An intimate dinner party in a glamorous Chicago apartment was the perfect night out for bride Nancy before her destination wedding in Cancun. The bride’s girlfriends—and one close guy friend—hosted her Chicago bachelorette party at DL Loft, a stylish apartment event space in the heart of Chicago’s Lakeview neighborhood decked out in Parisian chic decor, including twinkling chandeliers and fluffy white throws. The guests arrived early to have their hair and makeup done, and then enjoyed delicious appetizers and dinner prepared by a private chef. The friends shared old stories and their favorite memories of the bride over flutes of champagne, while Angela Garbot Photography captured a few snaps.
Once upon a time, a long, long time ago, I had a book review blog. And then I started this blog and it was just too much. Though I was still reading just as much as ever, I couldn’t keep up with Ultimate Bridesmaid and work a full-time job and have a life and blog about books. So my book blog fell by the wayside, but I certainly didn’t stop reading and I definitely didn’t stop having opinions about what I read. So once a year I like to share my favorite books from last year with you. Let me know what you’re reading and loving too!
If you have a macabre fascination with cults (like me), try The Girls by Emma Cline.
I’ve always been interested in books about cults, and this is probably the best one I’ve ever read. Set in California in the 1960s, the story follows Evie, a young teenage girl who is drawn in to a group of hippies—mostly women—living on a decrepit ranch off the grid with a charismatic leader who dreams of becoming a celebrity folk singer. The book captures the feeling intensity of wanting to belong to something at that age, of searching for intimacy and excitement. It shows a certain type of young woman—sexual but aloof, powerful in her confidence and ease, her messy hair and wrinkled clothing—and Evie is drawn to the leader of these girls, wanting to be like her, feel loved by her, be part of her world. But people are going to end up dead.
If you identify with tales of disaffected youth or like a dark coming of age tale, try Purity by Jonathan Franzen.
Apparently this was the year of me reading books about young girls being lured into organizations by charismatic older men. I loved Franzen’s The Corrections and didn’t much care for Freedom. Purity felt like a return to the style of The Corrections, but Franzen’s voice has matured. I still feel like he has a woman problem, but nonetheless, I liked Purity. Young Pip takes an internship The Sunlight Project, an organization ferreting out the world’s secrets and using them for good, based in a remote valley in Bolivia. Isolated from the world she’s known, Pip draws the attention of the Julian Assange-type head of the Project, Andreas. Soon she’s not sure what’s she’s doing in Bolivia. Andreas has promised to help her find the identity of her father, whom her mother has hidden from her for her whole life. Is she just waiting for those answers? Does she believe in the Sunlight Project? Is she just glad to be out of her dead-end call center job in Oakland? Or is she trying to exert her sexual power over Andreas…or vice versa?
If you like Chinese historical fiction or stories of reincarnation, try The Incarnations by Susan Barker.
A few years back I read Life After Life and was kind of obsessed with it. Since then, books about past lives have been a draw, so I picked up The Incarnations. Set in modern-day Beijing, the story follows taxi driver Wang and his stalker, who claims to be his literal soulmate, with whom he has shared his past six lives. This mysterious figures leaves letters for Wang detailing the lives they have lived together—as slaves on the run from Genghis Khan, as a fisherman and English captain during the Opium Wars, as two concubines in the court of the Ming dynasty. The souls are yin and yang—they complete each other and destroy each other, again and again. An addictive read.
If you want a peek into New York high society’s golden age, try The Swans of Fifth Avenue by Melanie Benjamin.
Reviews of this book have been love/hate, but I really enjoyed it. The story follows Truman Capote’s friendship with a group of New York socialites in the 1950s. As a period piece of New York, it’s lovely, showing the transition from the graceful socialites of the 50s to the celebrity culture that rose in the 60s, leaving many of Manhattan’s elite behind. It’s also an interesting look at Truman Capote, painting him as a social climber who recognized that these Manhattan swans (his name for the women who befriended him) were using him as a gem in their collection of artists and writers. It shows how he at first uses this to his advantage, forges at least one true friendship, but ultimately lets his addiction to fame drive him to ruin.
If you love gothic horror stories, try Slade House by David Mitchell.
If you asked me to pick my two favorite authors (I get two, because I say so), I’d easily pick David Mitchell and Margaret Atwood, so it’s no surprise their newest books made this list. But I think this might be David Mitchell’s most accessible book to the uninitiated. This creepy gothic horror novella centers around Slade House, a hidden residence in London that lures victims in once every nine years. But for those who are familiar with Mitchell’s work, you’ll also catch links back to many of his previous books in the expanding, lightly interconnected world Mitchell has been building over the past decade.
If you can’t wait for The Handmaid’s Tale on Hulu, try The Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood.
