Ask Martha: Bridal Party Etiquette
Do You Have to Ask Your Fiance's Sister to be a Bridesmaid?
"You don't have to ask her, but for the sake of family harmony it's best to make every effort to include his siblings," says Sharon Naylor, author of "The Bride's Diplomacy Guide" (Adams Media; 2007). "Don't think about now. Think about the future -- when you're at his family's Thanksgiving, and you and his sisters have great wedding memories to share." The one exception: If the sibling -- either yours or his -- strongly and vocally disapproves of your union, you may, without guilt, leave her out.
A Less Than Enthused Maid-of-Honor
You could "fire" her, but it'll likely end your friendship, so try talking to her first. You may end up cutting her some slack. "She might be so overwhelmed with work or life issues that her wedding duties are taking a back seat," says Elise Mac Adam, author of "Something New: Wedding Etiquette for Rule Breakers, Traditionalists, and Everyone in Between" (Simon Spotlight Entertainment; 2008). "Another option is to let her step down of her own accord. You could say, 'I don't want to force you to do anything that makes you unhappy, so please let me know if you're not up for this. I won't hold it against you.'"
The Bridesmaids' Attire
It's fine if you want to direct the aesthetics of your wedding; it's not if you end up tyrannizing. Your bridesmaids are not your subjects. "Consider narrowing down your preferences to two or three choices, taking varying budgets and body types into consideration," counsels Karen Bussen, author of "Simple Stunning Wedding Etiquette" (Stewart, Tabori & Chang; 2008). "Then ask your bridesmaids to make the final decision. This gives everyone the satisfaction of having participated in the process." If you insist that they wear a uniform accessory (a particular style of shoes or a certain pair of earrings), "you should probably pay for those items yourself and make a gift of them," Bussen says.
You Don't Like One of Your Fiance's Friends
In this case, the decision is not yours to make. "Best friends are almost like family," Anna Post an etiquette expert at the Emily Post Institute says. "How would you feel if your fiance didn't want your best friend as your maid of honor?" For the sake of your marriage, try to learn to appreciate his closest pal. "After all, this person has probably been a part of your groom's life for a long time -- and is likely going to continue to be," Post says. If you still want to persuade your groom not to ask him to be in the wedding party, discuss with your fiance other ways of including his friend, such as asking him to do a reading (of your choosing, of course) at the ceremony.
What Should Attendants Pay For?
In addition to gifts, attendants may need to contribute to the shower and help with the bachelor or bachelorette party, not to mention their own attire, transportation, and perhaps hotel rooms.
The only one of these you might be considered responsible for is hotel: Many etiquette experts, such as Miss Manners, say tradition dictates that the bride and groom provide their attendants' lodgings. Yet many other people believe even this responsibility lies with the attendants.
While you may not be obligated to pay, you should think about how your decisions will affect your bridal party. At the very least, make their financial obligations clear as soon as possible and try to make choices that don't place too much burden on them. You can even go further: Choose one or two areas to assist, in full or in part.
What Events Are Mandatory?
It's understandable that you'd want the folks in your wedding party to attend the welcome party, the golf game you've arranged for the morning of the wedding, the luncheon afterward, the rehearsal dinner, and the after brunch. But that's a lot to ask. So certainly invite them, but make it clear that they aren't obligated to attend all of these events.
The extra events they really should attend are those directly connected to the wedding itself: The rehearsal, rehearsal dinner if at all possible (also invite their spouses, fiances, and live-in life partners), and any pre-wedding hair-and-makeup sessions. Attendants should place a high importance on bachelor party and bridal shower as well, but they are not required to attend if they are unable.
Should My Wedding Party Be Allowed a Plus One?
It is especially nice with the bridal party to allow them to bring a guest to the wedding and the events surrounding the wedding. But if you cannot do this for all of your single attendants, do make sure to invite any spouses, fiances, and live-in life partners.
The Bride and the Bachelorette Party
Once upon a time, the bachelorette party was a simple gathering at someone's home or in a bar organized by friends of the bride as a gift to her. Those who attended paid their own way and split the bride's expenses.
Brides have always expressed their preferences, but more and more brides are planning their bachelorette parties, which are increasingly much more involved -- and costly for those who attend. If the bride wants to do more than express a preference, then she needs to do the work of organizing, and she should pay her own way. And she can't pressure her friends or attendants to attend.
If the bride accepts the offer of a bachelorette party from her friends, she can express preferences only, and leave the planning up to the hosts.
You Have an Uneven Number of Attendants
There is no requirement for the "sides" of the wedding party to be even. It looks nice in the pictures, and it makes for a visually pleasing recessional (and sometimes processional), but it's not at all important.
If an uneven number of attendants is fine with you, send two of the bridesmaids up the aisle with a man on each arm. Deal with the unevenness up front by ignoring it. Or, have only the maid of honor and best man stand close to you; a little distance (or taking a seat) will keep the other attendants from looking noticeably lopsided.
Another option? Don't assign "sides" to your attendants; simply spread them around the ceremony area in no particular pattern.
Wedding Party Grooming
It's fair to ask a bridesmaid to wear her hair or makeup in a slightly fancier style than normal, as is asking someone with long hair to wear it up (though "ask" is the operative word).
Keep in mind that if you insist that your bridesmaids turn to a pro to achieve any of these goals, or require her to use makeup or hair accessories that won't find a place in her normal grooming, you need to foot the bill, unless she offers.
But what of the REALLY sticky situations: The bridesmaid with the tattoo, or the purple streak in her hair, or a groomsman with a long beard? Since all of these choices clearly express someone's values and personality, asking for them to be hidden, modified, or postponed is asking a huge amount. Only with the most open and sturdy of relationships can you request any modification. And even then, choose your words carefully.
Taming Rowdy Groomsmen
The first person to bring these fears to is your groom. Handle the conversation carefully, because these are his closest buddies. Be prepared with facts ("remember how he acted at Susan and Bob's wedding?"), and avoid slamming their character ("he gets drunk all the time").
Once you've persuaded your groom that it's wise to head off potential trouble, he should be the one to take these concerns to his friends -- as his issue, and not as yours. He should place the most emphasis on what he wants them to do, than on what he wants them not to do.
Talk to your caterer as well, if alcohol is a likely factor in their behavior, you may want to arrange for the beer or wine to be slow to arrive at their table, and their non-alcoholic choices to be abundant. Your bartender or caterer may have other logistical solutions for you.