Bridal Shower Etiquette: Should I Send a Gift If I Can't Attend?

Do you HAVE to send a bridal shower gift if you won't be there?

Gift bags lined up on bachelorette swinsuits

 Photo by Deanne Barrier

Traditional etiquette states that if you receive an invitation to a wedding (even if you can’t make it), you should send the couple a wedding gift. But a wedding isn’t the only celebration you’ll be invited to. So does the same rule apply to other pre-wedding events where gifts are expected—do you have to send a bridal shower gift if you're not attending? Is sending a thoughtful card enough?

The bridal shower is one of the first gatherings of a couple's wedding celebrations and things can get a little confusing when you realize you can't swing it. National etiquette expert Diane Gottsman says what you do will depend on several factors, "Among them [are] how many showers you have already attended for the bride (and groom), your budget, and whether or not you are planning to attend the wedding."

There are plenty of ways to participate from afar without heavy spending. Ask the hostess to include you in any activities they might be having. Are they putting together a video of well-wishes from guests? Make sure your clip is included. Or will they be collecting favorite recipes or marriage advice from all the attendees? Send yours along. Any collective group gifts or projects where you can add a little something extra will make sure the bride knows you have them in your thoughts.

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.

Do You Have to Buy a Gift If You Can't Attend the Bridal Shower?

Unlike a wedding invitation, receiving an invitation to a bridal shower does not mean you have to send a gift even if you can’t attend. So, if your best friend’s shower is on the same weekend as your cousin’s wedding, or it’s just too far for you to attend the shower and the wedding, you’re not expected to get the bride a gift. Of course, the guest list for a bridal shower is usually pretty exclusive: Only family members and close friends make the cut, meaning you might want to send a little something anyway to mark the occasion. "It's not obligatory to buy a gift if you can't attend the shower, but it's a nice gesture if you are close to the bride," says Gottsman.

Be sure to include a card letting the bride know you wish you could be there.

When and Where Should You Send a Gift If You're Absent for the Shower?

If you want to participate from afar, send your gift to the hostess or another guest in advance of the event. That way, it can be added to the gift table and opened along with the other presents toward the end of the shower. If the bride won’t be opening gifts during the shower, arrange for your gift to arrive in the days leading up to or immediately following the event, and send it directly to the bride. "If you want to send a check, money is always a great alternative but make sure you put it in a beautiful card," says Gottsman. "When possible, send the gift ahead of time. Generally, the registry will do this for you."

If you choose to send a beautiful bouquet or a nice bottle of their favorite wine, champagne, or liquor, be sure to arrange for a delivery on the day of, or have one of the attendees coordinate with you to pick up a package or sign for the delivery. You can even add in a nice vase or a bespoke bottle opener for an extra touch of class.

How Much Should You Spend on the Gift?

How much you want to or able to spend is really a personal choice, there's no required amount. "This is why a registry is helpful because you can find great ideas with different price points that are keeping within your financial situation," Gottsman says.

Are Separate Gifts Required for the Wedding and the Shower?

A shower gift is a separate gift from the wedding present. The wedding gift is typically something bigger and a bit more expensive than the shower gift. If you are wanting to instead get a single, bigger gift for both occasions together, Gottsman suggests that you still bring something small like a bottle of wine and a card. "Showing up to the shower without a gift will feel somewhat awkward," she says. "Explain to the bride in advance that you are doing one big gift if that is your choice."

What Type of Gift Should You Buy for a Bridal Shower?

Bridal shower gifts are smaller and more modest than wedding gifts. "Each couple has their own particular needs and requests," says Gottsman. "A registry is the basic indicator of what you should buy." Some couples will set up a registry specifically for the event, while others will include those items on their main registry. Check with the hostess to see where you should be shopping. Common bridal shower gifts include kitchenware, from small appliances or utensils to towels or dishes.

Shower gifts tend to stick to the event's specific theme if it has one. A cooking class shower might require a gift of your favorite cookbook, while the hostesses of a lingerie shower will ask for, well, lingerie, and a spa shower is a perfect time to shower the bride with bath products or a plush robe. Pay attention to the event’s theme, and if you will want the bride to open your gift during the shower, make sure yours fits right in. (Of course, if you are sending the gift directly to the bride and don’t want it opened at the shower, you can gift the bride whatever you feel is appropriate.)

Who Usually Hosts and Will They Still Need to Get a Gift?

Hosts are usually part of the wedding party or other close friends and yes, they will still need to get a gift. "When multiple people want to host they can break it up into two showers," says Gottsman. "But be careful not to have too many showers or at least change up the guest list so people don't have to attend several."

If you're invited to multiple showers for the same couple, don't feel like you need to bring a new gift to each one. One gift to one of the showers is all that is necessary.

What Should You Buy If It's a Couple's Shower?

A couple's shower will include everyone from both sides of the wedding in one big celebration. In this case, you'll want to be sure the gift you get is something that will suit both spouses, not just the one you're close with. Be sure to keep each of their tastes in mind as you make your selection and again, check out their registry.

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