Bridal Shower Etiquette 101: Everything You Need to Know About Your Pre-Wedding Party

Get the low-down on official bridal shower etiquette.

bride with bridesmaids

 Photo by Ross Harvey

Bridal showers are a longtime held wedding tradition with origin stories dating back to 16th-century Holland when a young girl's father refused to provide a dowry to a marriage he disapproved of. The town got together and offered small gifts to help her start her home without the dowry money. The core of the tradition has somewhat held up over the years and today we shower couples with gifts that are generally pertaining to the start of a new home.

The etiquette for these affairs has certainly morphed and changed over time and it can be a bit confusing—from who throws a bridal shower to what to write on a shower invite. So we talked to etiquette expert Diane Gottsman to get all the answers on what happens at a bridal shower and how to plan one.

While it can get a little overwhelming, especially if you're tasked with planning the event, remember that it's only meant to be a fun way for the bride to celebrate with those closest to her. "A bridal shower is designed to shower the bride with good wishes, congratulations, and some gifts," Gottsman says.

Meet the Expert

Diane Gottsman is a national etiquette expert, author of Modern Etiquette for a Better Life, and founder of The Protocol School of Texas.

As a longtime favorite pre-wedding event, bridal showers can be both exciting and daunting to plan for. From choosing the shower decorations, planning games and activities, choosing a location, and making the food and drink menu, to picking a shower gift she'll love (yes, hosts still get gifts), we've got you covered. Here’s everything you need to know to plan the perfect bridal shower

What Is a Bridal Shower?

A bridal shower is a daytime, women-only event in celebration of the bride's upcoming marriage. Traditionally, it is an opportunity for guests to give her gifts to help set up her new home.

Bridal Shower Planning 101
 Jessica Olah/Brides

Bridal Shower Etiquette

What Happens at a Bridal Shower?

"Depending on the taste of the bride, the host can have some entertaining games for the guests to play or skip the games altogether," says Gottsman. The general outline is usually the same: Food, drinks, and an opportunity for the bride to open gifts surrounded by guests. You can stick to bridal shower traditions like gift bingo or designing wedding dresses using rolls of toilet paper, or you could instead plan an activity-oriented shower like a spa day or a calligraphy lesson. Don't love the idea of opening gifts in front of everyone? Speak up! Those gifts could be set aside so you can open them at home along with your future spouse. Speaking of your partner, they often arrive toward the end of the shower (with flowers in tow) as a surprise for the bride. It's a sweet way to include them in your celebration, as well as help you get those gifts home.

When Do You Throw a Bridal Shower?

Usually, the bridal shower is held between two to six months before the wedding. Choose a date that is convenient for both the bride and her guests of choice, whether that means hosting something a little farther in advance or planning it to coincide with a trip home or another get-together, such as a bachelorette party in the evening after an afternoon shower.

Who Throws a Bridal Shower?

The bridal shower is usually hosted by the maid of honor, close friends, bridal attendants, or bridesmaids. No matter who is hosting, be sure to communicate clearly to make sure you aren't planning two separate showers. Traditional etiquette says the mother or mother-in-law (or any relatives, for that matter) should steer clear from hosting as it can appear that they are directly asking for gifts. However, today it's become much more common and perfectly acceptable for anyone to host who wants to.

If family members aren't available to help plan, the bridesmaids should step in to help take care of some of the arrangements.

Is the Couple Involved in the Planning Process?

Unless it's a complete surprise shower, the person being showered will generally provide some basics that they'd like at their shower. The host will ask about preferred themes, details, date, time, location, and activities to get an idea of where to start. It's up to the host or hosts to use that input to bring the shower to life.

Who Gets Invited to a Bridal Shower?

As with other pre-wedding events, the guest list should be limited to people who are also invited to the wedding. "You can invite whomever you would like from the wedding guest list. Keep the guest list small and manageable don’t have too many showers and don’t invite the same people to multiple showers," says Gottsman. "If someone is not invited to the wedding, they should not be invited to the shower."

For the bridal shower, this usually includes the bridal party and the couple's family and close friends. The number invited depends on how large the event is intended to be. If the shower is going to be a surprise, the maid of honor and the bride's mother should work together to come up with a guest list they think the bride will be happy with. Otherwise, they can have the bride assist them with the guest list, then keep her out of the rest of the planning.

When Should Bridal Shower Invitations Be Mailed Out?

