A wedding shower is one of those pre-wedding rites of passage that brings both overwhelming joy and twinges of anxiety to every bride and/or groom of honor. An event with decades of history and tradition behind it, everyone worries about the same sorts of things when it comes to wedding showers: how are they supposed to go? Do I have to do it that way? And most importantly, does everyone have to watch me open gifts for hours straight?
Well, fret not: we’re here with the full set of answers to satisfy all of your wedding shower questions. We’ll set you straight on the traditional wedding shower protocols (and which of those “rules” you’re fine to break), whom to invite, what to do, what to bring if you’re a guest, and how to handle that dreaded gift-opening conundrum.
Wedding Shower Basics
What exactly is a wedding shower?
This pre-wedding gathering is a chance to “shower” the soon-to-be-married guest(s) of honor with affection, advice, amusement, and support. Traditionally this affection comes in the form of gifts that will help kickstart their newly married life, and the amusement comes in the form of good-natured games, trivia, and activities. Showers are usually daytime parties at which food and drinks are served. Regardless of whether it’s traditional or not, showers are a chance for friends and family of the bride and/or groom to get to know each other and match names with faces before the actual wedding.
Is it just for women?
A traditional bridal shower is just for the bride, and only female guests are invited. However this practice has evolved, and modern wedding showers are for everyone. It just depends on what you, your host(s), and your partner prefer.
What are the differences between a couples’ shower and a more traditional, female-only bridal shower?
Beyond the obvious fact that a female-only bridal shower will have only women in attendance, there are a few other slight differences that may arise between these two party formats. Couples’ showers will include your partner and other couples of all genders—but this is not to say that uncoupled guests, men or women, are not invited! A better term here might be “coed showers.”
A coed shower has a greater chance of occurring in the late afternoon or evening than an all-female shower, which almost always occurs during the daytime. Coed showers will also likely involve less female-centric themes, favors, and games, such competing to see who can create the best wedding bouquet from toilet paper. What a loss.
Who hosts a wedding shower?
Traditionally the bride’s maid of honor, bridesmaids, mother, and/or the groom’s mother host the shower. But these days, anyone who feels compelled to throw a wedding shower for a bride, a groom, a set of brides, a set of grooms, or a bride and groom together can certainly do so. Splitting the hosting duties can be a smart move, as the task is not small and splitting hosting also means splitting costs.
Can I have two showers?
Short answer, yes. If your aunt wants to throw you a traditional all-ladies shower, but your college buds want to throw you and your partner a coed shower as well, it’s perfectly fine to have two occasions to celebrate. The only tricky part here is navigating the guest list etiquette: other than immediate family members, guests should not be invited to more than one shower. Bridesmaids or other members of the wedding party can be invited to multiple showers, but it should be clear that their attendance is not expected at both, nor do they need to bring (or send) a gift to both.
Wedding Shower Guest List
How many people are typically invited?
This number can vary depending on a variety of factors, such as the shower location, whether it’s the only shower being thrown, whether it’s a couples, coed, or all-female shower, etc. An intimate bridal shower for just 15 people is perfectly normal, as is a 50-person coed shower that feels more like a cocktail party. See below for advice on whom should make the cut for your shower guest list.
Should I invite my co-workers?
If you are good friends with your co-workers, and plan to invite them to the wedding, then go for it. However if your office is small, and/or if you have a circle of co-worker friends and not all of them made the cut, it’s best to privately message those who did to keep their invite, and any chatter about the shower, on the DL. You don’t want to make your other co-workers feel awkward or hurt their feelings, naturally.
Can my fiancé(e) come to the shower?
If you’re having a couples shower, then of course your soon-to-be-spouse should be invited! Otherwise, the decision is up to you: while traditionally your fiancé(e) would not attend a shower thrown in your honor, if you want him or her to come, why not? Your shower is a party for you, after all, so invite the people whom you’d most like around you during this special moment.
Who decides on the guest list?
The bride (and/or groom) should provide a guest list of invitees to the shower host(s). Your guest list should include your wedding party, your close and personal friends, and any family members whom you’re close with who live within a reasonable distance.
Can I invite people who are not invited to the wedding?
Short answer, no. It would be rude to invite guests to a wedding shower if they’re not going to be invited to the actual wedding, as showers are typically gift-giving events. It might seem like you’re just fishing for a present from non-wedding guests, without reciprocating the gesture with an invitation to the hot party that will be your wedding.
Do I invite friends or family to an out-of-town shower if I don’t expect them to come?
There’s no need to invite out-of-town friends or family to a shower that you know they can’t realistically attend—it might seem like you’re asking a lot from your guests, such as traveling for multiple wedding events, when most likely you’re just trying to be inclusive. Worst case scenario it may seem like you’re soliciting for extra presents from folks whom you know can’t make the trip, but will feel obliged to send a gift in their stead. Keep your shower guest list to your local crew, as well as the handful of folks whom you know would never miss it.
If you’re worried about hurting distant friends or relatives by not inviting them, consider writing them a quick note or email explaining how you didn’t want them to feel pressured to attend considering the distance—and that sending a gift is not expected!
Wedding Shower Gifts
Do guests always bring gifts?
Bringing a gift is the norm for wedding showers, but if you’re uncomfortable with that scenario, you can easily ask guests to “shower” you in other ways. Or consider allowing alternative gifts that might feel more in line with your needs and values as a couple. A few ideas here include:
- donations to your favorite local charity (or two)
- homemade or hand-me-down gifts only
- bringing a favorite recipe to include in a newlyweds’ cookbook
- potted plants and flowers for the couple’s home
What kind of gift should I bring to a shower?
