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How to Plan the Modern Bridal Shower

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lbutterworth

Lisa Butterworth is a writer and editor soaking up the eternal sunshine in Los Angeles. When she’s not on the hunt for the latest and greatest in girl culture as the West Coast editor of BUST magazine, she’s flea marketing, taco trucking, and generally raising a ruckus. 

What do you do when one of your best friends gets engaged? If you’re like me, beyond the excited squeals and enthusiastic hugging — you have no idea.

I met my friend Jeanette when we were five years old. Five! I’ll spare you the details of my age, but let’s just say I’ve known her for over two-and-a-half decades. After spending the last few years apart — me on the East Coast, her on the West — we are finally living in the same city again, Los Angeles. Which is great, because as I’ve learned, what you’re supposed to do when one of your best friends gets engaged — as Jeanette recently did — is throw her a bridal shower.

LIFE Magazine

The spoils of a bridal shower circa 1951.

It’s difficult to say exactly where the contemporary bridal shower originated, but many believe it stems from the dowry custom of ye olden days. If a woman’s family didn’t have the means to pay a dowry to her prospective husband, or refused because they disapproved of the union, friends would gather and give gifts to compensate.

In Victorian times, presents were offered in a parasol, which is where the “shower” part comes in. So what’s the point now? As far as I’m concerned, a bridal shower is an awesome excuse to celebrate one of your BFFs and the new chapter in her love life with all of your lady friends, as well as an obscene amount of eats and drinks. (Don’t forget the drinks.)

To make sure you don’t forget anything else, here’s a helpful breakdown of the party-planning process — so when it comes time to throw your best girl a bridal shower, you can honor her in style.

Planning committee. Whether you realize it or not, planning a party — for five guests or twenty — is kind of a big deal. Get a couple of friends in on the action: you’ll feel less pressure and it actually makes the process more fun. There are four of us tagteaming Jeanette’s shower and all I can say is, thank Maude.

Guest list. Have your pal provide the names and addresses/emails of everyone she wants to invite. This will help you figure out the next major steps, like…

Location/Time. According to Queen of Manners Emily Post, showers should be held two months to two weeks before the wedding. Early afternoon seems to be the standard bridal shower hour, but that doesn’t mean it’s required. Think about the guest of honor and what suits her best. For Jeanette, we decided to throw her a brunch, her favorite meal of the day. We also opted to host it at one of our places over a restaurant. It’s more work food-, drink-, and decor-wise, but it also makes for a more relaxed and intimate party.

Theme. Of course, your shower doesn’t have to have a theme (a bridal shower is sort of a theme in and of itself), but choosing one can lend a cohesive ambience to your party — not to mention that invitees will probably appreciate being given direction when it comes to gift giving. Our theme is pretty loose: Since Jeanette and her fiancé are Southern California natives and their wedding is going to have a distinctly West Coast vibe, we decided to give our brunch a vintage beach-y theme (think retro surf imagery, super casual attire, shells strewn about, and Beach Boys on the record player). But there are so many other options! You could throw a canning party, a tea party, a kitchen-specific fete that incorporates a cooking lesson, a stock-her-bar gathering that involves craft cocktails and boozy gifts, a DIY-centric crafternoon, a spa-themed shower with mani/pedis, etc. You could even go Bridesmaids style and throw a Parisian soiree.

Invites. We’re going the simple, eco-friendly route and sending email invites through PaperlessPost.com, but there are a ton of adorable, tangible shower invite designs on Etsy, as well as download-and-print options.

Décor. This is where a theme comes in handy. If you have a specific vibe, you can decorate accordingly. If your party doesn’t have a theme, pick a color scheme to bring it all together. A few areas you’ll want to decorate: serving buffet, bar area, gift table, activities area, table for favors. A few things to keep in mind: table centerpieces, string lights, hanging decorations, banners, dishware, barware, food markers.

Food/Drinks. Since we’re hosting a brunch, the menu is pretty straightforward: farmers’ market veggie frittata, French toast with maple syrup, rosemary breakfast potatoes, fruit salad with mint, cinnamon-sugar pastry puffs, O.J., and French pressed coffee. We’re also designing a handful of champagne cocktails, because what’s a celebration without some bubbly? (Bon Appétit has an excellent selection of recipes.) Plan your menu according to the theme of your party or the time of day. If you’re intimidated by all that kitchen prep, make the shower a potluck and have everyone bring copies of their dish’s recipe (here are a couple of adorable, free downloadable recipe cards for just such an occasion).

Activities. Even if you’re throwing a party centered on an activity, like canning or crafting, it’s nice to have a few other things planned. Think of activities that will make the guest of honor feel honored or provide keepsakes for her once the shower’s over. There are plenty of options that don’t involve toilet paper wedding dresses. Setting up a photo booth is a perfect way to make sure plenty of digital memories are captured, and you can even just use your laptop. Ask each guest to bring a photo of themselves with the bachelorette so that you can make a picture board as people arrive. You can also give guests cute, printed index cards to write down a bit of advice for the bride to be; have each one share her nugget of wisdom when their gift is opened during the present-unwrapping session, then collect the cards and bind them like a little book or store them in a vintage card holder. Before the shower, cull info and anecdotes from attending guests about the betrothed couple and create a multiple-choice quiz about their lives and relationship. Read the questions out loud, preferably after everyone’s a little tipsy, and you might find out all kinds of hilarious things about the girl you thought you knew inside and out.

Favors.It’s the hostess’s job to send all the party-goers home with a little favor. To go with our beachy, West Coast theme, we’re making friendship bracelets for all of the ladies. Make sure your favor is small but meaningful and tie it in with the theme of your party as best you can.

Gifts.The bride-to-be is almost certainly registered with at least one department store, but often it’s more fun to shop off-list, especially for a shower present. Kitchenware and home décor are excellent go-to gift genres, but a sassy piece of lingerie will always be welcome, too.

Whew! That’s a lot of steps. Here’s a helpful bridal shower planning checklist from Real Simple to help you keep it all in order. The most important thing to keep in mind is to create an environment that will allow your guests to have fun, even if the cupcake frosting isn’t perfect or the decor doesn’t totally come together. As long as it’s memorable, and the guest of honor feels loved, you’ve done an amazing job.

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Lisa Butterworth is a writer and editor soaking up the eternal sunshine in Los Angeles. When she's not on the hunt for the latest and greatest in girl culture as the West Coast editor of BUST magazine, she's flea marketing, taco trucking, and generally raising a ruckus.