It is nearly impossible to make everybody happy when you're choosing your bridal party. No matter how big or how small, somebody is going to be angry or have hurt feelings when they aren't included. But the number of friends and family standing up at the altar is entirely up to you and your fiancé, and if you don't want to have a zoo of a wedding party, that's totally your prerogative.
What's tricky is when you have a lot of sisters, or the groom has a lot of sisters, or you have already been a bridesmaid for multiple friends. Although many might assume that you're automatically going to reciprocate that invitation, that isn't the way it works—and it shouldn't be. Nor do you automatically have to include siblings if you're not close.
You'll make your own life easier if you know from the outset that you're going to have a smaller wedding party and you make that clear to everybody. Clearly say "I'm not planning to have a lot of bridesmaids" within earshot of everybody who thinks they are entitled to one of the coveted spots.
Your engagement party, where most of your besties will be in attendance, is a great time to sneakily drop the bombshell in a polite way.
Most of your friends who are already married probably won't care whether or not they're in your wedding party as long as they're invited to the festivities. They've been brides, they understand the pressure and the stress, and frankly, they'd like to enjoy an entire wedding with their spouse once in a while instead of hanging out with the girls all day and night. For some, finding out that they're not going to be asked to stand up for you is a relief. However, somebody will be very hurt by your decision. It's unavoidable. Whether your wedding party is huge and they're not included (which is even harder to deal with) or whether it's just your sister as your Maid of Honor without any bridesmaids, you most likely have at least one girlfriend who always assumed you would ask her and will be devastated when you don't.
How do you handle this without hurting the friendship? If she's special to you, take her out to lunch or for cocktails and explain your logic for what you're doing. And if she's somebody very close to you, you can give her another role in the wedding, such as doing a reading or making a toast at the reception. Don't just tell her she's been cut, so to speak. Tell her what you want her to do on your wedding day and how it would mean so much to you for her to take that role.
Don't be guilted (by a friend or your parents) into making somebody a bridesmaid or groomsman that you didn't want to ask. It's your wedding, and those people will be in your pictures for the rest of your life.
Wedding planner and author of How to Plan Your Own Destination Wedding: Do-It-Yourself Tips from an Experienced Professional, Sandy Malone has helped countless couples plan their big day since 2007.