While not as revolutionary as some of Atwood’s earlier work, The Heart Goes Last has her characteristic extraordinary world-building balanced by thoughtful character studies and chilling moments that make you think “oh my god, this could really happen!” The story is set in a poverty-filled world in which the central couple, Charmaine and Stan, are living out of their car trying to keep safe from roaming gangs of street thugs. They decide to enroll in an experimental government program in which they will be provided with everything they’ve ever dreamed of—a home in a safe, gated community with paid, stable employment. The only catch? They’ll have to spend every other month in the community’s prison system.
Ingredients needed to put together a cute champagne bridal shower like this yourself? Cupcakes, roses and plenty of champagne. Christine of Entwined Weddings created a champagne bar using balloons as the bubbles and a cute chalkboard sign telling guests to “Pop the bubbly, I’m getting a hubby.” Bright orange, yellow and pink accent the rose gold color palette, making for a bright, cheerful setting. We’re especially obsessed with the mini Tears of Joy tissue boxes! So cute!
For this beautiful citrus bridal brunch, a group of vendor pals got together to plan the perfect fresh and modern party—and take a turn in front of the cameras! A palette of light aqua mixed with lemon, lime and orange gave this party an almost tropical vibe, while beautiful greenery was the perfect contrast to the bright summery shades. The menu included lemon tarts, mini blackberry pancake stacks and a warm spinach and cheese quiche. The team took the time to tie the theme throughout the entire apartment, framing coordinating wall art, styling a bar cart and creating linens to match the color palette. Each guest took away a coordinating custom pouch.
Photographer: Kelsey Nelson Photography | Event Planning: Magnolia Grove Weddings and Events | Staging: Minted Spaces | Invitations and Bar Sign: Raleigh Calligraphy | Design, Paper Goods, Pouches: Shelby Dillon Studios
You know what really brings a group together? Adorable bachelorette party tanks, that’s what! Here are a few of our favorites from Etsy.
My favorite thing about these Champagne Campaign tanks is that they’ll get plenty of use post-bachelorette. This is your new brunch uniform.
Warning: Bride May Contain Alcohol. These tanks are too funny!
Aloha Beaches! This is another tank that your bridesmaids can wear again. We love the ones that work after the bachelorette party!
For all your fiesta bachelorette party needs, these Fiesta Siesta Tequila Repeat tanks are too perfect.
Perfect for a beach bachelorette: these Bride’s Mermaid and Mermaid of Honor tanks! They’re also available in a huge range of colors to match any theme.
For the Harry Potter loving bride out there, these House Bride tanks are too cute. I should know—I actually bought one for my friend Jae’s bachelorette! So I can tell you first-hand these are really flattering and cute!
Andrew and I are actually going on two honeymoon trips. I know, I know, but are you really surprised? After all, travel has been very important to our relationship—we even included it in our wedding design by naming each table after a destination we had visited together. We were married in October and decided to wait until the next calendar year to go on our long honeymoon so we would have enough vacation time to spend a full two weeks away. I’ll keep that destination a surprise for now, but I want to share the shorter trip that we took right after the wedding.
During our wedding planning process, deciding where to go on our honeymoon was definitely something we were both excited about. We started throwing out all kinds of destinations—Thailand, Fiji, Costa Rica…it honestly became a little overwhelming. We just weren’t sure where to go! Finally, I suggested that we each choose the place we most wanted to check off our list. I think we were a little too hung up on the idea of picking somewhere grand and exotic for our honeymoon. When we sat down and really thought about the place we did not want to miss, it wasn’t Thailand or Costa Rica. We’ll be visiting my place for two weeks in May. Andrew’s place was Scotland.
The first step in any trip we take involves me going down a rabbit hole of research. Once I started researching Scotland I just got more and more excited by all the possibilities this beautiful country had to offer. I did a deep dive into the different regions, mapped out how long it would take to travel between each and narrowed it down to the most spectacular areas I thought we could do in our allotted time. In the seven years Andrew and I have been together, I’ve learned a little bit (OK, a lot) about the kind of traveling we like to do. Rule 1: We like to have a car. Andrew and I like to have the freedom to be on our own timetable and be able to get off the beaten path. Having your own car means you never have to worry about catching your train or skip a destination because there’s no easy way to get there. Of course, we knew that driving in Scotland would mean being on the wrong side of the road and the wrong driver’s side, but we decided we were up for the challenge.
We started our trip with two days in Edinburgh. This city has medieval charm, a pub on every corner and a castle at its heart. My favorite dinner was at Whiski Rooms, where we also tried a flight of whiskeys that included samples from all four whiskey-producing regions. We quickly realized that Andrew and I have opposite tastes in whiskey. While I liked the smooth lowlands best, Andrew loves the peaty highland and islays. We also were introduced to the classic Scottish breakfast, which we would eat over and over again throughout our trip. It includes smoked back bacon, pork sausage, baked beans, eggs, haggis, black pudding, mushrooms, tomatoes and a potato scone. Amazingly, we both loved haggis! Definitely give it a try when you are there.
