Bride-to-be Syreeta Harvey chuckled as she watched one of her girlfriends poke fun at the nude male model about to pose for her bachelorette party.

“Do you got an anaconda or a shrimp?” Kelsie Kahn asked, raising her eyebrows as she gestured to a towel wrapped around model’s waist. “I need to know.”

A tray of red and yellow Jell-O shots sat on a table a few feet away, next to a bottle of Barefoot pink moscato and a stack of penis-shaped straws. But not much else was conventional about Harvey’s bachelorette party — a two-hour sketching session at the Iron Factory, an airy loft space for artists and performers in North Philadelphia.

While stereotypical bachelor and bachelorette parties tend toward venues like strip joints and trendy nightclubs, in recent years, altar-bound couples have gotten more creative — and more tailored. A 2013 survey by Ultimate Bridesmaid, a blog for bridesmaids, showed that 23 percent of bachelorette party attendees wanted a party that reflected their bride’s personal interests and 32 percent didn’t want anything too crazy — just a bonding session with their besties.

We talked to several Philadelphians who were part of nontraditional bachelor/ette parties. Here are a few examples, and tips for planning your own.

Break the ice creatively

Harvey’s party eventually sat in a semicircle, facing Steve Jackson, the evening’s model, and Rachel Shaw, the owner of Fig Leaves, the company that hosts the sketching sessions. The nine women picked up the sketch boards and pieces of charcoal on their chairs. Then, the big reveal. Jackson dropped his towel, to muted giggles.

“I want all of you to try to draw Steve using shapes only,” Shaw told the women, many of whom had never sketched before. “You have three minutes. Go!”

The room quieted, except for a Tory Lanez song playing from a portable speaker and the sound of charcoal scratching on paper. Everyone focused on the task at hand.

“One more minute!” Shaw told the women. “And then I want you guys to show the person next to you what you drew.”

Bride-to-be Syreeta Harvey (center) listens to instructions during her bachelorette party featuring a nude model "social sketching" session at the Iron Factory in Philadelphia, PA on March 30, 2019.
DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer
Bride-to-be Syreeta Harvey (center) listens to instructions during her bachelorette party featuring a nude model "social sketching" session at the Iron Factory in Philadelphia, PA on March 30, 2019.

Harvey, who wore a tiara with a veil attached in honor of her upcoming nuptials, sneaked a peek at the drawing her younger sister, Rashawna, had been working on and burst into laughter at the jumble of shapes and lines.

“When I was planning Syreeta’s bachelorette party, I asked her if she wanted something mellow or wild,” Rashawna, who had planned the party, said. “And she said she wanted something in the middle, so here we are.”

An offbeat activity like Fig Leaves’ sketching sessions can help break the ice when bringing friends from different parts of one’s life together — but it can require thinking outside the box.

That’s what Ashleigh Hovermale, a former sales coordinator and longtime Philly resident, did when planning her best friend’s bachelorette party in 2016. She took the bride, who adored all things Texas, to a dude ranch near San Antonio for a weekend of horseback riding, fishing, and even a rope show.

“It was a weird, unique experience that we all shared,” Hovermale said. “For example, most of us had never gone horseback riding before. It was a little scary, but afterward, we were all like, ‘This is so awesome that we did that!’ It forced us to be close right away.”

Hovermale said the bond created by the unconventional party made for a joyful reunion at the wedding a few months later.

“We got to hang out and take more pictures together,” she said. “We met each others’ partners. The trip to the dude ranch will always be this big, cool thing that we did together.”

Mix the genders

Coed bachelor/ette bashes are an increasingly popular choice, especially if there’s overlap between the bride and groom’s friends.

That’s what Adam Erace and his wife, Charlotte, opted for in 2012 before their wedding. The couple rented a 10-bedroom mansion in Cape May and staged a weekend-long murder mystery for around 20 of their friends and family. (Erace, a writer in South Philly, had been inspired by a flier for a murder mystery at a Cape May hotel.)

“Charlotte and I are best friends and we loved spending time together,” Erace said. “We knew that it would be even more fun to have everybody all together. We got to spend time with all our favorite people without excluding anyone.”

The company that staged the murder mystery, Shadow Stalkers, planted clues for the group to unearth not just in the rental house, but around Cape May as well. Erace said that scouring the town alongside his friends was one of the weekend’s highlights.

“People still talk about this party,” Erace said. “They ask us to host another one all the time.”

Keep costs down

A mix of higher- and lower-end activities can keep costs down for a bachelor/ette weekend.

Erace’s coed bash was a splashy affair, but it only cost $200 per couple. Erace had planned the party during low season at the Shore, so he got a great deal on the mansion. Other costs, like pizza on the first night, were also covered by the fee.

In a time when bridesmaids and groomsmen shell out hundreds, even thousands, for bridal showers and engagement parties, plus dresses, suits, hair, and makeup for the wedding itself, a budget-friendly bachelor/ette party is a welcome prospect.

For a two-hour BYOB sketching session, Rachel Shaw currently charges $50 per person (with an eight-person minimum).

“For this kind of party, you get to talk more,” Shaw said of Fig Leaves’ offerings.“You can bring your own drinks and music. You’re in your own private space. You’re not in a really loud bar. You actually get to chat with everyone that you came with.”

Members of a bachelorette party sketch a nude model at a session organized by Fig Leaves in Philadelphia, PA on March 30, 2019.
DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer
Members of a bachelorette party sketch a nude model at a session organized by Fig Leaves in Philadelphia, PA on March 30, 2019.

That’s exactly what Shaw, an art school grad and full-time Realtor, wanted to tap into when she started Fig Leaves after attending a similar bachelorette-party nude-sketching session in New York in 2014.

She said that most brides pair a sketching session with other activities, like brunch or facials. “People are looking for a little bit more of a mature experience, something that’s really special that they can customize, something they’re not doing every day.”

Pick a memorable setting

Tym Mac, a 46-year-old graphic designer in Drexel Hill, said that the most memorable bachelor party he ever went to took place at an unconventional location: an ice rink in Chester County in 2000. The groom, one of Mac’s high school friends, had persuaded the owners of the rink to let his friends have it for the night.

The guys wasted no time getting rowdy. They blasted metal music from the speakers, tapped a keg, and brought in two female “entertainers.” Mac managed to talk the women into skating in just helmets and elbow and knee pads for $30 each, which the men collected in a hat. The women, who luckily knew how to skate, learned to shoot a hockey puck with the help of the groom’s buddies.

Though it had some traditional bachelor-party trappings, Mac said the unusual setting made the experience a memorable one.

“Bachelor parties aren’t always about seeing naked women,” Mac said. “It’s really about hanging out with your friends and making great memories.”