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. You might be wondering if same rule applies to other pre-wedding events where gifts are expected. Do you have to send a bridal shower gift if you're not attending? And, what should you be giving to your newly engaged friend or family member if you can join in on the festivities?
Want to get a lowdown on gifts for the next bridal shower you're invited to? We asked national etiquette expert Diane Gottsman to share all you need to know about how to properly shower the bride-to-be. From how much to spend to what style gift you should choose, we'll provide guidance to lead you to the perfect present.
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.
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. 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.)
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.
Do You Have to Buy a Gift If You Can't Attend?
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 present. Of course, the guestlist 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.
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 yours 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.
Do You Need to Buy Multiple Gifts?
Occasionally, there may be multiple showers if different close friends or family members want to celebrate the bride. This often happens if the bride's family isn't local and they want to get together in another region. "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 Is the Difference Between a Wedding Gift and a Bridal Shower Gift?
A shower gift is a separate gift from a wedding present. The wedding gift is typically something bigger and a bit more expensive than what you would give for the shower. If you want to 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 to the shower. "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."