Whether you’re planning your own wedding shower, hosting for someone else, or attending as a guest, you probably have a lot of questions. A pre-wedding rite of passage, the wedding shower is steeped in decades of history and tradition, but it’s an often overlooked element of wedding planning. From preparing the guest list to sending out thank you notes, and everything in between, our wedding shower guide will lead you through all the traditional protocols and give you a few options to modernize your celebration, if you’d like to. So, read on to discover 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 Is a Wedding Shower?

Intended as an opportunity for guests to “shower” the soon-to-be-married couple with affection, advice, amusement, and support, a wedding shower is a pre-wedding celebration. Typically, the festivities will be held during the day with light refreshments, and will include a variety of fun games, trivia, and other entertaining activities. Guests traditionally bring gifts to help the couple kickstart their married life, and they use the event as a chance to get to know their loved one’s other half. However, over the years these traditions have given way to more contemporary elements—more on that later.

Is It a Women-Only Celebration?

Traditionally, these gatherings were referred to as bridal showers, where only the bride and other female guests were invited. However, this practice has evolved, and many modern wedding showers include both halves of the couple, plus any guests they choose to invite. The choice is entirely up to what you and your partner prefer, so be sure to have a discussion to decide what works best for both of you.

Wedding Shower Guide Photo Credit // Kate Edwards Photography

What Is the Difference Between a Couples’ Shower and a Bridal Shower?

Bridal showers are the more traditional approach to this type of celebration and would usually see only women in attendance. A couples’ shower, on the other hand, will have a coed guest list. While the term couples’ shower may indicate that the guests would consist entirely of other couples, single men and women are invited, which has led many to refer to these celebrations as coed showers, instead. While a traditional bridal shower is more likely to occur mid-day, a coed or couples’ shower is often held in the late afternoon or evening hours. Similarly, bridal showers typically revolve around female-centric themes, favors, and games, such as creating wedding bouquets from toilet paper, which are not as common to see at coed showers.

Again, the type of shower you and your significant other decide to have is completely your decision. In fact, some couples even choose to host both gatherings so they can celebrate with all of their friends and family appropriately.

Who Hosts a Wedding Shower?

This is another question that has both a traditional and modern answer. In the past, tradition has dictated that the bride’s maid of honor, bridesmaids, mother, and/or the groom’s mother host the shower. However, these days, anyone who wants to throw a wedding shower can, and in some cases, the couple may throw the shower themselves. Depending on the type of celebration you are having, and the number of guests invited, sharing the hosting duties between two or three people can be a smart move, as the task is not small, and the cost of the event can be split as well.

Can I Have Two Showers?

In short, yes, you can have as many showers as you want. However, the more showers you have, the trickier it is to navigate the guest list etiquette. When having multiple showers, your immediate family and wedding party should be the only people invited to more than one event, all other guests should only receive one shower invite. For those invited to multiple showers, it’s important that you clearly communicate that their attendance is not expected at more than one, nor do they need to bring or send a gift to multiple showers.

So, if you want to celebrate with a traditional all-ladies bridal shower with your aunts and grandmothers, but prefer a coed gathering with your friends and co-workers, it’s perfectly normal to have two occasions to celebrate.

Wedding Shower Guest List

How Many People Are Typically Invited?

How many guests you invite will depend on a variety of factors, including whether or not it’s the only shower being thrown, if the guest list is coed or all-female, the venue, and more. Traditionally, an intimate bridal shower will have about 15 guests invited, but a larger coed shower may see closer to 50 people invited. Again, this is all going to vary according to what you and your partner want. Keep reading for advice on how to decide who you should be inviting.

Should I Invite My Co-Workers?

If you’re good friends with your co-workers and plan to invite them to the wedding, go for it. However, if your office is small and/or has 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 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 Come to the Shower?

For a traditional bridal shower, your fiancé would usually not attend. However, if you want him or her to come, the decision is up to you. Of course, if you have a couples’ shower, your soon-to-be-spouse should definitely be invited. Remember, your shower is a celebration for you, so invite the people you’d most like to have around you during this special moment.

Who Decides on the Guest List?

Whether or not you’re hosting, the guest list should always be up to you as the couple being honored. If your celebration is being hosted by someone else, be sure to provide a final guest list at least a month or two in advance of the event so that they have enough time to send out invitations and allow people to RSVP. Typically, your guest list should include the wedding party, your close and personal friends, and any family members whom you’re close to and who live within a reasonable distance. A wedding shower is usually not an event that guests should travel great distances for, as you would much rather have those people at the wedding itself.

Can I Invite People Who Are Not Invited to the Wedding?

No, many guests would find it rude to receive an invite for the shower and not the wedding itself, as showers are typically a gift-giving event. As a result, the invite might appear as an attempt to receive more gifts from non-wedding gifts. However, if you have invited someone to the wedding, and they have already indicated that they are unable to attend the wedding, inviting them to the shower can be a great way to include them in your celebration.

Do I Invite Out-of-Town Guests to the Shower If I Don’t Expect Them to Come?