Glencoe and Loch Lomond
After our days in Edinburgh, we drove north into the highlands. We decided to stay in Glencoe, but I wanted to make a stop in the Loch Lomond region to hike. This region is known for its spectacular lochs (or lakes, as we say) and beautiful green rolling hills. We parked at a trailhead in the village of Balmaha and did a short hike to the top of Conic Hill.
P.S. This is the best website I found for hiking in Scotland. So many helpful guides, plus pictures of each trail to give you an idea of what to expect.
After our hike, we continued our drive to Glencoe. This was Andrew’s least favorite part of our journey, as he described the drive as “hurtling along a cliffside on the wrong side of the road.” That being said, Glencoe turned out to be his favorite location on the trip, so I think he’s glad we did the hurtling in the long run! He just made me promise we didn’t have to drive back that way.
In Glencoe, we stayed at the Clachaig Inn, which is a popular stop for backpackers and hikers. Scotland is famous for its hiking (they just call it “walking”) and many people walk the length of the whole country, stopping at small inns like this along the way. The quaint inn included two restaurants/bars, as well as rooms above. We were impressed with how cozy and clean the rooms were and enjoyed the hearty fare in the pub, like venison stew and chicken tikka curry. We spent each night relaxing in front of the roaring fire and sampling a few glasses of their house whiskey blends.
During the day, we hiked. The area is so gorgeous, we literally just had to walk out the front door of the inn and start walking to see amazing vistas in all directions. We ended up unknowingly hiking up a portion of The Three Sisters that day.
Isle of Skye
Our last stop was two days in the Isle of Skye. This island has an otherworldly charm and so many natural wonders to explore. On our way there, we stopped at Eilean Donan castle.
We splurged a bit and decided to stay at the Kinloch Lodge on Skye. The hotel reminded me of a classic English hunting lodge and they maintain some traditions that might seem straight out of Downton Abbey. For example, before dinner at their Michelin-starred restaurant each night, we would gather in the parlor for pre-dinner drinks and canapés (how civilized) and then proceed into the dining room for a five-course tasting menu. This is honestly so out of the norm for Andrew and I—our usual dining preference is two seats at the bar or small plates at a tiny hole-in-the-wall. But through the generous wedding gifts of our family and friends, we were able to try out a little bit of elegance. My favorite part of our meals at Kinloch were the soups! I’m still dreaming about the soup from the first night, a creamy, frothy blend of parsnip and pernod.
Kinloch sits right on the water, so we took a little walk along the rocky shoreline. The next day, we drove to the Talisker Distillery for some whiskey tasting and got to see a bit more of Skye.
This bachelorette packing list isn’t just about what to bring—it’s about how to pack smart so you have everything you need, but aren’t weighed down by tons of luggage. I just took a five-day trip to Belize for a wedding and carried on my luggage (including four pairs of shoes), so let’s just say I know what I’m doing. Carrying on your bag has so many pluses! There’s no risk of losing your luggage and no time spent waiting at the bag carousel. Plus, you’re going to be sharing a hotel room or house with a lot of ladies, so keeping the amount of stuff you are lugging in there to a minimum will be greatly appreciated by all. You’ll stay more organized and keep your temporary roommates happy too.
You can also download a printable PDF of the Ultimate Bridesmaid bachelorette party packing list.
Step 1: Know your itinerary
Before you start packing, it helps to have an idea of what’s planned for the weekend. For example, you may be spending Friday night at your rental house making dinner and playing drinking games, while Saturday will be party night on the town. That makes a difference in what outfits you’ll want to pack. Is there beach time involved? Hiking planned? Yoga class in the mix? Have a basic idea of your itinerary so you can pack smart.
Step 2: Pack neutrals with one accent color
Next, and this tip works for any trip, try to pack neutral colors with one accent color. That way, everything you pack will go together and you’ll have a lot more outfit options. Blue counts as a neutral in this equation because, hi, jeans, so your colors would include blue, black, grey, white, navy, brown and tan. You can safely throw both gold and silver in there too. Then pick your accent color based on what’s in your closet, the season and what you’re loving right now.
Step 3: Pick your travel outfit
Remember to set aside the outfit you’ll be wearing during travel! I always wear my bulkiest shoes on the plane so that I don’t have to waste packing space on them. Wear any jacket you may need to save space as well.
Step 4: Lay out your outfits
Lay out all your clothes on your bed and count through each day. Envision two outfits for each day—it helps to even line them up—one daytime look and one evening look. Remember that might just mean changing your top and shoes, but still wearing your jeans. Factor in bathing suits or special activities. Once you have those outfits laid out, if you still have space, you can add two extra tops and one extra bottom to give yourself a few more options. Be brutal with your choices though. I often end up eliminating a dress or top rather than adding. Packing light is only hard if you aren’t willing to make cuts in your clothing options. Commit to your favorite pieces and be OK with leaving things behind.
