Your Bridesmaid and Groomsmen Etiquette Questions Answered
Keep friends and loved ones just that with these solutions to common dilemmas our readers have stumbled upon when putting together their wedding party, from choosing their maid of honor and best man to narrowing in on all their bridesmaids and groomsmen.
When should I choose my bridesmaids? And how many people should I ask?
Your initial instinct may be to call up all your friends, screaming, “I’m engaged! Will you be in the wedding?” But don’t. Your own plans aren’t even firm yet. Instead, wait until you’ve nailed down the major stuff like your date, location, and number of guests. And if a bridesmaid hopeful presses you to spill your picks early, tell her you haven’t discussed the wedding party yet. Regarding the numbers game, there’s no requirement—just don’t go overboard. If it seems impossible to narrow down a lengthy list, think long and hard about who’s most likely to be a part of your life 10 years from now.
I have three sisters and can’t pick just one to be my maid of honor—the others will be so offended. Can I have all three?
The main role of the maid of honor is to serve as your right-hand woman and to coordinate with the bridesmaids. In other words, it’s not just an honorary position, but one that requires planning prowess and attention to detail. If your sisters share those talents equally, give them all the title and let them divvy up the responsibilities among themselves: One can throw the bridal shower and another the bachelorette bash, and the third can handle the day-of duties, such as holding your bouquet during the vows. However, if they’re a tricky trio and you fear they could have vastly different ideas about planning a party, say, or might feel someone isn’t doing her part, it’s best for all if you bite the bullet and select one. Minimize hurt feelings by choosing the sibling closest to you in age. Or do it in the most diplomatic way possible: Pull a name out of a hat.
My sister-in-law and I are not particularly fond of each other. I was a bridesmaid in her wedding, but I don’t want her in mine. Should I play nice and ask her anyway?
“Wedding parties aren’t reciprocal situations,” says executive editor Eleni Gage. “You’re not required to have anyone as your attendant just because you were one of hers.” Truth be told, since you say the bad blood is mutual, it’s likely she asked you only because she was marrying your brother. Now that it’s your turn to be the bride, it’s his feelings you should consider, too. Will he be upset if you don’t include his wife? “Take your cues from him,” Gage says. “You don’t have to ask your sister-in-law to stand up with you, but remember that this is someone you’ll see at holidays for the rest of your life. If she really wants to be in your wedding—or, more important, if your brother feels strongly—it might be wise to have her.” That means inviting her to the bachelorette, as well. Think of it this way: It might help keep the peace if you include her in parties and showers. After all, your wedding is one important day, but family is forever.
Do I have to ask my fiancé’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 the groom’s sibling. Don’t think about now. Think about the future—when you're at his family’s Thanksgiving, and you and his sister have great wedding memories to share. The one exception? If the sibling strongly and vocally disapproves of your union, you may, without guilt, leave her out.
How do I tell a friend she won’t be in my wedding party when I was in hers?
You’re not obligated to ask friends whose weddings you’ve been in to play a role in yours. To be fair, give her a heads-up as soon as possible. Warmly express regret, and tell her the decision was hard to make; then emphasize how glad you are that she’ll be there. You can also find something else for her to do at your ceremony, or invite her to spend time with you on the morning of the big day. And dial down the bridesmaid chatter when you talk to her.
Do the number of bridesmaids and groomsmen have to match?
Absolutely not. Choose to have people standing up with you whose presence is meaningful and important. Ask a groomsman to link arms with two bridesmaids, task a couple of guys with escorting elderly guests, or arrange a single-file procession. Just appoint a traffic cop to make sure everyone knows when, where, and with whom they’re supposed to enter.
What do bridesmaids need to know before they say yes to the honor?
Before you make a formal request to your ’maids, you’ll want to have chosen a date, a locale, and a level of formality for your wedding. You should also allow at least six months for buying dresses and banking both cash and vacation days for the event. Give them an estimate on total costs (for dresses, hairstyling, travel, etc.), and let them know how much time and energy you’ll most likely need from them. Make sure your bridesmaids know that they can always come to you if the burden gets to be too much.
