A bride and her squad bring out the best in one another...until they don’t. “When you put a bunch of girls in a room, add booze, dresses, and Saturday night—things can get heated,” says Molly Rosen Guy, author of Stone Fox Bride: Love, Lust, and Wedding Planning for the Wild at Heart. That’s why it’s so important to draft only the most supportive and flexible friends. Ask yourself, “Who’s really going to keep me sane when chiffon hits the fan?” Then, invite them and don’t worry about their age or even their gender. “Just as couples aren’t always a man and a woman, neither are their respective attendants,” says Diane Gottsman, author of Modern Etiquette for a Better Life.
Once you’ve anointed the A-list, consider what’s fair to ask of them. Time-wise, Guy suggests a very simple—and eye-opening— formula: Beyond the commitment of your wedding weekend, you can reasonably request one Saturday night, one Sunday afternoon, a shower, and an additional six hours total of miscellaneous crafting/envelope stuffing/flower-crown concepting. And don’t just assume bridesmaids know the level of commitment expected; clearly communicate your requirements from the start. Take everyone out for a drink and lay out what you foresee needing. “They might think they’re planning the bachelorette, scheduling hair and makeup, and lead- ing the prayer circle before you walk down the aisle,” Guy says, while you just need them to hire the limo for the bachelorette.
Most important, tap into your own experience as a ’maid, then maximize what was fun—and minimize what was ridiculous. Pay attention to their reactions too: “If they keep making excuses, it’s a sign you’re pushing the limit but they don’t want to hurt your feelings,” Gottsman says. In the event of disagreements or beefs, don’t fall into the trap of drumming up your own drama. Allow yourself a few venting sessions to your fiancé—no one else, and (for the love of God!) certainly not another bridesmaid— then drop it and move on. Remember, this is a time for loving on the special people in your life, not trash-texting about them during the rehearsal dinner. As Guy puts it, “Instead of demanding they cater to your every request, seek out ways to show your bridesmaids how much you value their friendship. Everyone will be happier in the process.”
Now that we've covered the basics, you still probably have some burning bridesmaids questions, right? First up, "What do they wear?" It used to be you chose two dresses: one for you, one for them. But the latest cool look for bridesmaids is mismatched—but semi-related—dresses, which takes a little know-how to pull off.
Master the Mismatched Dress Look
Step 1: You're the Boss
First, you need to have that difficult conversation where you establish that while they can pick out their dress options, you get the ultimate OK.
Step 2: Share the Vision
You—or your most fashion-savvy bridesmaid—should put together a shared Pinterest board of colors, styles, and readily available options that won’t clash. (Remember to pin Pantone numbers or paint chips so everyone can see—and color-match—your exact idea of “elephant’s breath” gray.)
Step 3: Get Granular
Annotate each look you pin with a call-out to exactly what you like about it, suggests Guy, and be very upfront with specific affordable options. “That way, there’s no crisis,” she says.
Another query that stumps many brides is the awkward, "If I was her bridesmaid, does she have to be mine?" No one likes an obligation invitation, and a recipient can often tell if she wasn’t your first (or fifth) choice. If you are close but not that close, find other ways to incorporate your runners-up. “People like to use their talents,” says Guy, “especially for people they love.” So let the Beyoncés sing “Ave Maria” at the church, or ask the Inas to bake some scones for the day-after brunch. If you personalize your big day, you can highlight a lot of your friends—beyond those just standing in a line at your side.
And speaking of reasonable friend requests, you may be wondering, "Can I ask my bridesmaids not to get pregnant before my wedding?" No. Hard no. You don’t get to police your friends’ bodies under any circumstances—whether it’s asking them to lose five pounds, wear a push-up bra, or fiddle with their family planning. In fact, since it’s not easy to multitask pregnancy and bridesmaiding. If one of your friends becomes plus-one, be extra solicitous about her comfort and give her the option of bowing out. You can still give her some kind of special corsage or shout-out in the program.
But while pregnancy isn't one of them, it's fair to question, "What is a 'fireable offense' for a bridesmaid?" First, know that kicking her off the roster probably also means pushing her out of your life for a long time (possibly forever). Make sure this is a last-resort call and not over some garden- variety girlfriend argument. Cut her loose only if someone’s safety or more valuable relationships (like the one with your partner, your future MIL, or your mental health) are threatened. Then take her out for coffee, explain your decision, and reimburse any major money she’s spent.
Now what about the brides who didn't hire any bridesmaids to begin with? You absolutely do not have to have a wedding party. But, you can run into some trouble if you exploit your friends and never even thank them properly.
Read the following as-told-to of a "faux-bridesmaid" who felt taken advantage of by a bride she called a best friend:
"If she walks like a bridesmaid and talks like a bridesmaid...call her a bridesmaid, or, at the very least, show her you appreciate how much she’s done for you. Otherwise, by the end of the wedding day, you may gain a spouse—but lose a friend. I feel like that’s what happened to me as a non-bridesmaid. When my best friend of 15 years got engaged, she pretended she didn’t want bridesmaids. I think she fancied herself that chill, cool bride who didn’t believe in the stodginess of a line of girls in matching dresses. One day over coffee, she even said, 'If we were having a wedding party, you’d be my maid of honor.'
And then guess what happened? I became what looked a lot like her maid of honor. I took her on days of shopping. I picked out her Amsale dress. When it didn’t fit in her closet, I stored it in mine. I hosted the shower, which involved devising games that were personalized but 'not too cheesy,' securing a reservation at a hip restaurant, and crafting favors for about 20 strangers. With two hours’ notice, I was asked to give a toast at the rehearsal dinner. I did all of this for...a tote bag.
No one at the wedding would ever have guessed that her 'best friend in the world' did any of this or was important to her in any way. She wanted to be the mythological cool girl—but in pulling that off, she needed a wingwoman like me, who’s earnest and organized in ways that are decidedly not cool. (If you look at sonograms of me in utero, I’m pretty sure you can see an Excel spreadsheet.) If you want the benefits of someone else’s labor, time, and affection, own up to it! Just acknowledge how nice it is when your team is around. If you don’t, you shouldn’t get to, say, send me Etsy links for escort cards at 4 a.m. on the day of the wedding and ask if I’ll 'sort it out.'
If you don’t want traditional titles, at least recognize us with something more than a tote bag—maybe a photo, a program mention, a 'please stand up' moment? We love you—that’s why we’re here—and want to help get you to the finish line, but we also want everyone to know that we were key players in your life all the way there."
—(Made to Feel) Anonymous
For the last segment of our zero-drama guide, we leave you with both some tried-and-true and tried-and-ew comments:
4 Things to Never Say to a Bridesmaid
“It’s an honor to be a bridesmaid.”
“Don’t worry—your day will come.”
“I know the dress costs a few more dollar signs than discussed, but I promise you, you’ll totally wear it again.”
“Should we take a bathroom selfie of you holding my dress while I pee?”
5 Things To Always Say to a Bridesmaid
“Enough wedding stuff. How are you?”
“You’re the best.”
“Thank you again.”
“I’ll never be able to thank you enough.”