Bridal showers have become far more creative than they were when our mothers got married. The rules of bridal shower etiquette have relaxed a bit, and co-ed wedding showers that include the groom have become very popular.

But as modern as things have become, there are some questions that seem to come up over and over again surrounding a few basic points of shower etiquette. I think most hostesses just want to make sure they’re doing things properly so the bride is pleased with the results, and brides who are asking don’t want to do something that could be considered rude.

Hosting a shower

A bridal shower (or coed wedding shower) can be given by any close friend or relative EXCEPT the bride and groom, or their mothers. Technically, sisters shouldn’t be giving a shower either, but the etiquette of that has relaxed somewhat in recent years. Contrary to popular opinion in bridal circles, neither the Maid of Honor, nor the bridesmaids, are obligated to throw a shower. If nobody offers to be the hostess, the Mother of the Bride should discreetly ask one of her friends to step up to the plate. Or the bride may gently ask her wedding party if they are able to do it. Sometimes it’s more feasible for bridesmaids to play hostess when they team up to split the expenses and to-do list.

Locations and venues

Some bridal showers are given at country clubs or tea rooms, but that’s the expensive way to do it because bridal shower etiquette says you cannot ask wedding shower guests to pay for their own food and drinks. A shower can be given at the home of a friend or family member, but should not under any circumstances be held at the home of the bride and groom. It’s not at all uncommon for young hostesses to borrow a venue if their own home isn’t big enough for the event. Many showers are thrown at the home of the hostess’s parents, or another close friend.

Shower times

What you call a shower in the invitation indicates to the guests what sort of event they are attending. Certain times of day require that you actually feed guests more than a nibble. With that said, it’s nice to let people know whether they should eat before they come, or plan on being fed more than a snack, by being specific about it.

Most shower invitations have a start time and an end time, for a very good reason. Guests need to be able to plan their day, arrange for child care, and manage their transportation. Also, the hostess has offered to host a bridal shower, not an all-day or all-night party. Establishing a time window on the invitation lets guests know they are expected to leave after a certain period of time.

Use the following as your guideline when deciding what kind of event to host:

Brunch 10 am – 1 pm

Lunch 12 pm – 2 pm

Tea 2 pm – 5 pm

Cocktails 4 pm – 7 pm

Dessert 8 pm – 10 pm (can also be done in the later afternoon)

Size of guest list

The hostess of a shower should ask the bride for a list of people to invite to her wedding shower. Bridal shower etiquette says it’s perfectly okay to give the bride a cap on the maximum number of guests who may be invited. The guest list is never done at the hostess’s discretion unless the shower is a surprise for the bride. Brides (and grooms, if the shower is coed) should provide the hostess with a list of names, along with complete titles (Mrs. Miss or Ms.?), mailing addresses, phone numbers, and email addresses.

Generally speaking, 30 guests is considered an appropriate maximum invitation list for a bridal shower. A shower doesn’t have to be big – it can be lovely with as few as five guests, especially if you’re doing something intimate like a lingerie shower. A coed shower might be larger to accommodate the gentlemen, but it shouldn’t be much bigger than 40 or it becomes something other than a shower.

There doesn’t have to be enough formal seating (at tables) for all of your guests, unless you’re doing a complicated meal that requires table space. There should be enough space in the room where you’ll be opening shower gifts for most of the guests to be seated (it’s perfectly okay to bring extra chairs in for this part of the shower, or for the younger guests to take a seat on the floor).

Timeline

Shower invitations may be sent as far out as eight weeks in advance – but should be sent no closer than three weeks before an event. If lots of guests are out of town, more notice is advisable. The RSVP deadline should be no later than seven days before the shower in order to give the hostess plenty of planning time. It can be earlier – just be sure to allow enough time for a few days to pass in between when guests receive the invitation, and when the RSVP deadline hits.

RSVPs

Every shower invitation should have an RSVP deadline with a phone number or email address for responding. RSVPs should NEVER be sent to the bride or groom. Bridal shower etiquette says it’s the responsibility of the host to follow up with guests who do not respond to RSVPs – it’s considered rude to ask the bride to make those calls. By providing all the contact information to the hostess with the initial list, the bride never needs to know who lacked the manners to RSVP.

Online invitations

Despite their popularity with hostesses who don’t want to have to write out, or print out, and mail a bunch of paper invitations, online invitations generally result in much lower attendance at wedding showers. I think it’s mostly because everyone receives so many garbage invites via social media that the important ones (like wedding and shower invites) tend to get missed in the clutter. Also, as with online wedding invitations, many guests don’t realize the online notification is the actual invitation to the shower. If you’re only doing invitations online, make sure it’s marked in some way that recipients understand it’s not just wedding spam. And be prepared to have more RSVP follow-up to do than with an old-fashioned invitation that was mailed.

Bridal shower etiquette of gifting

Bridal shower etiquette says gifts should always be opened at the shower – the whole point is to shower the bride with gifts.

Themed shower invitations should indicate what sort of gift the guests are asked to bring, as well as list where the wedding couple are registered (try to avoid using the little cards some stores provide – better to hand-write or print the information on the back of the invitation). If you’re throwing a lingerie shower, you must include the bride’s sizes for nighties, bras, and panties (if the bride or hostess isn’t comfortable with that, change the theme – guests cannot guess sizes for intimate items).

Every invited guests is expected to send a gift. If they’re unable to attend, gifts should be mailed to the hostess (not directly to the bride) ahead of the shower. This is especially important when there is a theme in play, and missing guests will cause voids in the program.

The jury is still out on whether it’s appropriate to direct shower guests to a honeymoon registry. To do so is basically asking for money – and that’s considered really rude. It’s only just recently become a socially-acceptable way to register for wedding gifts. The vast majority of etiquette experts say it’s not okay for showers, yet. Plus, it’s widely considered inappropriate to give cash or checks as shower gifts. Gift cards are acceptable, but not encouraged. Here’s why:

The whole point of a wedding shower is to shower the couple with gifts that their friends and family believe will make their lives more complete (yes, a bit over the top in the context of mixing bowls and monogrammed doormats, but you get my point). Guests are supposed to put some thought into it. Brides and grooms are supposed to make their guests’ lives easier by registering for gifts, or helping the shower hostess come up with a theme that covers something you need, and registering for some appropriate items.

Also, opening gift cards, checks and other money items is awkward with an audience. Especially when the gift has the value visible on it.

Double-booking

It’s not uncommon to have a bridal shower in the afternoon, and a bachelorette party in the evening, on the same day. Lots of bridesmaids and family members may have to travel to attend your pre-wedding events, and most will not be able to make the trip twice. If it makes sense to have both the same weekend, do it. The shower and bachelorette do not have to be hosted by the same friends – it can be totally separate. But do be careful not to talk about the bachelorette party at the bridal shower if there are shower guests who will be hurt they were left out of the second invitation.

In a perfect world, bridesmaids would step up to the plate and offer to give a shower shortly after being asked to be a member of the wedding party, but bridal shower etiquette doesn’t actually require that, so it doesn’t always happen. If nobody wants to throw a shower, there shouldn’t be a shower. If the bride wishes to spend time with her bridal party, she can throw a bridesmaids’ luncheon, or other wedding-related get together. She’ll be expected to give her guests favors or gifts, but they’re not obligated to bring anything to her. A bride cannot shower herself with gifts.

Until next time, happy wedding planning!

Sandy