Ideally, the invitations should be mailed out four to six weeks before the bridal shower, either by post or email. Make sure to include the bride's name, the date, the time, the location, registry information, a way to RSVP, and the names of whomever is hosting.

What's the Dress Code at a Bridal Shower?

A bridal shower can be as formal or casual as you want it to be, but it's best to at least include some sort of guide in the invitation. "There's not one particular dress code," says Gottsman, "but it's always better the dress up than down." If there's no indication of the event's formality, it may be more comfortable to show up overdressed than underdressed. If cohesion in your shower photos is important to you, it's a good idea to think about what the guests will be wearing and make a note somewhere within the invitation.

Where Should You Throw a Bridal Shower?

If the bride still lives relatively close to home, the shower can be held in her hometown. Does she live in another state? It may still be more convenient for the bride to travel to her shower if most of the guests live locally, instead of asking the entire guest list to hop on an airplane. The specific location depends on the type of shower and the host's budget. It could be in a friend or family member's home or backyard, at a local restaurant, or somewhere more specific if the shower has a theme (such as a cooking school or a wine tasting room).

No matter the selected date, make sure that the bride has put together a wedding registry before the invitations are sent out so guests can purchase gifts.

Should a Bridal Shower Have a Theme?

It doesn't have to, but it's a fun way to add some personality to the party. A theme could be as simple as cohesive, rustic décor, or you could go all out with a spa day. Some of our favorite themes include a bridal tea party, a Disney-themed shower, or a Parisian-influenced affair.

Does the Bride Need a Registry for a Bridal Shower?

Not necessarily. The actual wedding registry can also function as a bridal shower registry. If, however, it's a lingerie shower, that would require a separate registry should the bride want to register for specific lingerie. As a bridal shower guest, it is in good etiquette to purchase a shower gift off the registry.

Steps to Planning a Bridal Shower

Create a Shower Budget

The very first step to plan a bridal shower is to create a budget for the entire process. This includes food, drinks, décor, venue, rentals, event design, photography, videography, and any other vendors or expenses incurred while planning. Depending on the type of shower and what the bride wants, a typical bridal shower can cost anywhere from $10 to over $100 per person.

Pick a Date

Consult with the bride to choose a date that works for her and fits the wedding timeline. Aim for a minimum of a couple of months before the wedding. Keep in mind other events of the wedding like the bachelor/bachelorette party, which some couples plan for the evening of the shower day.

Create a Guestlist

Get a must-invite list from the bride and work with her as you create the full party guest list. Have the bride double-check and approve the list before you send out invites.

Select a Theme

You may decide to opt-out of a bridal shower theme, but if the bride is a wine-lover or cooking connoisseur, you might consider choosing a theme that follows suit. This will guide your planning decisions for the rest of the process.

Choose a Location

Often the host will offer their home to hold the bridal shower. If this isn't an option, see if another guest or co-planner has an available space. You can also choose a venue that correlates to the theme, like a spa or a winery, or you can host at a restaurant or hotel, or rent an Airbnb.

Send Invitations

Give guests as much notice as possible so they'll be able to attend the shower and purchase gifts. This should be done about four to six weeks before the shower date, which means you should start looking for and purchasing invitations at least a few weeks prior to then. It's also a good idea to include a line on the RSVPs for guests to note any dietary restrictions.

Plan the Menu

The food will depend on the shower's theme and time of day. Hosting a brunch affair? Stock up on mimosas and breakfast foods. Whatever the menu, make sure it's something you know the bride will like and includes options for any food restrictions the guests note on their RSVPs.

Plan Shower Décor

If you've hired a professional event designer, this part will be pretty breezy for you. If you're decorating yourself, this is arguably one of the most fun steps in planning a bridal shower. Whether you're following a theme or not, think about what kinds of personal touches you can include for the bride. We love pretty floral and balloon installations—and don't forget a picture-perfect photo backdrop.

Plan the Games and Activities

Games are a great way to break the ice when guests first arrive if they are not already acquainted with one another. With a lot of traditional shower games, there is no purchase necessary—just a bit of creativity! If your budget allows, there are also tons of super fun shower games we love that are available on sites like Etsy.

Create a Shower Playlist

Get everyone in the party mood with a fun selection of music. Ask the bride to send some of her favorites she'd like included and mix in some love songs and upbeat tunes for background music.

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