Unlike many wedding customs, it's not so hard to get to the bottom of the origin of the bachelorette party. It's a fairly recent innovation, the result of the cross-breeding of the traditional bachelorette's tea
with the idea of the bachelor party, with a bit of the even-more-traditional bridal shower mixed in.
The idea of the bridal shower goes back, perhaps, thousands of years; experts attribute it to the need for dowries. In European culture, it was expected that women would begin married life with a dowry - a gift of money or tools (or both) that would allow the new couple to set up their new household together. But women who lacked adequate dowries would be "showered" with gifts by sympathetic friends, which would enable the wedding to go on as planned.
The bridal shower was traditionally, and still is, a fairly staid affair, with older woman friends of the couple or of the bride's family invited, and the bride-to-be accompanied by her mother. (Increasingly, as traditionally gendered divisions of labor continue to break down, men are involved in the showers as well - after all, if the man will do part of the cooking and cleaning, he has a stake in knowing what presents are received!) They serve a much-needed function, but they may not have the let-your-hair-down appeal of a last night out with the friends of your single years.
The bachelorette's tea offered some of the peer-to-peer intimacy that may have been lacking in bridal showers, but still - a tea? The highly formal, characteristically Victorian custom of the tea ceremony holds great appeal for many people, as the recent popularity of tea shops and books on tea attest. Still, as women began to learn about the wild shenanigans historically associated with bachelor parties, over the last several decades, they decided they wanted in.
The Bridesmaidaid website compares them to Title IX, the 1972 law that mandated equal federal funding of boys' and girls' educational activities. Just as Title IX ensured that girls' soccer teams and afterschool math programs would receive the same budgetary consideration as boys' did, allowing young women to attain similar achievements, the new bachelorette party allows women to compete with men in pre-wedding-night partying. As the website's anonymous author puts it: "Bachelorette parties are like the Title IX of weddings: they're supposed to make the girls equal to the boys. If the groomsmen can take their boy out for a night of debauchery, so can we, right?"
Bachelorette parties have indeed become associated with bachelor-party-style antics, as illustrated by pop culture and personal anecdote alike. A memorable scene in the movie The Forty-Year-Old Virgin, in which the title character's friends attempt to set him up with what they expect will be a can't-miss romantic prospect - a drunken bridesmaid encountered at a bar, where a bachelorette party is underway - affirms the stereotype.
But this custom has changed with time, like its twin, the bachelor party. Bachelor parties have their own Bacchanalian reputation to live up to, but gradually they're toning down somewhat (while remaining fun). Drinking has been moderated and honoring one's future bride is a priority; in fact, sometimes the fiance' and her friends show up, and the party becomes a celebration of marriage, rather than a lament for lost bachelorhood. These combined bachelor-and-bachelorette parties are sometimes called stag and does parties.
One custom that isn't changing at bachelorette parties is the ritual smoking of cigars. In fact, with the increase in the popularity of cigars over the past fifteen years, lighting up a stogie at a bachelorette party is often encouraged! After all, one feature of the new popularity of cigars has been the fact that women are more often found, today, among the new smokers of cigars. At least half a million American women smoke cigars, according to a 2002 estimate by the Cigar Association of America. That number makes sense in a country where - according to demographic research by Cigar Babes, a nonprofit organization for women cigar smokers' women make 85% of buying decisions, start 70% of new businesses, and buy 50% of the products classified traditionally as "male."
Cigars, then, remain a staple bachelorette party gift. For those of you planning a bachelorette party, here are some cigar basics:
1) Choose good cigars. (A wedding is a once-in-a-lifetime event!) Buy well-made, hand-rolled, long-filler cigars from a quality cigar outlet or online store. The better the cigar, the better the taste, and the more permanent the memories.
2) Speaking of taste: the outer wrapper (which gives the cigar its outer color) generally tells you how the cigar tastes. Darker outer wrappers mean sweeter taste; tan- or lighter-colored cigars are drier.
3) How to smoke: Cut off the cap of the cigar, then, using a wooden match or a butane lighter or other full flame (not a paper match), turn the end of the cigar in the flame a full 360 degrees until every part of it is lit. Don't inhale - this isn't a cigarette! Pull the smoke into your mouth and taste it thoroughly without allowing it into your lungs. Remember, it's about the taste.
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