When a woman hits a certain age, she’s likely been to more bridal showers than she cares to remember. She’s sat through innumerable toasts, idle chitchat, wedding dresses made from toilet paper and hours upon hours of watching her nearest and dearest open boxes of linens and wine glasses from Crate & Barrel.
At some point she might get a little burned out on bridal showers. So what’s a gal to do — a gal who genuinely wants to celebrate her friends’ new beginnings, but who wonders whether she’ll be able to convincingly fawn over another duvet cover without gagging on her lemon cake?
We spoke to some wedding industry experts — a photographer, a florist and a wedding planner — and got their take on bridal shower survival.
All three experts we talked to agreed that the most important thing to keep in mind, as you don your signature floral dress and respectable daytime heels while preparing to do battle over brunch, is that you’re going to the shower out of love for a friend or relative.
“Just surrender to the experience,” said Katie Robertson, photographer and owner of Katie Robertson Photography. “Yes, showers can be cheesy, and sometimes you have to drive hours to get there, but there aren’t that many times where you get to be in a room with your close friends to celebrate something life-changing.”
Adds Jamie Powell Stein, wedding planner and owner of Jamie’s Events and Weddings, “Some bridal things are painful for … the guests,” she said. “But you do it because you love the bride.”
The question of buying a gift for a bridal shower is one for the ages, but the short answer is: registry. Our experts concurred that the time to go off-registry is the wedding itself.
Robertson adds that if you do break tradition and go rogue, it’s important to know who will be in attendance: “Nobody wants to open a Kama Sutra book in front of Grandma,” she said.
Good news, ladies: You do not need to attend more than one shower if you are a rank-and-file guest.
“It is acceptable to say yes to one and no to one,” Powell said. “Just say you have plans for one of the days — and it’s always nice to gush and kvell a little at the one you do go to.”
Bridesmaids, however, should have “a good excuse” for missing a shower, and mothers and sisters are expected to attend all, she said.
Small talk is the linchpin of the bridal shower. You will inevitably be sitting at a table or mingling around a platter of hors d’oeuvres with people you only know through hearsay, and you will have to find things to talk about.
Dana Bresin, florist and event planner, and owner of DB Creativity Inc., suggests taking on the responsibility of initiating conversation.
“Never be afraid to be the first person to introduce yourself,” she said. “It usually breaks the ice, and then the whole table seems to be able to communicate.”
Robertson advises having some topics already in mind.
“Make a list of talking points that you know are safe areas,” she said. “And when in doubt, talk about the bride and the upcoming wedding.”
According to Powell, cheesy bridal shower games — like trivia, making a dress out of toilet paper or bridal bingo — may soon be a thing of the past.
“In my experience, those are phasing out,” she said. “People know that those games aren’t as exciting.”
But until that day comes, games are … well, fair game at any shower, and the well-prepared guest should know how to play them with grace.
To that end, Powell says, try to have a sense of humor.
“Make them funny — just tread lightly,” she said. “They can be fun if you make them fun.”
And if all else fails, Bresin says, “Go to the bathroom.”
As the bridal shower comes to its third and final act, it’s time for the lady of the hour to sit at the front of the room and open her gifts. This can take anywhere from 30 minutes to two hours, depending on how many guests there are, and how theatrical the bride is.
This is also the time that many guests begin quietly taking out their phones under the table to text, check e-mail and update their Facebook status with snarky, thinly veiled comments about bridal showers.
But it needn’t be that way, Robertson said. Instead of bemoaning your fate, get involved.
“Volunteer to be the list-maker,” she said. “It gives you something to do — you can write down what the gift is in great detail.”
Powell adds that opening gifts is likely just as awkward for the bride as it is for the guests.
“The reality is most brides feel uncomfortable opening gifts,” she said. “You’re opening things you may or may not like, and the person who gave them to you is sitting right in front of you, so your reaction has to be just so.”
Being single at a bridal shower is like being the last nerd standing on the dodgeball court — you are very likely to get bombarded. Well-intentioned friends and relatives of the bride will want to set you up, hear about your hilarious dating life, and some may even express their wholehearted concern for your well-being and your fertility.
It takes social finesse to navigate these treacherous waters, but Bresin advises a straightforward approach.
“Disclose what you want people to know,” she said. “Beyond that, deny.”
In responding to those who would play matchmaker, Powell suggests not ruling the idea out immediately.
“If you want to meet somebody, then go for it — why not?” she said. “It’s a fun story to tell if it works out well … or if it doesn’t.”
Posing for photos
The first rule of thumb for being in photos: Plan ahead.
“At anything involving a wedding, you can expect to have your photograph taken,” Robertson said. “Come knowing that that’s going to happen, and prepare for it.”
There will be candid photographs, as well as pictures taken with the bride. To look as fetching as possible, Robertson said, never face the camera straight on; rather, she suggests positioning your body at a 45-degree angle, with one leg in front.
A final note
At the end of the (long, cumbersome) day, bridal showers are about love and celebration. And by being there and being happy, you’re being a good friend.
“This is part of what friendship is,” Robertson said. “And then after the shower, go buy yourself something pretty.”