How To Plan A Laid-Back Bridal Shower


For some people (cough, me, cough), showers can be complicated events. On the one hand, no amount of theater training will ever help me open presents in front of a crowd without feeling like a complete dolt. On the other hand, having the people closest to me come together for the sole purpose of making me feel loved is a bit like getting an invisible group hug for a whole day. And a group hug I don’t have to plan, at that. If we’re being truthful, I’ll tell you that my own wedding shower experience gave me a great deal of anxiety. There was some family tension and expectations that weren’t managed. And it’s possible you’re experiencing some of the same. But today’s post from Julie makes me think that the kind of shower I’d want, for any occasion, is possible. And that if we have the right kind of friends, there’s even a chance for donuts.

Maddie

How To Plan A Laid Back Bridal Shower | A Practical Wedding

by Julie Sussman

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.

How To Plan A Laid Back Bridal Shower | A Practical Wedding

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.)

How To Plan A Laid Back Bridal Shower | A Practical Wedding

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.

How To Plan A Laid Back Bridal Shower | A Practical Wedding

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.

How To Plan A Laid Back Bridal Shower | A Practical 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.

How To Plan A Laid Back Bridal Shower | A Practical Wedding

Decorations:

  • 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)

How To Plan A Laid Back Bridal Shower | A Practical Wedding

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.)

How To Plan A Laid Back Bridal Shower | A Practical Wedding

Entertainment:
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.

How To Plan A Laid Back Bridal Shower | A Practical Wedding

Gifts:
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.

How To Plan A Laid Back Bridal Shower | A Practical Wedding

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!

How To Plan A Laid Back Bridal Shower | A Practical Wedding

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

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  • Abilene

    This shower looks amazing! I love how all the details came together perfectly. And the cookbook idea is fabulous! You are very clever.

  • Hannah K

    not only is this wonderful and getting filed away for future use, but I live in wicker park and super enjoyed the local biz shout-outs. (lemme guess: this remodeled coach house is on hoyne south of north ave or leavitt just north of north, right?)

    • Julie

      Great guess! You were very close ;) But its actually off Division

  • Emmers

    Love it! Question about the cookbooks– how did you get them to be approx $8? When I looked on blurb, it seems like everything started at more than that.

    • Julie

      Ok, so I had to go back to the website to make sure, but yes, there is a black and white trade book option that starts at $3.99 per book. We used the 6×9 option that starts at $4.99. Also, if you order 10 or more they give you a discount on top of that. So the finished books themselves were actually less than $8.00 each! I included the IKEA dish towel, and mini whisk, that we used to wrap each cookbook in the final calculations :)

      • Emmers

        Thanks, gal!

      • Winny the Elephant

        Hi Julie,

        I know this post is from a while ago but I was wondering where you ordered the pencils from?

        Thanks!

  • SamanthaNichole

    This shower looks beautiful. I love the cookbook idea.

    My own shower just passed two weekends ago and I was so worried about the whole experience. I had never seen a shower that I felt like I could enjoy. My lovely friends and family threw me a shower very much like this one and it was so wonderful and pleasant. So happy to see other casual showers that take the pressure and stress off the bride, who like you said might not be into gift opening and registries and games. Lovely and elegant and laid back.

  • http://alifeworthwritingdown.blogspot.ca Juels

    Love the cookbook idea!

    Also, is it just me or does that one donut look like it has a slice of bacon on top?

    • Ali

      It does have bacon on top. :)

    • Julie

      Oh yeah. That would be their signature Maple Bacon Long John and it’s more than worth a visit to the shop. But go early… They sell out fast!

  • Shauna

    This was very much like my shower! My amazing friends created a cookbook for me, too.

    To add a fun twist … my BFFs/Shower Co-hostesses asked people to bring a recipe and art supplies to the event. They gave out squares of paper, on which guests wrote the recipes, adding creative touches and decorations and notes. Then the sheets were popped into an elegant ready-made album/scrapbook (it had clear sleeves for each page). I *treasure* this book, and it gave guests something to do during the shower. (Far-away friends who couldn’t attend mailed their pages in advance.)

