21 Elements of an Unforgettable Bridal Shower

sally bridal shower group photo in front of desserts
Photo: Donna Lam Photography

Throwing a bridal shower for one of your nearest and dearest is a daunting task. You're responsible for celebrating the bride-to-be in a way that everyone will love, so you want to get it right.

To help you plan the best party for your bride, guests, and budget, we've compiled a list of the things that make bridal showers great. The following ideas are all pulled from real celebrations, which means they're entirely feasible for you, too. They also touch on tradition and etiquette, so that you can feel confident that your fête meets everybody's standards.

Click through for everything that you need to throw a pre-wedding event to remember. From the location to the dress code to the stationery and party favors, we have it all covered.

01 of 21

A Personal but Achievable Theme

various sized wicker baskets holding pastel florals
Gianluca Adovasio

"I am usually not one for a theme, but for a bridal shower, theme it up," says New Orleans-based event planner, Michelle Norwood. She suggests narrowing in on a few ideas that are "special to the bride-to-be." To do so, think about the woman of honor—her hobbies, her passions, her preferences—and build a theme from that foundation. Is she an avid gardener, perhaps? Opt for a secret garden vision and adorn her party with baskets and bushels of blooms, like Exclusive Italy Weddings and Tuscany Flowers did here.

Seek her input as necessary to craft something special to her, but leave some element of surprise—and don't get too carried away. Something practical can be just as fun: For example, throw a honeymoon-themed party, where guests gift the bride with accessories, tools, and clothes fit for her first newlywed getaway.

02 of 21

The Right Guest List

white floral escort display cards
Hunter Ryan Photo

Don't invite who you want, or even who you think that the bride wants. She doesn't have to know who's coming (a surprise visit from the grandmother that she thought couldn't make it would be amazing), but she should approve of everyone on the potential guest list.

03 of 21

A Great Location

engagement party decor with lemons and florals
Lorin Kelly Photography

It's all about "location, location, location," Norwood shares. "Guests need to be wowed by the destination." Whether you celebrate at someone's home (would you believe that this pre-wedding party, designed by Level Events, took place in the backyard?), a restaurant, or a far-flung locale doesn't matter so much as the vibe you create. Accessibility is also important.

04 of 21

An Easy Dress Code

bridal shower guests wearing pink
Mariel Hannah Photography

Set some sort of standard for your celebrants' attire, whether you pick out a color palette or ask them to dress to a certain level of formality. It makes photos that much better. That being said, don't confuse your loved ones by opting for anything too obscure.

05 of 21

A Wedding-White Look

bride dressed in white for shower
Donna Lam Photography

As for the bride? We're partial to wedding-white, which is why we love this bride's drop-waist look from Shopbop. If she does opt for creamy colorways, let her know that she doesn't have to look decidedly bridal. She should show off her personality while steering clear of anything too similar to her wedding dress.

06 of 21

Pretty Stationery

sally bridal shower stationary with butterfly decorations
Donna Lam Photography

You might think that paper goods aren't worth the cost, especially since electronic invitations are available. But if you pick stationery that's easy on the eyes—like this simple, sleek note by Jovial Floral Co.—guests will be impressed. If you'd really prefer to send digital memos, at least consider a hard copy for the bride; she can hold onto it as a keepsake.

07 of 21

Festive Signs

sally bridal shower welcome sign on easel
Donna Lam Photography

Signage is a great way to really drive a theme home. Note how this bride-to-be previewed her shower's butterfly theme before guests stepped into the party space: 3D paper critters were dotted across a frosted acrylic welcome sign.

08 of 21

Beautiful Blooms

wedding centerpiece with dahlias, roses, and cascading veronica flowers
Jenny Quicksall

Robust, cheery blooms are so celebratory—iterations like garden roses and dahlias, which Siren Floral Co used in these sweet vessels, are full and lush, and feel particularly relevant for a shower—and should be included in on the tabletop. You can even send the bride or her guests home with an arrangement.

09 of 21

Personalized Touches

reception place settings with names
Shanell Photography

It's the little things that count, and that'll make your event stand out, like personalized tags at each spot; Little Carabao Studio calligraphed the place cards at this event. Everyone loves hearing (or seeing) their name, and attendees will smile when they realize that they've been recognized.

10 of 21

Creative Details

vegetable name cards
Lisa Blume Photography

Get creative and include elements that are totally one-of-a-kind and specific to your bride. These veggies displayed the names of guests at a farmer's market-themed affair, for example—how genius is that?

11 of 21

Dynamic Beverages

guest drinking green cocktail during wedding reception
Glorious Moments Photography

Drinks are a must, and boozy (and bubbly!) ones are probably preferred. We love fruity and floral cocktails, though fruit- or flower-infused water works well, too. Norwood suggests connecting your drink list to the event's overarching location and theme: "Create a custom bar and a signature cocktail to match," she says. Another pro tip? Pay a mixologist or friend to serve a signature drink and work a light bar. This will keep guests where the action's happening instead of waiting in line for a sip.

