Today, a bridal shower is an expected part of the preparation for every wedding. Today’s American bridal showers have evolved over time to be as they are now . Read this history of bridal showers to see how our current practices have come to be.
Modern showers developed from celebrations found in cultures around the world. Ancient Egyptians celebrated a marriage by inviting friends and relatives to a banquet hall decorated with flowers and lights. The groom did his part by presenting the bride with a gift of jewelry.
In Holland, families once decorated evergreen-covered thrones for the bride and groom to sit on while guests extended good wishes. Today, relatives of the Chinese bride and groom offer pocketbooks filled with precious gold jewelry. In Iraqi, the groom raises money for gifts that he presents to his bride and her family.
It’s not certain when or where the first actual shower was given. In the earliest historical records, marriage was a complicated process involving lengthy contracts and an exchange of property. This property, known as the dowry, was made up of household goods such as linens, clothing, kitchen equipment, and, more important, a lump sum of money that was presented to the groom in trust since women were not allowed to inherit money or property. The exchange was to ensure the bride’s financial stability and social status in her married life.
A turning point in this tradition is said to have taken place in the Netherlands. The first wedding shower was said to have taken place when a bride’s father did not care for her choice of husband, a poor miller. Accordingly, he refused to give her a dowry, thereby, eliminating her chance of marrying her beloved. But the groom was not to be deterred–he shared his problem with his friends in town. Because he had always been generous to hungry families in the community, giving them flour at no charge, they joined forces and shared their wares and riches with the couple, showering the bride with enough of a dowry to make the marriage possible. The father was so impressed by the neighbors’ “shower” that he consented to the marriage.
Throughout the eighteenth century, the conventions of the dowry evolved as women took a more active role in preparing for their marriages. The French equivalent of the dowry, the trousseau, contained household necessities a young woman collected or made herself—and bundled together into a neat package (trousseau means, literally, “bundle”) to take to her married home. Delicate embroidery and intricate woodwork carvings embellished ordinary linens and tableware.
In America the concept of the dowry is embodied in the hope chest, the popularity of which corresponded with a revival in romanticism during the Victorian period of the mid- to late 1800s. Women of this time took pride in storing their precious household goods in a sturdy trunk that would be taken with them to their new home. These hope chests, referring to the wishes made by young women dreaming about being in love, were crafted from the finest hardwoods and often handed down from generation to generation.
It was also during this time that the first modern showers were hosted. The name of the pre-wedding party for the bride and her friends–a shower–came from the custom in Victorian times for the presents to be put inside a parasol, which when opened would “shower” the bride-to-be with gifts.
Bridal showers became popular in the United States as early as 1900. Typically formal afternoon teas or luncheons, these women-only parties a bride a chance to display some of the treasures from her hope chest and for guests to give special gifts to include in the chest.
Today showers may be just for women or for couples, planned around specific gift themes like lingerie or kitchen items or featuring silly bridal games. Since brides today may have been working or living out on their own prior to their weddings, their needs for a married home life have changed, thus, the types of shower gifts have also changed.