Figuring out how to include all of your nearest and dearest in your bridal party can often get complicated. Maybe your numbers are so high there’s no way everyone can fit on the altar. Or maybe you want to keep your bridal party confined to only immediate family, but you still have several close friends you can’t imagine going through the day without. That's where honorary bridesmaids come in.
What Is an Honorary Bridesmaid?
An honorary bridesmaid is an attendant to the bride whose involvement in traditional bridesmaid duties vary based on the bride’s desires. She typically walks down the aisle but will not stand at the altar.
Per wedding planner Neillie Butler, this tradition originated in and is typically associated with the American South, where weddings and bridal parties tend to skew larger. (You’re more likely to see honorary bridesmaids at a 400-person wedding than at a 75-person wedding.) In Texas, where the custom is more commonly found in weddings, this group of people is referred to as a House Party.
Meet the Expert
Neillie Butler is the founder and owner of Mariée Ami, a full-service wedding planning and design studio based in Birmingham, Alabama. She has been named a top wedding planner by Brides and Southern Weddings and is a 2020 Tory Burch Foundation Fellow.
Should You Have an Honorary Bridesmaid?
Honorary bridesmaids are most commonly included in a wedding when the bride decides to keep the official bridal party confined to immediate family members, such as her sisters or sisters-in-law. In these circumstances, the honorary bridesmaids will be the close friends she would have made bridesmaids had she extended the circle. This can be especially helpful if a younger family member (like, say, a teenage younger sister) is serving as MOH—older and more knowing friends of the bride can step in to perform traditional duties such as planning the bachelorette party.
An honorary bridesmaid may also be a friend that is important to the bride but is perhaps not in her core group of friends. A bride may, for example, have a close-knit group of friends from childhood that will serve as her bridesmaids, but she could have more recently grown close with a group from graduate school and can’t imagine her wedding day without them.
Whatever your reason for including honorary bridesmaids may be, the most important thing to know is that the title is best reserved for a group of people rather than one or two individuals. “If it’s a very small group, one to three people, it’s better to include them as bridesmaids to keep from hurting feelings,” says Butler. “Including multiple people at this second-tier works because then they’re like ‘Oh, I’m honorary with you,’ and there’s not this feeling of getting left out.”
Some brides will also include tween family members that have aged out of the flower girl role but are not quite old enough to be full-fledged bridesmaids as honorary bridesmaids, but the title of junior bridesmaid also works in this situation.
Honorary Bridesmaid Duties
An honorary bridesmaid’s duties can vary from wedding to wedding, so it’s best to be upfront about your expectations when you ask. “A lot of the time the reason honorary bridesmaids come into play is because the bride wants to include them in the bachelorette party or bridesmaid luncheon,” says Butler. “It’s almost like [you’re] giving them a title so you can justify inviting them to all of your events.” To that end, honorary bridesmaids may be involved with planning showers or the bachelorette, or even going wedding dress shopping with the bride.
When it comes to the wedding day, honorary bridesmaids may or may not be required to wear a specific dress (more on that later), but they typically do not participate in hair and makeup. At the ceremony, they will walk down the aisle. They’ll also participate in group photos during cocktail hour. Come reception, honorary bridesmaids should take the same care as bridesmaids to encourage guests to get out on the dance floor and engage with other parts of the wedding (like lawn games or a late-night snack station) they know the couple is excited about.
Honorary Bridesmaid Etiquette
How do I ask someone to be an honorary bridesmaid?
Honorary bridesmaids are typically selected in groups, so get the group together and ask them all at once. (If that can’t happen in person, Zoom works fine—they’ll likely be itching for wedding details anyways.) That way, the group can ride the wave of excitement together.
Though you don’t owe anyone an explanation about your decision, be thoughtful if you do decide to offer one. That’s easy if you’re reserving the official title of bridesmaid for family members, but gets a little trickier if you’ll have friends serving as both bridesmaids and honorary bridesmaids. If your honorary bridesmaids are more recent friends, emphasize how grateful you are that they’ve recently come into your life and that you couldn’t imagine the day without them because you know how important they’ll be to you going forward.
Should I get my honorary bridesmaids a gift?
“It depends on what duties you’ll require of them,” says Butler. “Is it just a matter of giving them a special title where they wear their own dress and sit down at a certain place? Or are you asking them to buy a dress, attend a bachelorette trip, and do all these extra things?” If it’s more the former, a handwritten card and a small token (luxe candles or bath products, a ring dish) work great. If it’s more the latter, you’ll want to gift at the same level as the rest of your bridesmaids.
What do honorary bridesmaids wear?
That also depends. House parties or large groups of honorary bridesmaids will typically wear the same dress, with the style selected to complement—but not directly match—the wardrobe of the bridesmaids. For example: If the bridesmaids are wearing beaded blush dresses, honorary bridesmaids might don a simpler chiffon style in a similar shade of pink.
If it’s a smaller crew (five and under), or if you don’t want them to worry shelling out for a specific gown, ask your honorary bridesmaids to wear a dress of their choosing in a specific hue or style that complements the vibe or color palette of the day.
Should I invite my honorary bridesmaids to the rehearsal dinner?
That’s up to you! But if you’re looking for a way to keep the rehearsal dinner on the smaller side, this is an easy, understandable line in the sand.
Should I list my honorary bridesmaids on the program?
Yes! If it was important enough for you to ask someone to be an honorary bridesmaid, it should be important enough to let the rest of your guests know of their role in the day.
How are honorary bridesmaids involved in a wedding ceremony?
Honorary bridesmaids typically process down the aisle. If it’s a big group, Butler recommends sending them down right before the seating of the mothers and then having them fill the row behind the bride’s parents. (Honorary bridesmaids do not stand at the altar.) To further differentiate honorary bridesmaids from bridesmaids, you can send them down the aisle two a time, then have the bridesmaids walk down one at a time. The processional order would be the couple, the standing wedding party (bridesmaids and groomsmen), honorary bridesmaids, then parents.
Are honorary bridesmaids included in introductions at the reception?
“In the South, we typically don’t do wedding entrances, but if we did do them [the honorary bridesmaids would be included,” says Butler.