The Bridal Shower Cheat Sheet: Everything You Need To Know

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So you have a bridal shower to plan, and you’re kind of freaking out? Yeah, join the club. Chances are, your current questions look a little like this:

Dear APW,

My loved one is getting married, which makes me do all the happy dances (seriously: YAY!). But, now I’m in charge of the bridal shower and I’ve never planned anything and honestly Pinterest kind of frightens/horrifies me and OH MY GOD WHAT DO I DO HELP.

Love,

Every first-time maid of honor / extra helpful bridesmaid, ever

We know, because the APW team is going through some bridal-shower stress at the moment. So we decided that once and for all, it was time to go over some bridal shower how-tos.

First, off take a deep breath and know we are all here cheering you on. You’re going to do an amazing job, and it’s going to be way less stressful than you fear. Because a bridal shower is a party. And, parties make people happy—especially when they involve your best people. So, whether you’re whipping up this shower for your childhood gal pal, gay male BFF, or favorite couple, keep your perspective glasses fully focused on having fun. We’ll get you up to speed on the big picture questions (who, what, where, when), as well as the nitty-gritty details (from timeline, to etiquette, to do-I-need-a-theme… spoiler, no). Read on: we’ve got you covered.

(Oh, and in case you were wondering: Bridal showers are totally optional on all fronts. So only do this because you want to.)

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The Basics Of The Bridal Shower

The What

Traditionally: Historically, a bridal shower has been an all-gals fete of the elegant, ladylike variety—such as a luncheon, brunch, or tea—that celebrates the bride (with gifts and games) before her wedding day. You pick a theme and a DIY bar (make your own mimosa, waffles, or flower crowns, for example). And everyone gets the bride gifts—usually things from her bridal shower registry to help her start her new home, like kitchenware and linens. (See: Not a bachelorette party.)

Our Take: It’s 2018, so customize your vision around the guest (or guests) of honor. What’s your person’s idea of a fun, awesome day with her (male and female, because co-ed means more Best Humans involved) people? If she’s more of a hiker than a pinkies-up tea drinker, throwing a campfire lunch at a cabin in the mountains would be a killer way to celebrate. And if you get the feeling that your BFF would rather be doing literally anything than having people watch her open a pile of presents? Well, you can either let people know you’ll be skipping the ritual present opening, or ditch the traditional gift-giving. If you still want some sort of present element without the pile of bows, you can ask guests to bring copies of their favorite family recipe, a favorite book, or a favorite photo or memory of them and the bride. (Write the memory down and put it in an envelope, with or without a photo, and let the bride open them whenever she feels like having a happy cry.) And remember, couples showers are Totally A Thing, and you can feel free to ignore anyone who tells you they’re not.

The Who

Traditionally: The people that will be attending are also invited to the wedding. The party is usually thrown by a maid of honor, the wedding party, or a female relative of the bride. Wedding party members often split the costs, if the wedding party is spearheading.

Our Take: If you’re one of those people who traditionally takes over the bridal shower duties, assess your boundaries and capabilities. What are your financial (and time and effort) limits? Make your line in the sand and stick to it. Communicate what you can and can’t accomplish—to the couple, family, other party members, or anyone else who might fall into unreasonable and over-demanding zones. Enlist help when you need it, whether it’s making favors, hunting down RSVPs or doing food prep. And yes, it’s probably still best not to invite people that aren’t invited to the wedding, because ouch.

The When

Traditionally: Just before the wedding or a few months before.

Our Take: Give yourself time to set a venue, send out invites before people’s calendars are set, etc. Also, keep the couple in mind: Will they be too overwhelmed to enjoy a relaxing shindig if it’s really close to the wedding?

The Where

Traditionally: Something low-key but casually elegant and, ideally, pretty, such as someone’s home, garden or backyard, or a restaurant or tea house.

Our Take: Keep your budget and abilities in mind. Traveling to Chicago for a fancy brunch makes sense if a lot of attendees live just outside Chicago—but not if you’re all based in Florida. Also, don’t ditch the backyard just because it seems super traditional. Backyards have the distinct advantage of being free, and there are so many ways to make someone’s backyard feel special. You can go with the tried and true—fresh flowers and paper garlands are classics for a reason. Or you can go for the unique-to-them touches—a tropical-themed collection of homemade desserts for your Hawaii-obsessed pal, for example.