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 the bride and groom might be considered responsible for is the hotel: Many etiquette experts, such as Miss Manners, say tradition dictates that the couple 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 for the bridal party to attend?
While you should invite your party to all of the extra events surrounding your wedding, the only ones they should be required to attend are those directly connected to the wedding itself: The rehearsal, rehearsal dinner (if at all possible, also invite their spouses, fiancés, or live-in life partners), and any prewedding hair-and-makeup sessions. Attendants should place a high importance on the bachelorette party and bridal shower, as well, but they are not required to attend if they are unable.
Can I ask my bridesmaids to help me on some DIY wedding projects?
Of course you can ask for their help, but keep in mind that assembling favors or creating room decorations isn’t actually in the job description for a bridesmaid. However, helping you with any big project is often part of the job description of a good friend or close relative. So look at the relationship you have with each of these women. Is this the sort of favor you regularly exchange? If so, request their assistance. Bridesmaids have duties, but good friends help each other, no strings attached.
If my bridesmaids are planning a bachelorette party for me, how much say do I have?
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.
Can I ask my friends who aren’t bridesmaids to come wedding dress shopping with me?
There’s no hard-and-fast rule about whom to bring along on your dress quest. But enlisting your gal pals to help you try on gowns when you haven’t asked them to be in your wedding sends a mixed message: namely, that you value their input—to a point. Rather than risk hurting their feelings, go the family-only route and ask your mom, sister, or another relative to accompany you. Just remember that the more people you include, the more opinions you’ll get—for better or worse.
I want my bridesmaids to look uniform, but how much of their attire can I dictate?
Generally, when it comes to the bridal party look, whatever you say goes. But think hard before you begin to lay down rules on shoes and accessories. Once you’ve chosen a color, consider picking a few shoe options in various styles and heights. You can ask your bridesmaids to coordinate their ensembles with other matching accessories as long as you choose some basic pieces that aren’t too expensive. If pricier accessories are important to you, such as jewelry, shawls, or gloves, it’s a nice gesture to provide those yourself as gifts.
How much of a say do I have in the way my bridesmaids do their hair and makeup?
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. Keep in mind that if you insist that your bridesmaids turn to a pro to achieve these goals, or require her to use makeup she doesn’t already own, you need to foot the bill, unless she offers. So what about 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 or modified is asking too much. Only with the most open and sturdy of relationships can you make these requests, and even then, choose your words carefully.
How do I handle 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. 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.”
Can I ask my fiancé not to include one of his friends as a groomsmen?
In this case, the decision is not yours to make. Best friends are almost like family. How would you feel if your fiancé 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. This person has probably been a part of your groom’s life for a long time and is likely going to continue to be. If you still want to persuade your groom not to ask him to be in the wedding party, discuss with your fiancé other ways of including his friend, such as asking him to do a reading at the ceremony.
How can I make sure the groomsmen don’t get too rowdy?
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, 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). 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 nonalcoholic choices to be abundant. Your bartender or caterer may have other logistical solutions for you.
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, fiancés, and live-in life partners.
I’d like to introduce our wedding party at the reception, but my fiancé thinks it’s cheesy. Is there a good alternative?
While we enjoy watching goofy videos of over-the-top grand entrances, we know not every couple is looking to be the next YouTube sensation. And if one of you is more reserved than the other, prancing out to something from Jock Jams isn’t going to add up to the wedding of your dreams. Nevertheless, “there are other ways to give your attendants their due,” says contributing editor David Stark, of David Stark Design and Production in New York City. He suggests taking a cue from Broadway playbills by including a who’s who on the backs of dinner menus left at each place setting. “Print small bios of each player alongside their picture, but use candids or illustrations instead of head shots and quirky text in lieu of a serious resumé,” he says. “It’s a fun way to introduce your ‘cast.’”