By Nina Pajak
Do you know a woman who recently became engaged? You might, considering the popularity of summertime proposals.
Perhaps you even received the honor of being asked to serve as a bridesmaid. Or A maid of honor, even. Congratulations! This means that you have at least one meaningful, mutually affectionate female relationship, and that you are both loved and trusted as a woman and a friend. Or perhaps you just have a sister. Either way, you’re throwing the bride-to-be a shower and it had better be fun, unique, not boring, and definitely not weird. Or else.
If you’ve been to a couple of showers already, you’ve got a head start. But if you’re new to this world, the terrain can seem foreign and intimidating. Think of it as though you’re planning an event on Jupiter, and the aliens appear to desire finger sandwiches and variously themed games of bingo. Until you’ve been naturalized on this strange planet, none of this is going to make an ounce of sense, so allow us to help you navigate.
The First Step: Ask The Bride
Before you do anything, have an early and honest conversation with your bride about what she wants. You cannot be expected to read her mind, though she might need a little reminding of that fact. She doesn’t have to dictate the precise plans and schedule, but some gentle questions about the frequency of games, embarrassment threshold, and personal favorites/nightmares will ensure you give her the party she always wanted. Also, she needs to give you a guest list, otherwise you will surely forget to invite highly sensitive second cousin Hortense.
Where To Throw It
This will largely depend on your budget and your crowd. Luckily, NYC provides a wide range of options.
If you, a relative or another bridesmaid has the space, a home shower is warm, laid-back, and intimate. You have plenty of time to play all the games, open all the presents, chat and eat at your leisure. On the other hand, setting up, figuring out the menu and cleaning up can be complex and a hassle. On the other hand, you have much more control over how much you spend and how you spend it.
Country clubs and restaurants are perfectly lovely and make for a somewhat fancier affair. The food and service are taken care of for you, and you aren’t left picking scraps of wrapping paper out of your carpet. Also, no fear of stragglers nursing their fourth cup of coffee while you wash the dishes and pray for the moment you can change out of your dress. The downside is, of course, that you pay for those benefits, you have to work within a possibly restrictive timeframe, and these events run the risk of feeling stuffy. A bridal shower can easily become an awkward and staid event, and you need to work to overcome that.
Check out Alice’s Tea Cup locations on the Upper East and West Sides for a classy affair with enough whimsy and shabby chic thrown in to dispel any stuffishness. They’ll even hire a Tarot card reader, if you’re into that sort of thing.
Alice’s Tea Cup
102 West 73rd St
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For a brunch crowd, Jane on Houston has delicious food a nice, shower-sized room downstairs, and Calle Ocho on the UWS does bottomless sangria (works better than any wedding-themed ice-breaker I’ve ever tried).
100 West Houston St
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And for something completely different, Murray’s Cheese throws “mingling events” in their space in the Village, with a Murray’s Fromager, stations of cheese samples and various wine/beer/meat accompaniments, and much more.
254 Bleecker St
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What To Serve
On that note, please take my advice: serve alcohol. Unless you are a Mormon or your friend and her fiancé met in AA, do it. All opinions on daytime drinking converge on this point—any party where people are forced to play ice breakers and watch someone open presents for 45 minutes will be much better off with some wine and champagne. Nothing too rough, as you don’t want people passing out or taking off their pantyhose during the presents. Save the tequila for the bachelorette party.
Whether you’re at a restaurant or you’re at home, remember that this is a party of all women, at least one of whom is on the most psychotic diet you’ve ever witnessed (the bride, duh). Keep it varied and light, with salads (lettuce-based or not), small sandwiches, grilled vegetables, chicken and/or fish. And it’s always nice to start out with a little nosh, like some cheese and crackers, olives, vegetables with hummus, chips and guacamole, etc. It’s the best way to welcome people and keep the mood elevated from the get-go. That and the bar, of course, for which everyone will need immediate and simultaneous sustenance.
For dessert, cake is traditional but does anyone really like it more than they like, say, lemon squares? Or ice cream sundaes? Or those Italian marzipan rainbow cookies, which are only the best cookies in the world? The answer is no. Be creative! Buy me cookies!
