What's the Difference Between an Engagement Party and a Bridal Shower? Do You Need Both?

Learn the difference between an engagement party and a bridal shower, plus when to celebrate each.
Heather Bien - The Knot Contributor.
Heather Bien
Heather Bien - The Knot Contributor.
Heather Bien
The Knot Contributor
  • Heather contributes wedding, honeymoon, travel and relationship content for The Knot and WeddingWire.
  • Heather also writes for publications including Apartment Therapy, StyleBlueprint, MyDomaine, HelloGiggles and The Everygirl.
  • She holds a degree in Art History and Architectural History from the University of Virginia.
Updated Sep 24, 2021

The moment you say yes, the celebrations begin. From the engagement party to the big day, your time is often filled with just as many different parties as it is with wedding planning. That makes for an incredible season of toasting with close friends, seeing loved ones from across the country and, of course, getting excited for the actual wedding and a lifetime of love.

However, it can also lead many couples to wonder, how many wedding celebrations are too many wedding celebrations? Should I say yes to every family member who wants to throw a party? What are the official traditions?

We looked at two of the most common celebrations—an engagement party and a wedding shower—to compare and answer your burning questions around these prewedding parties.

The Difference Between an Engagement Party and a Bridal Shower

An engagement party and a bridal shower are both joyful occasions to get friends and family together to celebrate the giddy engaged couple. They're also a great opportunity for wedding guests to spend time together, mingle and send their well-wishes ahead of the big day. However, these two wedding events also have a few major differences, including who they celebrate, when they occur and which gifts guests should bring.

Who the Occasions Celebrate

An engagement party celebrates both halves of the engaged couple—no one is left out here! Party ideas could include a casual "I Do BBQ," a fancy cocktail party or even a playful tailgate for a sports-loving duo.

Meanwhile, a bridal shower is thrown in honor of the bride-to-be. It's often a brunch, tea party or another daytime event where the main theme is gift-giving, with many of the presents coming straight from the couple's wedding registry. However, a joint wedding shower is also common these days, which allows loved ones to shower either or both to-be-weds with gifts regardless of gender or sexual orientation.

The Guests You Invite

Both of these prewedding celebrations should include close friends and family. Generally, while engagement parties can certainly be kept on the smaller side, you should avoid inviting anyone who you don't plan on inviting to the wedding. In other words, feel free to cast a smaller net with your invite list, but not a wider one.

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On the other hand, the guest list for a bridal shower can vary as well. If you're planning on a traditional bridal shower for a bride-to-be, the guest list will likely only have bridesmaids, close female friends and female members of both parties' families on the RSVP list. If you're a duo who wants to host a wedding shower you can both enjoy, feel free to include other couples, family members and future wedding guests.

When the Event Occurs and Who Hosts It

Often, engagement parties are held shortly after the proposal and are traditionally hosted by one or both of the to-be-weds' parents to celebrate the engaged couple. However, nowadays, it's just as likely to see the engagement party hosted by other extended family members on either side, a large group of friends or even the couple themselves.

Bridal showers are traditionally hosted by the maid of honor, bridesmaids or mother of the bride. They're held shortly before the wedding, often a few weeks to two or three months ahead of the big day. Depending on the location of the bride in relation to those in attendance, bridal showers are sometimes held in conjunction with the bachelorette party. However, like with the change in tradition with engagement party hosts, wedding showers can also be hosted by a variety of family members, friends or the duo's wedding party.

An important note: There can be an issue with engagement parties that occur well in advance of the actual wedding date. "An engagement party is really fun, but it's possible you could grow apart from some guests that attend your engagement party—and then you might feel obligated to invite them to the actual wedding," cautions Rachel Behar, of NYC-based Rachel Behar Events. "If you host an engagement party, keep it to your dearest friends and close family for a casual, fun celebration."

The Type of Gift Guests Bring

Per tradition, guests are not obligated to bring a gift to an engagement party (in fact, they don't have to gift you ever—sorry), but most will likely bring a small celebratory gift like wine glasses or champagne flutes. The theme of the party can also guide the gift, like in the case of a stock-the-bar engagement party.

The bridal shower or wedding shower lends itself best to any gift the happy couple has registered for in honor of their big day. Gifts like a monogrammed robe, lingerie or a sentimental accessory are also all wonderful ways to celebrate the bride-to-be or groom-to-be ahead of the big day.

If You Have to Choose, Which Should You Celebrate?

If your schedule is starting to fill up fast and you're worried your wedding party is growing weary of raising a champagne-filled glass in your honor, which bash should you choose in the event of a wedding party face-off?

"I think an engagement party is a great way to celebrate both members of a couple and capture the excitement of their new chapter, whereas a bridal shower traditionally celebrates the bride more specifically," says Jessica English of Red Letter Event Planning. "Personally, if you're trying to trim down the wedding-centric events, I'd cut the bridal shower before an engagement party."

If you choose to go this route and forgo a wedding shower or bridal shower, make sure you've completed your registry ahead of your engagement party so guests have ample gift options to choose from if they'd still like to treat you. Put the information directly on an engagement party invitation or provide guests with the URL to your wedding website, where they can then find more wedding registry information.

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