Customs of the Bridal Shower

Bridal Showers are a gift giving party given for a bride-to-be before her wedding. Customs of the bridal shower originated in the United States and remains a primarily U.S. and Canadian practice. Bridal Showers are usually coordinated by the bridesmaids, who originate a celebrated party for the bride-to-be, prior to the wedding of the bride-to-be, and invite guests to offer gifts for the new home of the bride and groom as a newly wedded couple.

The customs of the bridal shower is said to have grown out of earlier dowry practices when a poor woman’s family might not have the money to provide a dowry for her, or when a father refused to give his daughter her dowry because he did not approve of the marriage. In such situations, friends of the woman would gather together and bring gifts that would compensate for the dowry and allow her to marry the man of her choice. A frequently quoted legend traces the origin of this practice to sixteenth or seventeenth century Holland. However there are also parallels with many dowry practices and the United States Colonial or hope chest (trousseau) custom.

In the United States bridal showers started in urban areas in the 1890s, mainly among the upper middle classes. By the 1930s bridal showers had spread to rural America.

The earliest use of this sense of the word in print may be in the Grand Rapids Michigan Evening Press 22 June 4, 1904: “The ‘shower parties’ that through mistaken hospitality the wedded couple are forced to attend…” And may derive from the custom in Victorian times for the presents to be put inside a parasol, which when opened would “shower” the bride-to-be with gifts.

Bridal Shower Etiquette

Many different bridal shower customs have developed in different regions and social groups. But the basic format has been relatively unchanged for generations, and emphasizes traditional gender roles. Sociologists like Beth Montemurro note that the ritual of the bridal shower “socializes women into the hyper-feminized traditional wife role”, with its emphasis on the future role of the bride-to-be as family cook, homemaker and sexual partner. But this role is more of a homage to the mothers and grandmothers than a a reflection of how the bride-to-be will actually behave in the marriage.

Although the bridal shower format has remained relatively consistent, there have been some significant changes. An etiquette guide from the 1920s suggested bridal showers should be “purely spontaneous and informal”, with guests arriving unannounced at the bride-to-be’s home, while a planning guide from the 1950s suggests more complex themes and games.

Traditionally, hosting the bridal shower falls on the Maid of Honor. Because gifts are required of those who attend the bridal shower, many communities consider it rude for a relative of the bride-to-be to host it. The bridal shower normally takes place at least four to six weeks before the wedding.

The number of guests and their relationship to the bride-to-be varies widely. In Canada among some immigrant communities bridal shower parties in community halls with upwards of 300 guests were normal, while other cultures emphasized intimate bridal shower parties with only close friends and relatives.