We're Spilling the Tea on the History of Bridal Showers

They've come a long way since the 16th century, that's for sure.
Bridal shower item collage
Design by Tiana Crispino
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Jenn Sinrich
Jenn sinrich headshot
Jenn Sinrich
The Knot Contributor
  • Jenn writes articles for The Knot Worldwide, with a speciality in planning advice and travel.
  • Jenn also writes for a myriad of other large-scale publications, including SELF, Women's Health, and more
  • Prior to becoming a freelance writer, Jenn worked as an on-staff editor at WhatToExpect.com, American Baby, Fit Pregnancy and FreshDirect.
Updated Aug 29, 2023

Most of us grow up knowing about bridal showers and attend our fair share long before we even begin to think about having one of our own. They've long been part of our cultural history and are a beloved way to celebrate a bride and send her off into marital bliss.

A bridal shower is essentially a pre-wedding celebration where friends, family and colleagues come together to celebrate the bride-to-be. It's typically hosted by the maid of honor or bridesmaids or, sometimes, the bride's parents. It's an opportunity for the bride's loved ones to shower her with gifts that she can use in her new life with her soon-to-be spouse.

In this article:

Why Is It Called a Bridal Shower?

The original tradition is that the ladies would drop small gifts into a parasol, explains Keith Willard, event planner and owner of Keith Willard Events, and the bride-to-be would open the parasol and be "showered" with gifts. "The true origins can be traced back to Holland in the 16th century when the event served as a way to bypass the dowry system in case the father of the bride refused the dowry or the groom was too poor to pay the dowry," he explains. "Consider a poor field worker who falls in love with a society girl. Her friends, knowing that this field worker would never be able to pay the dowry, give gifts to ensure that the two can fulfill their dream of being together."

What Was the Original Purpose of the Bridal Shower?

The original purpose of a bridal shower has remained somewhat the same over the course of time—it continues to serve as a way to help the bride (and, in more recent times, the other partner as well) as they embark on their new life as a married couple. Willard points out, however, that, long ago the bridal shower also served as a sort of opportunity for the females in the bride's life to explain to her about married life and even give her a heads up on the man she was about to marry, a person she may not have even met yet. "In the Victorian age, females were still considered property in many instances and weddings were so used as a way of forging two families into one for political reasons or for wealth," he says.

Why Is There a Bridal Shower and Not a Groom's Shower?

In history, gender roles were very traditional and it was unfortunately not acceptable for any other marital situation aside from a man marrying a woman. Luckily, we've come a long way and, as a culture, are far more accepting of all sorts of marital scenarios. "We have seen things change to shower both brides-to-be and grooms-to-be equally," explains Joan Wyndrum, founder and owner of Blooms by the Box.

History of the Bridal Shower

As mentioned, the "bridal shower" has evolved a great deal since it first became a tradition back in 16th century Holland. "The origin of the bridal shower is thought to have evolved from earlier dowry practices when poor women's families might not have the money to provide them with dowries, or a father might refuse to provide his daughter with them due to his disapproval," explains Wyndrum. "American bridal showers had become common in urban areas, especially among middle-class families and, by the 1930s, bridal showers had made their way to rural America."

It was once an affair attended only by women, but has now become more open and all-encompassing. "Specifically, men are often invited nowadays when before, that would have been a big no-no," says Willard. "This would be an opportunity for the women of the town to come together and prepare the young woman for all that was about to happen—everything from what she would need to do to set up her home but also what would most likely be expected of her to do to ensure a happy husband. It wasn't always joyous."

The gifts, too, have changed. The origin of the bridal shower involved plenty of gifts to set the bride up for her new life with her spouse, however, in modern times, 70 percent of couples are living together prior to getting married, per a University of Denver study. "This means that they also have been buying household items, so there is less need for items to help set up the home in general," says Willard. Nowadays, many couples ask for friends and family to opt for honeymoon fund donations or gift cards in lieu of more traditional home goods.

In recent decades, it seems that some bridal showers are becoming an increasingly lavish affair, points out Nikki Golden, owner of Nikki Golden Photography. "In years prior, it was more common for a shower to be held at a family member's home with light finger foods, but recently it is more common to rent a venue and have a full meal, as well as fresh florals and more intricate decorations," she says. "From mimosa bars to custom stationery and perfectly planned table settings, there is no shortage of luxurious touches you can add to bridal showers these days."

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