Bridal Showers Then & Now

 My oldest son is getting married!!!!  Yes, we’re excited.  Before I get into bridal showers, can I brag a bit? He pulled off one of the best proposals ever.  He went to grad school in Egypt, and he’s done a lot of travel in the Middle East. He and his soon-to-be fiance were backpacking in Syria where he took her to the highest tower of the Crac des Chevaliers, a castle from the Crusader era.  At the top, he asked a British tourist to take a picture.  Clever to the core, he faked having a rock in his shoe. When his girlfriend turned around, he was on bended knee with a ring on display, asking her to marry him.

She said yes and we’re so glad she did.  She came to Lexington this past weekend for a family bridal shower and we had great time.  We shopped for my “Mother of the Groom” dress together, ate Chinese food for lunch and came home to presents, games, food and Skype.  My son is still overseas, but we got things set up so he could watch the festivities via webcam. 

Imagine Skyping to a bridal shower. The world has sure changed . . . or has it? We had a kitchen themed shower much like mom had in in 1954.  As a kid I remember looking in the hope chest she’d filled with sheets and towels and an assortment of what-not for her new home. As long as I can remember, she had special things in that chest.  The history of hope chests would be an interesting blog. Since I have weddings on my mind, maybe I’ll do that next.  Today, though, I’ve been thinking about bridal showers.

My husband and I got married in 1980.  We practically eloped so we skipped the bridal shower tradition, though we made up for it with baby showers a few years later.  We started out with a set of everyday dishes, pots and pans, bedding and a lot of hand-me-downs. What we didn’t have, we bought at Pick n’ Save.  It’s been 30 years and would you believe I’m using the same red-handled can opener?

Bridal showers are a special time for the bride and family alike.  The custom as we know it in America originated in the 1890s.  It’s a gift-giving party for the purpose of getting the bride and groom set up in their new home.  In some cases, where the bride’s family was poor or perhaps opposed to the marriage, the bridal shower made sure the wedding could take place. It provided the bride and groom with what they needed to set up house and sustain their marriage.  Bridal showers also have ties to old dowry practices.  If a woman’s family refused to support her decision to marry, friends would come together and bring gifts to fill in the lack of a dowry.

Did you ever wonder why we call these events “showers” and not just parties”?    I figured it referred to showering the bride with gifts, but the word has more literal roots.  In the 1890s, it was the custom for the bride’s family and friends to put small presents in a parasol and open the parasol over her head.  Small should be the key word.  We gave my future d-i-l a set of pots and pans.  If they’d hit her in the head, she’d have been knocked unconscious . . . Same with the flatware! 

Bridal showers started as an urban tradition among wealthy families, but the custom quickly moved to rural America. Over the years, showers have evolved into a celebration that can be anything from a couples party to a bachelorette party to the traditional kind of party my mom enjoyed.

What about you? Have you given a bridal shower?  Been the bride at a shower in your honor?  What did you like best?  My favorite moment was watching my son on Skype as he joked with his bride-to-be.  It was just so sweet . . . I’ll never forget it.

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Victoria Bylin is under contract with Bethany House Publishers for two inspirational contemporary romances.Prior to jumping to the present day, she wrote westerns for Harlequin Historical and Love Inspired Historical. Her books have finaled in the ACFW Carol Awards, the Rita Awards and RT Magazine’s Reviewers’ Choice Awards. She and her husband live in Lexington, Kentucky and have two grown sons. You can learn more about Vicki at www.victoriabylin.com

20 thoughts on “Bridal Showers Then & Now”

  1. All of this is just lovely. First, thank you for giving us a different view of the Middle East. We need to remember the world is a bigger place than what the media shows us. Such a romantic site for a proposal.

    Now when it comes to bridal showers…I was married in 1980 as well and still have the pictures. Two presents I remember: a set of chicken foot tongs (yes, the grabber part was chicken feet) and a pair of tiny mice dressed as bride and groom. Still have the mice but made a lady really happy at a yard sale when she bought those tongs.

    As far as history goes, I like the tradition of throwing a “pounding” for the bride and groom. This tradition is apparently resurging in these economic times and also is good when you don’t know what is on the bride and groom’s registry. Folks would bring the couple a pound of flour, sugar, corn meal, bacon,etc as well other items to stock their pantry. In some places it is also part of a chivaree. But I am not as enamored by that tradition of making a lot of noise outside the bride and groom’s home post wedding.

    My daughter was given a hope chest by her great aunt because she was a namesake. We haven’t filled it with all the things you are supposed to over the years but we will when the time comes.

