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Bridesmaid Protocol: What to Expect As a Bridesmaid, and What Brides Should Know

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Back in 2010, did a study to find how much the average bridesmaid will pay for the “honor” of standing next to her friend on her wedding day. It is funny that as a society, we’ve labeled being a bridesmaid as an honor, but it’s the only honor I know of that you have to pay so much for! found that it was a whopping $1,695 out of pocket for the average bridesmaid. Having been a bridesmaid myself before, I can say this is not far off the mark. It’s not just the money either. A bridesmaid needs to make herself available for the wedding, the rehearsal, and as many other wedding events as she can attend. That means time off work, so it’s not just money going out of your pocket, it’s the prevention of money coming back in.

Nowadays, bridesmaids are asked to buy a dress, buy shoes, get their nails and hair and makeup done, attend all pre-wedding functions, go to the bachelorette party on their own dime (and pay for the bride’s trip as well), give the bride a wedding gift, and do it all with a smile. Not all of those are really legitimate requirements though, and oftentimes, bridesmaids can find themselves overwhelmed by someone else’s life event. Many brides are very considerate of their bridesmaids, but others aren’t. So, let’s take a look at what is and is not expected of you as a bridesmaid.

What IS Required Of You

To be there on the wedding day

Of course, this is the most important requirement of a bridesmaid, so if you’re asked to be a bridesmaid and getting to the wedding looks like it may not work out, politely decline. The other wedding events you can get out of, but not the wedding itself!

To wear a dress of the bride’s choosing (and pay for it)

Typically, bridesmaids pay for their own dresses and wear what is asked of them – even if they don’t like the dress. Now, if you are very uncomfortable in the dress for a legitimate reason (for example, if it’s too revealing), then politely bring up your concerns to the bride.  She’s your friend after all!  Most brides are more than happy to pick a dress that people like and are comfortable in. I’ve personally never seen a bride purposefully pick hideous gowns for her bridesmaids to wear, but if you are unfortunately in that position, try to make the most of it.

To the brides, be considerate of your bridesmaids here. They will never wear these dresses again. No, really, they won’t. So, try to pick out dresses that are inexpensive. This means steering clear of the bridal stores (where you are going to shell out at least $100). That way, at least they aren’t paying a lot for something they won’t wear again. I had to spend $280 something for a bridesmaid dress, and at the time, that was the most expensive dress I owned! So, for our wedding, I picked dresses that were only $40. That way, even if they only wore it the one time, it wouldn’t be a huge loss. As far as shoes go, no one really notices their feet anyway, so Brides, let them wear their own instead of buying new ones – unless they want the excuse to go shoe shopping, that is! Bridesmaids are also commonly asked to get their hair, nails, and makeup professionally done. Don’t put that additional cost on them. If it’s really important to you, pay for it. Or, better yet, have a nail painting party before the wedding and do each other’s hair and make-up. Pinterest has how-to’s for everything!

To support the bride emotionally

A wedding is a very exciting and happy day for a bride, but it’s also extremely stressful. Any number of things could go against the plan on the day of, and that’s not even looking at the internal emotional roller coaster that some brides experience. So, be kind, be gentle, be patient. At one point or another, every bride is going to be stressed to the point of feeling like she will burst. Some brides express that stress by being a bridezilla, others by crying, others by going catatonic. It doesn’t mean she is a bad person. It just means she is human. Be kind, be gentle, be patient. For our wedding, I asked the bridesmaids to just periodically tell me, “Everything is going to be okay.” Just that little reassurance helped me keep going.

Take on tasks to help with wedding planning or setup

Planning a wedding is a lot of work, so it’s not uncommon to have a bride ask for your help. Even though it is a lot of work, it can be a lot of fun too, so embrace it! If you have a specific talent, offer to handle that area of the planning so you can do what you enjoy.  I was blessed to have one of my bridesmaid offer to act as a wedding planner.  I was worried it would put too much stress on her, but she really enjoyed it – and she did a fantastic job!

To the brides, be grateful for the work your friends are doing for you. That means thanking them and giving them thoughtful thank you gifts. Also, if you see any bridesmaid is too overwhelmed, lighten their load or take them out for the day so you can both take a much-needed breather.

Help be a hostess to guests

This doesn’t mean financially contribute to the wedding. Rather, it means bridesmaids should be ready with a smile to help guests find the restroom or their seat, or answer questions about when dinner is – things like that.

Tackle issues

Does Aunt Nancy need to get her outfit approved? Offer to be the liaison so the bride doesn’t have to do it. Did the bride forget her “six pence for her shoe?” Offer to go pick it up. There are a million and one things that could come up, but if you can take it off the bride’s shoulders, try to do so. However, if you find yourself too overwhelmed, let the next bridesmaid handle the task.

