Having a Small Wedding Party? How to Have the Awkward Conversation With Friends

The pros weigh in.

Bridesmaids

Photo by Hugo Coelho

When Catherine Sourbis planned her January 2020 nuptials to her now-husband, Tyler Gibson, she knew there was only one person who needed to stand by her side: her sister. “Standing up in front of your loved ones and committing yourself to your partner is one of the most exciting, and personal, things one will ever do,” Catherine explains. “I wanted a family-centered ceremony and also knew that those in the audience would understand the need for intimacy.” Ultimately, Catherine decided to forgo bridesmaids and just have her sister as her maid of honor. 

Though keeping your wedding party to a minimum might simplify the logistics of the entire planning process— for example, there will be fewer people to consider when selecting a dress or suit — it can be a slightly awkward conversation to broach with those who you are close with, but do not have an official title for your big day. So, how do you do it? How do you have a small wedding party without hurting anyone’s feelings? To help, wedding experts break down how to navigate this potentially sticky situation in style.

Meet the Expert

  • Jennifer Porter is the founder and chief deputy of Satsuma Designs based on Seattle, which offers modern etiquette classes.
  • Melissa Trentadue is the senior manager of community and user experience at Zola.
  • Stephanie Teague is a wedding planner with 10 years of experience, and she's also the founder of Stephanie Teague Events.

Be Transparent

As the saying goes, honesty is the best policy. But, according to Jennifer Porter, a Seattle-based manners expert, it’s important to have this conversation sooner rather than later.

“Regardless of whether the decision to have a small wedding party is about finances, venue constraints, family dynamics, friends, or your partner’s wishes, put it all on the table to share,” she shares. “Presumably, the people that would be candidates for a wedding party member are the very same people who will truly support the decision to ‘downsize.’”

Are you limiting your wedding party to just family? Want to include friends you’ve known for 20 years? As the bride or groom, your reasoning is totally valid—so why not be candid with your loved ones? Chances are, they’ll be way more understanding than you think. That said, if you’re at a loss for words, Zola’s Melissa Trentadue recommends saying the following:

"The past few years have taught us a lot about intimacy and togetherness, and we've decided that we (will not be having a wedding party/will be keeping our wedding party very limited) to keep the ceremony intimate so that we can really honor our union.”

For some people, not being included in a wedding party can be a blow to the ego—especially if they’re a member of your inner circle. But, let’s get one thing straight: just because a person isn’t formally part of your wedding party doesn’t mean you’re not excited to have them attend your big day. That’s exactly why it’s so important to express just how eager you are to have them there.

“Reiterate that you're so excited to celebrate with them at the wedding—or at a later date if you're keeping the guest list small, too,” Trentadue adds.

Wedding party

Photo by Sylvie Gil

Focus on the Positives

Sometimes, keeping your wedding party to a minimum might be a blessing in disguise for your nearest and dearest.

“As someone who witnesses weddings from behind the scenes, I can tell you that being a part of the wedding party changes their overall experience of the wedding,” shares Stephanie Teague, founder of her eponymous event-planning company. “Instead of having a nice leisurely day enjoying pre-festivities, your wedding party will be doing hair and makeup early in the morning, often juggling logistics with their date or children.”

If someone in your inner circle is particularly bummed to hear they’re not part of your wedding party, tell them how important it is for them to have a great time.

“Let them know that you aren’t asking them to be a part of the wedding party because their guest experience matters more to you,” Teague shares. “When the situation is approached from this direction, I find that it can help ease any potential hurt feelings.”

Give Them a Task

Contrary to popular belief, a person doesn’t have to be a bridesmaid or groomsmen to play a special role in your big day. For her Brooklyn-based nuptials, Catherine found ways to make her close friends feel included. Not only did she enlist her friend with the best penmanship to DIY the seating chart, but she also asked another friend to give a speech during the rehearsal dinner. 

“I wanted to be honest with my friends and wanted to balance my decision to go without a bridal party by asking for their help and their presence along the way,” the bride adds. “People love a task! So, whether it be coming for dress fittings, crowdsourcing opinions on invite samples, or having an [epic] bachelorette party, getting people involved is the best way to show them how important they are to you, while making your own personal choices for a small wedding party.”

It doesn’t matter if they’re snapping candids as you walk down the aisle or asking guests to migrate from the cocktail hour to dinner, one thing’s for sure: your loved ones are here to help.

Ceremony

Photo by Luna de Mare

Create Magical Moments

Chances are, your wedding will go down in history as one of the best days ever. But, what makes  your big day so special is having little moments with your nearest and dearest.

“I would also recommend to couples that they plan an event that includes the friends and family members [who] would have been in the wedding party,” Porter shares. “This can be as simple as a gathering before the ceremony with a glass of champagne, as lavish as a weekend getaway, or somewhere in between.”

Before she and Tyler swapped vows, Catherine invited her closest friends to her bridal suite for coffee and bagels. So, by the time she was ready to walk down the aisle, Catherine knew she had her sister standing by her side—and her friends supporting her along the way.

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