Hit the showers

Hosting a bridal or wedding shower? Have absolutely no clue where to begin? Think theme!

A theme can help give the event some structure, define the decorations and give guests some gift-giving direction. You don't need to have a theme to have a good shower, but a clever theme will make the bash you're throwing all the more memorable. Here are some fun and inventive ideas to consider.

Pamper the Bride. For this shower, all the gifts pamper the bride and help her relax and unwind before the biggest day of her life. Gifts might include bath products, gift certificates for spa treatments or yoga lessons, aromatherapy candles, fluffy robes or towel sets, etc. Serve fresh fruit, veggies, mineral water and herbal teas. Set up stations with people who can provide massages, pedicures, etc., to make it a relaxing and fun event for everyone. Play some music, light candles, hang tranquil pictures, and provide comfy pillows and blankets. Another option is to hold the shower at a spa or salon.

Stock the Bar. This works well for a "couples" shower and, if arranged in the evening, becomes more of a social event. Besides alcohol, guests could bring bar accessories such as glasses, corkscrews, drink mixes and recipes, wine racks, funky coasters, martini glasses or chip 'n dip servers, for example. At the shower, everyone can learn how to mix a signature cocktail or two (you can rent out the back room of a local bar or hire a bartender to come to your home). Consider serving cocktails and signature drinks that relate back to the couple (for example, if the couple is planning a honeymoon in Mexico, serve margaritas).

Bon Voyage. Guests shower the couple with all the essential items for enjoying their honeymoon, such as luggage, camera equipment and journals. If the trip's location has already been determined, helpful gifts can include maps, travel books and restaurant gift certificates. Incorporate the theme with destination-inspired food, decorations, guest favors and music. Use your imagination! For example, if the couple is heading to a tropical destination, fill a kiddie pool with ice for storing canned and bottled beverages, use grass skirts around the tables and set up some sand pails as serving containers. Invite guests to wear tropical attire, or just a sun hat or lei.

Honeymoon-at-Home. If the couple-to-be isn't going on a honeymoon, why not make their time at home more fun? Think candles, wine, chocolates, romantic music CDs, and more. Get the bridal party to pitch in to give the couple a hotel room with a whirlpool tub built for two (decorated with small gifts in the room), or a couple's massage. Other gift ideas include gift certificates to area restaurants or events, or for house-cleaning services (or babysitting services, if they have kids).

The Great Outdoors. For the hiking/camping/outdoor-loving couple, this theme lends itself to an outdoor location. So, if weather permits, take advantage of a backyard, park or camping site. Decorate with lantern centerpieces, pine cones, hiking boots filled with flowers, log serving platters and mason jars with tea lights. Set up a tent and lawn chairs, enjoy a campfire, roast hotdogs and marshmallows for s'mores, and serve fruit skewers. Gifts may include fleece blankets, air mattresses, an outdoor cooking stove, cast iron cookware, flashlights, tents, lanterns, sunscreen, folding chairs, and more.

Happy Memories. This is a great event for close friends and family of the bride. It works best with a smaller group of people. All guests are asked to bring old photos of the bride from her childhood or teen years. They should also bring a short anecdote or funny story in writing, recalling the happy times they've spent together. As each person shares their special memory, the photos and written material are placed in a decorated scrapbook for the bride as a keepsake.

Tea Party. For a truly girly time, host a bridal tea party. For centerpieces, fill tea tins with beautiful floral arrangements. Serve finger sandwiches, scones, tiny cookies or petit fours and fancy teas in dainty teacups. If the cups and saucers are mismatched, it just adds to the charm. Use heart-shaped tea strainers as place card holders that can also serve as party favors for guests.  If you'd rather not do the work yourself, teashops or hotels serve elegant high teas. Very Victorian! Send guests home with a bundle of the bride's favorite tea.

Around the Clock. Each guest is assigned a "time" (Morning, Brunch, Lunch, Snack, Cocktails, Dinner, Midnight Snack) or an hour of the day depending on how many guests are invited. Their gifts should reflect this time. For example, a breakfast gift could include juice glasses or a breakfast tray with a selection of teas and jams. This is a fun way to incorporate many things from the couple's registry.