Help plan a bachelorette party (and pay for your way if you go)

Listen to what the bride wants here, and help plan the fun event. Keep the costs as low as possible so that more people can afford to go. However, if the costs become too much, you do have the option not to go (more on that later).

Feed and “water the bride”

One of my bridesmaids came up with this term, and it made me laugh every time she said it. With everything going on during the big day, the bride will likely not get enough food and water. As you would with a sick child, give her something small to eat and drink periodically to make sure she doesn’t faint!  For our wedding, there was a plate of appetizers waiting for me after the ceremony.  That was such a welcome surprise!

Follow the bride’s instructions day-of

Hold the bouquet. Sign the marriage certificate. Help with the train of the gown. Go get Aunt Nancy for the family picture. Help set the tables.  Etcetera, etcetera.

To the brides, make sure your requests are within reason. For example, a current trend I’ve seen emerging is taking boudoir shots of not just the bride but of all the bridesmaids too. Whether or not to pose for such shoots is a very personal decision. Don’t ask your bridesmaids to do this unless you know they are all comfortable with it and want to do it. If any aren’t comfortable, come up with another idea that works for all involved.

Pay for own travel and accommodations

Yeah, sorry, but it’s true. If you agreed to be a bridesmaid for a wedding in Hawaii, you do need to pay for your travel over there and your hotel room and any food costs (just like you’d do on a normal vacation). Keep this in mind when making the decision to be a bridesmaid for a destination wedding.

Pose for the wedding photos

Your picture will be taken during the whole day. Make sure to be ready for the photographer when requested, and plan your prep time around that.

What Is NOT Required Of You

You do not need to be the one to throw the bridal shower.

Contrary to what you may have heard, the bridesmaids are not supposed to throw the bridesmaid a bridal shower. This was something I only learned during my time as a bride. Tradition gives the bridesmaids a break here (you have enough to pay for). Instead, this is traditionally done by friends/non-immediate family members of the bride or mother-of-the-bride. The bride and her parents and siblings are also not the ones that should be throwing this party so as not to appear to be fishing for more gifts. Plus, they often are helping pay for the wedding itself! That being said, if there is no one else to plan the party or if the bridesmaids as a whole want to throw the party, they can. Just make sure everyone is on the same page, and keep the price low.

You do not need to shell out money you don’t have.

At the time I was a bridesmaid, I had some major costs coming up in my life, and I found it very difficult to keep up with the costly requests of not only the bride but of my fellow bridesmaids who wanted to go all out. I ended up having to back out of some events (not the wedding itself, of course), and I was belittled for it. Remember that you are all supposed to be friends, so brides need to be supportive of you as a bridesmaid just as you need to be supportive of her as a bride. If you can’t do something financially, don’t.  Someone else’s wedding isn’t worth you going broke over.

To the Brides: your life may revolve around the wedding, but your bridesmaids’ lives don’t. In this day and age, it’s hard to get a good paying job and even harder to support yourself and a family financially. Be mindful of this fact. Bridesmaids simply cannot shell out too much on you. If you ask too much of them and aren’t understanding if they can’t handle something financially, you will lose them as friends.  So, preserve the friendship and have an open conversation with your friends to see what they can do financially. Or, just keep everything as low as possible! And, if someone can’t do everything you wish they could, be respectful of that. Weddings cost a lot, and so do the pre-wedding functions such as the bachelorette parties. Those are becoming quite extravagant, and your bridesmaids may not be able to afford it (time-wise or financially). Be understanding and respectful if they have to bow out, and make sure they realize that they don’t have to go if they feel it’s too hard on them to do so. They are your friends after all. They would love to be there, but you don’t want them to feel bad if they simply can’t.

You do not need to attend every single wedding-related function.

Yes, it’s best if you do, but if you can’t because of work or money or prior commitments (or sanity!), it’s okay to politely decline an event (that includes the bridal shower and the bachelorette party). Some weddings have tons of pre-wedding parties, and it can become too much. If it does, politely bow out, and brides, let them.

You do not need to take it all with a smile.

Now, things could very easily get heated since it’s a high-stress time, but if the bride or another bridesmaid is being continuously rude or over-stepping their boundaries, you can say something. That being said, pick and choose your battles, and be as gentle as possible when it becomes absolutely necessary to bring up the issue. This needs to be a conversation, not an attack. You’re all stuck together until the wedding day, so be as kind as possible and diffuse any tension that starts to build.

You do not need to buy the bride a gift.

You’re doing a lot already, so a gift is not required. However, if you feel bad showing up empty handed, go in on a gift as a group or make something for the bride. Or, if your family is also friends with the bride, you can go in on a group family gift.

And, when all is done with the wedding, treat yourself to a spa day or a nice dinner or that cute dress you’ve been eyeing – or simply a relaxing, and quiet evening at home.  Pamper yourself!  You deserve it!

Photos by ShootAnyAngle Wedding Photography.

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