The word bridesmaid is often synonymous with an ugly taffeta dress and a busted bank account, but in reality it's an honor to be considered one of the bride's nearest and dearest. The bridesmaids are the bride's most trusted friends, a chorus of supportive pals who make up her much-needed wedding posse. Each bride may enlist her bridesmaids for various tasks, whether it's addressing invitations, blowing up balloons for an engagement party or keeping feuding relatives far apart at the reception. Or she may simply need her girls for emotional support, to bounce ideas off of, or to keep her sane during her wedding day.
Before the wedding
Being a bridesmaid is a lot of work and responsibility, and each wedding has its own special set of challenges. Closest friends may be culled from all corners of the world, so a bridesmaid who lives in another time zone may not be able to provide as much assistance as an attendant in the bride's hometown. To avoid any disappointment or hurt feelings, each bridesmaid should talk to the bride about her role in the wedding, including potential travel and scheduling conflicts.
It is each bridesmaid's responsibility to get fitted for the bridesmaid dress or send her measurements to the designer well in advance so that the proper size is ordered. Bridesmaid dresses are the stuff of legends: Hopefully the bride will chose a dress that flatters each woman's body type and taste, or give her bridesmaids a choice of dresses. If a bridesmaid has a major concern with the dress, she should tactfully voice her concern before the dresses are ordered. But in most cases, sacrificing one's personal style for a few hours is well worth it for a beautiful bridal party. When it comes to accessories, the bride may decide what shoes and jewelry the bridesmaids will wear or may give them certain parameters (say, silver strappy heels) so each woman can shop on her own.
The bridesmaids, along with the maid of honor, typically throw the bridal shower. This is by no means mandatory, but is a special party to celebrate the bride before her big day. Nowadays, the mother of the bride or another close relative, such as an aunt or grandmother, may offer to throw the shower or will host the party in conjunction with the bridesmaids. The maid of honor usually takes the lead in such an event, but the bridesmaids can assist her in planning and assembling the details such as favors, games and food. During the shower, the bridesmaids should help hostess and introduce themselves to the other guests. As the bride opens her gifts, the bridesmaids can help keep things organized: One attendant should keep a list of what items the bride receives, which will be helpful for when the bride writes her thank-you notes. The bridesmaids also work in conjunction with the maid of honor to plan the bachelorette party. It's important to choose an activity that the bride will enjoy and that fits each girl's schedule and budget, whether it's a weekend of shopping and taking in a Broadway show in New York City or a sleepover at someone's home. The bridesmaids can help the maid of honor relay information to attendees and plan the party details.
The bridesmaids should attend the rehearsal and rehearsal dinner, and familiarize themselves with members of the wedding party and the bride's and groom's families. The more-casual atmosphere of a rehearsal dinner is often an appropriate place to give toasts and short speeches, so this is the time when the bridal party may choose to express their well wishes to the couple. The bridesmaids may decide to chip in and buy a special gift for the couple, which is completely optional, but the rehearsal dinner is often the appropriate time to present such an item.
During the wedding
On the wedding day, the bridesmaids typically get ready together and help the bride before the ceremony. The bride may arrange for all of the bridesmaids to have their hair and makeup done professionally or each attendant may have to do this on her own. Most importantly, the bridesmaids are there to support the bride in the last few hours before the wedding. They should make sure she eats, drinks, rests and relaxes-and, of course, tell her that she's a beautiful bride. The bridesmaids should fill in details that the bride or maid of honor might have missed. Someone in the bridal party should prepare a wedding-day emergency kit, filled with items such as Band-Aids, mouthwash, stain remover, hair spray, tampons and any other possible necessities. Once everyone is ready, the bridesmaids may also travel with the bride if the ceremony is to be held in a location other than where they got dressed.
As the ceremony begins, the bridesmaids are part of the processional and walk down the aisle to take their places near the altar before the bride makes her entrance. They may be paired with groomsmen or walk down the aisle themselves. They should follow any specific instructions the bride has in terms of walking and holding their bouquets. After the vows, the bridesmaids should stay together for any instructions, regarding traveling to the reception or taking formal photographs with the rest of the bridal party.
After the wedding
If the reception takes place at a hotel, the bridesmaids may sneak off to decorate the honeymoon suite as a lovely surprise at the end of the night. Otherwise, the bridesmaids should be available as the party winds down to help the bride or maid of honor settle any last-minute details, whether it's gathering heirlooms used during the ceremony or seeing that guests have directions home. If a day-after brunch is to be held, the bridesmaids should attend to recap the wedding and see the bride and groom off on their honeymoon.