Wedding showers enter the 20th century

Not so long ago, bridal showers took place at 2 o'clock in the afternoon. Mothers and friends stitched tea towels as a blushing young woman told of her plans to curtain her new bungalow.

Enter the 20th century. Many mothers and brides-to-be are working in the afternoon. Men enjoy being involved in pre-wedding functions. Couples are marrying later, and both men and women already own teapots, towels, and pillowcases.

But though brides and bridegrooms have changed, pre-wedding parties are a tradition that is not fading away.

"People like to give parties for their friends as a send-off," says Barbara Tober, editor in chief of Bride's magazine. "The gifts aren't always that serious, but people like to celebrate. A wedding needs a little overture."

The overtures are a varied as the people getting married. Themes are more practical today, Mrs. Tober says. A do-it-yourself shower will include hammers, nails, Screw- drivers, and painting equipment. A honeymoon shower may concentrate on gifts for travel.

"Since men are more involved in the whole wedding, there are more his-and-her showers," adds Helen Johnson, managing editor of Bride's.

Many young couples are pleased with the new forms of parties. Randi Lamkin, a Boston receptionist who will marry in August, likes the idea of coed showers and gifts other than kitchen items. She recently went to a very traditional shower.

"The men dropped the women off and went bowling," Ms. Lamkin says. "It was fun, but if we consider ourselves liberated women, why would we have a shower like that?"

A young California mother reports that coed showers have been very successful in her area.

"A lot of guys really like them," says Cheri Daniels.

Mike Penzo enjoyed himself, but felt a little out of place as he opened shower gifts with his fiancee in Boston recently.

"I felt funny, not because I was a manm at the shower, but because I had no concept of what a shower was like," Mr. Penzo says. Although men were inviteD, they went outside while the bride and bridegroom opened presents.

"I would have liked it if the men had been inside, by they preferred to go out," he says.

Working habits of brides, friends, and mothers are also changing showers. More showers are held after work hours, and more are given outside the home -- perhaps at a restaurant. Large wedding showers were once considered in poor taste, but some planners cohost one or two large showers rather than giving six or seven smaller ones, simply because it is easier to get busy people together at one set time.

The most common showers are still kitchen or miscellaneous showers, according to Dee Sims, a bridal consultant in Mobile, Ala. Showers for lingerie, china, silver, and crystal are rarer because of prices.

"Some brides say they don't want to have showers because they don't want their friends to have to buy all kinds of gifts," Mrs. Sims says. But many friends don't want to miss the pleasure of giving a shower.

Since the age of marriage is moving upward, some brides and bridegrooms already have a well-stocked home by the time they marry.

"A lot of women who are marrying other are committed to their careers, and they might even be given a shower at their office," says Helen Johnson. Gifts might include a new calculator, or memo pads with the bride's new name if she is taking her husband's name. Other working brides have received a gift certificate for a day at a beauty salon, including haircut, manicure, and pedicure, as rest and relaxation before the wedding.

"It's a great opportunity to give things that a woman wouldn't ordinarily buy for herself," Barbara Tober says of the bride who already owns dishes and linen. She suggests special platters, bowls, crystals, or a down comforter as possibilities.

Though many women and men have been living on their own and have pots and pans, they often still need household items, Dee Sims finds.

"Loads of them have been using an old set of beat-up dishes from the attic, so they think having a new set is nice," she says.

Perhaps because some couples will not need too many traditional shower gifts, some are receiving money at showers. Most bridal consultants resist this trend. Mrs. Sims was aghast when a young woman from New York told her of this trend.

" I can understand if a grandmother gives a check to help a bride get started , but friendsm ?" she asks.

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