What's better than watching a woman get naked? Lots of things, say these young men.
Illustration: Kitron Neuschatz
When Rick Gassko, played by Tom Hanks, opts to settle down from his life of singledom in the 1984 comedy Bachelor Party, his friends decide to throw him the ultimate bash. Yet before the donkey-quaalude-popping house party ensues, Gassko's friend, Rudy, makes a declaration that serves as the film's thesis: "Let's have a bachelor party with chicks and guns and fire trucks and hookers and drugs and booze!"
Bachelor parties are supposed to be all about strippers and cocaine and men behaving badly—think American Wedding and assless leather pants, or Very Bad Things and dead prostitutes, or the entire Hangover series. But lately, I've come across stories about bachelor parties that don't even try to abide by the booze-and-debauchery template. Reddit posts explicitly asking for "stripper-free" bachelor party ideas are plentiful. Friends of friends have gone to paintball arenas or brewery tours in lieu of strip clubs. Co-ed bachelor and bachelorette parties are even a thing.
So, what's the deal? Are later marriages contributing to a more mature, anti-stripper outlook? Were more grooms and bachelor-party planners considering themselves feminists, and hence less likely to get excited over aggressively macho rites? Are brides-to-be nudging their future hubbies away from boyish antics?
For Brian Cook, 27, who got married two years ago, it was none of the above.
"I was just trying to spend time with my friends. If you're going to a strip club, you're not really talking to people. You're sitting there and spending a lot of money," Cook said, reflecting on his bachelor party in Atlantic City. "At least half of the people you're with probably don't know how to handle themselves in that environment either."
During the planning process, Cook told his best man he didn't want any strippers involved. He saw the party as a reunion, since their friends had spread out across the country after college. So they grabbed dinner, gambled, and got drunk in the hotel suite. But when a few partygoers parted ways with the group for a strip club, Cook understood. "It's kind of a cultural expectation, which is why I think some guys were like, 'Oh, we'll go do that.'"
It's an expectation that also crossed the mind of Drew Lamb, 24, who celebrated his bachelor party in a cabin outside of Nashville. "I remember one of our buddies asking, "Oh shoot, do we have to make sure there's a stripper?" he recalled.
Short answer: no. Instead, Lamb and his closest friends went hiking through a state park, grilled, smoked cigars, and passed out around the cabin after copious amounts of alcohol. For Lamb, the decision to not schedule a stripper in the festivities was a fairly simple one. "It just was not something I think any of us wanted to think about, ethically," he said, partly in jest. "Like afterwards, when you wake up, and you're like, 'Is she paying for college? Is she OK?'"
"One stripper in a hotel suite with a pole or something—that's like your fathers' or grandfathers' bachelor party."
Men have been getting together to celebrate nuptials for a long, long time. As far back as the fifth century BC, Spartan soldiers were believed to commemorate with a feast and toast in solidarity to the groom's final night as a single man. In response, "the soon-to-be wed pledged his continued loyalty to his brothers-in-arms," wrote David Boyer, in Bachelor Party Confidential.
That was basically the vibe of American "bachelor dinners" in the 19th and early 20th centuries. One exception was a 1896 Manhattan stag party thrown by a grandson of P.T. Barnum for his brother, which was supposed to boast a 17-course dinner and a scantily clad belly dancer with the stage name Little Egypt. When cops got wind of the party, they shut it down before any naked debauchery could unfold.
But what used to be scandalous became the norm—and now may be passe. Lee Abbamonte, an entrepreneur and professional adventurer turned bachelor party planner for the elite, told me that his clients weren't as enticed with the classic Sin City fare. "One stripper in a hotel suite with a pole or something—that's like your fathers' or grandfathers' bachelor party," he said. "The trend these days is experiential."
Every month, Abbamonte fields between 20 to 30 requests from groomsmen asking to help them plan a legendary soirée. But he doesn't handle anything to do with strippers, alcohol, or drugs. Rather, Abbamonte assists bachelors in chartering private jets, planning parties in far-flung cities like Dubai and Kiev, and ultimately crafting the experience of a lifetime at a hefty price. (He charges $1,000 for an initial phone consultation; on average, his clients pay him a total of $20,000.)
"They're looking for experiences: flying fighter jets, going to Eastern Europe to shoot tanks," Abbamonte said. "People want to do things they wouldn't normally do."
OK, so your average bachelor and his crew can't afford that kind of partying. But even outside the One Percent (at least, for the majority of men I spoke with), the prospect of ogling women in a strip club seemed more lackluster than lustful.
"Strippers aren't getting what they want. Guys in the audience aren't getting what they want," said Theron Spiegl, 27, who is having his bachelor party this year. "It's a bunch of people exchanging money for a really sad imitation of sex."
A handful of men I interviewed also spoke of feeling awkward or out of place around strippers. Others expressed confusion at the thought of whether it's misogynistic to believe that because a woman is stripping it means she's financially struggling. As Robb Hartman, 23, explained it: "I think it's unfair to assume everyone who strips is down on their luck. Some women do it because they want to, and they feel empowered."
Hartman makes a solid point, though he still didn't feature a stripper at his own bachelor party in Florida for several reasons. First, he'd opted to play laser tag with quasi-decommissioned weapons at a place called Hard Knocks and dine with friends at a Brazilian steakhouse. Second, Hartman didn't want to traipse into what he considered to be a moral gray area. "It doesn't feel right to watch a stripper, because my wife is not this person," he said. "It's ultimately not what I wanted to do."
There's also the argument, says Abbamonte, that the "preponderance of things" on the internet is what further takes away from the novelty of the ritual. And maybe he's onto something when it comes to offering an experience: A recent study published by Airbnb reported that travel is more important to millennials than saving for a home, suggesting that the current generation values adventure over long-term investment. Evidently, it's an idea that now seems to carry over to bachelor parties.
"More and more people are planning these extravagant, expensive bachelor parties over the world," ex-bachelor Stefan Bergeron, 30, said. "Now you'll hear, 'We're going to Iceland! We're going to Mexico!'"
Though Bergeron didn't go global for his own bachelor party two years ago, he did plan an excursion of sorts on Lake Michigan. After renting a bus, Bergeron and friends went salmon fishing, and ended the night at a supper club in Wisconsin for dinner and cocktails. "There were very much no strippers involved, except for the fish," he joked.
Today, Bachelor Party is sadly dated, and not just because it's a schlocky 80s comedy. It seems "hookers and drugs and booze" have now been temporarily retired for salmon, suit-fitting parties and "hangover-free" weekends away. But was there anything left of the elder bachelor party tropes? Was there no residual desire for one "last night of freedom" before settling into an adult life 'til death do us part?
"I haven't felt like I needed freedom or wanted that or had it even cross my mind," said Scott Miller, 29, reflecting on his bachelor party in Miami last August. "Marriage has become even more of a partnership."
"My wife's career is as important as mine, and we're a team," he added. "Gender rules are no longer the norm."
Angela Almeida is a freelance journalist currently based in New York City. She has written for the Atlantic, Reuters, and the Guardian, among other outlets.