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Anatomy of a Bridal Shower
Here, the experts -- celebrity planner and lifestyle expert Mindy Weiss; Ann David and Nicky Reinhard, owners of David Reinhard Events; and Meredith Waga-Perez, founder of New York City floral and event company Belle Fleur -- weigh in with the dos and don'ts of planning a shower, complete with insider tips to help your loved ones do it up right.
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The Bride-to-Be and Her Mother
Bride-to-be Ashleigh Wolff, pictured here with her mother, Debra Bussell, had just begun to plan her wedding when her stepfather suddenly passed away. "At that point, I didn't know when I'd ever have a wedding, so we decided to turn my shower into a big event instead," says Ashleigh.
The result? A formal, feminine affair at Bergdorf Goodman's BG restaurant in New York. Designed by interior decorator Kelly Wearstler, the space was brought to life by the florists and event planners at New York City's Belle Fleur and a team of high-caliber wedding pros. Anyone planning an equally over-the-top bash will be inspired by this shower's attention to detail. If you're seeking something more low-key, there's no reason why your party should be any less thoughtful. The invitations, food, and her blue Reem Acra minidress made Ashleigh's soiree, as seen in this gallery, a perfectly executed event.
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Shower stationery trends run the gamut from sweet and simple to high-end. "The options right now are truly endless -- from letterpress to couture -- and suit all budgets," says Mindy Weiss, who has thrown showers for celebs including Eva Longoria and Denise Richards. "There are so many more options than there used to be." While there are no boundaries when it comes to selecting the stationery, the sending-it-out part is a little less flexible: snail mail only. That said, if a save the date seems necessary, an e-mail is considered completely appropriate -- for that, just turn to creative e-card sites like our partner, Pingg.
Ashleigh's invitation, by stationer Bernard Maisner, featured a floral pattern in the blue and green of Bergdorf's restaurant. "I love that the design matched the decor," she says.
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Whether your hosts are inviting 18 guests or 80, "the invites should go out a month to six weeks in advance," says Weiss. As for who makes the cut, "If you're having a tiny destination wedding, you can include people who aren't invited to the main event as guests to the shower," says Nicky Reinhard. "But you really shouldn't do that if you're having a larger wedding."
Shower hosts can be a range of people. "In the old days, not even family members were meant to take part in the planning," says Reinhard. "But as events get less traditional and more elaborate, people other than the bridesmaids and family friends are playing host. Today, the bride's mother and sisters -- even the groom's mother -- throw showers." Though hosting your own shower is always a no-no, you can take part in the planning and decision-making -- including picking the date and the menu.
Regardless of who throws the shower, the host should be on hand -- alongside the bride -- to meet guests as they enter the party. Weiss also stresses the importance of place cards if the party includes a sit-down meal: "Without them, it feels like you're just going through the motions," she says.
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"The tradition of the groom showing up with flowers just before his fiancee opens the gifts is definitely back," says Weiss. Guests who haven't met the lucky guy before often look forward to this part of the shower for that very reason -- it's the perfect opportunity for a prewedding introduction. If the groom isn't able to attend the shower, there are other ways to make his presence felt. "It's a nice touch to place a framed photo of the couple at the event," suggests Weiss.
Rituals that have been passed down from older generations are still common. A popular one: making a bouquet out of the shower gifts' ribbons and bows and using it as a stand-in for the real one at the wedding rehearsal. Other old-school traditions, such as having something old, new, borrowed, and blue on hand, are still favorites of today's brides as well.
Creating a new tradition can add a layer of sentiment. Some ideas include passing around photos from the shower of the mother of the bride, or taking a snapshot with multiple generations of women.
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When the host chooses a location that's meaningful to the bride, a personal feel is inherent. "Memories are a great place to start," says Weiss. People love to celebrate in spots where their parents got married or some other personally historic event took place. Ann David also notices people renting out a favorite restaurant, one where they know the owners. Outdoor showers, in a garden or backyard, for example, are an especially beautiful option. One caution: As you would with a wedding, "make sure you have a rain plan," says Weiss. And don't forget to consider the most personal space of all: home. Whether it's the bride's childhood home, her grandmother's home, or that of a close friend, this location makes for a most intimate shower. "I'm seeing a lot of showers at home right now," says Weiss. "People pull out the china they never use, and the result is really lovely."
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More About the Shower Location
While it used to be that bridal showers were strictly daytime affairs, evening showers are becoming increasingly common -- often, opting for an evening time slot is the only way to rent out a restaurant. And, as David notes, "a sophisticated dinner with girlfriends can serve as a shower and bachelorette party in one." Between busy schedules and expenses, "combination events are a huge trend right now," says Meredith Waga-Perez.
