Bridesmaid Basics

The first time I was asked to join a wedding party I felt a rush of excitement and anticipation, shortly followed by this thought: “Ok, what exactly does this job actually entail?” Though I did know a lot of the basics, I soon realized that being a bridesmaid is also a kind of state of mind (how very zen). Here are the basics of bridesmaid and maid/matron of honor duties, both tangible and intangible. I think of these first two as rules:

 1. Be there for the bride.

This one seems like a no-brainer, but it can’t be overstated. You’ve been chosen as a bridesmaid because you have a close, special relationship with the bride. She chose you as a bridesmaid for the same reasons she chose you as her friend and she is hoping that you will bring all the qualities that she loves about your friendship to your role as her bridesmaid. While some bridesmaids do pitch in with actual wedding planning—going to dress fittings, addressing envelopes, arranging flowers and the like—this isn’t a mandatory part of being a bridesmaid. What is officially part of your job, as both a bridesmaid and just a regular old friend, is offering a listening and supportive ear to the bride as she plans her wedding. The process can be stressful and the bride will appreciate knowing that you won’t mind if she goes on and on about whether the wedding color should be lilac or violet. She may need someone to vent to or someone to reassure her that she can do it. Just be that person. If you’d like to help more but don’t live near the bride, you can always dig up inspiration and send her links to venues and vendors. Joint Pinterest boards, anyone?

2. Do not complain.

Hate the dress? Too bad. Anxious about how you’ll look on the day? That’s your problem! Planning a wedding is stressful and brides count on their girls to provide a safe haven from the madness. Do everything you can to encourage and support. This doesn’t mean you should lie. If your bride asks what you think of her dress options, weigh in honestly. She’s asking you because she respects your opinion. Just keep things positive and make sure she knows you’re excited for the day and recognize how hard she’s working.

Once you’ve mastered the rules, the following will come naturally.

 3. Bridal showers and bachelorette parties.

While it’s not mandatory to throw the bride a shower or plan a bachelorette party, many bridesmaids do choose to do this. Of the two parties, the bachelorette most typically falls to the bridesmaids and the MOH in particular to plan. Maids of honor should talk to their brides about what kind of party they want and then take the reins and plan something you know they’ll love. Throw a party that reflects her personality, whether it be a wild weekend in New Orleans, a backyard BBQ or a quiet retreat to a mountain cabin. Bridal showers can be thrown by the bridesmaids, or by a relative or family friend of the bride. Bridesmaids should try to attend all events if you are local and at least one event if you have to travel. Combination shower/bachelorette weekends are ideal for friends who are spread out across the country. You get to spend more time together and pack all these traditional events into one crazy weekend.

 4. Pay your way.

Some brides may offer to pay for some of these things, but you should by no means expect it. A normal part of being a bridesmaid is chipping in for your dress, shoes, makeup and hair. Please refer to rule 2. That said, of course everyone has different budgets and we all understand that being in weddings can be expensive. My advice is to speak with your bride about concerns once, at the beginning of planning. After that, try not to burden her. There are lots of ways to get creative with money. A personal gift or small token instead of a big purchase from the registry is perfectly fine. You being in the wedding is enough of a gift to the bride. You can also opt to do your own hair and makeup, or split transportation and hotel costs with other wedding guests to save. As a last resort, you can opt out of the bachelorette or shower. The bride should understand that if you can only afford one big trip, the wedding is the more important one.

 5. Help her enjoy the day.

Be on time the day of the wedding. Help the bride get ready. You may find yourself called on to perform the unofficial bridesmaid duty of keeping the groomsmen in line during photos (orders to “put down that beer and smile” may be required). Your bride will need different things from you depending on the format of the wedding. I’ve brought out trays of lasagna at a backyard wedding or been formally introduced and joined the first dance at more traditional receptions. Make sure you know what she expects before the events kick off. Once the festivities get going, she’s going to be focused on her groom and her guests and if her bridesmaids know the drill it will keep things running smoothly.

Maid of Honor:

The maid of honor does all of the above and more. I’ll go into more detail about these in the future, but for now make sure you:

  • Plan a bachelorette party and/or shower.
  • Be the point person for the other bridesmaids. On wedding day you’ll need to keep on a schedule and it will take the burden off the bride if you make sure all the girls are on time and ready to go.
  • Hold the ring and bouquet during the ceremony.
  • Constantly keep an eye on your bride and make sure she looks great. Adjust her dress or hair if she needs it.
  • Sign the marriage license.
  • Give a speech and toast at the reception.

The truth is, each wedding and bride is different and they’re going to need different things from their ‘maids. If you follow rules 1 and 2, you can’t go wrong.

What else should every bridesmaid do? What unusual duties have you had to take on? Leave it in comments!

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