A Bridesmaid Speaks by Deb Boxill
I've been a bridesmaid seven times. I'm not bragging or claiming a world's record--I know someone who's done the deed ELEVEN times. But when it comes to being a bridesmaid, seven is enough to know what's what. Weddings are beautiful, amazing expressions of love for the bride and groom, and it's an honor just to be included, but pulling off the perfect event takes some major planning. I admit, one particular bridesmaid experience was almost enough to put me off weddings altogether--and the bride was none too happy either. Don't let that be your wedding! This list is here to help you out with at least one portion of your plans: The Bridal Party.
1. DO think twice about who your bridesmaids/attendants are.
This is deceptively simple concept. Of course, as the bride, you want to have all your best friends standing up for you in matching gowns, the perfect shoes, and flawless hair. Once reality sets in that you're not Scarlett O'Hara, you start to wonder who you really want to be in your bridal party. Are you really still that close with your best friend from High School? Will not including your husband's cranky cousin cause a major family feud? What about your old college roommate who'll be nine months pregnant at the ceremony? Your favorite coworker, who just bought a house and is living on Ramen Noodles? Or your oldest and dearest, who's teaching English in Japan this year? What if your best friend is a guy?
It might sound crazy, but consider having just one attendant--or none. Three of my best friends had just their sister stand up for them at the wedding, and asked the rest of us perform other duties, like give a reading, deal with the guest book, and hand out programs. We all had just as much fun being there for her on her big day, but without the pressure. And no one was offended that they weren't included in the bridal party, because there was no bridal party.
Of course, having a bridal party is fun. If you decide to go that way, and you've chosen your crew, consider what's going on in their lives. Some of your friends will be in a position such that they'll spare no expense for your special day, but for others, that $200 dress and shoes that they'll never wear again (and in some cases, travel expenses just to be there) can be a real financial burden. Remember turning down your offer or being hesitant about the cost doesn't make her a bad friend, or mean that you're not important to her. It might mean you want to choose someone else, but don't take it personally. Remember, you want your day to be fun for everyone. Especially you. And when they're happy, you're happy.
Which leads me to #2:
2 . About the dress: THEY WILL NEVER WEAR IT AGAIN. Ever.
Now hear me, and hear me well. No matter what they say, they will never wear it again. Maybe at Halloween, maybe. But unless it is freely chosen by its individual wearer, that dress will never see daylight again. Do not kid yourself. I have worn some really beautiful dresses, and even I thought, "Hmmm… if I dye it, and shorten it…" But no. A bridesmaid dress is a bridesmaid dress is a bridesmaid dress.
You have some options here. You could have your pals wear whatever they want. Or you could have them choose their own dress as long as it's in a particular color, color family, or style. In one wedding I was in, we were instructed to show up in black tea-length dresses. We all looked and felt fabulous and comfortable, and the pictures were beautiful. And you better believe, I wore that thing again!
If you go the traditional "matching dress" route, price and convenience are key--especially if your bridesmaids are scattered far and wide. The last wedding I was in, some of us were flying in the night before the wedding. Luckily, the gown was a lovely $110 number from David's Bridal. Because there are David's Bridal stores everywhere, we were all able to go actually try on the sample dress, instead of just blindly ordering based on measurements and hoping for the best. Everyone's dress fit perfectly and we looked gorgeous.
Even if you go cheap, think about giving the shoes and accessories (and/or hairstyling) as the bridesmaid gifts--especially if you want that stuff to match. You might have heard that that's inappropriate or selfish as a gift, but I don't know any bridesmaid who isn't happy to not have to worry about those details. And the shoes and the jewels? Ladies, I have definitely worn that stuff again--over and over!
3. Don't Depend Too Much on Your Bridal Party for major tasks, especially the day of the wedding.
Don't get me wrong--your bridal party is there to support and help you on your big day and take care of last-minute details. They are not there to set up tables at the reception hall just hours before the wedding. Remember that part of being your bridesmaid is looking fresh and gorgeous in those photos--that's what all the fuss about those matching dresses is about, right? Your ladies-in-waiting for the day are going to have enough to do with helping you (and themselves) get gorgeous and stay calm-- they don't need the added stress of unloading the beer and wine, picking up the centerpieces from the florist, or setting up chairs for the ceremony. And trust me, if they're stressed, you will be majorly stressed. If one of their assignments doesn't get done for some reason, who do you think will be the most upset?
This leads me to #4:
4. Focus on the Big Picture.
Beautiful details are great, but get the basics out of the way first. How are you and your bridal party getting around the day of the wedding? When and what will you be eating for breakfast? Do you have a place to get ready? Did you book the newlywed suite? Is your venue large enough for all your guests?
For one wedding I was in, it was literally "Planes, Trains and Automobiles" to get there. When I finally arrived, exhausted from the last leg (a 3-hour drive), I was handed a list, printed in purple ink, on a white doily, pasted to a lavender sheet of paper. It was a to-the-minute schedule of my duties as bridesmaid. My heart stopped. Just with driving time, there was no way anyone could get all this done in the time allotted (well, with a time machine, maybe)! And with all the beautiful presentation of the list, the bride and her mother had forgotten some of the most important things, like transportation and food. Because we had these detailed lists, no one thought to ask--we all assumed that had been assigned to someone else! As it turned out, we had six bridesmaids, one bride, and only one car--mine (a tiny Toyota). It was a 30 minute drive between each stop on the schedule (starting at 8am: bride's house, reception hall, beauty salon, church, reception hall--in that order). Luckily, an old High School friend of the bride, who had not been asked to be a bridesmaid, saved the day by showing up and offering to help. Still, that experience nearly wasted me.
Okay, so maybe it seems like I'm bitter or overstating it, but hey, if this information saves the sanity of just one bride or bridesmaid out there, it'll all be worth it. The most important thing, of course, is to HAVE FUN! Remember, at the end of the day, you'll be married to your Prince Charming. Enjoy yourself, share the love with your friends and family and send yourself off on the adventure of a lifetime.
Deb Boxill is a professional wedding go-er and freelance writer
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