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Long before Etsy, Kleinfeld, and tiered cupcake towers played a part in the so-called wedding industrial complex, showers existed primarily to help a bride-to-be put together a "trousseau," which was historically made up of traditional dowry items like lingerie, linens, and items for the home. (You probably remember dowries from Pride and Prejudice. Mrs. Bennett was a classic marriage-obsessed mother.)
But when families stopped marrying off their daughters based on their perceived economic value, trousseaus evolved, and so did bridal showers. Commonly thrown by the mother-of-the-bride's friends, the future mother-in-law, or a group of bridesmaids (or, occasionally, all of the above), today's showers are less about gifts and more about getting together to celebrate the occasion. Presents are still a significant part of it, but so are Pinterest-approved decorations and hors d'oeuvres.
Because the tradition dates back so far, and because weddings are nothing if not based on tradition, deciding you don't want a shower—something that's becoming more and more common—can be a bold move. Wedding planning requires making lots of controversial (okay, "controversial") decisions, whether it's choosing a destination location over your hometown, having a DJ instead of a band, or forgoing a church in favor of the court house. But since skipping out on having a shower requires telling someone, in so many words, "I will not allow you to throw this party for me," and that someone is often a future mother-in-law or great aunt or your best friend's mom, it can be a particularly contentious choice to make.
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When Meredith Thalheimer tied the knot last summer, her mother, who has thrown plenty of showers for her friends' daughters, assumed her own daughter would want one too. Thalheimer, co-founder of the now-closed boutique Dagny & Barstow, did not.
"My mom was absolutely devastated I wouldn't have one. She waited her whole life for me to get married," she says. At first, Thalheimer relented, but then she realized just how badly she didn't want one. Part of it was that the self-described introvert couldn't imagine dealing with the kind of attention that comes along with such an event. Mostly, though, she didn't want to put yet another financial burden on her friends. (And, as someone who's going to 14 weddings in the next 12 months, she knows something about that kind of stress.)
There was also the fact that she didn't need any of the traditional gifts that are associated with a shower. It's common to cohabitate before marriage these days (there's been a near-900 percent rise over the last 50 years), meaning oftentimes a couple already has all the dishes, silverware, and panini presses they could ever need by the time the ceremony rolls around.
Writer Lauren Sherman chose not to have a shower for her wedding three years ago. As she explains, "I got married when I was 28, and we didn't want a bunch of presents. We did register, but we registered for really silly shit, like matching Barbour jackets." The idea of having a shower never really crossed her mind, and she couldn't imagine expecting her friends to buy her gifts. "Once you're self-sufficient, it feels weird to ask for stuff, and that's the only reason to have those events," she says.
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Thalheimer, who lives in New York City, also mentioned lack of space as a concern—when you're living in an apartment in Manhattan, you don't have room to store an extra KitchenAid stand mixer and a couple of crockpots. Despite all the practical reasons to resist a shower, Thalheimer's mother was still heartbroken she couldn't change her daughter's mind: "I hope she'll get over it one day."
Not all parents are quite so invested. Though Of a Kind's Claire Mazur didn't have a shower, "I don't think it would even have occurred to my mother," she contends. Rather, Mazur opted out because she wanted to spare those close to her an additional nuptial-related obligation. "The biggest thing was that you end up asking your friends and family to do so much on behalf of your wedding," she says. "I already felt really celebrated at the bachelorette party, and I didn't feel like I needed another event."
Sherman also didn't feel pressured by her family to have a shower, largely because she and her husband foot the bill for their wedding. "We didn't owe them anything," she says. "I think a lot of times showers happen because the mother wants it and the daughter feels beholden." When the family of the bride pays for the reception, it can be tough to go against their wishes—though that's happening less and less. According to a recent Brides study, 43 percent of couples cover the full cost of their weddings, while 23 percent split it with parents. "I think that's the secret. Take as little money from your parents as you can, because then you don't have to do what they want," Sherman says.
This is not to say showers are becoming as obsolete as the dollar dance. Brides web editor Jen Cress explains, "While some brides forgo the traditional shower, more often we are seeing it replaced with a celebration that more closely reflects the bride's style and personality."
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Molly Guy, founder of cool-girl go-to Stone Fox Bride, has seen the same tactic among her clients. "They no longer want to put themselves through the Julia Roberts rom-com ideal of a shower," she says. Sometimes that even means having separate celebrations for friends and family. "A lot brides throw something fun for their bridal party, like a spa day, but still have the traditional party to appease their mom and older family members," Cress adds.
It's worth noting that bachelorette parties didn't become popular until the mid-'80s, and in some ways, they've rendered showers useless. Bachelorette parties are less stuffy and more fun (depending on the amount of phallic-shaped novelty decorations, of course), and the bride still gets fancy lingerie. Guy has noticed that the bachelorette party and bridal shower are often even folded into one event, which makes sense given that the two have become somewhat indistinguishable in many circles.
Coed showers are also becoming increasingly common. ("Have you heard of a Jack and Jill shower?" Guy asked me. I had not.) Rather than having an additional girls-only get-together on top of a bachelorette party, brides and grooms are throwing couples' wedding showers: "We're still not seeing it all the time, but it's becoming more popular—especially since some brides and grooms are having coed bridal parties with a 'man of honor' or a 'best girl.'"
Though Guy says she'd rather "eat broken glass" than attend a buttoned-up bridal shower hosted by a mother's friend, she also understands the appeal. "If you can stomach it, it's a really lovely event," she concedes. "To shower the bride with things she might need for her long life ahead, god willing, with her partner is very nice. If you throw a shower right, you're getting together with your friends to eat food and drink cocktails. What's not to like?"