So You’re Going To Be a Bridesmaid

I’ve been a bridesmaid three times. Four, if you count the time I was nabbed at literally a minutes’ notice to attend the bride in a spur-of-the-moment vow reaffirmation in the middle of an historical re-enactment.

Back when I was doing this, the job was pretty easy. Basically, it consisted of: showing up on time to wedding-related functions, paying for and wearing the outfit the bride chose without complaint, smiling on the big day, and reassuring the bride after her return from the honeymoon that the wedding had been lovely whether it was or not. If the bride had any little projects that needed doing, she might or might not ask for help with them, but you were free to say you hadn’t the time or really stank at what she’d asked, but would be willing to help out with another aspect. The MOH had the additional requirements of holding any shower or bachelorette bash (usually one or the other, and usually pretty low-key), and witnessing the marriage license.

These days, one keeps hearing more and more about brides who expect more and more of their bridesmaids. So I decided to use my Google Fu and see what’s expected of a bridesmaid these days.

Apparently, these days popping the question is a huge deal. No, I haven’t changed subjects to marriage proposals. I’m talking about the bride popping the question to her prospective bridesmaids. There are now entire lines of specialized…doohickies to let your bridesmaids know that being asked is an Important Honor. Once upon a time, the question was enough to make it clear, but now there are special greeting cards; cookies; and even little chocolate headless, armless bridesmaids in tissue ‘gowns’ to help get the point across. I don’t know. The cards and cookies…maybe if the bride runs to being tongue-tied or nervous for some reason or is Madeline Bassett, but those chocolate mannequin ones disturb me.

And now that the job takes so much effort, there are websites designed to teach you what’s expected of you and how to be the bestest ever bridesmaid in the world.

According to Bridesmaid 101, your duties include not just showing up sober and zipping your lip about being stuffed into a lime green strapless sausage casing with dyed-to-match shoes, but also: driving the bride around to potential sites; helping her order decorations and somehow using your special powers to make them arrive on time; herding other, more unruly bridesmaids to be where they belong; and even helping the bride register because after all, most grooms have no interest in that. Oh, and you should also act as an usher, apparently. And sign the marriage license as a witness. My particular favorite piece of advice on what a bridesmaid should be doing during the wedding, though, has to be this one:

Make sure to take lots of pictures at the reception, wedding procession and aftarwards. Many forget to take pictures and the bride and groom will appreciate them!

Because there’s nothing like a procession of six women in matching gowns marching down the aisle snapping cameras as they go to make the event extra klassy.

The site tells us on another page (one of expenses a bridesmaid can expect to incur) that the bridesmaids must divvy up the price of the bride getting her hair done. I have no clue where this is the case, but it’s making me think I could have strongarmed five women into giving me money and then lied about having a pro in to do my locks. I am now kicking my own backside at missing this fundraising opportunity. Then again, knowing the fierce band I had attending me, I probably would have gotten said backside kicked a lot harder by them. One was wearing boots.

Bridesmaids are also (according to this site) responsible for things like airfare to the bachelorette party. Airfare? Whose airfare? Where is this party being held? I can see a rare circumstance where that might be an issue, but it seems like it would hardly be common enough to be mentioned so casually.

Of course, the MOH has all these duties and more. She must: attend all tastings, act as go-between for the bride and groom on the big day before the ceremony, inspect the sites to see all is in order, give a toast, sign the license (along, apparently, with all the other bridesmaids), and hold the money bag after (shudder) the money dance to make sure nobody steals it.

I felt much better after I headed over to BridesmaidAid. They have a sassy FAQ that’s a lot more down to earth in its expectations of a bridesmaid. Here’s their full list of the typical costs a bridesmaid should budget for:

1. Gifts: engagement, shower, wedding.
2. All of your travel expenses.
3. The bridesmaid dress and any alterations.
4. Shoes and having them dyed to match the dress.
5. Stockings, underwear, bras, etc. . . .
6. Having your hair and nails done.

They do tell you it can get mighty pricey, but I don’t see the bride’s hair on that list, and that makes it infinitely better in my not so humble opinion. In general, I found it to be far the superior site. Not only does it have much better, more practical advice much more in keeping with honest to goodness etiquette and real world circumstances (no bridesmaids acting as photographers down the aisle, for instance), it also delivers the advice in a sassy, snarky tone that kept me laughing along the way.

