First comes love, then comes the proposal. No, we’re not talking about the marriage proposal, but another important popping-of-the-question that happens in the wedding planning process: "Will you be my bridesmaid?" While taking part in any wedding party is an undeniably huge honor, it’s crucial to remember that everyone will come to the celebration with their own experiences, expectations, and limitations.
“Being a bridesmaid is never a one-size-fits-all experience,” says expert Jen Glantz of Bridesmaid for Hire. “Asking your friends to take on this role can literally mean whatever you want. If you don’t communicate at the start, that’s how problems arise.”
Meet the Expert
Jen Glantz is the founder of Bridesmaid for Hire. Her New York City-based company offers services including day-of coordination, speech writing, and participation in the wedding party.
To ensure a smooth ride and minimal hurt feelings, it’s important to never lose sight of the fact that your bridesmaids are your friends and family members first. Treat them with respect and consideration every step of the way and your reward will be a wedding day that everyone can look back on with fond memories. Need a little help navigating the process? Here, Glantz walks us through the faux pas that often bothers bridesmaids the most—and offers sage advice for handling the situations more thoughtfully instead.
Not Setting Clear Expectations Up Front
“Honestly, we do this all wrong,” says Glantz. “We ask our best friends to be bridesmaids, then we figure out what that means and what it will cost. It’s a really challenging position for our loved ones.”
Glantz strongly advocates for reversing the order: Figure out your expectations—what your bridesmaids will wear, what travel will be involved, etc.—and estimate any and all costs involved. Let your loved ones know what they’re getting themselves into before they even have the chance to say yes, and know that not everyone will have the financial means, scheduling availability, or emotional capacity to participate how you want and when you want. “Once you do that, you’ll cut out the resentment, the drama, and people dropping out of the wedding later on,” says Glantz.
Erratic and Disorganized Communication
Your bridesmaids are real people with real lives. They have full-time jobs, relationships to keep up with, and personal issues to navigate. You asked them to add to their (likely already) full plate, so it's important to make it as easy as possible for them to get the information they need in order to participate.
Glantz’s advice? Choose one route of communication that doesn’t require an urgent response, and stick to it the whole way through. “Maybe it’s an email chain, an Instagram DM thread, or one Google doc,” she says. What it shouldn’t be: random one-off texts, or the expectation that people can jump on calls without any heads up. If an update requires a response, provide a reasonable timeframe for getting back to you. “This way, people don’t have to feel like being a bridesmaid is a part-time job,” says Glantz. “They can build it into their lives as it works for them.”
Not Being Considerate of Financial Limitations
You can’t force anyone to go into debt or even put a strain on their finances in order to be your bridesmaid. If you’d like someone to participate no matter what, then you have to approach it with the expectation that they can spend $0 if they want. That may mean reallocating part of your wedding budget to cover their portion, or it may mean being more flexible in what they wear and what auxiliary events they attend. “If you do choose to approach it with specific financial requests, you also have to give people the ability to opt-out,” Glantz reiterates.
Use an anonymous survey to gauge what people are willing to spend on and how much they are able to spend. The information will help you make informed decisions about the bridesmaid experience at your wedding without singling anyone out.
Not Involving Them in Attire Selection
Not everyone feels their best in pale blush or a high slit, so it’s fairly inconsiderate to choose your bridesmaids’ dresses without first talking to them about your requests. “Rather than telling them what to wear, involve them in the process,” says Glantz. The best way to do that: allow your bridesmaids to select dresses that they like that are in their price range. “I personally think we’re moving away from matching bridesmaid dresses,” Glantz adds. “We’re seeing more people choose a color, pattern, or fabric, then saying, ‘go find a style you love.’ That empowers your bridesmaids, and it makes them feel like the real people they are.”
If you have specific style requests, create a Pinterest board with 10 to 15 examples of what you’re looking for. “That way, you have parameters, but you’re also giving people options,” says Glantz.
If you’re dead-set on having all the members of your wedding party wear attire you’ve selected, be prepared to cover the cost for anyone who can’t financially swing it, and let the entire group know from the start that the option is available.
