This was my very first time planning and hosting the kind of traditional event that required me to think much beyond how much alcohol do we need for New Year’s, and how does one clean up that same amount of alcohol once it has dried onto the wood floors of your college apartment? Most of my friends got married later in life, many are still single, and those that have gotten married, for the most part, have had pretty laid-back weddings. I had never even been a bridesmaid until I turned thirty-five, last summer, and I’ve still only been to one bachelorette party.
So, here’s what came of my first foray into bridal shower planning. First things first, determine in this order: when, where, and who. Then, and only then, can you move onto the what.
WHEN: The bride is a teacher, so naturally the wedding was in July before school starts up again. Her spring break was the best time for her to travel for her destination bridal shower. The couple in question had been dating for fourteen years, but when all was said and done, the engagement was a short six months. So we were on a bit of a time crunch. We decided on March 31st, which also happened to be Easter Sunday. Leave it to three Jewish girls to figure that one out too late!
WHERE: The couple met in Lawrence, Kansas during college, lived in Chicago for many years, and currently reside in Charlotte, NC, where the wedding will be held in a local city park. Their friends and family are spread all over the country from Portland to Miami, but many of the girls still live in the Midwest, so Chicago quickly presented itself as the most logical choice for a shower location. (Side note: This weekend was not only the wedding shower, but it was the dress shopping and bachelorette party weekend as well. Yes, that was some serious multi-tasking, and I have the color-coded spreadsheet to prove it.)
We decided to do an at-home shower at my sister’s newly remodeled coach house in Wicker Park. The gracious homeowner is also a friend of the bride, so she would have been invited to the shower anyway, but the use of her home saved us a ton of time looking for an alternate venue. Being in a larger city, it’s often difficult to find a friend or family member with a large enough apartment to accommodate much more than ten people. We certainly lucked out when my sister offered up her home, and had she not, we most likely would have ended up doing a ladies’ lunch at a neighborhood restaurant. The venue played a key role in keeping the cost of this event very, very affordable, as five of us were able to stay in the house the whole weekend, eliminating the need for hotel rooms. The kitchen enabled us to set up all the food and drinks ourselves. This could’ve easily been a potluck-style event, but we decided to take it a bit easy on ourselves.
WHO: The guest list was probably the easiest part. The bride has had a core group of close girlfriends for many years. Some of those relationships date back to age two! Throw in one mother-of-the-bride, the fact that it was a travel destination for most, and we had a nice intimate gathering of about ten to twelve ladies. (That’s not including the sweet baby and willful golden retriever that were also in attendance.) In an attempt to save time, money, and the environment, we went with an evite that was simple and rustic. It not only represented the bride’s taste, but also paralleled the picnic theme of the upcoming wedding.
WHAT: My co-host and I decided to start by choosing a color palette. I can be a bit on the indecisive side, so I knew if I committed to a color scheme it would help me make all the decisions much quicker. The shower was obviously in the spring, but the wedding was in July at a park shelter, and since I’d been involved with helping the bride do some of the wedding planning, I’d been privy to the details. Red, white, and Kraft paper were the colors we finally decided upon. I also happened to know that the wedding was on a tight budget. While the couple was excited to bring all their family and friends together in celebration, it was very in line with their belief system to be mindful of what’s really important about a wedding in the first place, and to reduce wastefulness as much as possible. It helps that the happy couple has a lot of talented and generous friends. As a result, it was a goal of mine to make a concerted effort when creating and purchasing the décor for the shower. I wanted her to be able to re-use some of it for the actual wedding.
- Kraft paper printed and made into garlands with the couples’ initials and wedding date (Michael’s)
- Red, white, and natural colored twine (PickYourPlum.com, Home Depot)
- White plates, red utensils, and natural colored napkins (Party City)
- Large 36”round red balloons (Amazon)
- White flower mix (Whole Foods)
- Red and white dish towels (Ikea)
- Glass, wood, and white milk glass drink ware, serving platters, and flower containers (From my kitchen)
Food and drink:
The shower was an 11:30am brunch, so we served
- Coffee from a local roaster (Intelligentsia)
- Pear juice with prosecco for cocktails (Trader Joe’s)
- Some of the bride’s favorites from when she used to live in Chicago (NYC Bagel Deli, Lil’ Guys)
- A lox plate from Whole Foods
- A Greek yogurt bar with fruit and Milk + Honey granola (where the bride used to work)
- Homemade deviled eggs in honor of Easter
- A dozen local artisan donuts from Glazed & Infused
(Some other ideas we floated around, but ultimately nixed in an attempt to keep things simple, were a Bloody Mary bar, breakfast quiche, and a homemade trifle.)
I didn’t want to over plan. It had been a while since many of us had seen each other and I wanted people to have time to catch up. However, I thought a “How Well Do You Know the Couple” quiz would be a fun thing to do after opening gifts. The quiz was printed on Kraft paper and I had adorable golf pencils made with the bride and grooms’ names on them. Added bonus: We got to embarrass the bride, and most of us learned at least one new piece of trivia about the newly engaged couple.
Speaking of gifts… after some back and forth debate, the bride finally decided to do a small registry. Many couples, especially those that have been together for a while, seem to be opting out of traditional registries altogether because they already have everything they need. Others just feel uncomfortable asking for gifts when their loved ones are already spending a lot of money to attend their wedding in the first place. Needless to say, the days of registering for fifty place settings of china and crystal bowls with engraving appear to be a thing of the past. However, our bride compromised a bit and went with a combination of a small Target registry and a Deposit-a-gift.com account. While I totally understand the personal issues people have with wedding registries—and have many of them myself—from the point of view of the shower planner, it came in handy when I had to start fielding email after email about what people should buy the bride. As for me, in addition to throwing the bridal shower, my co-host and I got the couple a self-inking address stamp from Etsy. I love this as a shower gift because newlyweds have a ton of thank you notes to write when everything is over. Plus, it ends up being one of the first times the bride will see her new name (if she decides to change it), or just the couple’s names together. Sweet and practical…my favorite kind of gift.
Another gift we did as a group for the bride ended up doubling as the shower favor. We’ve all heard of a recipe share before, right? Well, we decided to take it a step further by collecting all the recipes from guests ahead of time and then used the online book creation site Blurb.com to design and assemble the recipes into an actual cookbook. The book was a surprise for the bride and each guest got a copy. We decorated the covers with patterned washi tape, wrapped each book individually with a red and white dishtowel from IKEA, and tied it all together with twine and a mini whisk from World Market. I highly recommend this idea if you are considering doing a shower favor for guests. It might start to get a bit expensive depending on how many you would need. For us, the cookbook, wrappings and all, came in just under $8 each!
My first attempt at planning a wedding shower for a dear friend was a huge success and a lot of fun. It was a bit of work, I’m not gonna lie, but totally enjoyable, and most importantly the bride got just the right amount of attention to help kick start an exciting, at times overwhelming, but special few months of her life.
Photos of the shower from Julie’s personal collection