They even have a section for bridesmaid horror stories. If you find yourself feeling put upon or mistreated by your bride, read a few of these. You may find your woes are not as great as those faced by others…or you may find that you can top some of the stories and now have somewhere to share your tale of misery. Oh, and every fifty stories they give the author a free BridesmaidAid kit filled with useful emergency items that come in handy at many a wedding.

In general, though, you don’t really need a book or a website to tell you what to do. Just show up on time to the functions required, buy the outfit the bride wants you to wear (and that includes shutting up and getting something on your own if she tells you she doesn’t want a matching chorus line behind her), make yourself as available as you reasonably can to help out with small tasks like addressing envelopes or acting as a sounding board, and smile a lot at the wedding. Let your friend know you’re happy for her. If you do that, you’re covering your duties not only adequately, but well.

14 Responses to “So You’re Going To Be a Bridesmaid”

  1. blablover5 says:

    Holy crap. It’s no wonder some brides get it in their heads that if their bridesmaids don’t drop their lives and attend only to them then they “Don’t believe in my wedding” or “Are just jealous.” So they cut them out of the wedding party.

  2. Melissa B. says:

    Pay for the bride’s hair? That’s a new one on me.

    A wedding planning book I bought suggested handing out “Wedding Party Responsibility Cards” to the bridal party. Said cards, of course, are published by the author of the wedding planning book. According to the list of duties in the back, the maid of honor and bridesmaids are apparently responsible for helping me address the invitations (?!) and for bullying single women into participating in the bouquet toss. Riiiiiiight.

  3. sterlingspider says:

    Kicking in for the bridal shower and the bride’s expenses at the bachellorette party seems to be a pretty common bridesmaid expectation around here (Long Island NY).

    Though luckily in my crowd this generally runs more to the backyard shower party and night in (nearby) Manhattan (usually something dinner and a show-ish with dancing afterwards) then brunch at a painfully expensive restaurant and a weekend at Tahoe.

  4. I had no idea I was so lucky in my bridesmaid period in the 80s. All I had to do was show up and wear lavender, which I thought was torture enough. But the brides arranged (free) housing and transportation for the bridesmaids at all three out of town weddings and we didn’t have to go to any bachelorette parties. Even if we had, my friends have enough taste not to have wanted penis accessories. All we did was hang out and have fun.

  5. Twistie says:

    Wedding party responsibility cards?

    Just when I think I’ve heard it all, clearly I haven’t.

    My MOH did actually help me address invitations, but she lived three blocks from me, had infinitely better handwriting than mine, and is a generously fabulous human being who offered to help out.

    Besides, I think there was a grand total of about sixty envelopes to address. Working together allowed us to get it all done in one night. Had there been hundreds to do, I might have contracted with a professional.

  6. dr nic says:

    I stood up in my 5th wedding last May. My first was as a junior bridesmaid 17 years ago. For the first four weddings I participated in, my responsibilities were show up, wear the dress, get shoes to match, shower gift, wedding gift, participate in the bachelorette party (when I was old enough to attend) and cover my transportation to the wedding (when they were out of town). In my last wedding I did have more responsibility (I was the MOH after all). I helped the bride with selecting vendors and sites (she lived out of town), ran interference between her and her parents, wrangled a truly unruly bridesmaid (one complained about everything – the cost of the dress (under $200), the date of the shower (she wasn’t consulted just told when to show up), and pretty much everything the bride did that she didn’t do in her own wedding), and basically ran local errands that she couldn’t due to her living a 6 hour drive away. I did all of this happily (and while pregnant – 7 months at the wedding) because: she’s my friend and she made it absolutely clear to me how much help she was going to need from the very beginning.

    I do thing that brides are going overboard with what they expect from their bridesmaids – especially in larger cities. This gets encouraged by shows like Bridezillas and the entire bridal industry. Thankfully it hasn’t seemed to really invade my area yet (or at least not my circle of friends).

  7. Colleen says:

    My maid of honor did go to a few reception sites with me, mainly because my family all lives across the country and my fiancee’s work schedule wasn’t that easy to work around, and I got super tired of visiting sites by myself. However (!) I asked nicely and she accepted (or not) based on her schedule. There wasn’t any expectation on my part that she would drop anything just to traipse around with me!

  8. JaneC says:

    I actually think I had to do more for my MOH than she had to do for me. Her main responsibilities were to show up and to help calm me down the morning of the wedding. I asked her to choose her own dress, and even gave her a choice of colors–this turned out to be a mistake. Somehow, I forgot that my best friend is absolutely incapable of making decisions. I spent endless hours looking at photos of bridesmaid dresses online. I think her mother ended up choosing the dress, when it became apparent that if the dress wasn’t ordered NOW it wasn’t going to be ready.

