Not quite sure about the difference between a bachelorette party and a bridal shower? You are not alone. Thousands of newlyweds and their guests are asking the same question every year and even the ones who know exactly which is which would be surprised how many similarities both events actually share. So let's explore the origins of bridal showers and bachelorette parties, their meanings and basic customs each of the invitees should be familiar with.

 

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Background Of Bachelorette Parties And Bridal Showers

Bachelorette (or hen or stagette) parties are the counterpart of bachelor (or stag or buck) parties which are traceable at least 25 centuries in the past, when Spartan soldiers organized dinners for their comrades who were getting married. The basic idea was to honor the last night of 'freedom' in exclusively male company.

It is not clear when all sorts of tests with drinking (is he man enough?) and exotic dancers (can he resist the temptation?) became the mandatory part of the event. According to police archives we are definitely dealing with hundreds of years of tradition. When ladies started to make almost identical  arrangements, all the indecent behaviour was copied without any reservations.

While history of bachelorette parties started only around 1980, the bride and her female friends also had a somehow similar event for centuries, at least from 17th century on. The origin is not clear and there are several stories aiming at explanation of bridal showers, with the one about a beautiful Dutch maid who fell in love with good-hearted but poor miller being the most popular, although not necessarily true.

The plot of this story starts with the girl's father who wanted her to marry a rich farmer and said she would not get her dowry. Despite that she decided to follow her heart and numerous villagers among which many got free bread from the miller in the past (he was good hearted, remember?), tried to help the young couple. None of them was rich, but each could contribute with something to help starting a household: a plate, few spoons, a vase, linens, ..., so they 'showered' the bride with gifts which add up to pretty good compensation of her lost dowry.

For the really happy ending her father allegedly gave in and gave her daughter her dowry too. So, according to the tradition a bridal shower is always based on gift giving and these gifts are in most cases still related with household. Of course the bridal shower in today's spirit is more about hanging out with friends and gifts are often present at bachelorettte parties too, so both occasions share more and more characteristics and people, not familiar with traditions have all the rights to become confused.

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The Etiquette

Bridal shower etiquette is not simple, but its logic has a sound basis. Here are the elemental points to consider:

  • Traditional bridal shower is never hosted by a relative of the bride or the bride herself, because this would look greedy. While maid or matron of honor or one of the bridesmaids is the most obvious choice for the role of the host, one or more relatives may give a hand at hosting and especially help covering always growing expenses of this otherwise lovely celebration.
  • In essence only one bridal shower is thrown, because the bride is trying to set up only one home. On the other hand, if there is a lot of people who want to participate, especially if the bride's and the groom' family are from different towns, or her coworkers want to organize their own version of bridal shower for her, there may be more showers.
  • Each guest should be invited to only one shower, because she (or he) is expected to bring a gift. If for some reason attends more than one shower, only one gift is expected. Guests under 16 don't have to bring gifts. Each invitee, older than 16, gets one invitation, no matter if more of them live at the same address.
  • Every invitee to bridal shower should get an invitation to the wedding too. And yes - a wedding gift is expected from her too. By tradition only close female friends and relatives and members of bridal party were invited to bridal showers, but in recent years this rule loosened quite a lot. Many couples have bridal showers for the bride and the groom and men are often included on the guest lists. In this case it is good to check if a bridal shower doesn't coincide with important sport event, like a play-off game in a major sport.
  • A gift registry (if any) or any other mention of gifts is still not supposed to be mentioned at invitation. Word of mouth is a traditional source of information on this sensitive object, but in recent years an insert in the invitation card became permitted and pretty popular.
  • While bridal showers are traditionally thrown only for first marriages (see reasons above), in last decade, when the focus from practical gifts slowly shifted to luxury items or experiences, a bridal shower for the second or third marriage is not so rare anymore.
  • Each gift should be carefully recorded at the opening by a reliable person (maid of honor, one of bridesmaids or mother of the bride are obvious choices). The bride should of course thank to every gift giver in person and it is expected to send a thank you note as well. This thank you card should be hand written and sent in few days or weeks after the shower and definitely before the wedding.
  • If the marriage is canceled, each gift should be returned to the giver. Same is expected if the couple split up after the wedding and before they start living together. A detailed list of gifts with names of gift givers mentioned above comes handy in this case too.
  • All rules above can be applied at bachelorette parties with an important note: everything is much more free spirited in this case. If the party is expected to become very raunchy, mothers and older ladies probably won't participate, but they can still be invited. While gifts are not obligatory, it's always nice to bring something extra and a thank you card still feels good when you get one. All details should be settled according to the bride's wishes. It's her night anyway.

 

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Gifts, Games And Timetables

Gifts are part of both kinds of parties. At the shower they are mandatory and at bachelorette party can't hurt either. Depending of the company, choosen theme (if any), the location and other factors, these should be kitchen appliances, bedclothes, cosmetics, lingerie, gift cards, ... Value of the gift can vary a lot, but in general most bridal shower gifts cost between 20 and 75 dollars. In case of showers for couples the gifts are of course more expensive.

Games are also part of tradition for showers and bachelorette's parties. There are hundreds of fun or elegant games available, but, depending on your taste, there are several pretty naughty ones too. It's always good to have a basic scenario ready and few extra games prepared in case if something doesn't go along the plan (for instance, if some delay happens for whatever reason).

At those kinds of parties new people are often met and simple games can serve as invaluable and reliable ice breakers, which lead to more comfortable feeling for every participant and especially the bride, who is the star of the night.

Traditional bridal shower is held few months to few weeks before the wedding and invitations should be sent at least four weeks before the shower. A bachelorette party is by definition held on the last night before the wedding, but in most cases one of the weekends before the big day fits much better, especially if a serious night clubbing is involved. In this case invitations are also sent about four weeks before the party.

We hope we have made clear all the common points and the differences between the bridal shower and the bachelorette party and provide enough useful directives to throw at least two unforgettable parties. Cheers!

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