To personalize the space you end up choosing, Belle Fleur offers a chic suggestion: fragrance in the form of candles or room spray. "We often scent the space to match the theme of the event," says Waga-Perez.
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Deciding on a theme can be tricky, so hosts should look for inspiration in the bride's interests or the party's location. "Whenever we meet with a shower host, we ask her a million questions," says Waga-Perez. "I want to know the bride's style and what inspires her."
As with weddings, deciding on a color palette is one of the easiest ways to bring a shower to life. The bride's favorite colors make for a beautiful and personal palette; blush pink, white, and gold whisper romance, and metallics are very trendy right now -- an entire room filled with splashes of silver and gold is very striking.
The key to deciding on a theme, according to Waga-Perez, is to "zero in on one thing that's especially meaningful to the bride, and run with it."
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"I was really inspired by the style of Bergdorf Goodman," says Ashleigh, "especially the restaurant's de Gournay wallpaper." At the shower, guests were seated around sun-drenched banquettes that divided the room into intimate dining nooks. Place settings featured pussy willow sprigs tied onto monogrammed napkins. Waga-Perez describes the atmosphere this way: "Feminine, delicate, classic, and understated, to match Ashleigh's taste."
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These days, the gift-giving options are endless. Attendees are often asked to satisfy gifting themes, from lingerie to kitchen to a personal interest of the bride. "'Round the Clock' showers can be particularly cute," suggests David. "Everyone is assigned a specific time of day, and the gift should relate to it. Midnight, for instance, could be Champagne; three in the morning could be a 'Do Not Disturb' sign."
Many women register, but just because the registry is there doesn't mean guests have to use it -- though it is perfectly acceptable to. The shower invitation is the ideal place to include registry information.
Since showers and the like can be a huge expense to plan, a bride can also offer thank-you gifts to her hosts that can double as decoration for the event itself.
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Opening Gifts and Saying 'Thank You'
It's a nice touch for the bride to open her gifts in the presence of her guests. "The gift opening is often the most memorable part of the event. I love how it helps keep the tradition of the shower alive," says Weiss. "That said, some brides are painfully shy and just can't handle all the attention. If that's the case, don't push -- the hosts can ask guests in advance to wrap their gifts in cellophane, and put them on display at the shower for everyone to see."
A final note on etiquette: "Brides should really resist the urge to send thank-yous by e-mail," says Reinhard. While it may seem obvious, pen-and-paper notes are the only polite and socially accepted way to communicate appreciation. To ensure that no guest (or gift) is forgotten and that everything is organized, appoint the maid of honor or a family member to keep a thorough list of who gave what.
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A Thoughtful Gift
Weiss points out, "the more thoughtful and creative the gift, the better." The host can help guests by suggesting gift ideas, too. Two good ones: For the shower of a family member, Weiss filled a recipe box with gift cards from the couples' favorite places (from ice cream shops to the bride's hair salon). "From time to time, they can grab a gift card from the box and treat themselves," she says. David suggests starting a scrapbook on the shower day with notes about each gift as well as ribbons, cards, and special keepsakes.
Here, Ashleigh's sisters, Brette and Cortney, present her with a bird's nest-inspired hatbox filled with undies and a Herend swan piece.
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Favors for Guests
Need a clever favor idea? David and Reinhard suggest giving umbrellas as a witty nod to the "shower." Favors can also do double duty: At Weiss's alphabet-themed shower, the seating cards were notepads printed with the person's name, accompanied by colored pencils; the combination also served as the take-home favor.
Guests at Ashleigh's shower took home jams from The Loveless Cafe in Nashville, Tennessee.
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In terms of beverages, it's nice to have a few options. "Often at showers we'll pass some fun drinks, but there's usually one signature cocktail," says Weiss. "Get creative with the colors: purple cosmos and blue Hpnotiq or red sangria. Also, consider the seasons: In the winter, serve apple cider; in the summer, lemonade." In addition to the usual wine and Champagne, offer alcohol-free "mocktails" for pregnant women and nondrinkers. And as coed showers become increasingly popular, Reinhard notes that "it's a nice touch to offer a full bar with lots of options."
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Cocktail food: "People like it to be one bite -- anything bigger can be too messy or too awkward," says Reinhard. Comfort food and casual fare can be just as chic. "I'm making it a mission to bring back old-fashioned cheese sticks and mini wedding cakes," says Weiss. "At the alphabet shower, we served little grilled-cheese sandwiches with a demitasse of tomato soup."
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The three-course meal at Ashleigh's shower included salad with edible blooms and a choice between chicken with morels, asparagus, and citrus demi-glace or roasted sea bass with shaved pear and fennel salad. For dessert, a confection by Ron Ben-Israel was served (pictured on the next slide). "We took the normal party and raised it up a couple notches," Ashleigh says.