    She did a good job calming me down on the morning of the wedding, though. I wouldn’t have eaten breakfast if she hadn’t forced me to, and as I didn’t get lunch until 2pm, lack of breakfast would have been a big problem.

  9. KTB says:

    My MOH and two bridesmaids are all long-distance (I live in the Pacific NW, and the closest one is a three hour drive away and the furthest is currently in New Zealand), so I really have no expectations of them short of showing up to whatever they can make it to over and above the wedding, and helping me de-stress during the wedding weekend.

    I also don’t understand the big deal of asking them–my MOH is my only sibling and she showed up to my house the morning after the engagement (we had previously made plans to go skiing) and talked about what the MOH does for an hour, until I had a chance to butt in and ask, “By the way, do you want to be my MOH?” The other two girls I asked over the phone, but since they are so far away that was really my only option.

  10. JR says:

    As a bridesmaid, aside from the BridesmaidAid list, the only other things I did were 1. volunteer to be a designated driver for the bachelorette party and 2. wrangle the flower girl the day of the wedding. The flower girl bit was unexpected, but the girl’s mom was helping the bride get dressed. She was later completely mollified by being the one to catch the bouquet.

  11. As I’ve said in the past, all I wanted my ‘maids to do was buy a dress and show up. They both showed up, but getting them to buy dresses within a reasonable time frame tested my patience. I can’t imagine what wedding planning would have been like if I’d been asking them for actual help with things like invitations and favors! On the other hand, the groomsmen were great help on the day of the wedding…go figure.

  12. La BellaDonna says:

    The last wrangling I did was for the wedding of a friend for whom I actually was NOT a bridesmaid. She and her wedding party were in full early 17th century glory, and for some reason, her MOH had decided not to wear makeup. Now, the MOH is a girl I’d known for YEARS; she wore makeup in her everyday life, she wore makeup for re-enactments. But for some reason (photographs and video!), she had decided that she wasn’t going to wear makeup for her good friend’s wedding. And this is a girl who was looking mighty bedraggled that particular day, with the circles, sallow skin, shiny nose, and a handful of bright pink spots.

    I made sure the MOH wore makeup – for which the bride was very grateful.

  13. Emi!y says:

    I’ve been a bridesmaid 2 times and involved in a few other weddings, and I am so greatful my friends are relatively sane. I was MOH at my best friend’s wedding, and I did do a lot extra to help her. We looked at venues, I went dress shopping with her and her mom and grandma and another maid. I helped with crafty things. At other weddings I’ve done flowers, help build the chupa (and I’m Catholic!), address invitations, made food for the reception and so on. I even flew half-way across the country to a wedding I was a ‘maid in to help the bride wtih last minute details. I have planned awesome b’ette parties and amazing showers (IIDSSM).

    Do I do all of these things because I’m in the clutches of a Bridezilla? Nope. I’m just kinda the crafty one, and I like wedding stuff, and a lot of the other ‘maids I’ve “worked” with just generally don’t. The only thing that’s really bothered me is the money issue. I don’t make as much as many of my friends, so I do generally raise my concerns when it looks like the dress is going to be more than a couple of hundred dollars or I’m going to have to travel somewhere ridiculous. I’m lucky my friends are all pretty laid back, tho, and open to constructive criticism.

  14. Granuaille says:

    I’ve been a “junior” bridesmaid once and a real one once, and both were very different experiences. Although both for stepsisters, the first time they expected me to dye my hair out of my own pocket (then AGAIN when she didn’t like it, but even at fourteen I knew when to put my foot down) and do all of these stupid things without hardly any thanks nor recognition as anything apart from the little stepsister. Seriously, I wasn’t even acknowledged as a part of the wedding party at the reception by the bride, the MOH had to introduce me in her speech when the bride failed to do so before hand. Needless to say, it was bride-zilla.

    The second time was very low key; the wedding was chill, and the dress was made by a friend of the family so was very inexpensive. I just had a lot of fun hanging out with my sister and helping her with everything, not because she asked me to but because I knew she needed it.

    This coming year I’m going to be a bridesmaid for the first time for a close friend, and am completely out to lunch on what to expect. Both other cases were with family and when I was still in school, so most decisions weren’t left with me… but I have no clue what I’m supposed to help my friend with and where I should draw the line.