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Bonding, Dishing, and Stuff
By Laura Leon

Dress it up as much as you’d like, but the point of the bridal shower is simple: gossip and gifts

Time was when a bridal shower was a bunch of female friends and relations gathered at somebody’s home or the church reception hall, where they pigged out on potluck, gabbed a great deal and ooh’d and aah’d as the bride opened a variety of handy items and the occasional naughty nightie.

Then came the ’80s, and everybody got Dynasty-ized. Not just weddings, but showers, got so fancy as to require a separate bank loan. And let’s not forget the ridiculous voice of PCism, with some “experts” espousing the virtues of inviting the menfolk to the bridal shower, so as not to make them feel left out. Seriously, has any real man ever felt left out because he wasn’t asked to partake in pastel-iced cake and games in which Rubbermaid utensils were the prize? I thought not.

We’ve come to a strange point where we—the friends and relatives of the bride—feel compelled to provide a bridal shower that is something other than it is, which, let’s face it, folks, is merely a chance to shower the impending bride with presents and, secondarily, to hang out, gossip and prove the truth to the business about women bonding.

Themes are huge now—indeed, they’ve been around as long as people have had showers. But whereas we used to have simple themes, e.g., lingerie shower, kitchen shower, or the dreaded-because-it’s-so-dull greenback shower, we now have “time of day” or “time of the year” events, where the partygivers assign the guests a certain theme (“spring” or “afternoon”) and they have to provide presents accordingly. For instance, the “spring” gift giver could do something relating to spring cleaning, whereas the “winter” person next to her could supply a box of holiday ornaments for that first tree or, less romantically, a shovel.

I think themes have gotten so big because the people invited to a shower, or a wedding for that matter, have no earthly clue what to give. Nowadays, it’s actually possible that they don’t even know the bride all that well. While many couples now live together before marriage, and so may think they have all they need in the way of kitchen equipment, I’d argue that an all-purpose shower is still the way to go. When my husband and I lived together during our engagement, sure, we had pots and pans, etc., but these were the inexpensive tools picked up during or just after college, and not the handy, long-lasting items they should be. In any case, figuring out what to give is as easy as reading the bridal registry at the local department store. Even if you can’t afford the items listed, you can get an idea from looking at them whether He and She are into simple classic or classic kitsch.

Many showers have evolved into luxe luncheons, and that can be nice, but then you’ve got the burden—if you’re one of the partygivers—of footing the entire bill or—and I find this tacky—of asking the guests to pony up an additional $15 for the quiche, salad and sorbet. I can practically hear readers out there gnashing their teeth at my lack of romance, but having been in all the pertinent bridal-shower positions, I know whereof I speak. What’s wrong with the potluck routine, especially if you coordinate it so that you don’t get three tossed salads or, if you have relatives like mine, several Jell-O molds? Or, the bridal party, in lieu of shower presents, can offer to put together, or purchase, a veggie platter, crackers and cheese, some nice fruit and a platter of sweets—really, all you need is some finger food to keep from getting bored.

When my sister got engaged, she moved across the country during the wedding-planning stages, so I got the chance to play Martha Stewart. Our family is huge, with disparate and sometimes warring factions, and my congenial sister’s list of friends was voluminous and spanned continents. What I ended up doing for her was to provide two showers. The first, more traditional, featured all the relatives and nearby friends, and did feature a quiche, salad and dessert, along with plenty of champagne (hey, this was the mid-’80s). But a day or two before the wedding, we—the female members of the bridal party—threw a pool-party/lingerie shower at one of the bridesmaids’ houses, to which we invited those far-away girlfriends who had come to town for the wedding. Bathing suits, pińa coladas (hey, this was the mid-’80s) and no other commitments for the rest of the day made this a spectacularly successful, not to mention relaxed, shower. In either case, there was no need for queer little favors commemorating the day, or reminding the participants that this was a “pool-party shower.”

Which brings us to that issue of favors and decorations and games. Lots of people really love to do things up, and if that’s you, go for it. But do hundreds of pink balloons really make the bride-to-be feel that much more special than the fact that dozens of her friends got together to shower her? The party industry has gotten out of control; I know a woman who spent nearly a year searching for miniature chairs, which she hand-painted and decked out with some array of chocolates, for her wedding, which was ultimately canceled. OK, so there’s no connection between the two, but it does suggest that people get a little nutty about providing their
guests with that all-important memento of their special day—a memento that most likely will end up in the trash. Those scented candles or netted bags of potpourri may look and/or smell pretty, but by the time guests get them home—that is, if they don’t leave them behind in the chaos of end-of-shower goodbyes—they often find that the pretty little souvenirs become so much clutter.

Games, on the other hand, can be fun and be a real ice-breaker. While I’d stay away from the “who can make the prettiest bride’s dress out of toilet paper” number, there are plenty of memory-type games that work well. The most obvious is to have the bride walk in, then walk out, and have guests try to remember what she is wearing. Then there’s the “what’s missing” variety, whereby you have, say, a tray of items or a table setting or even a stack of bride’s gifts, and somebody removes one, only to have the guests try to figure out which. I’ve known of some coed showers, quaintly referred to as “jack and jills” in my youth, in which couples play a version of The Dating Game. Sometimes, the marriage plans even go forth as originally planned.

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