I know, I know, you're asking why in the heck I should care knowing I don't want to get married. However, yesterday my friend Christa had her bridal shower and I was interested in the history behind it.
The custom of the bridal shower is said to have grown out of earlier dowry practices, when a poor woman's family might not have the money to provide a dowry for her, or when a father refused to give his daughter her dowry because he did not approve of the marriage. In such situations, friends of the woman would gather together and bring gifts that would compensate for the dowry and allow her to marry the man of her choice.
The earliest stories about these events have been known to originate in Brussels, Belgium around 1860. A frequently quoted legend traces the origin of this practice to the 16th or 17th Century Netherlands. However, there are also parallels with many dowry practices and the United States colonial or hope chest (trousseau) custom.
A related custom practised in medieval England was the Bride Ale; in Langland's Piers Plowman (§ B.II.45) there is a reference to a bruydale. This was a feast held before the wedding day, at which the bride made beer and sold it to the guests at a high price.
In the United States, bridal showers started in urban areas in the 1890s, mainly among the upper middle classes. By the 1930s, bridal showers had spread to rural America.
The earliest use of this sense of the word in print may be in the Grand Rapids Michigan Evening Press 22 June 4, 1904: "The ‘shower parties’ that through mistaken hospitality the wedded couple are forced to attend..." and may derive 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.
Here comes the Bride...
Pictures from Christa's special day (I'll be in Green Bay for her wedding):
Christa Getting Married