    Another thing I really enjoyed: at the beginning, everyone went around and introduced themselves and said how they knew me. Many people added an anecdote or story about our relationship, which was incredibly meaningful and touching.

    • Emmers

      Great ideas!

  • Lindsey d.

    I’m very curious as to the answer to the pet names question on the quiz!

  • Kirstin

    I absolutely love this! I told my sister and other bridesmaids not to plan a shower for me, but seeing the love and care that went into this makes me kind of want one!

  • Meredith

    I love this shower and the favors! I just had my shower last Saturday. My requirements were: I didn’t want to plan it, no gifts, no games. My sister in law did an amazing job by having a potluck picnic in a local park. All the guests brought recipes and scrapbooked them in to a cookbook from the ’70s that had been found at a thrift store. It was a small group of mostly family. It was great to just sit in the sun and actually get to talk to everyone and enjoy everyone’s company. I felt loved but I didn’t get stressed out by being the center of attention.

    • Julie

      That sounds like a blast! If we had more people at ours we would have considered something similar. It’s crazy how these things can actually be fun if you allow yourself to eliminate the social conventions that go along with them.

  • Alison

    This looks like a lovely event, and like others said, the cookbook’s great.

    When I read the title of the post I was thinking it would be about planning a shower where both the planning and the shower were laid back. Here it appears that the writer’s planning resulted in a great laid back event, but on my own scale of laid back-ness, the planning itself was a lot closer to going-all-out, haha. When I start customizing pencils I will have squarely stepped outside of laid back territory.

    It’s a good reminder to anyone lucky enough to be on the receiving end of this kind of tribute to sincerely thank the planner; even if the event feels wonderfully relaxing, a lot of effort went into it on the part of your loved one(s)!

    • ANDREA

      Totally feel you — hence my comment below :)

    • Julie

      Ha! Not an untrue observation ;) But I was lucky, the bride was nothing if not thankful and appreciative. However, here’s hoping someone writes the version you originally envisioned. I could certainly use those tips.

  • ANDREA

    So first! This looks awesome, and fun, and adorable.

    But! Is this actually what qualifies as a “laid back shower”? I’m a bridesmaid in the fall, and if “laid back” means making trivia sheets, having favours, themed decorations, collecting recipes and (gulp) self-publishing a cookbook… I think I’m going to pass out. I was thinking mimosas, veggie/fruit trays, and girls hanging out. Am I missing something big here?

    • KC

      I would assume that laid-back refers to “not driving yourself completely bonkers”. Veggie trays, mimosas, and girls hanging out are totally abundant and lovely shower ingredients (provided the bride isn’t expecting, like, a helicopter tour with in-air manicures and coordinating monogrammed cowboy boots for all attendees or something – I seem to be saying “know your crowd” about once per comment I post, but yeah, know your crowd, or in this case, know your bride. :-) ).

      I would note that if those attending don’t know each other and are all shy/introverts and if you’re not good at getting balky conversations flowing, it can be a relief to know you have an activity of some kind up your sleeve, so I would also bring along a set of index cards and enough pens for everyone, on which everyone is made to write a) advice and best wishes, if you have extra time or things seem to be grinding to a halt, b) themed haiku or similar [if conversation grinds to a halt again], which can then be read aloud c) your favorite story about bride or groom [again], d) or a giant stack can be used to play Telephone Pictionary, optionally with themed starter prompts (hobbies or things from the shower recipient’s life or relationship or history). Obviously, you could also explicitly plan to do An Activity if you wanted to, but that’s just a list of four things you can pull off with a big pack of index cards and a set of enough pens for everyone, with no other prep.