While sending an invite to your friends and family who live out of town might seem like a nice gesture, they may assume that you’re expecting to travel for the event. Even worse, they might perceive that you are attempting to get extra presents from those you know won’t be able to attend, but will still feel obligated to send a gift in their absence. Instead, it’s best to keep the guestlist for your show to local friends and family, as well as the handful of folks 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?

Gifts are the traditional way for guests to “shower” the bride or couple at the celebration. However, if you’re uncomfortable with, or don’t need gifts, you can easily ask guests to support you in other ways, or request alternative gifts that might feel more in line with your needs and values as a couple, such as:

  • Donations to one or two of your favorite local charities.
  • Homemade or hand-me-down gifts only.
  • Sharing a favorite recipe to include in a newlyweds’ cookbook.
  • Potted plants and flowers for the couple’s home.
  • Funds for your honeymoon.

As is the theme with showers, the choice as to whether or not you would like to stick with tradition or try something new is truly up to you as a couple.

What Kind of Gift Should I Bring to a Shower?

It can be challenging for guests to know what type of gift you should bring to a wedding shower. Typically, referring to a couple’s wedding registry and selecting a gift from their hand-picked assortment that matches your preferred price point is the best option.

In some cases, a wedding shower might request gifts in line with a particular theme, such as a pampering shower where guests bring gifts to help the couple relax and destress before the wedding (think candles, bath products, massage gift certificates, etc.). Other shower themes might 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. If you’re planning a shower, this is an excellent opportunity to customize the event to the unique couple you are celebrating, and show off their personalities.

Is It Acceptable to Go Off-Registry for Shower Gifts and Buy 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.

Do Bridesmaids Bring Gifts?

Traditionally, bridesmaids are expected to bring a gift to all pre-wedding events and give a wedding gift. However, each bridesmaid’s personal circumstances are different, and their ability to furnish this many gifts will depend on how much they can afford to spend. As a bride, keep in mind how much you’re already asking your bridesmaids to pay as participants in the wedding—think travel and accommodations for the wedding weekend, dress, shoes, jewelry, or hair and makeup services—as these costs add up. As a bridesmaid, consider what your total budget for the wedding is, and then contribute gifts based on what you can afford beyond the essential wedding expenses. When in doubt, talk to your bride about her expectations and your limitations to ensure that there is no miscommunication.

If I’m Attending Both the Wedding and the Shower, Do I Buy a Gift for Both?

Unless the shower has been explicitly labeled a no-gifts shower, you should purchase a gift for both the shower and the wedding itself. However, if you’re on a budget, the shower gift does not need to be expensive or extravagant, and you can devote more of your funds to the wedding gift. Check out the breakdown below for tips on how to budget for wedding gifts.

How Much Should I Spend on a Shower Gift?

If you’re invited to the wedding and pre-wedding events, use the 60-20-20 rule to budget for gifts. First, identify the total amount that you’re comfortable spending on gifts for this couple. Then, allocate 60 percent of that number to the wedding present, 20 percent to an engagement present, and 20 percent to a gift for the shower.

If you’re not sure where to start with your total budget, the average wedding gift purchased on Zola costs between $100 to $120, which would indicate a total budget of $166 to $200, with shower gifts amounting to $33 to $40.

Do I Have to Open Gifts at My Shower?

Absolutely not. Remember, the shower is your celebration, so you can unwrap (or not) if you want to. Some couples or brides may find being the center of attention for a solid 45 minutes uncomfortable. Others would rather spend their time eating cake, sipping bubbly, and mingling with guests.

If you don’t want to open presents at the shower, consider having a gift display. Ask guests to bring their presents unwrapped, and add them to the “display” table when they arrive. Throughout the length of the party, guests can then view and admire all the gifts. However, for this to work, your host will need to communicate this wish to your guests ahead of time, as well as provide labels and pens for guests to identify who brought what (a necessity to appropriately thank attendees later).

Wedding Shower Activities

Do You Have to Play Games at a Shower?

While playing games at your wedding shower can be a fun way to get all guests involved in the festivities and facilitate conversation between people who might not know each other, it’s unnecessary. If you’d rather skip the “how well does the happy couple know each other?” trivia, then, by all means, do.

Wedding Shower Guide Photo Credit // Reminisce Photography

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, be sure to include the essentials of a great party atmosphere, such as food, drinks, light background music, and a comfortable location or venue in order to create an environment that encourages your guests to meet and mingle. You could consider having a few stand-alone activities that guests can do during 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, such as 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 that you can approach throwing a wedding shower that may not involve the traditional run-down of tea sandwiches, punch, and two hours of gift-opening spotlight. In fact, a non-traditional shower is a great way to express your individuality and create a unique experience for your guests. 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?

In general, thank you notes should be sent as soon as possible after an event, and this holds true for your wedding shower. Ideally, you would want your guests to receive the note within two to three weeks of your shower, but especially before your wedding, as you’ll have your hands full after the big day with thank you-writing duties for all those wedding gifts. So, be sure to get your shower gifts acknowledged ahead of time to avoid sending back-to-back thank-you notes to certain guests.