How To Be A Good (Or At Least Adequate) Bridesmaid

With Bridesmaids in theaters, it seemed like a good time to address an issue many of you have asked about: how to deal with being a bridesmaid. Below, tips on dress drama, money issues, and much more.

Talk about money early on.

Money is obviously a big issue for lots of people at a wedding, and it's one of the biggest sources of stress for bridesmaids. I talked to Anja Winikka, site editor of TheKnot.com, who says, "being a bridesmaid can be extremely expensive (figure around $1,000 dollars, give or take)." Harriette Cole, author of Jumping the Broom: The African-American Wedding Planner, told me that ideally, the bride should figure out about how much the bridesmaids' expenses will be ahead of time, and then let them know when she asks them to participate. But that doesn't always happen, and if you start getting concerned about costs, Cole advocates talking to the bride in private as soon as possible. She says,

A lot of people wait because they feel embarrassed and they want to be able to afford it and they can't and it makes them feel bad. [But] tell the truth, because by doing so you give the bride the opportunity to make a different decision.

She could offer to help you pay for your dress or shoes or whatever's causing the problem, or she could allow you to wear a cheaper variant — but "the bride doesn't have the option of doing that unless she knows that there's some issue." Sharon Naylor, author of Bridesmaid on a Budget: How to Be a Brilliant Bridesmaid without Breaking the Bank, suggests making your financial boundaries clear as soon as you accept the bride's invitation to be her bridesmaid. She adds,

If you've stated your budget limits, but you're still being sent links to dresses and shower location websites that are way out of your price range, you can call or email back with "These are lovely, but there's no way that I can get this dress and help you have a fabulous shower, too." And this is the essential part: when you say No, always send URLs of less-pricy, equally stylish solutions. Never just say No; always give additional options.

Be diplomatic about dresses.

Being forced to wear a dress you hate is another big bridesmaid fear. It's understandable — elsewhere in life, you rarely have to stand up in front of a bunch of people wearing a dress someone else picked out for you. Cole points out that everyone will probably have a better time if the bride takes into account her bridesmaids' body types and styles before picking out dresses. If she doesn't, though, this isn't the time to be confrontational. Cole suggests you suck it up — unless the dress is so unflattering on you that it's really going to affect the entire wedding. Example: it doesn't have enough bust support and there's no way you can get it adequately tailored. Says Cole, "if you have a big problem and its going to make the whole wedding look bad, [...] I think it's okay to say."

Sometimes brides will let their bridesmaids choose their own dresses in a certain style or color, and Naylor says you may be able to subtly influence the bride in this direction:

[A]sk if your group will be given the option to find similar-styled dresses at your own budget points…and say, "I'll send the URL of what I find to you for your approval." Brides don't like surprises, and they don't want bridesmaids' looks that are too different from one another. If you suggest this plan, you might inspire the bride to make the offer to all of the bridesmaids, rescuing the shy ‘maids at the same time. If everyone is sending in a URL of dresses they like, be sure to ‘sell' your choices in your emails with notes like "This one is under $100…and shipping is free" or "….and there's a 30% off coupon code at RetailMeNot.com right now!" Your research and suggestions could push through a better style and price of dress.

Winikka has some slightly sneakier suggestions:

If you ultimately get an email with a terrible dress asking your thoughts, there are some different ways you can try to dissuade her. One thing you could say, "Oh yea, I've seen that style everywhere. I know exactly what you're talking about." Reverse psychology will do the trick here. No bride wants her wedding to be like someone else's.

Another idea is to say, "I love it, but do you think it will match [fill in anything: the flowers, the groomsmen, the cake]?" It really doesn't have to make sense; the goal is to make the bride feel less confident in her decision.

You could also try, "Is that supposed to be tea length, or does it just look like it on that model?" The bride is already questioning everything and wondering if she's making the right choices, by pointing out something strange about the hemline (even if it's not real), she'll want to keep looking for a dress that's perfect.

