandeliers, which were spray-painted off white, hung from a canopy of trees in the backyard. Pink and white hydrangeas topped the tables, swathed in chocolate brown burlap with hot pink grosgrain ribbon sewn down the sides. "It was a mix of sophistication and Southern country," she says.
Guests mingled while feasting on the made-from-scratch buffet, including Texas favorites, from steak to fajitas, all served with spicy sauces and salsas from her brother-in-law’s culinary company, Cookwell & Company. Right in step, the bar was appropriately stocked with Mexican beers like Tecate and Pacifico, and plenty of bourbon. By 2 a.m., the candles had melted down and almost all of the 50 guests were dancing in the grass to Willie Nelson and Johnny Cash, under the moon and strings of twinkle lights. "It really felt like a tribute to us," says Leslie.
Tweak Tradition as Desired
A coed shower means catering to the couple’s common interests, not just the bride’s, says San Francisco Bay Area–based planner Laurie Arons, whose own coed shower was an elegant dinner party at the famous PlumpJack restaurant. She and her husband are food and wine enthusiasts, so it was an occasion he could really get excited about. "Think about what the bride and groom like to do and what they need," she says, "because, ultimately, the purpose of a shower is to give gifts."
While not all couples still open gifts in the spotlight, some worry that eliminating that part of the traditional shower might offend guests who selected, wrapped and transported them. "I always get excited over the littlest things," says Leslie, who did make unwrapping gifts part of the celebration. "I wanted all my family and friends to see how much we appreciated their generosity." Arons, on the other hand, chose not to open gifts at her shower because, she says, guys aren’t as patient. "When you include men, you have to recognize that they have absolutely no interest in sitting around opening presents or playing games."
The customary wedding registry is a sticking point for some. With the average age for a first marriage on the rise, many couples wed at a point when they no longer need every kitchen basic on the standard department-store registry. "I’m not being launched out from my parents’ home into my husband’s home—we’re 34, so both of us came with fabulous sets of pans," says Laura House, who initially tried to convince friends and family to throw a gift-free shower. "But people aren’t comfortable not giving gifts and breaking the rules." So, in an effort to compromise, the shower hosts put out the word that the couple would appreciate gift certificates to the Apple Store in addition to their registry at Unicahome.com. It was important to Laura that her fiancé Todd Beeby’s interests were considered, since they were having a coed shower. "This is our wedding," she says. "I didn’t want it to be just my shower."
They opted for an unpretentious, if not cheeky, event at one of their favorite Chicago neighborhood bars, The Happy Village, where 30 of their closest friends were treated to locally catered Italian food (a culinary nod to their engagement in Italy) and bottles of Pabst Blue Ribbon and Old Style beer to go along with the low-key vibe. "Having a laid-back evening with food and drinks is how we like to spend our time with our friends," Laura says. "We wanted a shower that reflected that."
Make the Event Meaningful
Arons recommends organizing coed showers around a joint interest or activity, like camping or entertaining. In that case, she says, there’s a real opportunity to build off that theme and help the couple prepare for their life together with related gifts, whether it’s camping equipment, barware or barbecue accessories. For Christina Kramlich and fiancé Peter Bowie, this meant a cellar-stocking shower. She grew up with parents entrenched in the wine business; he is a passionate wine connoisseur. The hosts, Molly and Don Chappellet, are friends of Christina’s parents and owners of a vineyard. They thought it was fitting to fete the new couple at their beautiful winery overlooking Napa Valley. The guest list was a who’s who of the local wine industry, and they received rare and extraordinary bottles of wine and champagne, including vintages from local wineries and a bottle of 1979 Billancort champagne, to help them start their own serious collection. "It’s different from other shower gifts, because it’s an experience—and it creates a legacy between the guest and the couple," Christina says.
Like most brides, Christina was most thankful for the chance to share such a special memory with her husband-to-be, making each bottle of wine all the more meaningful. "It wouldn’t have been the same party if it was just me sitting around with other ladies receiving wine," she says. "We were drinking Chappellet, the location was spectacular, and it was just such an incredible event." At one point, songbooks were distributed to all the guests and a folk singer led the group of 50 in a sing-along.
For other couples, the coed shower acts as a precursor to the wedding itself—giving guests from different families and social circles an opportunity to mix before the big day. In the case of Chicago couple Allison Zisook and Ryan Goldstein, their coed shower was a fancy celebration with 100 friends, many of whom would not be able to make it to their destination wedding in Palm Springs. Since it was the only wedding-related event their Chicago friends could attend, the hosts went all out. Thrown at Hugo’s Frog Bar, Allison’s favorite restaurant, tables were decorated Moulin Rouge–style with glittery fabric and feathers, and a family-style dinner was followed by hours of dancing to a live band. The only thing missing was the pressure. "I didn’t have to run around the room and say hello to everyone," says Allison, whose 350-person wedding made their shower seem quaint by comparison. "I was able to relax and really let loose." Sounds like the kind of gift any bride would appreciate.