We take bridal showers pretty much for granted as part of the package when a woman is getting married, but do you know the history and traditions behind bridal showers? From their legendary origins to etiquette to traditional shower themes, this is what you should know about bridal showers.
It is said that the first bridal shower took place to help out a wealthy young woman whose father disapproved of the poor young man with whom she fell in love. Because he was displeased with the match, the father of the bride refused to provide the dowry that was typically used to help a young couple set up their first home as newlyweds. Lucky for the love-struck young woman, the kind-hearted people in her community got together and "showered" her with the necessary items to fill a home. Thus the bridal shower was born.
In keeping with the idea that a bridal shower should help a young couple set up housekeeping, showers are usually reserved for first time brides. If the dear friends of a second-time bride feel moved to throw her a shower, of course they may, but it should be limited to her very closest friends and family members who won't mind shelling out for a bridal shower gift a second time around. It is the idea that a guest should only be asked to contribute one bridal shower gift that makes it a good idea to only invite a person to one shower for the same first-time bride if multiple parties are in the works. Exceptions to this rule would be the bride's mother, mother-in-law, and possibly her sisters and maid of honor. Speaking of the bride's immediate family, etiquette dictates that they should not be the hosts of a shower in her honor, as it would look as if they were trying to drum up gifts for her. The job of hosting a bridal shower is best left to the bridesmaids or other non-relatives.
Since the original purpose of a wedding shower was to help a young couple fill their home, shower gifts have traditionally been practical. Probably the most common theme was a kitchen theme. Besides the idea that a young wife would likely spend much of her time in the kitchen (a fiction, obviously, in today's world), pots and pans, utensils, dishes, linens, and small electrics (think toaster) were the most traditional shower gifts. Another nice thing about a kitchen themed shower is that there were plenty of gift ideas available in every price range. Although bridal shower gifts have gotten more generous in recent years, if you go back about a generation, shower gifts tended to be less extravagant; a pair of nice wooded salad servers would have been a nice present for a bride in the 1950s or 60s. Guests reserved their best efforts for the wedding gift, which was traditionally fine china, crystal, or silver.
These days, the traditional bridal shower gifts are still perennial favorites. However the idea of what makes an appropriate shower gift has expanded somewhat to include more personal items for the bride, not just homegoods. This would explain the origin of the lingerie shower (a dicey proposition, in my opinion; do you really want your aunt and grandmother picking out sexy underwear for you?), as well as the idea of gifting the bride something lovely for the wedding, such as jewelry or a headpiece. The more taste-specific gifts like wedding jewelry are best left to those who know exactly what the bride wants, like her mother. Other guests would be smart to stick to the more classic household items, like picture frames and tablecloths.
Although many things have changed since the invention of the bridal shower, they are still a tradition that is both fun and practical. Even couples who have been living together before the wedding are likely to need some of the nicer things for their homes, and the shower is a great opportunity for friends to help them out. Bridal showers have evolved a little over the years, but they remain one of the most special parts of a wedding.