Forcing Hair and Makeup
Many bridesmaids agree to pay for professional wedding hair and makeup services without realizing the cost—which can sometimes run $200 to $300, plus tip. “If this will be the case, be very upfront with the pricing, and also offer your bridesmaids at least two other options,” says Glantz. Maybe they have free reign to find a less costly stylist (such as someone who recently graduated from cosmetology school), perhaps they can ask a friend, or even do it themselves. “When you give people a choice, they tend not to resent the process as much,” Glantz adds. If everyone working with your preferred stylist is that important to you, recalibrate your wedding budget so you can cover the services for your whole crew.
Brides should also be wary of strong-arming bridesmaids into a look that doesn’t feel natural to them. Your friends and family wouldn’t all opt for the same hairstyle at any other gathering, so why pressure them all into a half-down, half-up ’do on this day? The more you empower your bridesmaids to look and feel their individual best, the better the experience will be for all involved. (Added bonus: your wedding photos will be fantastic because everyone will be genuinely happy!)
That said, if you’re hosting a super formal black tie event, and one of your bridesmaids is legendary for her all-natural, bohemian-leaning aesthetic, have a one-on-one conversation with her about your hopes for the day. Say: "I love your style. I love exactly who you are. Because this is a more formal event, I am hoping people dress up and have a certain look. I would like to pay for hair and makeup services for you and work with you on a style. But, if you’re totally uncomfortable with this, I understand, and that is okay." And it does need to be okay because you cannot ask a loved one to drastically alter themselves—and that includes hair color, tattoo cover-up, and, most importantly, weight or dress size—just to fit with your vision.
Booking an Over-the-Top Bachelorette
If you’ve long yearned for a week-long, out-of-the-country bachelorette, that is totally your prerogative—just know that not everyone may be able to afford to attend, or be able to take the time off work. “If you’re okay with that, then move forward with the trip of your dreams,” says Glantz. “However, on that trip, don’t make everything mandatory.” If you’re there for four nights, maybe book dinner reservations for two of them, then encourage attendees to choose their own meals on the other evenings. Planning a more costly activity, such as a yacht excursion or hot air balloon ride? That’s more than fine as well, just make sure the whole group knows that the experience is optional.
If you don’t want to compromise on location and having one of your favorite people attend, see if there’s a way for you to contribute to their trip. Perhaps you’ll cover their lodging costs, or you could pony up some of your credit card points or frequent flyer miles for their air travel. For good measure, make sure they know that their attendance is gift enough, and they don’t need to also purchase a wedding present on top of everything else.
Asking Them to Work on the Wedding
There’s no way around it: any wedding involves many smaller projects leading up to the ceremony and on the big day. If you are looking for your bridesmaids to help out in any way, make sure that the task you request plays to their strengths and are things they enjoy. Whatever favors your bridesmaids agree to, try to make the experience a fun bonding moment. If you’ll be spending a night stuffing and sealing invitation envelopes, offer to order pizza for the crew and put on a favorite movie.
When it comes to the wedding day itself, it’s okay to task your bridesmaids with small, easy-to-accomplish to-dos such as delivering a gift to your spouse or picking up a pre-ordered breakfast tray. What they shouldn’t be in charge of, though, are major activities such as ceremony set-up or arranging centerpieces.
“You’ve got limited time on your wedding day,” advises Glantz. “If something is going to pull your bridesmaids away for more than an hour, it’s worth finding someone else to do it so that you can spend quality time with the people you love.”
Disregarding Their Significant Others
Plus-one etiquette for bridesmaids is the same as it is for any other guest: If that person is in a serious, committed relationship at the time you send out invitations, then their significant other should also be on the invite list.
If a bridesmaid becomes involved with someone later on and requests a plus-one, have an honest conversation about the idea. Glantz’s approach: “Try saying this: 'Our guest list is jam-packed and already more than we can afford to invite. However, as people start to RSVP no, I would love to keep you in the loop. If we have enough spots open, I would love for you to bring your person.'”
Giving the Wrong Gift
The number one thing that will bother a bridesmaid most is feeling like the time and money they committed to the experience went unnoticed or under-appreciated. Brides should make a point to express their gratitude early and often, and one way to do this is with a bridesmaid gift.
“Be practical,” says Glantz. “Nobody needs another t-shirt, tote bag, or water jug that says ‘bridesmaid’ on it. Instead, treat them to a manicure, or choose something they can use beyond your wedding day.”