Thursday August 5, 2010
Bridesmaids 101: A Complete Guide
They’ve always been there for you—friends or family members you can count on to see you through good and bad. Your wedding shouldn’t be an exception. In the months ahead, you’ll be relying on these special people for practical, emotional and spiritual support. Who you choose and what you ask of them will be a crucial part of your journey to the aisle. Here are some tips to make the experience manageable and enjoyable for all.
Picking Your Posse
Follow your heart, not tradition, family and/or peer pressure. Your attendants don’t even have to be female. Today, brides—and grooms, for that matter—are choosing members of the opposite sex to serve as their attendants, and it’s perfectly acceptable.
The size of your wedding party often is based on the size and formality of your wedding…and the size of your families and circle of friends. Don’t think only of your side; count his, too. Consider inviting your fiancé’s sister to be in your party, or if he has children from a previous marriage, ask his daughter to serve as a junior bridesmaid.
Trying to accommodate everyone is where things can get tricky. “My husband’s aunt wanted us to include her daughter because Dave, my husband, was in her wedding party. Unfortunately, I have about 30 cousins and felt I couldn’t have one of his and not one of mine,” said Katy Byun of Fairfax, Va., who married into a Korean family. “In Korean culture, you’re expected to respect your elders so it was hard to say no. The big lesson was that while you need to be considerate of others’ feelings, it’s your wedding. If you let each important person in your life dictate how to run it, it ends up being not what you wanted.”
“There are other ways to incorporate friends and family into the ceremony,” said Trina Laube-Oltmann of Stevens Point, Wis. “Since I had two sisters and three close friends I wanted as bridesmaids, and my husband has three sisters he’s close to, we asked his sisters to give readings. Another close friend lit the candles and two others sang.”
Diminishing Dress Stress
Your bridesmaids’ dresses should complement your gown in style and formality. The choice is yours, but it’s nice to ask their opinion. Be considerate of costs, figure-flattering features, age-appropriateness and re-wearability.
In the past, bridesmaids all wore identical gowns. Today, you may opt to have them wear different dresses as long as they’re in the same color, style, length and/or fabric family. Going with a national manufacturer is a good move when bridesmaids are spread around the country. Ask out-of-towners to arrive a few days early for last-minute alterations, or have gowns shipped so bridesmaids can make their own arrangements.
For accessories, specify style and color of shoes, undergarments (a strapless bra, slip with a slit, etc.), jewelry, and hair ornaments. If you know stores that carry what you want, tell your bridesmaids.
Recognize the costs involved and whether your bridesmaids can afford them. Consider incidentals, which can add up. “When my sister-in-law married in the Caribbean, I had to pay over $65 to a cruise-ship salon for the wedding-day hairstyle, only to have to pay a salon back home to do it again for the post-wedding reception,” said Laura Janssen of Waupaca, Wis. “For this same wedding, we had to buy expensive shoes, but once we arrived at the beach, the bride had us go barefoot!”
Your financially challenged friends or relatives secretly may dread being asked. Let them know you won’t be offended if they refuse. If you can’t imagine not having your best friends as bridesmaids, consider paying for part or all of the expenses.
While you might see it as a dream vacation, your wedding party might regard it as a costly nightmare. Beyond trip expenses, factor in other related costs like lost workdays, pet care and childcare. Work time constraints also might make it difficult for some to attend.
Cost was a major concern when Melanie and Jose Alanis of New Hope, Minn., were planning their wedding with two receptions, one in her native Midwest town and one in Texas, where the family of the groom, who is of Mexican descent, resides.
“We only had one wedding ceremony, which was in my hometown, so when I asked the bridesmaids to participate in the wedding, that’s where I requested their presence,” she said. “We made the second reception an open invitation. They were invited to share a vacation with us and other friends who decided to go to Texas. To our surprise, six of seven bridesmaids decided to join us for the second reception. At both locations, we had hair appointments available, but I left it up to the bridesmaids whether they wanted to pay or do their own hair.”
