You know you’ve got a wedding to plan, but you may not know that there are a slew of other celebrations that come into play as soon as you say, “I do.” You certainly don’t need to have each and every one of these parties, but you should be acquainted with the possibilities (and who’s responsible for hosting). Here’s a quick list of everything you need to know about the parties before and after the wedding.
The purpose of the engagement party is pretty self-explanatory: It’s to celebrate your engagement! This is also a great time to introduce your families if they haven’t already met.
When: A formal engagement party is usually scheduled one-to-four months after the big announcement.
Who hosts: Tradition dictates that the bride's parents host the initial gathering, but couples stray from this all the time. The groom's parents can throw their own party, or both sets can come together to host one big fete. If they’re so inclined, your wedding party or close friends can even step in as hosts.
Where This is totally up to you and your hosts: your parents’ home, your favorite bar, a restaurant, on the beach....
Guest list: Everyone who is invited to the engagement party should ultimately be invited to the wedding, so take this chance to get your list done early.
Gift guide: Guests will probably bring gifts unless you specifically ask them not to on the invitation. If you do want gifts, a couple of weeks before the party you’ll want to register for items in all price ranges, but especially in the lower- and mid-price ranges.
Traditionally, a shower is a party for the bride and her closest female relatives and friends, at which she is "showered" with love, good wishes, and, of course, gifts. Today, the ladies' lunch is still the prevalent concept for the shower, but more couples are including the groom and throwing a Jack & Jill (coed) event.
When: Anytime from six months to the week before the wedding. If the shower is meant to be a surprise for the bride, bring her fiance in on the planning to pick a date she’s sure to make.
Who hosts: Traditionally, this responsibility goes to your maid or matron of honor -- but she should call on the bridesmaids, the bride’s aunts, or even the bride’s mom for help with the party planning (and costs!). The bride is supposed to keep her nose out of this one.
Where: From a traditional tea party at a fancy hotel to a cozy shower at home (traditionally not the bride’s or her mom’s, though), the shower can be held wherever you’re so inclined. A beauty salon, a local restaurant…just make sure the space can handle food and drinks.
Guest list: Here too, everyone who is invited to the shower must be invited to the wedding. If it's a bridal shower (just the girls), make sure the bride's and groom's close female relatives are on the invite list as well as all the women in the wedding party and the bride's other close girlfriends.
Gift guide: Unlike engagement parties, showers are synonymous with gifts, so be sure to register before invitations go out. (And no, where you’re registered doesn’t go on the invites, that’s for your wedding party to communicate by word of mouth -- or it can go on your wedding website.) If you want guests to bring gifts around a certain theme include special instructions on the invites.
The bachelor party began as a gentlemen's gathering: a civilized evening of drawing room drinking, smoking, and toasting to the bride's health. Boy, have things changed. While many of today's bachelor parties are often anything but civilized, the trend is in these testosterone gatherings is toward old-fashioned male bonding -- it's a weekend of white-water rafting, gambling in Vegas, or a fancy dinner.
When: The age-old idea of having a bachelor party the night before the wedding just won’t fly. No need for hangovers and sordid stories on the wedding day. Instead, plan the bachelor party about a month before the wedding.
Who hosts: This party is the pinnacle of the best man’s responsibilities -- well, that and holding the rings. The best man should check in with the groom, however, to make sure they’re both on the same page when it comes to the “level” of celebration. If the groom really doesn’t want things to get too rowdy, he needs to communicate that to his best man before plans are made and deposits are paid.
Where: It depends on your activities: a strip club, a casino, or a private room at a restaurant are all popular choices. If time is of the essence or if all parties involved are on a budget, then a local bar, a hotel room, or the best man's apartment are all fine bachelor party locales. Just make sure no one has to drive.
Guest list: Close friends and relatives of the groom, usually male-only. The only caveats: The list shouldn’t exceed 40 people, nor should it include people who don't get along.
Gift guide The bachelor party is the gift -- typically, the invitees treat the groom to a night on the town.
A counterpart to the often rowdier bachelor party, the bachelorette party is the bride’s time to let loose and bond with her closest friends. It runs the spectrum in terms of decorum -- one bride-to-be may want to veg with her gal pals at the spa; another may want to tear it up on the dance floor.
When: Anytime from a month before the wedding to two or three days before.
Who hosts: Often the maid of honor and bridesmaids take charge, but any fun friend, relative (a cousin, for example), or even coworkers who feel the urge can plan this party.
Where: There’s no typical setting -- bachelorette parties can be anything: a night at the hottest club, a cooking class en masse, a spa weekend, a party at someone’s home, a debauched night at a strip club. It’s really determined by the bride’s style.
Guest list: Generally, the bride’s best gal pals make up the bachelorette party. It’s probably best mom stays home. Try to keep the party intimate -- under 20 is ideal.
Gift guide: Presents are not required; most often the invitees cover all the costs, though. That said, this is a great opportunity for guests to give the bride silly gifts -- or even sexy ones (like the lingerie that was just too risque for the shower).
Many brides plan a bridesmaids tea or luncheon to thank the gang for all the wedding prep they've helped with and also to get in some last-minute bonding. Usually on the mellow side, this girls-only get-together is an opportunity to swap stories and settle nerves before the big day.
When: The tea or luncheon is usually held a day or two before the wedding and sometimes on the big day itself. This timing works especially well if your bridesmaids are coming from all over and will be in town for a few days.
Who hosts: The bride.
Where: Is everyone staying at the same hotel? The hotel dining room will provide an elegant and convenient setting. Or consider a place that has special significance for all of you: A favorite cafe or tea salon? Mom's basement? Grandparents' country club? Also consider heading outdoors for a beach picnic or park party.
Guest list: The maid of honor, bridesmaids, and flower girls. Some brides include mothers, grandmothers, and other female family members too.
Gift guide: The tables are turned at the bridesmaids’ luncheon -- this is when the bride presents each maid with her bridesmaid gift.
As everyone is brimming with anticipation on the eve of the wedding, this celebratory, often casual dinner is filled with toasts, roasts, and general good cheer.
When: It’s held a day or two before the wedding -- typically following the ceremony rehearsal.
Traditionally, the groom’s parents. But depending on who is paying for the wedding, the couple or the bride’s family may decide to host this event.
Where: This can be casual or fancy. Many are held in hotel banquet rooms, or at restaurants, with full-course dinners and desserts. Others are held at home, featuring a backyard barbecue or clambake.
Guest list: At the very least, it should include just the wedding party, very close family members, and the officiant. But if many out-of-towners are flying in for the festivities, you may consider including them too. It’s really up to you and your budget.
Gift guide: This is the time for the bride (if you didn't at the bridesmaids’ luncheon) and groom to present the attendants’ gifts. Make sure to also present your parents and anyone else who was an integral part of the wedding-planning process with a token of your appreciation -- flowers, a nice bottle of wine, or even a huge hug will do.
At the end of a wedding weekend, a postwedding brunch is a great way to wind down and exchange final goodbyes before leaving on your honeymoon. Newlyweds can take a final opportunity to thank their guests and can spend a little more time with loved ones who’ve flown in from all over.
When: The morning after the wedding.
Who hosts: The bride’s parents.
Where: Like most parties, the brunch can be held wherever suits the mood: your parents’ home, a hotel salon, a landmark diner, a friend’s backyard.
Guest list: The brunch is usually for the couples' families and any wedding guests who are still in town, but feel free to include attendants, friends, or even children who weren’t invited to the wedding. Basically, anything goes.
Gift guide: None!
See More: Rehearsals + Brunches