bridal shower

Bridal showers: Top 7 gift etiquette questions—answered!

April 3, 2013 at 3:09 AM ET

Bridal Shower Etiquette
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Bridal Shower Etiquette

Traditionally, bridal showers are about preparing the bride-to-be for her new life as a wife. Here, friends and family join together to equip her with the right tools—from sexy lingerie to a toaster oven. But as with most traditions, there are etiquette rules for giving wedding shower gifts. 

In this excerpt from The Everything Wedding Shower Book by Jennifer Jenkins, you'll find answers to seven of your most frequently asked bridal shower questions. From the host's duties to finding something on the registry, it's all here. Here's to learning the ins and outs of bridal shower etiquette!

Q: Does the hostess traditionally get the bride a gift?

A: It is customary for the hostess to get the bride a gift for the shower, just like everyone else. You might want to coordinate the buying of a major gift, or you might want to give her something small but very nice just from you if the shower is really setting you back financially.

Q: We all want to buy her a big gift. How do we handle that?

A: Does your bride need a refrigerator? A washer and dryer? A kiln for the ceramics she wants to make? Getting a big gift is exciting! You can easily keep this part of the shower a secret from the bride even if the shower isn't.

Here's how to get money from people—tell them you want to buy Rita and John a washer and dryer. If they know it's a big item, they're liable to put up more than the $20 they were planning on spending on a shower gift. When they hand you the money, hand them a card to sign.

What if you get through all your guests and you're still lower on cash than you can personally make up comfortably? Try calling one or two of the big donors again, or call the groom's mom and dad. If you get through all the guests and you have more than it will cost, buy relevant objects: cookware if it's a stove; a laundry basket, clothespins, detergent if it's a washer and dryer, etc.

Make sure that everyone who sends money has their name on the card, even if you have to write some names yourself.

Next questions:

  • When does she open the gifts and how should we keep track of them?
  • How should I let guests know that they need to bring gifts?
  • What kinds of gifts are appropriate and what should we do if our bride doesn't have a registry?
  • Tips for presenting the group gift and creating a ribbon bouquet

Q: When does she open gifts?

A: She can open them either before or after the food is served but probably not during. Think about the time of your shower—will guests be ravenous when they get there? If it is potluck, will the food cool down too much while you wait?

Q: What's the best way to record who gave her gifts?

A:Make a copy of your guest list. Next to each guest's name, have a line on which you can have someone else, preferably not you, write down who gave what. Another way is to collect the cards attached to the gifts and write the object given on the back of each. Or you could simply have a sheet of paper and a pen for the guest who sits right next to the bride to list who gave what. Know this: Your bride will not remember and neither will you, so don't rely on her.

Q: How should I let guests know that they need to bring gifts?

A: Most people know when they attend a shower that a gift is expected—it's American female lore. So you don't need to write anything specific unless it's a themed shower, in which case you need to be as specific as your theme requires. (Like: Just Lingerie, Kitchenware, Books, Things That Are Orange, you know!) It is expected and highly appropriate to tell shower guests about the location of the bridal registry.

This is where the bride has hopefully listed everything she wants from a specific store. That way, Brenda, who is flying in for the shower from Tulsa and who hasn't seen the bride since they were 14, will have an idea of what sorts of things her friend is into now. You should list the location and contact information for the bridal registry. Even if the guests don't buy something off the registry, it will give them an idea of her sense of taste if they take the time to investigate. And if they don't, well, that's what returns are for.

Q: What kinds of gifts are appropriate?

A:The gifts that are most traditional for a wedding shower are things for the new couple's home. At themed or coed parties, the gifts are appropriate for the subject.

Q: What if my bride doesn't have a bridal registry?

A: If your bride doesn't have a registry, it could be because she's embarrassed to appear to be asking for stuff. It could be it hasn't occurred to her. It could be she didn't have time. It could be she doesn't want to. In truth, just explain to your bride that she will save three things by getting herself down to a store and setting up a bridal registry: First, she will save the guests at her wedding or shower from embarrassment, because they won't have to fuss and worry about getting something she will like. Lots of people have no clue how to buy a gift for someone, or how to figure out what someone else will like. Remember the worst gift someone ever gave you?

Second, she will save herself time. Yes, time. Otherwise, she's going to be doing a lot of standing in return lines after the wedding, trying to get rid of the 16 blenders she got, or the sheets with the ghastly design sized for a queen bed when she and her groom bought a king size.

Third, she will save herself a lot of lies and embarrassment. Guests to the wedding are likely to become guests in the new couple's home in the future. And whether they admit it or not, they'll likely look around for their gift. Won't she feel silly trying to explain where she put that lovely candleholder made from glazed-on crushed potato chips, or the cuckoo clock with the little man who comes out and plays "God Save the Queen" on his harmonica.

In other words, if she has no registry, drive her to a store well in advance of her party and don't let her leave until she's registered.

Presenting the Big Gift

You could have some handsome, burly college guys deliver it during the shower. You could have some guys set it in the front yard after she's safely inside obliviously enjoying the shower, then take her outside with all the guests to surprise her. You could have it in your living room when she gets there, with a big red bow on it. You could drape a cloth over it, stick some flowers on it, hide it in a corner of your room and ta-daa! Unveil it during the gift portion of your shower.

The Ribbon Bouquet

a Tradition of Good Luk

Assemble these items:

  • A trash can with a bag liner
  • A spare paper plate
  • A hole punch or sharp pencil
  • Strong tape and a stapler
  • Some wire twist ties
  • A plastic grocery bag
  • A pen and paper
  • A 9" x 12" manila folder
  • A few cardboard boxes or crates
  • The bride's car keys

There's a charming tradition to unwrapping the gifts. The bride sits in the seat of honor. Her "secretary" sits beside her (not you!). This person's job is to record who gives her what. You sit on the other side with a sturdy paper plate (preferably one that matches the shower plates) into which you have poked/punched a dozen or so holes in random order. You also have with you some strong tape or some wire twist ties and a big trash can (not a trash bag) right beside your chair.

When she unwraps each gift, she reads the card aloud, along with the name signed at the bottom. She then hands the card to the secretary and the wrappings to you. You put the wrapping paper in the trash can. (You do not use a trash bag because you'll be bending over every 10 seconds, trying to open it and rearrange the paper to get it all in, and it will keep collapsing.) You take the bow and stick it through the center so she has something to hold on to. If you don't want to do this, have some other person you think is handy or crafts-oriented do it for you.

After She's Unwrapped Everything

When she's opened the presents and you've gotten all the bows stuck to the plate, you have created the bouquet she will use at the wedding rehearsal. It's supposed to be good luck. Put the list of who gave what and all the cards into the manila folder. Now, all the wrapping paper is neatly stored in the trash can with the liner bag, so it will be easy for you to get rid of it.

Put all the gifts and the manila envelope into the crates so she can take them home, and have someone help put them in her trunk. Put the bouquet in the plastic shopping bag and put it on top so it doesn't get crushed.

A version of this story originally appeared on iVillage.

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