    Best wishes with all the festivities ahead.

    Peace, Julie

  2. Hi Julie, Those chicken foot tongs sound legendary! I can just see them getting snapped up at a garage sale.

    I hadn’t heard of a “pounding.” It sounds like a neat idea for a book. And like you said, if a couple doesn’t have a gift registry, it’s hard to know what to get. One of the fun angles re: my son and his fiance is that neither of them already has an apartment and a ton of stuff. They need everything from measuring spoons to furniture.

    Between school and work, my son’s been overseas on and off for three years now. He’s hit every continent except Antarctica…Someone in this family got bit by a travel bug!

  3. How many people actually get pictures of their proposal? How wonderfully crafty he was to get the tourist’s help in capturing the moment. Perfect!

    I was married 18 years ago and I’m still using dishtowls and cloths as well as numerous utensils and appliances I received at my shower. I have a hope chest, too, but it is mostly used for storing my keepsakes, although at one time it was the home for my china.

    Thanks for sharing!

  4. Hi Vicki,

    This is just such a romantic story! I’ve been married since 1979. I went back to WV to marry him after being estranged from my family here in Oklahoma, so I got a very small wedding shower given by my dear dear sister-in-law (married to my husband’s older brother.) We also got married in their home! I was so thrilled to have the little bit we got from everyone, and I still have one of the pans I started out cooking with all those years ago. I never had a baby shower with either of my kids. I think that is a lovely, wonderful tradition, though, both for weddings and babies. I wish you and your son and future dil all the happiness in the world. Thanks for this great post!

    Cheryl

  5. What a great picture, Vicki. I’ve noticed that proposing has gotten wild in the last few years. More and more elaborate.

    My husband proposed to me in his car in my parents drive-way. We were just home from the city where we’d bought the ring together. So not a HUGE shock. 🙂 But I told him I’d like to be formally asked, even though it was pretty obvious we were getting married.
    Then I said, “Do you want to ask my dad for my hand in marriage?”
    He said, “Nah, Jack’ll let me marry you.”

    Which was the absolute truth.

    We live way, way out in the country. One of my now-son-in-laws was going to come out and ‘ask for my daughters hand’. Strange custom when you think my daughter had been living on her own, owned her own home, self-supporting for about five years. He’d been to our house but never on his own and he was afraid he’d get lost, plus it’s over an hour drive.
    So he phoned and asked.

    He swears my husband’s response was, “Who is this?”

    My other son-in-law didn’t ask. He’d been dating my daughter for 4 1/2 years, all through college. So not the world’s biggest surprise. He said later to my husband, “I thought about ‘asking for her hand’ but I thought I’d just spare us both an embarrassing moment.”

    LOL
    I haven’t talked about showers have I?

  6. I went to a shower once where the mother of the bride gave MORE PRESENTS than all the shower guests combined. It was weird, show-off, very strange. If she wanted to furnish her daughters home fine, but do it in private.

  7. Hi Karen, That proposal picture is a real gem. About shower gifts . . . they sure come in handy. We served the hamburgers on a platter we’ve had for about a million years 🙂

  8. Hi Cheryl! You and I had similiar weddings–small and at home. Mike and I would have eloped, but my dad said, “I think your mother would like to see you get married.” LOL! My mom liked the elopement idea just fine. It was my dad who wanted to be there 🙂

  9. Hi Mary, What wonderful stories 🙂 My husband and I broke just about all the traditions, including speaking to my dad first. We just sort of decided and it happened. My son, though, called his future bride’s father and did the traditional thing. It was very fitting and much appreciated, a question of respect really.

    I read all about bridal shower etiquette and pretty well decided that there aren’t any rules anymore . . . except good taste and common sense. The wedding’s coming up fast!

  10. What a proposal, Vicki! That photo is just priceless. Your son must be one in a million. And his lucky bride gets you as a mother in law.
    I got married a long…… time ago. Now happily single, I still use some items from my bridal shower, like one of those little wind-up kitchen timers. My favorite is a beat-up wooden spoon that I always use to make cookies and cakes. I call it my magic spoon.
    Thanks for a delightful blog.

  11. Hello Elizabeth, You’re so sweet! I really hope to do right by them in the m-i-l department. With two sons, having a daughter is all new for me. I love it already! We shopped for my MOG dress (mother of the groom) and had a really nice day!

    • hi Vicki, what a terrific proposal and picture. Yowza. What a gorgeous, lucky couple. It’s been a year already since our daughter’s wedding…we can hardly believe it…the festivities were so, so much fun.

