After you’ve said “yes” to the ultimate question, there are a few pre-wedding events that will take place in the months leading up to your big day. Two of these functions, in particular, are intended to celebrate you as the bride-to-be: the bridal shower and the bachelorette party.
If you’re in the very early stages of planning your nuptials, you might find yourself wondering what’s really the difference between these two gatherings. You may even start to ask yourself questions like, “Who is responsible for planning these events?; When should the bridal shower take place and how close to the bachelorette party?; What am I supposed to wear to both of these affairs?; Should I invite my aunts to each one?” Before you continue to confuse yourself with further unanswered questions, however, take a moment, breathe in, and let us help you navigate these two parties.
Meet the Expert
- Lisa Brooks is an event planner and designer, and the owner of Events by Mona Lisa. She has 17 years of experience and is based in New York City.
- Kate Murtaugh is the CEO and creative director of Kate Murtaugh Events & Design. Although she’s based in New England, she plans destination weddings around the world.
Below you’ll find an easy-to-follow guide to help you understand the differences between a bridal shower and a bachelorette party. (Hint: Though both are meant to celebrate you and this new exciting life chapter, these two festivities have several distinguishing factors, from the attendees to the activities, that set them apart.) Read on for more, including insights and tips from the experts.
The Purpose of a Bridal Shower
A bridal shower is a pre-wedding celebration that showers the bride-to-be with love, well-wishes, and gifts from her nearest and dearest, according to planner Lisa Brooks of Events by Mona Lisa. During this party, close friends and family gather together to commemorate the bride-to-be by gifting practical items that can be used once married. “These gatherings are typically lighthearted and cheerful, creating a positive and supportive atmosphere for the bride as she approaches her wedding day,” planner Kate Murtaugh of Kate Murtaugh Events & Design adds.
The Purpose of a Bachelorette Party
Like bridal showers, the main purpose of a bachelorette party is to celebrate the bride-to-be and relish the excitement leading up to the big day. However, at these events, the soon-to-be-wed and her guests will typically enjoy a night out or a weekend trip, spending time in a way that suits the bride’s personality and lifestyle. “These parties are known for their diversity and adaptability, with various activities and styles that cater to the bride’s preferences,” Murtaugh notes. For some, this might look like bar hopping, while for others, this may be a relaxing spa weekend. Regardless, the intention is for the upcoming bride to create lasting memories with her crew and live out her last few days of being single, Brooks mentions.
The Differences Between Bridal Showers and Bachelorette Parties
As mentioned, while both events are meant to commemorate the bride-to-be, the way in which each celebration is executed is slightly different, as highlighted below.
The Guest List
As it pertains to a bridal shower guest list, the bride’s wedding party, plus women who are close to the bride, are typically the only ones who are invited to this event (though some couples throw a wedding shower, where both partners and their families are allowed to show up). These gatherings also tend to have a headcount of 25 to 50 people, according to Brooks.
On the other hand, bachelorette parties generally have a much smaller guest list: The bride-to-be will typically only select a handful of VIPs to attend this outing. “Bachelorette parties are for your best friends who you can unapologetically be yourself around and let your hair down with,” Brooks explains. “It’s a fun, judgment-free zone.”
For both the bridal shower and the bachelorette party, the bride is relieved from hosting duties—although most weigh in on preferred dates, party details, guest lists, and other special requests—so there aren’t many differences within this category. With that in mind, the host of the bridal shower typically varies, but it’s often a collaboration between the maid of honor and the bridal party. Sometimes, the mother of the bride, the mother of the groom, or a close family relative will help with planning and financial support, according to Brooks. “However, there are no strict rules, and anyone close to the bride can host the bridal shower,” Murtaugh adds.
As for the host of the bachelorette party, the maid of honor, a small group of bridesmaids, or a small group of close friends can throw the event. Depending on the scenario, family members can also take on some of the hosting responsibilities. “The decision of who hosts the party often depends on personal relationships and traditions and how much the bride wants to be involved,” Murtaugh states.