Step 5: Roll it up
Make sure to roll your clothing—it both saves space and keeps your clothes from wrinkling.
Wear during travel:
- 1 pair of dark blue jeans
- 1 T-shirt
- The bulkiest shoes you want to bring (tennis shoes, boots)
- A jacket
In your carry-on:
- 1 pair of dark blue or black jeans (if you aren’t wearing them during travel)
- Your favorite pair of shorts or a skirt (2 pairs if you aren’t packing any other bottoms)
- 1–2 going-out dress (I recommend an LBD)
- 1 sundress (especially if there is a shower planned)
- 3 T-shirts or tops you love (2 casual, 1 fancy)
- 1 pair of heels or wedges (choose a pair that can go with both your fancy dress and fancy top + jeans)
- 1 pair sandals or flats
- 1 pair pajamas
- Underwear for each day, and a few extras, just in case
- Bras: Think about your outfits when choosing which bras to bring. Do you need a nude one to go under a semi-sheer shirt? A strapless one for your dress? Wear one of the bras you’ll need and pack one extra in your suitcase.
- Socks and/or tights
Pro tip: Pack your underwear, bras, bathing suits and socks in the top mesh portion of your suitcase. This makes it easy to find these small items during travel.
- Small clutch/purse for going out
- Flight001 travel bags: I love these and always carry one with me when I travel. They are great for wet and sandy beach things. I also put sandy/dirty shoes in them, or fill them with my dirty laundry to keep the other clothes in my suitcase smelling fresh.
- Hair dryer, curling iron and/or straightener: Try to be selective about how many of these you need. I can get by with just a hair dryer. You can also buddy up with a friend. Tell her to bring her curling iron and she can use your straightener.
- Makeup bag + makeup removal wipes or face wash
- Liquid toiletries. You’ll need: Shampoo, conditioner, hair spray, lotion, sunscreen, body wash, face wash, bug spray. If you use a loofah in the shower, put it in the same bag as your liquid toiletries. Now you have all your shower things in one place.
Pro tip: Add all your liquid toiletries to a Ziplock bag, seal it well and place it in the OUTSIDE zip pocket of your suitcase. This way, if something explodes and leaks, it will not get all over your clothes. Make sure to get 3 oz. travel-size items of everything (samples are great for this too—great way to try out those Birchbox items you have lying around).
- Non-liquid toiletries: These go in a separate bag from your liquid toiletries. They include deodorant, toothpaste, floss, nail file, nail scissors/clippers, tweezers, etc.
- Medicine: I always carry a separate ziplock bag filled with medicines I might need while traveling. Mine includes stomach medicine like Tums, a painkiller like Advil, an allergy medication like Claratin and band-aids. If you have prescriptions, be sure you include them as well.
- Jewelry: Accessories are an easy way to jazz up a simple outfit without adding bulk to your suitcase, so you get a little more leeway with this. Find a small jewelry tote (I like this one) and fill it up with your favorites.
- A lint roller and Tide pen
- Any gifts or party favors you need for the weekend
If you’re going to the beach, add:
- 2 bathing suits (they’re small, so you get 2)
- 1 pair flip-flops
- Foldable beach tote
- 1 beach cover-up
- Foldable beach hat (like this one)
In your purse:
Your purse is your second carry-on. Choose a big one for your trip. You’ll need:
- Cell phone
- Cell phone charger, including power cord and TK.
- Portable solar charger: I love these. We use them all the time on trips. When your battery is dying and you’re moving from place to place, these are a life saver.
- Small umbrella
- iPad or Kindle
- Lip gloss or lip balm
- Cash!: I know a lot of people don’t carry cash. But a bachelorette weekend is one time you should make a special trip to the ATM. Cash will come in handy so often when you are trying to split bills, pay some one back for a drink or pay for a taxi. It can’t hurt to have it! I recommend taking out $100. You can always redeposit it after the weekend if you don’t spend it!
- Checkbook: Likewise, if you owe the host a good bit of money for lodging or bachelorette activities, writing a check may be the simplest option. That, or see if the host has Venmo (more about that below).
- Passport or ID: Whichever you need for your destination.
- Small mirror
- Snack: I love Larabars and always have one in my bag. Way better for you than airport food!
- Printouts of your boarding passes and itinerary
Venmo: If you’re not a cash person, Venmo is a great way to pay for things as a group.
Lyft, Uber or another ride-share app: Super handy for getting rides in a city you’re not familiar with.
Enable iCloud Photo Sharing and create a shared album: The best and easiest way to share photos from the weekend with the group instantly.