      We got married 36 years ago this month, and we had a bunch of showers, but the two I remember most was a “co-ed” one where dads, uncles, and brothers all attended, so my daddy got to be there. I lost him three years later, so this is one terrific memory. And a “spice shower.” All the girls brought a favorite recipe and one spice or bottled herb you needed for it.

      I have totally loved being a MOBster (last summer) and a MOG. (2004)

      Good times. Enjoy the wedding, that gorgeous dress, and all the fun! oxoxox

  12. hi Vicki, what a terrific proposal and picture. Yowza. It’s been a year already since our daughter’s wedding…we can hardly believe it…the festivities were so, so much fun.

    We got married 3 years almost to the day and we had a bunch of showers, but the two I remember most was a “co-ed” one where dads, uncles, and brothers all attended, so my daddy got to attend. (I lost him three years later) and a “spice shower.” All the girls brought a favorite recipe and one spice you needed for it.

    Good times. Enjoy the wedding, that gorgeous dress, and all the fun! oxoxox

  13. What a special picture. He has to be a thoughtful and sensitive guy to have thought of the place and the photo. A good start to their marriage.
    My mom died unexpectedly just before I got engaged. No, my DH didn’t ask my dad for my hand. My dad was so eager to get rid of the old maid oldest daughter, he wouldn’t have argued and wasn’t offended. My husband’s family was in Florida and mine in Northern NY, so there wasn’t a question of a joint shower. One of my aunts hosted my wedding shower. It was kind of awkward. She called and asked me if I wanted one. What kind of a question is that? I too still use many items I got at the shower. The wedding was a nice outdoor affair at the shrine near our church. This was 1972. No one had ever had an outdoor wedding in the area. It was the first and the last. So many people thought it was a nice idea, the church got lots of calls afterwards. I guess they decided it was too much trouble. Of course today it would be considered a common event. Actually, both of our daughters had outdoor weddings. If our son ever gets married, I am certain it will be outdoors also.

    As for baby showers, I had two very different ones. We were military and stationed far from family when our first daughter came along. A friend on base gave me a shower. They were on vacation and she rushed to have it the day after she got back. I had the baby 2 or 3 days later. It was a fun party with lots of games. The second shower was something I hadn’t heard about doing before or since for that matter. Another of my aunts, this one my mother’s sister had a mail shower. She contacted my friends and relatives and told them she was having a baby shower for me, but since we were so far away and I couldn’t be there, it was a surprise mail shower. No one told me, presents just started showing up in the mail. It was a sweet idea and a lovely surprise. It is nice to know people are thinking of you when you are so far away.

    Thanks for a lovely post.

  14. Hi Tanya! It’s going to be a great day, or maybe I should say evening? The ceremony is at 5:30 p.m.. Next on my list are shoes to go with the dress.

    Your bridal shower with the menfolk sounds really special…so glad you have that memory of your dad.

  15. Hi Patricia, Outdoor weddings are lovely . . . You started a trend 🙂 The idea of a “mail shower” is really sweet. With families so spread out these days, it’s a nice way to tell a bride or a new mother that she’s not alone.

  16. Congratulations on your son’s engagement, Victoria! It sounds like you have some exciting times ahead (in a good way, of course). I still use the first shower present I unwrapped, a copy of The Joy of Cooking, given to me by a dear friend of my family. I supposed I ought to replace it; it’s 25 years old, after all. 🙂 Somehow I just can’t bring myself to toss it out, though.

  17. Hey, congrats, Vicki. That’s one romantic son you have there. Wonder where he gets his ideas, eh. 😀

    I didn’t have a bridal shower. I married in 1976 while Nels was a Corporal and I was a Private in the Canadian Armed Forces. He wore his uniform, as did the Best Man, and I chose to wear a wedding dress which a friend had made to my specs. I think our complete wedding cost was under $500 including amateur photos. A bridal shower sure would’ve been nice but actually, I didn’t miss it.

    Hubby’s co-workers totally surprised me with a baby shower, though. I was about 6 months pregnant and remember sitting cross-legged in a wing chair while streamers flowed around me from a central point on the wall above my head. And I wore this special hat made from a foam plate and covered in the ribbons and bows from all the gifts. I felt so special.

    Great post! I’m looking forward to your post on Hope Chests. 🙂

  18. Hi Anita Mae, There’s nothing like a man in uniform at a wedding 🙂 Your dress sounds so special . . . it’s the people and the thought that make a day greatl. Loved the baby shower story, too. Sounds like a good time for sure!

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