      Also, I think it’s more fun to have organic conversation between people than to bolt from one activity to the next, if people know each other or are allowed to get to know each other – it’s just nice to have something in reserve, just in case. :-)

    • Catherine McK

      I think the great thing about being the hostess is that you get to decide what works for you, and if you think it’s laid-back, it is! Your shower sounds fun too. I was the guest-of-honor at 4(!!) showers; the level of laid-backness was directly proportional to the inclination of the hostess, but they were all lovely events, from the restaurant brunch with customized aprons and a photographer to the quiche and mimosa’s in a friend’s dining room.

    • Katherine

      Andrea, your shower plan sounds lovely to me. I’ve never been to a themed shower (and wouldn’t even know that they existed if it wen’t for the Internet). I’ve always seen showers as a chance to catch up with people I know, or to meet other people who are close to the bride. As long as you give people something to eat, I really don’t think anything else is necessary.

    • http://andshelovesyou.com Lucy

      Of course, everyone’s mileage may vary with the definition of laid-back, so it’s good to take the title with a grain of salt. In any case, this is a really good example of a successful shower, and it was the author’s idea of laid-back one. As with most things, do what’s best for you, your group, your stress-level, etc, and I’m sure you’ll do great. :)

    • Emily

      Maybe it’s because all I do is type all day, but the thought of whipping up a recipe book in Blurb and making a text document of silly trivia seems relatively easy. The thought of making food, however, sends me into a total panic, so picking up all the little lox trays and what not? Seems totally do-able, because it plays to my strengths. Which is the secret, I think, to “laid back”—know thyself.

      Sorry to get all Shakespearian up in here. HA

  • Jen

    I love all of the thoughtfulness that went into every detail of this shower. And it sounds like you were able to stay totally sane and have a great time in the process! Bravo!

    Side note – that anchor dress in the last pic is ah-dorable.

  • CII

    What is a typical number of shower attendees for a fairly traditional ladies-only shower? I’ve never been to one as an adult, so I just don’t know. I am in the fortunate position of having someone offer (unexpectedly) to throw one for me, but I am concerned that the number of invited attendees will not be very mighty (small family, no attendants).

    • KC

      I’ve been to showers from 6 total attendees (including bride and host) to… oh, gosh, probably over 30 (group shower!).

      I personally like small showers the best, as long as a) no feuds (if Aunt A and Aunt B have catfights whenever they’re around each other… either don’t invite them both, or include enough buffering material to keep them at opposite ends of the room), and b) no exclusions (so, group of 4 friends/family who all know each other really well and have gobs of inside jokes with each other and the bride and haven’t seen each other for ages and are so excited to catch up and talk about old times… plus one person who only knows the bride and has never met anyone else. Only *really* social people can pull that one off well, I think?)

      Anyway, I think small is good. Fits in a living room or around one table at a restaurant or around one picnic spread; can be more relaxed/chatty without the room getting LOUD; easy to feed. That’s my opinion. :-)

      • Brittany

        Smaller doesn’t always mean more laid back. If my sister had tried to plan a small shower it would have been a nightmare. Which of the twenty aunts my husband and I have between us will be included? Will some female cousins be included but not others? If I’m leaving out some aunts does that mean I can’t invite my godmother who we refer to as an aunt, but is actually my Dad’s cousin? It may not have been a small shower, but lots of aunts and cousins and grandmas and friends and great aunts meant lots of people to delegate tasks to. The only things my sister ended up having to do on her own were invitations and picking up the cake and rolls from the bakery she works at. People came twenty minutes early and helped set up food. My sister-in-law did a trivia game. We ate. We opened presents. Two hours after presents were finished my mom did her best to get my aunts out the door. On the flip side, my shower in NY, with my friends was eight girls at a favorite restaurant and was equally laid back (a friend called in a reservation two weeks before and two of the girls made cute invites one weekend). I think size completely depends on your family/friend group. If you have a big, close family, you will probably have a large shower, if you have a small family, you will probably have a smaller shower. It won’t seem odd in context either way, because it will not be entirely dissimilar to the size of standard family/friend gatherings.

