Do You Have to Include Your Partner’s Sister in the Wedding Party?

Bridesmaids all looking at each other with bride

Photo by Mark Spooner

Weddings entail the coming together of families, which will arise a whole new set of questions during wedding planning, especially regarding siblings. Does your sister have to be maid of honor? What do the siblings wear? And when it comes to your partner's sibling, is it rude not to include them in your wedding party? If you've got your own gaggle of friends you'd like beside you on your big day, don't want to deal with toxic family members, or you simply don't quite get along with your to-be sister-in-law, you might be stressing over whether you have to pop the question to your partner's sibling. We consulted the pros to answer this all-too-common wedding etiquette question.

"It is not required to have your partner's sister in the bridal party," offers etiquette expert Elaine Swann. "However, it is a nice gesture."

According to Aviva Samuels, owner of Kiss the Planner in Delray Beach, FL, the gesture is not at all uncommon but isn't something to fret over. "What I love about weddings today is that there are no hard-and-fast rules that you must follow," she says. "Today, decisions are made based on what is best for the couple—sorry, Emily Post."

Meet the Expert

  • Elaine Swann is one of the country's leading lifestyle and etiquette experts and the founder of The Swan School of Protocol.
  • Aviva Samuels is the owner of Kiss the Planner, a wedding and event planning firm in Delray Beach, FL that services local as well as destination weddings.

Talk It Over With Your Partner

One way to navigate this difficult decision is to discuss it with your partner. But be careful: you should talk to your guy about this only if it won't put them in a tough spot with their sibling or you, suggests Samuels.

Make Her Feel Included in Your Group

If you feel you must invite his sister to join the bridal party, make the best of the situation even if you're not thrilled about it—and remember just how important she is to the man you love.

"No one says the bride has to consider her sister-in-law her new bestie, but bear in mind that his sister has known him since he wore diapers, had pimples, and got his driver's license, which is a heck of a lot longer than she has," says Samuels. "Based on merely that, the bride should provide the same warm welcome as she gives to the rest of the posse. Being gracious is an attractive quality, and when the groom sees his sister treated with kindness by his partner, it is sure to reinforce why he chose her as his bride."

Don't Mention It if She's Not Chosen

If you ultimately decide that you aren't going to ask her to be in your wedding party, there is no reason to bring it up to her. You might feel the need to "let her down easy" by telling her in a nice way that she won't be a bridesmaid, but the truth is that she probably never expected to be anyways.

"I don't think that it's necessary to have any conversation about not being a bridesmaid in your wedding," notes Swann. "I think it would be too awkward to have that conversation with someone if you don't plan on using them." Etiquette is about putting others at ease, she explains, and we want to put forth our best effort to bridge different families together and make everyone feel welcome and comfortable, so there's no need to bring up a discussion about somebody not participating.

"The only conversation you could have with that individual is in whatever form they're going to participate," Swann adds. "So if they're going to be a bridesmaid, have a conversation about that very specifically, and if you're going to have her participate in some other special way, then have a conversation about that."

Make Her Feel Special in Another Way

"If you choose not to [include her in the bridal party], let's say for example you have a handful of really great girlfriends that you have very close relationships with, my recommendation is to somehow include her in the wedding," suggests Swann.

Samuels says that while there are endless duties you can bestow your partner's sister with, "It really matters not what the assigned task was; it's truly about making her feel included and wanted on a day that is special to everyone, including her."

Be a Host

As a host, she is essentially the first face your guests will see. She can be tasked with greeting people as they arrive, helping them to find their seats, answering questions, handling the guestbook, or passing out programs.

Do a Special Reading

To make her feel extra important, ask your partner's sister to speak during the ceremony. Have her recite a meaningful reading like a blessing, a passage from a sacred text, a poem, song lyrics, or a favorite movie quote.

Light a Candle

Any way that you can involve her in the ceremony itself will show her just how valued and honored she is. Consider putting her in charge of lighting any altar or ritual candles as a way to make her feel included.

Escort Her Mother Down the Aisle

If her mother is not the one who walks the groom down the aisle, offer that responsibility to your future sister-in-law. She'll get that aisle-ascension moment of a bridal party member while sharing a powerful memory in the making with her mom.

Bustle the Dress

It may seem like a quick, one-and-done job, but this position will require a fair amount of practice beforehand. As the official tender to the bustle, she will need to become familiar with your dress's specific style of bustle and how to wrangle it. Ideally, this means having her attend a fitting to learn from the professionals.

Reapply the Bride's Lipstick

Whether given as one of a handful of duties, or as her sole assignment, offering up the state of your wedding-day makeup is no small ask. Electing your spouse's sister to reapply lipstick or make other touch-ups to hair or makeup is a gesture of trust and will most definitely make her feel special.

Wear the Wedding Colors

"You can assign her to wear similar colors for the wedding, but she doesn't necessarily have to buy a bridesmaid's dress," offers Swann. She can wear a dress that's a different style, but within the same colors, or even a similar style dress, but in a different color.

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