The timing of these two functions is dependent on the bride-to-be’s schedule and the availability of the venue, so the differences will vary on a case-by-case basis. That being said, bridal showers tend to take place a few weeks to a few months before the wedding. As for the event itself, it’s usually a daytime affair that occurs in the late morning or early afternoon and lasts a few hours.
On the other hand, bachelorette parties occur farther out than bridal showers. The festivities generally happen one to four months prior to the big day, so the bride-to-be has enough time to recuperate before it’s crunch time. The length of this celebration is also different: It can span a whole night or an entire weekend.
The location of each affair varies based on the preferences of the bride and the host, the activities planned, the budget, the number of guests, and the vibe, according to Murtaugh. Bridal showers can take place at an array of locales, whether it’s someone’s home, a restaurant, a banquet hall, a garden, or another event space, the planner says.
Bachelorette parties typically involve a night out or a day extravaganza—in that case, you’ll probably hit a few local bars, celebrate at a club, or tour a winery. If the affair is a weekend getaway, the location will be based on the bride-to-be’s preferences, which can look like anything, from a beach resort to a mountain cabin.
Activities are at the heart of both celebrations, but the festivities themselves differ. During a bridal shower, guests usually play games, enjoy refreshments, watch the bride-to-be open gifts, and socialize. Murtaugh notes that some bridal showers even include a cake-cutting ceremony to signify sharing joy with loved ones. Overall, the tone is more tame and family-friendly.
In contrast, bachelorette parties are traditionally more rowdy than bridal showers, but depending on the vibe of the celebration, there will be a great deal of variation in the festivities. It’s up to the bride to determine whether she wants the affair to be more wild or more laid-back. For nights out or weekend trips focused on partying, common activities include drinking and dancing at nightclubs and playing drinking games. For those who prefer relaxing getaways that aren’t focused on booze, the itinerary may consist of spa treatments, massages, yoga classes, movie nights, or painting.
The activities at bachelorette parties also depend on the location. For instance, lounging by the pool, swimming in the ocean, and going on a boat cruise are customary experiences for beach locales, whereas a city destination may include shopping, touring landmarks, or seeing a show.
As a whole, bridal showers are typically classy affairs that take place in the daytime, shares Brooks. Some showers even have a theme, like an Amalfi Coast affair or a black-and-white bash, with decorations, colors, and activities that influence the aesthetic.
Meanwhile, a bachelorette party doesn’t have one tried-and-true look or feel—it’s entirely dependent on the bride-to-be. The stereotypical bachelorette party is heavily focused on partying, so the vibe is usually along the lines of a nightclub or a bar. On the other hand, some brides might opt for a relaxing, casual ambiance, consisting of nice dinners and camaraderie at a cozy resort.
For both affairs, the venue, the season, the dress code (if applicable), and the activities will affect the attire. At the bridal shower, most brides sport a white outfit, whether it’s a dress or jumpsuit. The guests will typically wear sundresses or a blouse and skirt for casual dress codes or midi dresses and pantsuits for more formal celebrations.
The bride also tends to wear white to the bachelorette party, but bolder looks, like a sequined mini dress or a feather-trimmed wrap dress, are encouraged at night. Of course, the climate and events will affect your wardrobe, so jeans and a tank top might work great for a daytime pottery class in the spring. As for the attendees, they’ll also bring multiple outfits based on the occasion, such as a maxi dress for brunch or a bathing suit for snorkeling. Murtagh says that some bachelorette parties even include themed outfits, like matching T-shirts.
Since bridal showers are gift-giving events, everyone is expected to bring a present for the woman of the hour or purchase one ahead of time off of the couple’s registry. Gifts are not the primary focus of bachelorette parties, however, though guests can buy one if they want. “If gifts are part of the celebration, they tend to be more lighthearted or personal, like a lingerie exchange or gifts aimed at roasting the bride and couple,” Montaugh mentions.