Once on a destination wedding—especially a cruise or all-inclusive resort—let your attendants enjoy the trip as well. Don’t schedule every last minute with wedding-related activities.
“While every bride says the day goes too quickly, that’s better than people saying the wedding felt like it was never going to end,” Janssen said.
Non-English-speaking bridesmaids who don’t fly often might require special attention when traveling. Make sure they understand the process (security, how many bags they can bring, etc.), and provide contact numbers of people who speak their language in case of questions, said Byun, who also recommends introducing people of different cultures to one another. Having pre-wedding mixers for the bridesmaids and groomsmen to meet one another and other key family members and friends is a great way to make everyone feel more comfortable.
“Planning two receptions was more complicated, but it was great that we were able to embrace both families’ wants and needs,” Alanis said. “We included some Mexican hats, music and food into my hometown reception, and, in the Texas reception, all the Americans were welcomed and encouraged to learn Mexican dances. Everyone had lots of fun at both.”
If a bridesmaid is pregnant or will be a new mom at your wedding, give her extra consideration. “My sister got married when my son was 6 weeks old. Even though I was the matron of honor, I had to delegate most traditional responsibilities to other bridesmaids so I could care for my newborn,” Janssen said. “Fortunately, my sister understood that our bond is deeper than the tasks of one day.”
Overcommitted attendants who can’t make it to wedding-related events, or those who are constantly on their cell phones or laptops when they do manage to make it, are sometimes a bride’s lot. If such is your case, tell them sweetly but firmly that you need their full attention and commitment. Map everything out, and review the details as a group. Be ready to answer questions, and be flexible to special needs or requests.
“Communication is the most important aspect,” said Anna Tang-Norton of Harrison, N.J. “I was always open to suggestions from my bridesmaids. Two of my bridesmaids were different religions (Lutheran and Hindu), and, thanks to the rehearsal the night before, they knew how a Catholic wedding would work. Additionally, the priest who married us was very understanding and patient with the various cultures involved.”
“My husband, Brandon, and I sent out letters to our attendants before the wedding. It presented a detailed schedule from rehearsal to reception,” Laube-Oltmann said. “We also added some rules (like leaving the drinking until after the ceremony) and reminders (times for hair appointments and what to bring).”
Let diplomacy and the spirit of compromise guide you as you strive for a happy balance.
“Always remember that it is your day; don’t let a pushy bridesmaid try to talk you into anything that isn’t what you want,” Laube-Oltmann said. “That said, you shouldn’t expect your bridesmaids to do anything they aren’t comfortable doing—like downing shots at the bachelorette party or forking out big bucks for a shower.”
Be tactful. For instance, if payments or reservations aren’t being made, ask if they need a loan for dress deposits or hotel rooms. (Do this only if you’re ready to cover the costs should they take you up on your offer.) This friendly nudge also demonstrates you understand the financial commitment you’re asking of them.
And remember: Letting your bridesmaids know what you don’t want—strip clubs or wild bachelorette antics—is just as important.
Tokens of Appreciation
They’ve stood by you through all of your wedding’s highs and lows. Show them how much it’s meant to you. A small gift and big thanks will go a long way.
“Throughout the entire process, I sent my bridal party notecards, thanking them,” Tang-Norton said. Apart from giving them gifts after the wedding, she surprised them with a special treat. “The day before the wedding, I took the bridal party for a morning of manicures, pedicures and facials. I arranged a private morning with the owner of the salon, and we were able to have breakfast, mimosas and music.”
Some popular bridesmaids gift options include silk scarves, jewelry, handbags, makeup sets, jewelry boxes and perfume bottles. Adding individual touches, some brides have their photos taken with each bridesmaid then present the pictures in an engraved frame to each; others create customized goody bags; still others opt for a memory photo album or CD containing favorite songs of special meaning.
As with all else involving your wedding and your bridal party, whatever you choose, have it come from the heart.
Photo credits: Jonathan Canlas Photography, Vanessa Joy Photography