Hopefully you won't have to resort to any of these tactics — often, if the bride and bridesmaids put their heads together beforehand, they can come up with dresses that everybody likes.

When planning a shower, just ask the bride

Not every wedding includes a bridal shower, but a lot of them do — and, says Winikka, "the shower is the responsibility of the bridal party, so if you're a bridesmaid, you're hosting!" Typically, the maid of honor is in charge of organizing the shower, but if she doesn't step up, one of the other bridesmaids may want to. The bride's mom may also want to be involved, but Winikka says, "let her reach out to you if she'd like to take part. Since technically it's the bridesmaids' duty, it may be in poor taste to ask for her help if she doesn't offer."

Planning a shower can seem stressful, especially if you've never done it before — this has always seemed to me like the most real-actual-grownup part of bridesmaiding. But never fear — just ask the bride what she's into. Says Cole,

This is where I think surprises are a bad idea. I think you should ask the bride what kind of shower she would like. Don't assume that you know. Talk to the bride about what kind of party she would like, whom she would like to have, and if there's anybody she would not like to have there.

Adds Winikka,

You should also check with the bride and groom's mothers to find out whether there's anyone else that should be included. One important note, anyone invited to the shower should be invited to the wedding.

And Naylor advises, "If games seem cliché, you can skip those, and just let everyone have fun mingling time when they can catch up with each other." Basically, you want a party where the bride will feel comfortable and have fun — and the best way to plan this is to talk to her about it.

A word on bachelorette parties

Bachelorette parties are traditionally less, um, formal than showers, and people don't usually bring gifts. Instead, they drink a lot and eat penis-shaped cookies. Lots of people want to surprise the bride with a bachelorette party, and this can be cute, but make sure you know what the bride is okay with. Cole told me a horror story about a painfully awkward surprise party for a very staid bride that was ill-advisedly held at a strip club — this was actually a shower, which seems even worse, but the same principle holds. If your friend is going to be grossed out/weirded out/bored with strippers or dick cupcakes, leave those things out of it. That said, if your friend is into this kind of thing, your local sex-toy store should have all the penis-shaped novelty items you could ever want or need.

Support the bride in her hour (or hours) of need

The cliched bridesmaid duty is holding the bride's train while she pees, but bridesmaids can actually be helpful long before the wedding. Even if the bride isn't having a big blowout of a wedding, planning can be stressful, and you can help by lending a supportive ear. Says Winikka, "The best thing you can do is be her best friend, know what calms her down and do it. Assure her that everything is perfect and going according to plan." Cole suggests that if the bride is getting anxious,

Do something that she thinks is fun, whether it is going out to get your nails done, going to the movies, going to a museum, whatever you know she likes to do to relax. Invite her to do something with you that will just be fun, and let you know that you're there to support her. The biggest thing is for the bride to be sure that you have her back.

She adds that some bridesmaids assume their responsibilities only start the day before the wedding — but "if they take it seriously starting from the moment that they've been invited to have the role, then I think they will feel fulfilled and the bride will be taken care of." Also, if you help the bride with what she needs — practically and emotionally — before the wedding, the event itself will be much more likely to go smoothly, and you'll have a lot more fun.

Speaking of which, remember that even though some weddings involve a lot of planning and stress, they're still supposed to be a fun time. Says Naylor, "Keep a sense of humor, for your own experience as well as for the bride's!" Maybe you have to wear a dress you don't love, or fake an opinion on some hors d'oeuvres you couldn't care less about, but ultimately, you're doing something cool for one of your closest friends, and showing your love for her by helping her celebrate her marriage. Naylor sums it up: "when you focus on making the bride happy to the best of your ability and having fun as a bridesmaid, you give her a phenomenal gift."


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Harriette Cole [Official Site]
Jumping the Broom: The African-American Wedding Planner
TheKnot.com [Official Site]
Sharon Naylor [Official Site]
Bridesmaid On A Budget: How To Be A Brilliant Bridesmaid Without Breaking The Bank