The modern hen do - more class, less sass

Many brides prefer a low-key hens' party.
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Many brides prefer a low-key hens' party.

The elements of a hens' party used to be standard: a sparkly veil and sash for the bride, a policeman-stripper checking out a "disturbance", litres of cheap bubbly slurped through penis-shaped straws and an abundance of next-day regret.

But in 2017 there is a more nuanced approach to celebrating the end of the bride's bachelorette life and the strong bond between her and her girlfriends.  

Winery lunches and kitchen teas have overtaken the rowdy night out on the town as the hens' party of choice, although many bridal parties favour a mix of high and low class. Penis straws are evergreen, it would seem.

A hens' party at the Marlborough Wine and Food Festival.
Derek Flynn

A hens' party at the Marlborough Wine and Food Festival.

Hens' bashes are an expected part of the whole weddingpalooza (engagement party, hens' party, stags' do, rehearsal dinner, wedding, and often a day-after luncheon as well) and can require a few hundred dollars' contribution from each guest. 

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Brides with big plans can push that spend much higher, but should be mindful of their host responsibilities. "Let's just take a breath," suggests Christchurch-based wedding planner Emma Newman, who oversees 20 or 30 weddings a year.

A traditional bachelorette party is portrayed on The Drew Carey Show.
HO

A traditional bachelorette party is portrayed on The Drew Carey Show.

"It's fine to ask all the hens to pay for themselves, but don't make it some elaborate bloody show," she says. "These things cost money and you have a duty of care to your guests."

When Newman started her business 15 years ago, the hens' do was an opportunity for friends to dress the bride up, "get her out and get her liquored".

This was an update of the traditional bridal shower that originated in the late 19th century and involved the brides' friends presenting her with gifts for the bedroom and kitchen. 

A sailing-themed hens' party.
JON NAZCA

A sailing-themed hens' party.

Back then it was accepted that once married, the bride would not have as much time to spend with friends as she entered a new phase of life, caring for a home of her own and children. The bridal shower really was a last hurrah.

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This no longer applies, although hens' parties have remained a ceremonial way for women to acknowledge the depth of their friendship and love, and for the bride to thank the friends who have put so much into planning her wedding.

"You've probably been living with your boy for years and you have a strong social network which isn't going to be disrupted by marriage," says Newman. "We are so much better at celebrating [female friendship] in a ritualistic way, and that's a pleasure and a delight."

A gourmet spread for a hens' party at Queenstown Gardens.
CHAR O'SULLIVAN

A gourmet spread for a hens' party at Queenstown Gardens.

Often the hens' celebration is a two-parter: a high tea of cupcakes and bubbles incorporating mums and grannies, then a boozy outing for the younger women.

Last summer, Char O'Sullivan helped organise an all-ages afternoon hens' party in the Queenstown Gardens followed by espresso martinis at a cocktail bar.

"The bride wanted something her aunty and mum and everyone could get involved with — no strippers, not hectic, not something that would make them feel cringe," says the Christchurch communications professional. 

Conscious of cost, she and the other bridesmaids organised beautiful wine and "grazing platters" of high-quality nibbles that all guests helped pay for. They laid them out on a giant slab of wood over two wine barrels and provided pillows and blankets for lounging.

"Everyone spent the afternoon drinking and catching up and relaxing," says O'Sullivan, who believes stripper-and-handcuffs style hens' parties are unfashionable now. "I definitely think there's a bit of a change."

"The old, tacky hens' party is a thing of the past, thank goodness," agrees Paula Bevege, managing director of the Wellington Wedding Show. 

"Things that are on-trend and really popular are activities where you get to spend quality time with friends and family. A wedding brings people together from all over New Zealand and the world, and couples really want to make the most of this time."

Wellington brides favour luxurious beauty treatments, classes in cupcake decorating and flower crown-making, and wine tours in the Wairarapa, says Bevege.

"Lots of spas have large pamper rooms that accommodate a large group and offer all sorts of lovely treats and bubbles."

Also popular with brides are weekend getaways, glamping, life-drawing classes, cocktail-making lessons, and boat cruises.

At Wellington day spa Elderberry + Kate, bridal parties book out the salon for two to three hours at a time, enjoying facial treatments, manicures and pedicures and massages while they sip on herbal tea or bubbles. Sometimes a high tea will be brought in.

"I think the whole idea is they're being pampered and spending time together and having a nice catch-up," says spa owner Kate Coles. "It a real treat, that's a word I hear a lot."

The spa also has a Man Cave (decorated with a stag's head), which is booked for stag groups. Here the guys are lavished with facials, waxing, scalp massage, manicures and other treatments.

"I do think we're going to be very busy [this wedding season]," says Coles. "I'm considering opening on Sundays."

THE OLD HEN'S PARTY
Kiss the Bride sashes
penis straws
strippers
pole-dancing
shots at the bar
 

THE NEW HEN'S PARTY
winery lunch
floral arrangements
cake-decorating class
spa day and bubbles
high tea

 - Stuff

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