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The Vine

The Tomato Nation advice column addresses your questions on etiquette, grammar, romance, and pet misbehavior. Ask The Readers about books or fashion today!

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The Vine: March 13, 2013

Submitted by on March 13, 2013 – 9:54 AM20 Comments


My partner is pregnant with twins (yay!) and her mother's friends are throwing us a very fancy shower, and invited all of their fancy friends. Although I don't know most of them very well, I really appreciate their support of our family (and will really appreciate their gifts, as crass as that sounds — two babies need a lot of stuff!).

What is the etiquette for giving a thank-you gift to the shower hosts? Thank-you cards are a given, of course, but is something else appropriate? And, if we are supposed to give a gift, what should it be? My partner and I are not nearly as fancy as the people who will be throwing the party, so any suggestions of things they might like would really help. Also, do we give them the gift on the day of the shower? Or do we wait and send them something later? I would appreciate any help you can give!


Dear Moms,

Mazel tov and buona fortuna!

I don't know the "official" etiquette for shower thank-yous as far as the hosts. Anyone who got you a gift gets a proper thank-you note, of course, but getting the hosts of the physical party a token of extra thanks is certainly not in-appropriate, I wouldn't say. People like to know they did good, that you appreciate them; it's hard to go wrong expressing that.

So, you're a go on the gift. What should you get? Presumably you know your mother-in-law well enough to guess on something — a flower arrangement, a nice bottle of wine (or tea service, if she's not a wine drinker), a photo of the two of you (or the three of you, better yet) in a frame that goes with her d├ęcor. Fancy people like the same things as the rest of us, usually, and you can always use the shower itself as an opportunity to scout for something the host might like — if she mentions out loud that she could use a tiered platter, for instance, you could find her a nice one at Again, your partner will know that waterfront, so discuss it with her.

Don't give her anything at the shower except a big hug and sincere verbal thanks; there's enough going on already. Send your tulips or cheeses a few days later, with a note telling her how thankful you are for not just the shower itself, but becoming part of such a thoughtful family.

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  • Sue says:

    I had two sets of family friends who each wanted to throw a wedding shower for me, recently. For all of the work they put into creating these events, I brought them each a bottle of champagne at the showers and gave it to them at the end of the event. Plus thank-you notes, which just got into the mail this weekend.

    I could definitely have gone for flowers, too, but I checked with the daughter of one friend who thought the champagne would be perfect for all.

  • Maren says:

    I think it's actually the MIL's friends who are throwing the shower, not the MIL, but most of the same advice still probably stands. Sending flowers later, or some kind of fancy food gift, seems like a nice idea.

  • Maria says:

    It's like any other hostess situation. Sincere gratitude during, a handwritten note afterwards, and if you really feel strongly send or take some flowers or a consumable. All you need to give her is something you can afford that you think she wouldl like. It doesn't have to be the same thing she would buy for herself.

    I'm so glad you are unconflicted about accepting the shower and gifts. When people want to give, it's lovely when the receiver is happy to have it.

    Happy babies to you!!!!

  • Bria says:

    I had a shower hosted by a good friend at her parents' house, so I sent each a nice floral arrangement a few days later. I didn't send food because there was a bunch of food leftover from the shower and I figured they had their hands full dealing with all of that. They loved the flowers.

  • Ashley says:

    I did fancy candles for my shower hostesses. Nice and innocuous.

  • Penguin lady says:

    I have twins and just want to say what I did: I gave my friend a thank you card and a set of marble bookends the day of the shower. I don't think there is a wrong here, as long as you acknowledge the work they did for the shower. Maybe sending a Strip o Gram might be wrong, but not if the in laws are awesome. :)

  • Empress says:

    I threw a shower recently for a friend, and it really was a joy unto itself. She thought she had to give me an extravagant thank you gift "in return", but I really encouraged her not to. It was a genuine pleasure throwing the party, I was excited for her baby, and I would have felt really uncomfortable accepting a gift in return, almost as though her giving a gift canceled out the gifts she received at the party. I realize that's sort of nonsensical, but it seems illogical to me that other people should buy gifts for the honoree who then turns around to give a gift to the hostess. And I would have been spectacularly uncomfortable if a gift had been given to me at the party itself.

    But of course a thoughtful flower arrangement or bottle of booze would have been happily received, and others might feel less strongly about thank you gifts in general.

