Top image: Melanie Duerkopp
All other images: Jackie King taken from Amy Schreibman Walter ‘s Hen party
Like any woman in her late 30’s, I’ve attended lots of hen parties over the years. At many of them, I’ve watched a friend, surrounded by her close friends and family (and, often, her future mother in law) partake in embarrassing hen party activities. I’ve witnessed sweaty male strippers sitting on the laps of brides-to-be, bewildered future brides eating platefuls of penis pasta…the list goes on…and, honestly, it all makes me cringe a bit. Call me a party pooper, but so many hen parties I’ve attended have felt more like a seedy night out than anything else, an evening where the bride-to-be is coerced somehow into taking on a sexualised role, as are her friends and family.
Often, inherent in the planning process of hen parties is the idea that the bride-to-be should end up at least a little bit intoxicated, or cavorting with a male that is not her future husband. This kind of hen party doesn’t honour the bride to-be for the woman she is. I see the seedy hen party as a wasted opportunity. A hen party can serve an important purpose —it can be a meaningful celebration of your single years — a milestone event that respectfully calls that time in your life to a close as you begin a new chapter. For my hen party, I wanted to gather the women who had been there for me during my single years — friends and family members who had listened to my stories of bad dates and failed relationships, offered advice and support and generally been a positive force. I wanted my hen party to be a chance to pay tribute to my single years and to raise a toast to the women who had been such a part of them.
Timing is everything
When planning my party, I couldn’t have predicted that it would turn out to be one of the best nights of my life. I arranged the hen party so it happened just a few days before my wedding, which meant that friends who were flying in from other countries for the wedding could attend the hen party, too. Friends then timed their flights to arrive for my hen party and then just stayed on a few more days for the wedding.
So, there I was, standing amidst the decadent surroundings of the Beaufort Bar at the Savoy Hotel in London and one by one, friends would arrive – these women who had just flown halfway across the world, here for me, here to celebrate my single years and my upcoming marriage. What a feeling! I can’t say enough good things about the evening; it meant so much to have all my ladies in the same room. Take the time to think about a date for your event that will work for those women that you really want to be in attendance, and make sure to give them plenty of advance notice (it’s a good idea to start thinking about the bachelorette party soon after you’ve booked your wedding venue).
Have a Theme, and choose your venue accordingly
I decided I wanted to have a theme for my hen party because I thought it would help pull the whole thing together. I chose, simply, sequins. This idea seemed to inspire people and on the day itself, the creativeness of some of the outfits gave us lots of giggles and was a real conversation starter. There were sequins on the table, sequins on the invite and sequins on our clothes. It was festive and fun!
Some other ideas for themes: Glamour, Fascinators, Glitter, Hats, Tea and Cake, and, appropriately, Love. Or, you could decide to choose a decade and make that your theme — this lends itself to many great outfit and venue opportunities. A friend had her bachelorette party at a 1940’s themed bar in London called Cahoots. Everyone had to dress up in 40’s clothing, and she even hired a hairdresser from the company Lipstick and Curls based in London, to do everyone’s hair. No matter which era you’re choosing for your hen party, if you’re in NYC, check out Beauty & Essex — this is a beautiful, low lit bar with vintage everything; straight out of an F Scott Fitzgerald novel. The pink chandeliers, opulent staircase and leather banquettes are comfort and beauty defined.
As for us, my sequinned guests and I found that the glitzy Beaufort Bar was just the place for sequins. And the best part? There was no hire charge for the bar! Many hotel bars in big cities don’t take reservations, but if you get there as soon as the bar opens, there’s no problem securing an area. Some bars will take table reservations in advance, though. A few bottles of champagne split between twenty women doesn’t come to as much money as you’d think. Mingling over drinks proved to be a great way for my hen party attendees to get to know each other a little bit before we all headed over to our very own vaulted cellar in Covent Garden for dinner together.
Theme or not, you may want to invest in name tags (or, better yet, name badges), if you have a lot of women coming. It takes out the awkwardness of your guests having to ask, repeatedly, “and how do you know the bride-to-be?” Oh Squirrel has a gorgeous selection of stylish name badges (and classy looking sashes, too).
Have an Organiser
I started planning my hen party myself — I sent out invitations on Paperless Post (seemed easier with many international attendees), thinking that I didn’t want to bother a friend with the task of organising an event for me, that I could happily just do it myself. Soon after, one of my good friends, Joanna, stopped me in my tracks — she having been married the previous year and knowing the drill, she told me in no uncertain terms that a bride-to-be shouldn’t organize her own hen party. She told me (she was absolutely right on this), that when you are planning a wedding, you do not need to take on the extra work of planning your own hen party. There is too much work involved in managing guest responses, handling bookings, etc. — to do this for two events at the same time is not the best idea!
