Here comes the bawdy bride-to-be

A bachelorette wins a prize while celebrating her bachelorette party in March of 2009 at Circuit Nightclub, 3641 N. Halsted St. At right is Honey West, the emcee. (Candice C. Cusic/Chicago Tribune)

To cater to women who want the party without the raunchy, Brown founded, a "clean site" that abides by a simple philosophy: "If my grandchild can't touch it, then we don't sell it."

Her most popular sellers, Brown says, are tiaras, boas and personalized sashes — items to celebrate the bride as "queen for a day."

Brown knows she loses sales keeping her site chaste, but she fears the slippery slope of breaking her rule even for the one item that is on every customer's list.

"Everybody wants the straws," Brown said., founded in 1999, was among the first online purveyors of bachelorette merchandise, said company president Tom Nardone, who claims credit for inspiring those anatomically correct straws in multiple colors, as well as similarly shaped cupcake pans and lollipops. (The site is owned by PriveCo Inc., which markets itself as selling anything embarrassing to buy in a store; its first item was hemorrhoid cream.)

A few years ago Nardone's company worried that bachelorette props were becoming too cheesy and would die a fad, so they follow fashion trends to stay relevant and aim to be "filthy but not trashy," he said. "It should be like cable after 10 p.m."

The market has surged, Nardone said, from some 100 bachelorette props available a decade ago to almost 600 today.

Nardone thinks the silliness of bachelorette parties is a reaction against the formality of other wedding events, giving the bride a chance to have unrestrained fun with her friends without her grandmother's friends looking on. He's not sure why bachelorette parties draw such ire.

"Is it that girls aren't supposed to be loud and fun? I don't know," Nardone said.

But plenty of women are having fun bachelorette parties without screaming trolley rides or acts of public humiliation.

Normand, who organized the "Amazing Race" party, said she doesn't understand why brides-to-be become boors in a veil, throwing themselves on other men after they've long been in a committed relationship. Or hooting to the gyrations of male strippers — which, she notes from experience, aren't all that enjoyable.

"On the whole, male strippers are not very talented," Normand said. "There's a very limited range of what they can do."

Bypassing the bacchanal

What should you do if you want no part of a wild bachelorette party? Sharon Naylor, author of "Bridesmaid on a Budget" (Seal Press), offered some advice:

If you're the bride: Act early, telling your closest friends within the bridesmaid circle that you want a tame party. Telling the maid of honor alone isn't enough because she can face pressure from others who want to surprise you with a naughty fireman; you need to get your most assertive friends on your side. If they insist, stand your ground, saying you and your groom promised each other you wouldn't have raunchy hurrahs.

If you're a guest: It's becoming more common for tamer bridesmaids or friends to come to the beginning of the party (such as the dinner at a restaurant or pre-party at the bride's house), then leave when things start getting wilder. Explain to the bride about your plan to duck out early so doesn't worry that you're upset or offended.

— A.E.R.