After you get engaged and have a few of the big wedding-planning details decided (such as when and where the event will take place), it's time for you and the groom to think about how many bridesmaids, groomsmen, and other attendants you would like to have and whom you want to ask. Don't wait too long to decide -- you'll appreciate having their help early on.
The maid or matron of honor and the best man are also known as the honor attendants. Traditionally, the sister closest in age to the bride serves as the maid or matron of honor. If the bride has more than one sister, she may ask them all to be honor attendants. If there are two, one can be maid of honor and the other matron of honor, or they may share a title. If the bride does not have a sister, she may ask a close friend, cousin, or aunt. In an especially lovely gesture, some brides ask their mothers, stepmothers, or grandmothers.
The groom typically asks the brother closest to him in age to serve as his best man, but he can also ask more than one brother, or choose a close friend, cousin, or uncle, or his father, stepfather, or grandfather. A bride who is especially close to a brother or male friend may choose a man as her honor attendant; the same holds true for a groom who wants to include a close female relative or friend.
Bridesmaids and Groomsmen
Although certainly not a requirement, it is fitting for the bride to include the groom's sisters and for the groom to include the bride's brothers in the wedding party. It is also both thoughtful and diplomatic to invite future sisters- and brothers-in-law who won't be in the wedding party to participate in other special roles, by performing a reading or holding a pole of the huppa, for example.
A girl between 3 and 7 years old may be chosen as a flower girl, and a boy of the same age as a ring bearer. Children ages 8 to 15 may serve as junior bridesmaids or groomsmen. At a formal wedding, two young children may act as pages, holding the bride's train as she walks down the aisle. And children between 9 and 12 may serve as candlelighters. There is no limit to the number of young attendants, but typically these roles are reserved for relatives and the children of especially close friends.
Number of Attendants
If you're looking for concrete numbers, there is one helpful guideline to follow. When groomsmen act as ushers, the preferred ratio is one for every 50 guests. Many couples will choose the number of bridesmaids accordingly -- for symmetry at the altar and in photographs -- but the number of bridesmaids and groomsmen need not match. The extra men or women may walk down the aisle alone or in pairs, or one groomsman may escort two bridesmaids (or two groomsmen, one bridesmaid). In these cases, it's important to ensure that the aisle is wide enough to accommodate a trio.
For an intimate gathering, one or two attendants on each side may be just right. There may be only a best man and a maid or matron of honor, or no wedding party all -- just the bride and groom walking down the aisle arm in arm. For a larger, more elaborate celebration, a couple will typically want to be surrounded by a big group, in keeping with the mood of the occasion. Four to six on each side is common, but couples are still known to have as many as 12 bridesmaids and 12 groomsmen.
Two Maids of Honor
For the bride who finds it difficult to choose one person to be her honor attendant, having two people share this role is an excellent solution. It shouldn't complicate matters, since the basic responsibilities of any member of the bridal party are the same: to offer the bride support and assistance throughout her engagement and on her wedding day. At the ceremony, the dual honor attendants can walk down the aisle either together or one in front of the other; they should stand side by side next to the bride during the ceremony. Each maid of honor can be assigned different responsibilities, such as straightening the train and veil, holding the bouquet, handing the bride the groom's ring, and signing the marriage certificate as a witness. Make sure both maids of honor are listed as such in the wedding program.
Coordinating Bridesmaids in Different Cities
Though it is fun for bridesmaids to spend time together before the wedding, it is certainly not necessary for them to have their dresses fitted or even purchased at the same place. In fact, there are several ways to coordinate their attire long distance. If you are planning far enough in advance and have a specific style, color, and fabric in mind, you can send a pattern and material to your bridesmaids, who can have their dresses made by local seamstresses. Keep in mind that a busy seamstress will need several months or more to make a dress.
A simpler option is to research department stores and boutiques that can ship merchandise if an order is placed over the phone or online. Then you can go and select a dress, take note of the item number, and have each bridesmaid call and order one in her size. Catalogs are another good resource, but you might want to order one dress first to judge its style and quality in person. If it is not important to you that all your bridesmaids wear exactly the same dress, you could then ask your attendants to select any dress in a specific color or range of colors and lengths. Be very clear with your attendants about your palette, because one person's cerise is another person's fire-engine red. If possible, send photos or swatches that they can bring with them while they browse.
You might want to remind your bridesmaids that if they are between sizes, it's a good idea to order their dresses in the larger size. It is much easier to make a garment smaller than it is to make it bigger.