Like the bride and groom, the evolution of the bridal shower has a unique history. Before hosting or attending one, it is interesting and important to understand the etiquette and tradition surrounding this occasion. Whether you’re the bride, maid of honor or simply an attendee, an event is always more special when the true meaning behind it is acknowledged. The bridal shower has evolved greatly over the years with only one constant: being a time to shower the bride with love and small luxuries before her big day. By learning its history, modern participants can appreciate the event, and—perhaps more importantly—get some stellar ideas for hosting your own.
So, where to begin? Tracing its origin back to 16th century Holland, the bridal shower was initiated as an alternative to the dowry system. Friends and families gave small favors to the bride to help her begin her married life, whether she was too poor to afford a dowry or the father was opposed to the match. To illustrate the point, the Dutch tell the story of a young, high-society girl who fell in love with a miller’s son. Despite her family’s disapproval of the boy due to his low class, she insisted on marrying him. In true fairytale fashion—substitute evil stepmother here—her father threatened to withhold her dowry if she disobeyed him and did not marry his choice, a wealthy pig farmer. When her friends learned of this, they brought her gifts in lieu of the dowry. Rumor has it that the father of the bride, so touched by their actions, agreed to the marriage. It has since been a custom for the bride’s family and friends to shower her with gifts before her wedding.
So, where does the term “shower” come in?
In the United States, bridal showers became popular during the late Victorian Era. Ladies of the upper echelons of society held them to celebrate, gossip and exchange gifts, food and thoughts on the soon-to-be-wife’s new role. During these parties, women would often place small gifts inside a paper parasol and “shower” them over the bride-to-be. Over the next few centuries, they became simpler affairs, and gifts were more modest and usually included simple, yet useful, home goods. It was during this time that the etiquette that is mostly still in play today began.
Today, bridal showers run the gamut from small tea parties with close friends and family to large, elaborate events, sometimes even exquisite getaways. While much has faded away—dowries, the emphasis on gender roles, the actual “showering”—there are important lessons to glean from this history. Namely, the meaning of bridal shower gifts, and the importance of putting some thought into what will be useful for the bride. Everyone loves a good gag gift, but perhaps save those for the bachelorette party. A bridal shower is the time to give gifts of meaning, something that will enhance her new life and shed beauty on the occasion.