When in doubt, always refer to a couple’s wedding registry and choose a gift from their hand-picked assortment that matches your preferred price point. Some wedding showers might also focus gifts upon a particular theme, such as a pampering shower where guests bring gifts to help the bride and/or groom relax and destress before the wedding (think candles, bath products, massage gift certificates, etc.). Other shower themes include stock-the-kitchen showers where guests bring cooking and baking essentials, lingerie showers, and our personal favorite, stock-the-bar showers—where everything from barware to monthly wine club memberships to your favorite bottle of bourbon is fair game.
Is it more acceptable to go off-registry for shower gifts, e.g. buying something cheeky or raunchy?
See above—you’re gonna have to feel out the vibe on this one. If this is an all-female shower with mostly younger friends and relatives attending, then getting a bit more playful with your shower gift could be fun (and provide a bit more interest than oohing and ahhing over yet another set of mixing bowls). But if you’re worried that older or more conservative guests in attendance might not appreciate your gift of fuzzy handcuffs and edible body paint, then stick to something off the couple’s registry. It’s better to play it safe if you’re not sure about the makeup and personalities of the crowd—you don’t want to make the guest of honor feel uncomfortable.
Of course, if you’re attending a lingerie-themed shower, then by all means get “cheeky” (if you catch our drift).
Do bridesmaids bring gifts?
This question is rather tricky, as it’s very dependent upon each bridesmaid’s personal circumstances. Traditionally bridesmaids are expected to bring gifts to all pre-wedding parties, as well as give a wedding gift. But every situation is different, and it really depends on how much each bridesmaid can afford to spend, as well as how much each bridesmaid is already expected to pay for simply by participating in the wedding. If a bridesmaid needs to travel and pay for accommodations for the wedding weekend, plus buy a pricey dress and/or shoes, jewelry, or hair and makeup services, that’s already asking quite a bit. Bridesmaids should consider what their total budget for the wedding is, and then contribute a gift for the shower based on what they afford beyond the essential wedding expenses.
If I’m attending both the wedding and the shower, do I buy a gift for both?
Unless the shower host(s) have indicated that this is a no-gifts shower, yes, you should buy a gift for both the wedding shower and the actual wedding. The wedding shower gift does not have to be huge, however—see below for a breakdown for how to budget for wedding gifts.
How much should I spend on a shower gift?
A good rule of thumb is to use the 60-20-20 rule. If you’re invited to both the wedding and pre-wedding events, such as a shower or engagement party, first identify the total amount you’re comfortable spending on gifts for this couple. Then allocate 20% of that total figure to an engagement present, 20% to a shower present, and the remaining 60% to a wedding present.
Still feeling clueless about what’s “normal” here? The average wedding gift purchased on Zola costs between $100-$120, for your frame of reference.
Do I have to open gifts at my shower?
No, you don’t—it’s your party and you can unwrap (or not) if you want to. If you’re an introvert who hates the idea of being the center of attention for a solid 45 minutes, or if you’d rather save that time for eating cake, sipping bubbly, and mingling with your guests, then consider having a display shower. This is where guests bring their presents unwrapped, and they are “displayed” on a table for everyone to view and admire throughout the length of the party.
Be aware that in order to successfully pull off a display shower, you’ll need to have your shower host(s) communicate this wish to your guests ahead of time, as well as provide labels and pens for guests to identify who brought what.
Wedding Shower Activities
Do you have to play games at a shower?
No! Playing games at your wedding shower can be a fun way to get all guests involved in the festivities, and to facilitate conversation between people who might not know each other. They also can just be, well, fun… as games are meant to be. But if you’d rather skip the “how well does the happy couple know each other?” trivia, then do you.
What do we do if we don’t open gifts OR play games?
Without opening gifts or playing games, a wedding shower is just like any other party—so just include the basic elements of any good party (food, drinks, light background music, a comfortable location) and let guests meet and mingle. You could consider having a few stand-alone activities that guests can do during the course of the shower that don’t require full group participation, such as writing down well-wishes for the couple in a special notebook; taking selfie Polaroids at a DIY photobooth; or doing a small craft activity like decorating tote bags or cookies.
Are there any shower themes or activities that don’t involve everyone staring at and fawning over me for 2 hours?
Totally. There are tons of creative ways you can approach throwing a wedding shower that don’t involve the traditional run-down of tea sandwiches, punch, and 2 hours of gift-opening spotlight. Get the whole group involved in something fun and hands-on, such as hiring an in-home chef to come teach the group how to make a specific dish, or have a professional florist conduct a class on how to arrange flowers. Check out our article on a few other wedding shower ideas, and don’t be afraid to think outside the (gift) box.
Wedding Shower Thank You Notes
When should I send thank you cards for my shower gifts?
The same general rule for sending thank you notes apply to your wedding shower—you’ll want to send a thank you note as soon as you can after the event (ideally within 2-3 weeks), but especially before the wedding date. You’ll have your hands full after the wedding with thank you-writing duties for all those wedding gifts, so be sure to get your shower gifts acknowledged ahead of time so you’re not sending multiple thank-yous back-to-back to certain guests.
Have any more wedding shower questions? Leave them in the comments below!