Joanna worked really hard to have my hen party be everything I’d hoped for, and I could not have made it happen the way she did. She had the time and inclination to think of things I couldn’t have. She had friends write messages and advice for me in a beautiful book that she passed around on the night (surreptitiously, impressively). I treasure that book. She also thought of the idea of having place cards, a seating plan, classy sashes (Bride to Be, Mother of the Bride, Mother of the Groom), and more. She even involved my then fiancà© in a game — she asked him questions about our relationship and then at the hen party we played a game where I had to guess his answers — a modern day version of the old TV classic, ‘The Newlywed Game.’ This game provided lots of laughs — I’ll never forget my future mother in law reading out the game question: “What is Steve’s (my husband) favourite part of your body?” and the giggling that ensued thereafter. Would you believe me if I told you that his answer was “Amy’s eyes?” Nothing tacky about that!
Create opportunities to talk
Having your closest female friends and family members with you to mark this special time in your life is amazing. You may want to create a situation where, whatever you’re doing, you can hear each other and talk to each other at length. In 1940, Eleanor Roosevelt coined the phrase “hens” as we think of it today, using it when she invited the wives of cabinet members and “ladies of the press” to the White House for an annual tea. This was, essentially, an opportunity for women to get together and talk. You can’t talk when you’re pole dancing. And, similarly, a cooking class or cocktail making class is great, but not the best forum for meaningful conversations.
If tea is what you fancy, there are so many creative options — The Berkeley Hotel in London offers something called Pret-a-Port-Tea a unique menu which is inspired by the season’s fashion’s trends and changes every six months. It’s also where STG’s founder, Karen, had her Hen Party!) Drink, Shop, Do in London is a cafà© by day and a bar at night. It offers a multitude of options for the modern hen party, from champagne to classy looking veils. Tea, cocktails, dinner — all great opportunities to chat to the women in your life.
You don’t have to be in England to take tea, there are some great options in the States, too. In New York City, gather the women in your life and head straight to Lady Mendl’s Tea Salon…channel Edith Wharton as you sip English Breakfast in the intimate setting of a Victorian drawing room. Elsewhere in the States, the historic Biltmore Hotel in Miami is famous for its traditional afternoon teas served every day.
Another idea is a spa day or spa weekend — what could be more relaxing than massages, swims and champagne with your ladies? Many spas do great rates for hen parties. In New York City, it doesn’t get more elegant than an afternoon at Le Parker Meridien. The pool has jaw dropping views of New York City. For something more low key (and more inexpensive), you can’t beat a manicure and a martini for ten dollars, offered on Saturday afternoons at The Beauty Bar in Manhattan.
If you have artistic inclinations, why not take your ladies to a Paint your Own Pottery shop? You can spend a few hours chatting and painting together, and then you get to keep all the pottery at the end of the day — personalised with messages for you and your future husband. In the States, Color me Mine has been running hen parties for years; in London there’s Pottery Cafà©.
Photo booths are big news at the moment — they’re a real trend at weddings and at hen parties. They don’t cost very much to hire, or you could just take the idea of a photobooth and recreate it yourself . For my party we bought a few photo booth props online (heart shaped glasses, end of an era signs, etc.) and hung up a gold curtain in one corner of the restaurant where we could “pose” with the props. I hired a photographer to document the entire evening (the gold curtain was her idea) — this was much more affordable than I’d thought it would be, and it meant I didn’t have to pick up my phone once the whole evening, or worry about photos — that was all in hand. Fun, affordable photobooth hire in New York City can be found at Oh Snap Smile. In Miami at Shutterbox and in London at Megabooth. (Note: Smashing The Glass are giving away a truly awesome photo booth package at the moment — you have until 12 February to enter!).
Whichever lovely things you decide to do for your hen party, hopefully this post has provided you with some inspiration. Lena Dunham, creator of the TV series Girls, recently said: “I think about my best female friendships as the great romances of my young life.” A hen party seems a fitting way to celebrate these great romances, all the ones that came before you met your fiancà©. Toast to female friendship and connection, toast to your new chapter just beginning and to your new life as a married woman. Toast to it all, and may it be fabulous! Congratulations!
About the author: Amy Schreibman Walter is a teacher and poet living in London. Her second chapbook of poems, ‘Houdini’s Wife and Other Poems’ will be published by Dancing Girl Press in 2016. You can read her poems here.
Hen Weekends says
This was a great post to read! I think it can be very touching to have the perfect night with all your dearest and nearest, especially if they’ve travelled far and wide to be with you. I think some people want a wild night to signal their “last night of freedom”, but just sharing memories and love with those who you treasure most can be so important. The pictures in this post make me want that!
Amy Schreibman Walter says
Thank you, Hen Weekends! I’m so glad you enjoyed the article and the images, too!
Nathalie security says
Themes parties are totally amazing! Great article and as u promised – inspirational. Got some ideas… Thanks!