        • KC

          Yeah, smaller does not necessarily mean more laid back in planning (yes on the who-should-be-invited aargh-ness and also, you can go completely bonkers planning and everything-matching-wise on a smaller event), but it does mean that location/food/etc. are usually within what more people are more used to pulling off or fitting into their home, so there’s potentially less needed in terms of sheer large-group-logistics (borrowing chairs and glassware and returning them to the correct people; emptying the coat closet so everyone’s coats will fit; traffic flow; figuring out when different dishes get heated up if your kitchen is small). Obviously, if you regularly host large parties, you’ve already got some sort of game plan down, though.

          I was mostly saying that as a guest/recipient of showers, there’s a very wide range of “normal”, but *I* often like the smaller ones best. :-)

  • marie

    What a tasteful, well- budgeted, special, and very thoughtfully planned event!

    Here is my laid back shower experience, on the other end of the laid-back spectrum:

    My mom’s one of five sisters, and I went to their showers as a girl, 20-odd years ago. They would take place in the bride’s living room, usually as a surprise, with sisters and maybe a few friends showing up on a weekend afternoon with tasty snacks and gifts (they’d put the coffee pot on, stat). The bride opened her gifts, and we played this fun game where we dressed the bride in a paper-towel bridal gown. It was delightful. That’s it :)

    I imagine that as with weddings themselves, things become infinitely more intricate when you add far-flung families and out -of-town guests.

    • Emily

      Confession: I’ve always wanted to play the paper bridal gown game.

  • Jen

    I am so glad someone else has been anxious about a shower! Mine is tomorrow and until today, I was really very anxious. It seems silly to be anxious about getting presents and eating yummy food with your family and friends, but I was so worried about not meeting the planners expectations. Mine is going to be nothing even close to laid back (like I would have preferred) but I know that my mom, future mother-in-law and maid of honor have put in so much time and energy because they love my future husband and I. I woke up today deciding that I should just enjoy the big “hug,” as Maddie said.

    Although I do think that if the shower was more like this, I would have been a lot less nervous over the past couple weeks!

  • KC

    Also: having a plan for the leftover party goods from the shower: genius. :-)

  • http://www.pebblesandmarbles.com kristi jean

    i’m a food/cooking/baking fanatic and was thrown a very similar shower!

    I don’t know if I’m allowed to do this? but if anyone wants to see photos from my shower you can see them here: http://www.pebblesandmarbles.com/2013/06/all-you-need-is-love.html

    :)

  • Heather

    Looks beautiful! I live in Chicago, too–just a couple stops away on the blue line. Quick etiquette (?) question for anyone in the know. Is it expected that you invite your FMIL to the shower? I’m hoping to have a family shower in my mom’s hometown in MA. The wedding itself is in my hometown in NJ (which my FMIL doesn’t love but I wanted a final hurrah where I’m from). We aren’t really close. Is it polite to invite her? Hopefully it will be a “family” shower, but she’s my future family.

    Thanks in advance for any help. The MIL relationship is the one I’m having the hardest time negotiating.

    • Carly

      I think it’s always polite to invite her. You can’t really go wrong by being too polite. You didn’t say where she lives, but maybe she won’t come however will be pleased to be invited.

  • http://www.kitchenlab-chicago.com Rebekah Zaveloff

    I’ll just come out and say I think my sister is amazingly creative and very good at making things look effortless and simple. On the laid-back discussion, I think it’s important for these events not to feel just like any other day of hanging out at brunch. For me, laid-back is about not over-planning or over-decorating… but ritual and tradition are important, and I think it’s great to make the bride feel special and in the mind-set of getting ready for the big day. We were very lucky that friends of ours actually threw us a surprise wedding shower. We were walking to dinner with friends, and in the window of a restaurant on the way, we saw a bunch of people we knew – figured it was some wedding shower or baby shower we weren’t invited to but stopped to say hi…we were in there for 10 minutes before we realized the party was for us. I was so traumatized by other shower experiences there was no way we were doing one, and we were even ‘eloping’ with small wedding with immediate family only. If I had to do it over again, the way Julie and her friends did it is the way I’d go. They’re very lucky to have each other!