A tisket, a tasket, a gift basket. This is a theme-within-a-theme shower. Depending upon the bride and her hobbies, guests might bring a gardening basket, dog-lovers basket, gourmet basket, romance basket, laundry basket, bathroom basket, handy-gadgets basket, etc. Each one could contain a half dozen or so small items related to the theme. The hostess can decorate with baskets and serve some of the refreshments in baskets as well.

Wine Shower. Ask each guest to bring a gift associated with wine. Along with bottles of wine, gifts might include carafes, cork toppers, wine racks, wine glasses, gift certificates and wine-buying guides. The party could be held at a wine bar or have a wine-tasting party at your house and consider hiring an expert to conduct the tastings. Send guests home with a cute wine stopper or nice bottle of wine.

Home improvement. So the happy couple's found their dream home – but it needs, shall we say, a facelift. Consider a fixer-upper party, where the guests gather at the twosome's new abode to help dust away cobwebs, help with painting, etc. Everyone's gift to the couple is time and elbow grease – but other great presents can include gift certificates to paint stores, handyman services, hardware stores and tools such as rakes and hammers.

Recipe Shower. Each guest brings a recipe and a small gift that will aid in its creation: a quiche recipe and a pie dish; a cookie recipe and cookie cutters; a stir fry recipe and a wok, etc. Or, prior to the shower, assemble the recipes into a cookbook for the bride and/or everyone who attends the shower.

Girls Getaway. The shower itself can be the gift: In this case, the bride and her bridesmaids can spend a weekend together in a beach house, a downtown hotel, or a cabin by a lake.

Movie theme. You can choose one movie that is significant for the couple and use it as reference. Or, because the bride simply loves movies, host a movie-night inspired shower. Serve popcorn and send movie tickets as invitations.

His and Hers. Guests bring presents that can be enjoyed by both the bride and groom or gifts that come in matching or coordinating pairs, such as his-and-hers aprons, towels, robes, coffee mugs or two place settings of tableware.

Favorite color. Choose the bride's favorite color and build your shower theme around it. Ask guests to bring gifts in that favorite color. One guest's invitation reads, "think pink – in the bedroom" while another's says "think pink – in the kitchen."

Happy holidays. Guests are encouraged to bring gifts the couple would enjoy during specific holidays. The resulting gifts just might become family heirlooms for the couple: a platter for the Thanksgiving turkey, Christmas ornaments, toasting glasses for New Year's Eve, a picnic basket for the Fourth of July.

Bowling with the bridesmaids. Nothing de-stresses like a few hours of bowling with your buddies. Bringing the shower to a bowling alley is a perfect solution when the hosts have small apartments and restless crowds. No special skills are necessary and even shy guests can let the game break the ice for them. Embrace the tasty cheesy fried delights that characterize bowling alley cuisine or some alleys may allow you to plan a more upscale menu. And, of course, there is beer.

Lingerie Party. Here's a popular bridal shower theme for a smaller, more intimate group of friends – a perfect theme if the bride is having more than one shower (and she is up for it). Set the tone of the day with lingerie-inspired invites and cute corset-shaped cookies or cake. For decoration, hang colorful paper cutouts of bras and panties on a lingerie clothesline. Ask guests to write advice or well wishes on them. Set the mood with candles, chocolates and plenty of floor pillows. For guests who are uncomfortable buying the lacy stuff, cozy pajamas, robes or slippers are always a welcome alternative.

Around the world. This is a great shower for world gourmets and travel enthusiasts. Gift ideas could include international foods or wines, travel accessories, CDs of world music, or beautiful books on travel and other cultures. One option is to assign each guest a country, such as England (fine teas, tea set, etc.); or Italy (pasta maker, Italian cookbook, etc.). Refreshments can mirror the international flavor of the day with egg rolls, Scottish shortbread, pita bread, etc. This party lends itself well to a cocktail party with hors d'oeuvres from all over the world.

Charity theme. Here's a rewarding twist on the traditional shower: Your gals can join you in a hands-on (or sneakers-on) charity event that might have you walking a 5K to raise money for breast cancer research. With your pink T-shirts and sunglasses on, pink-frosted cake or cupcakes, pink lemonade or pink martinis, you get the ultimate theme party – and that great feeling of knowing you just did something fantastic with your time.

A Photo Session. Take advantage of having the bride-to-be's closest friends and family gathered together all at once. Bring in a professional photographer, glam up and pose with your gals. The theme of the photo shoot can change to match the bride's personality or even the bridal shower's theme. The photos will make great keepsakes.