12 of 21

A Dream Spread

dessert table with cake and small bites
Jenny for Kristen Marie Parker

Consider the theme and the bride's last-meal-on-earth dish to dream up a spread, like this one by Harry's Beach House that packs flavor, style, and creativity without breaking the bank. If the bride is crazy for barbecue, then order brisket from her favorite smoker and fill out the spread with condiments, biscuits, and sides bought from a local grocery store or made at home. And if she's more of a dessert person? Lean into savory iterations of her favorite sweets—galettes and tarts are often just as good in savory form (think quiche before pie!).

13 of 21

Formal Food Service

brunch waffles
Elizabeth Messina

According to Laura Ritchie of the Washington, D.C., firm, Grit & Grace, it is paramount to craft a robust menu with the time of day in mind. Before you opt for a buffet—a common food service for this event type—check the shower venue's plated menu rates, explains Ritchie. "A sit-down lunch or brunch might sound intimidating, but it can be more cost effective if you have a fixed cost per plate than a huge buffet," she says. "Either way, a hearty meal—and not just a cheese board board and crudité—also ensures that guests don't guzzle a whole bottle of Champagne and corner your aunt." And if you do over-order, have cute to-go boxes at the ready, she notes; this way, you can safely send food home with your bridesmaids.

14 of 21

Eye-Catching Tableware

lemon design place setting
Kristina Adams

Step up the shower's décor by renting eye-catching dishes, silverware, glassware, and linens; we're partial to the sweet striped tablecloths, punchy plates, and cane-wrapped drinkware that TOAST Santa Barbara sourced from Theoni Collection and Town & Country Event Rentals. But but don't worry if you can't swing it: There are tons of good-looking disposable options out there for everything from bowls to napkins.

15 of 21

A Fun Activity

Caitlin and Fletcher wedding lawn games guests
Ashley Ludaescher Photography

If even the mention of a "shower game" makes the bride cringe, a good alternative is a hands-on craft for partygoers. And if a few traditional activities are her thing? Embrace it: "Games are special," Norwood notes. "They allow you to loosen up after all those signature cocktails!" As for Ritchie's advice? "Keep it simple and chic."

16 of 21

A Cool Backdrop

wedding garden ceremony with beige backdrop and florals
Jenny Soi

You don't have to go wild with decorations to make your party, particularly her gift-opening area, pretty. Little things—like this photography backdrop, sourced from JRD Artshop, and a few anchoring floral arrangements (these were created by Urban Flora)—are all that it takes. This is an important design detail to lean into, Norwood notes, since unwrapping presents is one of this event's main highlights. She advises setting up a picturesque table for good measure, too.

17 of 21

A Seat of Honor

blathnaid daire wedding ceremony chairs flowers
Studio Brown

If the bride in question is going to be opening gifts during the fête, make sure that she is comfortable. It won't hurt to turn her seat into a work of art, either. Richard Haslam Flowers dressed up this special chair with a dainty laurel; white ranunculus and baby's breath crawled up the sides, culminating in a broken arch at the top.

18 of 21

A Curated, Creative Registry

chanel bags gifts
Donna Lam Photography

Bridal showers are thrown about three months before the wedding, so her registry will likely be slightly picked over in the weeks leading up to the event. To ensure attendees still have a broad mix of options to choose from at that point, encourage your bride to keep her wish list up to date and rich with presents of different price points, Ritchie says—or opt for a themed registry or gift category that is specific to the shower to avoid depleting the general one. "A lingerie theme can be fun for a daring bride," she suggests. "A date night theme is cute, too, and so useful; guests can pair [their recommendations] with a personal story as to why that restaurant or activity is special to them." Ritchie also loves a "favorite things" option: "Attendees bring items you didn't know you needed, but that they swear by—a weighted eye mask, their favorite watering can, a special kitchen utensil. It's a wonderful way to get conversations going."

19 of 21

Delicious Dessert(s)

bridal shower food table
KT Merry

No meal is complete without dessert, and that includes the bridal shower luncheon. Satisfy everyone's sweet tooth a few special treats—macarons, for example, are always delicious (and chic!).

20 of 21

A Surprise Appearance

chelsea and jordaan wedding couple smiling and holding hands
Rose Bowman

Invite the woman of the hour's partner (they should arrive towards the conclusion of the event) for a sweet ending. Bonus points if you encourage her future spouse to bring a little something special: A bouquet (how pretty is this one by Something Borrowed Blooms?), a bottle of bubbly, or something for the crowd, like mini desserts, works well.

21 of 21

Favors Guests Actually Want

bridal shower escort candles on round table inside
Jessa Schifilliti

If you're going to do favors, make the money worth it. Luxe tokens, like the Diptyque candles this bride gifted her loved ones, are the way to go. Otherwise, skip them, notes Ritchie. "Splurge on feeding the party guests properly and providing a fun, entertaining experience over yet another bag of custom M&Ms or a split of Champagne," she notes. Focus on designing memories, which will be attendees' true takeaways, she says, instead of prioritizing a small favor that likely would be tossed.

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