  • Jen B. says:

    "If we are supposed to give a gift, what should it be? My partner and I are not nearly as fancy as the people who will be throwing the party…"

    I was in a similar position not too long ago and got a good etiquette tip: your gift to thank a generous (and fancy) hostess should not be an attempt to match her generosity. In other words, don't think you have to get her a gift that's equal or close in value to what she's done for you because you actually shouldn't do that. So that's a relief, eh? :-)

  • Soph says:

    I agree that a thank-you note is all that is required, and want to second that a thank-you gift (which I would probably send, too), should not be given at the party, but sent after.

    I strongly recommend giving a consumable of some kind, whether that means food, flowers, wine, cupcakes, bath salts. Something that can be used, rather than kept.

    And, if there are co-hosts, make sure you know exactly who the co-hosts are so that you don't inadvertently leave someone out. You could do a little recon by asking for a copy of the invitation–co-hosts are usually listed, and then you can have a nice memento of the occasion (and, obviously, that should be your reason for asking for it).

    Congratulations, and have fun at the shower!

  • Anne says:

    My wife's mother and her friends threw us a fancy shower, and we went with very heartfelt notes after the fact – and they fell over themselves about how much they appreciated the notes. So few people write notes anymore that just a note can go a very long way!

    But, my go-to fancy lady gift is always scarves. Wool in winter and silk in spring. I'll just hit up a department store with a coupon and blammo, scarf. Fancy ladies love scarves.

    I say that as a pretty butch non-fancy lady myself, but it seems to work. Also, be prepared for fancy baby gifts from fancy ladies – we got a ridiculous Coach diaper bag that neither of us could imagine carrying anywhere. We returned it and I got a man's wallet and an umbrella.

  • Kristin says:

    I recently hosted a baby shower, and the mama-to-be sent me a gift certificate to a local spa for a massage. It was very unexpected, but a really nice gesture on her part. I don't think your gift to this group needs to be that elaborate or expensive, but I like the idea of giving the hostesses candles or photo frames. Perhaps there will be clues at the event as to their style, what they like, etc., that will help you pick something that feels personal. I agree with Sars that, while you should of course thank your hostesses effusively the day of the shower itself, the gifts from you should come later, so as not to feel like an exchange, if you know what I mean.

    Congratulations! I'm sure your thoughtfulness bodes very well for your hostesses and your new babies!!

  • Jen S 1.0 says:

    I personally believe you can never go wrong with chocolate truffles.

  • Megan says:

    Get them a puppy!

  • GracieGirl says:

    Fancy ladies love scarves.

    @Anne: I don't know why, but I now love this phrase and need it on a t-shirt. Preferably with this graphic:

  • JLD says:

    A few of my mom's friends hosted a bridal shower for me. Most were professionals (teachers, etc.) who worked outside the home, so I got them monogrammed insulated lunch bags (with handwritten thank you notes included, of course). They were a hit.

  • Wehaf says:

    @Megan – fancy ladies love puppies!

  • Rebecca says:

    I coordinated a big shower for a grad school friend of mine, with several other classmates/co-hosts; she sent us all very sweet cards after the party, and I was very touched and honestly hadn't expected more than her sincere verbal thank-you. I agree that any gift should be more along "thoughtful token" lines than "super fancy gift" lines. Flowers with a card attached could never go wrong. Have fun at the shower!

  • blahblah says:

    Since it's the MIL friends throwing the shower, not MIL herself, why not just ask MIL What her friends might like. Start with the generics, chocolate, wine, flowers and ask MIL if any of those would be appropriate/appreciated. MIL would also know whether or not a thank you gift is the sort of thing that is done in her circle of friends, or if just a TY note would be okay.

  • Kathleen says:

    My Mother taught me that you send flowers the day before the shower so the hostess may use them as decoration if she wishes to, and if she dosen't they can go elsewhere. She just thought it was important for them to have that option. Have Fun, & Good luck!

  • Eva says:

    My MIL's friends threw me a shower, and I picked up bouquets of flowers from Whole Foods for each of them on my way over. I also like the idea of candles, or something you've baked with a bow on it. A hostess gift is supposed to be a token, not a GIFT gift. And then of course mail a note after.
    One caveat – when I got to the shower, it turns out that an additional friend of my MIL's had been involved in the planning but had joined too late to have her name on the invite – so I was short one flower arrangement and it was a tiny bit awkward. (They are all nice ladies so the awkwardness was short-lived).

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