What To Do
In some cases, this is the most important aspect of a shower. There are approximately one billion inane bridal shower games to be found online. The fact is, whether it’s your fellow bridesmaid or Aunt Marsha, nobody is going to willingly pick up tacks using a raw hot dog tied to a string dangling between your legs. Similarly, nobody is going to sing, perform a skit, fold a fitted sheet, kiss a poster, or do a dance of any nature. They will, however, do some other less stupid stuff. So here are a few games that are on the right side of that line (however closely they toe it).
Toilet paper bride: Break into teams of four or so and ask each to designate a bride. Have the bride-to-be serve as the judge. Give each group a roll of toilet paper and five minutes and see who constructs the best gown. This game is best played early on—it’s a great way to get the ladies involved and interacting. Even the haters wind up enjoying it.
Newlywed game: A good one pre- or post-lunch, as it keeps your guests seated. Get the groom to answer 15-20 questions in advance. Then put the bride in the middle of the room and see how many of his answers she can guess correctly. If your bride isn’t shy, stick a piece of gum in her mouth for every answer she gets wrong, then watch her drool and turn red as she attempts to remember her future hubby’s job title.
Present bingo: Each square on the bingo card is a different item the bride may receive as a shower gift. This keeps everyone occupied and interested during the lengthy process of watching the presents being unwrapped. You can create and print custom boards here.
Purse game: A good one to have in your back pocket in case you need to fill time, since it requires very little prep. Come up with points values for different items that may be found in a woman’s purse. Print up the guidelines and pass them out, and let everyone go rummaging around to see whose bag’s contents add up to the highest number. You can call out the items and play as a group or let the guests dig on their own during an allotted time. The lady with the brass knuckles always wins.
Don’t say _____: This is ideal because it doesn’t take up any extra time. As guests arrive, hand each one a bracelet or a clothespin (bracelets are more fun). Pick a word relating to the wedding or the bride (such as “wedding” or “bride”) and announce that it is verboten to utter it. Anyone who disobeys and is caught must surrender her bracelet or clothespin (don’t do the clothespin) to the person who catches her. Whoever has the most bracelets at the end of the shower wins and is also generally but lovingly acknowledged to be the most annoying person in the room.
Guestbook: Ask people to share a memory, a piece of advice, a doodle, anything that comes to mind when they think of the bride leading up to her wedding. Encourage people to contribute throughout the afternoon, otherwise they’ll likely forget.
All that said, we do not advise doing all of these in one shower unless the bride has specifically requested games up the wazoo. Leave time for socializing, eating and drinking, or you’re going to wind up with some grouchy party guests.
Prizes are optional, unless you’re willing to spend enough for, say, a bottle of wine or a quality bath product. Little dollar store tchotchkes are fine, and people do like to be rewarded, but they also won’t cry if they don’t go home with another piece of clutter. Favors, on the contrary, should not be overlooked. Think personal. Did you know that you could put your friend’s face on an M&M? You can, and we recommend it. Plus: hot chocolate mix and marshmallows if it’s a winter wedding, heart-shaped measuring spoons if the bride likes to cook, luggage tags for a destination wedding, the bride’s favorite cookie (Italian marzipan rainbow?), etcetera, etcetera.
So, About The Bill….
Finally, who pays? This is case-by-case. The unwritten law says that the bridesmaids pay. Another says the maid of honor pays (that one’s dumb). Yet another says the mom chips in. In many cases, the mom foots the whole bill. It’s sort of up to the bride to make the latter connection (unless you’re a sister), and if she doesn’t, the girls are on the hook. But don’t worry! It’s only a fraction of what you’ll have spent on this wedding when all is said and done. So, you know, there’s that. Good thing you love your friend and are honored to be a part of her wedding! Remember that.
Nobody knows the origin of the bridal shower and how it wound up in the deeply strange place it now inhabits in our culture. But here it is, and here you are, and there’s your friend/sister over there, and she’s counting on you. Go! Plan! Lunch! And stay away from dirty Mad Libs about the wedding night!
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