The Bridal Shower Checklist And Timeline

Mark these on your calendar, like, ASAP. And if you’ve realized that the bridal shower you need to plan is approximately next month, not to worry. Cross out all our time suggestions, and just write “PROBABLY RIGHT NOW,” and then simplify the whole project significantly.

3 months before:

  • Tally your resources. Who’s contributing to this thing, financially and time and effort wise? Do the couple’s mothers have strong opinions (or money) to contribute? It’s not unusual for moms to have a bunch of thoughts, so it’s wise to check that out in advance. Beyond that, what can all the wedding party members afford to do or contribute? If no one’s around to join you on craft nights, you may want to rethink those elaborate DIY favors. If all of the wedding party is on tight on budgets, don’t try to rent out the Ritz-Carlton for an afternoon of oysters.
  • Figure out who’s coming. Get that guest list going. Ask the wedding party. Ask the mother of the bride. Ask the person of honor. Ask the couple, if this is a couple’s shower. Get a final guest list everyone can live with. And get the addresses, like now. Hunting down addresses for people you don’t know is all kinds of not fun, so ask for those with everyone’s guest lists right off the bat.
  • Nail down your vision. Fun stuff time. We’re talking:
    • Theme. “None” is an entirely acceptable choice.
    • Games and activities. Feel free to go wild here, from tarot readings, to make your own perfume, to group crafting.
    • Decor. Protea centerpieces! Tissue paper garlands! Plastic animal toys spray painted gold! The world and Pinterest are your oyster right now.
    • Food. DIY or catered? Elegant or low-brow? Finger foods or full-on feast?
    • Drinks. Usually booze is on hand, but you do you. Brunch cocktails are fun, but so is a range of kombuchas and artisan sodas.
    • Favors. Or not. Tiny champagne bottles are a perennial favorite, but we’re also fans of seed packets of the bride’s favorite flowers (or endemic plant species!) or hand-poured candles in pretty, recycled jars.
    • Venue and size. A few close friends or every woman invited to the wedding? Budget—and preference—reign supreme here.
  • Finalize the big stuff. Do you need to book your venue? Secure your caterers? Save the date for VIPs like mom and best friends? Do it all now. While you’re at it, get your guest(s) of honor to make that damn registry (if the couple opts for it) before they fall into the abyss of Life And Wedding Planning.

4 to 6 weeks before:

  • Invites! Send them. Pick a cute one on Minted, find a free printable online, whip up something quick with stellar font choices and a pretty graphic, or go with an email template. As long as you’ve got the date, place, time, how to RSVP and the basics about food and activities (Should people eat before they come? Will there be gifts?), you’re golden.

2 to 3 weeks before:

  • Little details time. How are those DIY favors going? Still good on catering? Are you certain that one bridesmaid is going to follow through on bringing all the quiches? Any decor shopping you need to check off? Are the games all good to go?
  • Make your timeline. Have a plan for when to move guests on to games, when to bust out the cake for dessert, etc.
  • Basically: Everything that can be done now, do. You want to be able to enjoy this as much as possible.

The week before:

  • Prep any food you can. Buy those perishable things you couldn’t buy before. Cook that food you couldn’t cook before. Chill that champagne you couldn’t chill before (without taking up your entire fridge with bottles).
  • Get the decor together: Prep any decor that you can pre-prep, and get anything together that’s going to need to go to the venue.
  • Also, RSVPs: Bug people who haven’t followed up. Sorry, I know, but someone has to do it.

While that list was long, throwing a bridal shower is (and should be) a manageable project. No one expects you to magically whip up some gigantic hullabaloo, so do yourself a favor, kindly let yourself off that hook and let’s recap:

Bring the food, find a space, love your people, have a blast.

Everything else is like the cherry on top of the sundae. And cherry or no, it’s going to be a treat.

Who’s thrown a bridal shower? What are your best tips and tricks? If you had a bridal shower theme you loved, what was it?

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