While you may have heard about bridal showers, you might not have any experience hosting or attending a shower firsthand. If a bridal shower is in your near future, you might have a lot of questions: what exactly is a bridal shower? What should I expect if I am hosting, attending, or being honored at a bridal shower? Our bridal shower guide below will introduce you to the basics of bridal showers: traditional bridal shower etiquette (and which of those “rules” you can break), whom to invite, what to do, and who pays for it all.

What Is A Bridal Shower?

  • A bridal shower is a pre-wedding gathering where close family and friends of the bride “shower” her with affection, advice, amusement, and support.
  • Showers are usually daytime parties that involve food, drinks, and wedding-themed games or activities.
  • Traditionally guests give the bride gifts that will help establish her newly married life.
  • 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 A Bridal Shower Different Than A Wedding Shower?

Yes. A traditional bridal shower is just for the bride, and only female guests are invited. Wedding showers, however, are more modern and inclusive versions of bridal showers. Wedding showers invite both women and men to celebrate the upcoming wedding.

Your choice to have a bridal or a wedding shower depends on what you, your host(s), and your partner prefer. Here are some differences you might find between traditional bridal showers and coed wedding showers:

  • A coed shower has a greater chance of occurring in the late afternoon or evening. All-female showers almost always occurs during the daytime.
  • Coed showers might have larger guest lists, as couples and/or whole families will be invited instead of only women.
  • Bridal showers will most likely involve more female-focused themes, favors, and games, such competing to see who can create the best wedding bouquet from toilet paper.

Who throws the bridal shower?

Traditionally the following people might host a bridal shower:

  • The maid or matron of honor
  • The bridesmaids
  • The bride’s mother
  • The groom’s mother
  • A close relative or family friend of the bride

However these days, anyone who feels compelled to throw a wedding shower for a bride or a couple can certainly do so. Splitting the hosting duties can be a smart move: throwing a bridal shower is a fairly large undertaking, not to mention splitting the hosting means splitting the costs.

Who should you invite to a bridal shower?

The bride (and/or groom) should make a list of whom they’d like to invite to the shower and share it with the shower host(s). It’s traditional etiquette to only invite people to the bridal shower who are also invited to the wedding. Not only does this prevent feelings of exclusion, but since guests typically bring gifts to showers, it would be rude to expect a gift from someone who’s not invited to the wedding. A typical bridal shower guest list should include:

  • The wedding party
  • The bride and/or groom’s close and personal friends
  • The bride and/or groom’s coworkers, if they are good friends
  • The bride and/or groom’s close family members who live within a reasonable distance

Bridal Shower Guest List Size

An intimate bridal shower for 15 people is perfectly normal, as is a 50-person coed shower that feels more like a cocktail party. A variety of factors can influence the size of the guest list, such as:

  • the shower location
  • whether it’s the only shower being thrown
  • whether it’s a couples, coed, or all-female shower

Inviting Coworkers To Your Shower

If you are good friends with your co-workers, and plan to invite them to the wedding, then by all means invite them to your bridal shower. Keep in mind that if your office is small and only some of your coworkers will be invited, it’s best to privately ask those with an invitation to keep it quiet around the office.

Inviting Your Fiancé(e) To Your 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.

Inviting Out-of-Town Friends and Family To Your Shower

If you know that out-of-town friends or family realistically won’t be able to attend, there’s no need to invite them to the shower. Keep your shower guest list to locals, as well as the handful of people whom you know would never miss it. Here are some reasons why you should not invite out-of-towners to your shower:

  • Asking them to travel for the shower and the wedding might seem like you’re asking a lot.
  • Some people might feel obligated to send a gift even if they can’t attend, which may make the shower invitation seem like a solicitation for extra presents

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.

What do you do at a bridal shower?

A bridal or wedding shower is a lot like any other party: guests mingle and chat, eat and drink, and sometimes come together as a group to do a focused activity. Here are the basic elements of a successful bridal shower:

  • A comfortable, semi-private location
  • Food, including anything from light bites, to dessert, to a full meal
  • Drinks, both with and without alcohol
  • Light background music
  • Unstructured time for guests to talk
  • Easy-going (perhaps optional) activities for guests to participate in, including:
  • Watching the bride and/or groom open gifts
  • Playing wedding or relationship-themed word games, puzzles, or trivia
  • A simple craft or hands-on activity
  • Small, inexpensive (but thoughtful) party favors

Does the bride have to open gifts at a bridal shower?

While traditionally a good portion of the event is spent watching the bride (or couple) open up their shower gifts, opening presents at the party is not required if it makes her uncomfortable. Here are some reasons why a bride might not want to open up gifts at her shower:

  • She’s an introvert and is uncomfortable being the center of attention.
  • She doesn’t want to make anyone feel awkward about the size or price tag of their gift.
  • She doesn’t want to make anyone feel uncomfortable who didn’t bring a gift.
  • She’s worried she will bore her guests and kill the festive party vibe.
  • She’d rather use the time to eat, drink, and mingle with her gathered loved ones.

If any of these reasons feel compelling, 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 for the duration of the party. In order to successfully host a display shower, communicate with the guests ahead of time to make sure they understand how it works, and provide labels and pens for guests to identify what they brought.

Playing Shower Games: The Pros and Cons

Many people have questions surrounding bridal shower games, and whether or not you should include them in the shower you’re planning. While some find them fun and others would rather pass, there are pros and cons to have games at a wedding shower.

Pros:

  • Playing games can be a quick way to get all guests involved, even shy folks.
  • Games facilitate interaction and conversation between people who might not know each other.
  • Games can liven up an unengaged group of party guests.
  • Socially awkward strangers can focus on an activity, rather than making small talk.
  • Thoughtfully chosen shower games (that fit your personality) can actually be fun.

Cons:

  • Not everyone likes the idea of forced group “fun” that might create an clumsy or unnatural vibe.
  • If the crowd is getting along well, games force the organic flow of the party (and guests’ conversations) to come to a halt.
  • Many shower games feel cheesy, patriarchal or too gender normative, or just a bit silly and embarrassing to the bride or couple of honor.
  • Some shower games might reveal gaps in how well a couple knows or understands each other, which can be rather uncomfortable.

Alternative Bridal Shower Activities

There are many creative ways you can approach throwing a bridal shower that don’t involve traditional shower games and/or opening presents. Here are some ideas to spark your creativity:

  • Hire an in-home chef to come teach the group how to make a specific dish.
  • Have guests write down well-wishes for the couple in a special notebook.
  • Set up a DIY photobooth and have guests take selfie Polaroids.
  • Do a craft activity like decorating tote bags or cookies.
  • Have a professional florist conduct a class on how to arrange flowers.

For even more ideas, check out our article on other creative bridal shower ideas, and don’t be afraid to think outside the (gift) box.

Who pays for the bridal shower?

Whoever host the bridal shower typically pays for its expenses—but occasionally other people close to the bride and/or couple, such as their wedding party, parents, or siblings, might wish to contribute financially to the shower even if they are not hosting it.

If a group of people, such as the bridesmaids and the maid of honor, are throwing the shower together, then they can share expenses in two ways:

  1. Tally up all the individual costs and split final total evenly.
  2. Divide up and pay for different aspects of the event, such as the invitations, the drinks, the cake, or the favors.

If you’re planning a bridal shower and want step-by-step instructions on what to do and when, check out our timeline for How To Plan A Bridal Shower.