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Are you a hard-line traditionalist or is it ok to bend the rules now and then?

Southern Living Editors

Some etiquette issues are wonderfully black and white and there is never a question as to the right thing to do. For instance, it will never be acceptable to talk with your mouth full of food, no matter if you are eating at a meat ‘n’ three or a 5-star restaurant. Other topics, specifically those surrounding proper wedding and bridal shower etiquette, continue to have gray areas, and the question of whether or not Mom can host the bridal shower is a matter that elicits strong opinion. This is a question our readers are asking more and more:

“I have attended a couple of showers recently where the Mother of the Bride (MOB) acted as hostess. I may be old-school, but I thought this was considered bad etiquette? Have things changed?”

Etiquette expert Lillian Eichler provided a bit of wedding shower history in The New Book of Etiquette, when, in 1924, she wrote that  “...the bridal shower is one of our most charming before-the-wedding customs. It is a pleasant and sensible way for friends and acquaintances to present gifts that would seem too trifling if they were presented singly.” Eichler relayed a lovely tale of a Dutch girl whose father refused to pay a dowry so his daughter could marry the man she loved. So the entire village came together and “showered” the young lady with singular items such as a sheet of linen, a pot, and a vase, inexpensive items she and her beloved would need to set up household. Eichler went on to write that years later, an Englishwoman heard of a friend who was about to be married and decided that the only gift she could afford was so small it could not adequately express her good wishes. Remembering the story of the Dutch shower, she called her like-minded friends together and suggested that they present their gifts all at the same time. The shower that they gave was so successful that society adopted the custom, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Whether or not these charming stories are true doesn’t matter; they stand to point out that the intent behind a wedding shower was to simply gift a bride with small items she would need to set up household.

Now, back to the question. Traditional etiquette states that it is not acceptable whatsoever for the MOB to host the bridal shower. This is looked upon as an overt demand for a gift. Etiquette doyennes such as Emily Post and Miss Manners drew a hard line on this issue, and even Southern Living’s resident etiquette expert, Mama, when posed with this question, simply pursed her lips together, raised her eyebrows, and turned away with a big sigh. Quite frankly, a bridal shower is not essential to getting married, and even if a bride doesn’t have one, friends and loved ones will still give her gifts.

However, times do change, and sometimes situations call for bending the rules, just a little bit. It simply may be more practical for the MOB (or sister, or Mother of the Groom) to host the shower. The bride and groom may live far away from their hometown, or their attendants, families, and friends are scattered around the country. It is unrealistic and unfair to expect your best friend in Portland to plan a shower for Miami. Therefore, even if out-of-town hostesses are pitching in to help and will be there on the day of the party, it makes perfect sense for Mom back home to coordinate the shower plans and even host the party at her house.  

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When it comes right down to it, a shower is about gifts, no matter who throws it. Even if you think someone is using bad manners and breaking etiquette protocol (even if you don’t understand the entire situation), you are only responsible for your own behavior. Attend the shower, smile, and genuinely offer your well wishes, or simply send regrets and stay home.