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Wedding Etiquette Tips: THE BRIDAL PARTY

via. Bride

We asked our experts some tough bridal party questions, from what a junior bridesmaid dress should look like, to just how many bridesmaids you should have.

 You can arrange your flowers and tailor your wedding dress, but you can’t always control your bridal party so easily! The questions can be endless—do I need a maid of honor? Can my bridesmaids all wear different dresses? And what if my groom-to-be has two best men? Our wedding experts are here to help you solve some tricky bridal party problems

My bridesmaid lost her job. What should I do?

The first thing to do if one of your bridesmaids can no longer afford her dress or other expenses is to talk things over before assuming anything. She may have other resources available to her, or she may have a solution she’d like to propose. You can also talk about other ways to economize that could make the expenses reasonable enough for her to handle, such as going with a less expensive dress. If she’s out of options, you can certainly offer to cover her remaining costs. This is a generous and gracious way to handle the situation, if you have it within your means. When you initially invited her,

it was because you are close to her and want her to share in your wedding day. On a whole, the costs to a bridesmaid (dress, alterations, shoes, and travel to the wedding) are miniscule compared to a wedding. This may be a small price to pay to keep her in the picture.

My fiancé has a daughter from a previous marriage. He wants her to be a flower girl, which is fine. But he keeps trying to make her the center of attention. Now he wants her to join us at the sweetheart table. I know we’re a family, but am I wrong to want the spotlight for just us?

You have your vows, the first kiss and the first dance. So get over yourself! Your honey wants his child to feel comfortable and included—and you should, too. Now focus on the payoffs: Your man will love you all the more for going out of your way to make his daughter a major participant in your wedding; she will appreciate the extra attention and be more inclined to welcome you with open arms, and you won’t look back on this day and think, “Why was I being such a pill?” Betsy Stone, Ph.D., a psychologist in private practice in Stamford, CT, agrees that your fiancé’s daughter should have a prominent place at the wedding. “You’re marrying a family,” she says. “And you need to be especially supportive of this little girl’s needs when it comes time for the wedding. Quite honestly, I can’t think of a more appropriate place for her to sit than at the sweetheart table.” While you’re at it, include her as much as possible. She’ll be so excited to share a special second dance with you two or to help cut the wedding cake that you’ll realize that three isn’t a crowd—it’s the magic number.

Do I have to host a bridesmaids’ luncheon?

In the midst of planning a rehearsal dinner, reception and possibly a next-day brunch, the thought of adding another party to your list can seem a little daunting. But it doesn’t take much to throw this gig together. Start by asking your crew to save the date for a “bridesmaids appreciation day.” Then, take your maids out for pizza and beer, and catch the latest chick flick together. Or, invite them over for dinner (or tasty takeout if cooking’s not your thing), bust open a bottle of wine (or two!), bring out yearbooks and photo albums and spend the evening reminiscing.

You can also use this time to give your maids their attendants’ gifts. One final note: This gathering should be wedding-activity free—meaning don’t turn it into an assembly line for your wedding invitations or favors. The party’s all about spending a little QT with your very best gals. If the whole thing still seems like more than you have the time and energy for, skip the get-together but do find some smaller way to show your ‘maids your appreciation—a handwritten, heartfelt note and a small gift.

Instead of a maid of honor, I’m having a man of honor. Is he supposed to plan my shower?

We’re assuming all of your attendants are running this part of the show. If so, yes, he should absolutely help plan and attend. (In these cases, the bridal party may opt to host a coed shower.) If he’s accepted the man of honor role, he’s probably expecting to participate, and if you’ve given him the leading wedding-party position, you should let him step up.

Do I have to ask my sister to be my maid of honor?

There is no rule saying you must ask your sister to be your matron of honor. Rather, you should ask the person you feel most deserves the role.

When are you supposed to ask people to be attendants?

Ideally within a month or two of the engagement, but there are no set rules. You’ll first need to figure out how large a bridal party you want, which is often determined by the size of your event. (If you’re having only 40 guests, 10 attendants will look off-balance.) Whatever your approach, be sure to ask everyone around the same time, especially if would-be members of the party are in the same social circles.

How old should a flower girl be?

Generally, child attendants should be between the ages of four and seven. Children younger than four, unless extremely grown-up for their age, don’t take direction (or deal with 150 strangers staring at them) very well. You stand a good chance of getting a shy flower girl who refuses to walk down the aisle or a ring bearer who ditches the pillow at the first pew. Kids older than seven feel a little too grown up to be taking on these roles; give them the more adult jobs of junior bridesmaids and groomsmen.

Can I ask my bridesmaids to alter their appearance?

When you think about who you’d like to include in your bridal party, remember that you’re choosing your friends as they are. You can’t force people to adopt different grooming habits, such as shaving, tanning, cutting their hair or changing their hair color, just for your wedding day. It’s equally unacceptable to ask bridesmaids and groomsmen to promise not to change personal aspects of themselves until after the wedding. Especially off-limits are private decisions they have made or will make about things such as tattoos, family planning or changes in their weight. These decisions can only be made by them, and only on their schedule, not yours.

Day-of decisions such as hair and make-up should be agreed on in advance. Even if you (or perhaps your mom) have offered to pay for these services, you can’t insist that someone wear a hair or make-up style that’s uncomfortable for them. And give your friends some credit, too. They know that this is an important day for you, and will undoubtedly want to look their best for you. Focus on what matters most-that your loved ones are there to stand beside you.

Is the bride expected to pay for all of her bridesmaids’ wedding-day hair and makeup sessions?

Is it extremely important to you that all of your bridesmaids get their hair and makeup done professionally? If so, you should foot the bill. Understand that it’s a considerable financial commitment these days to be a bridesmaid: Each has to shell out money for a dress, shoes, shower and wedding gifts, the bridal shower itself, the bachelorette party and sometimes a plane ticket and lodging. Professional hair and makeup jobs could add another $100 to $200 to their tally. Pay for the pampering yourself and consider it their bridesmaids’ gift.

Is it all right to have two maids of honor?

Of course! It’s your party, and you can have as many maids of honor as you want. But you’ll want to set your dynamic duo off in a special way. You might have them wear slightly different dresses from the rest of your bevy of bridesmaids. This could mean a different color, different style or the same color and style with a shorter or longer hem line. Or simply have the two of them march down the aisle together—this way there’s no mistaking that they both hold the top slot in the wedding party. If you’re having a bridal-party dance at the reception, instruct the best man to take a turn around the dance floor with both girls (separately, of course). Finally, ask your two main maids to give a joint speech at the reception. And don’t forget to give your photographer the heads up on this great photo op.

What does the wedding party actually do?

The honor attendant is usually a close friend or family member who not only organizes and hosts a shower for the bride, but also helps her get ready on the wedding day. She wears a dress that she usually pays for, which matches or coordinates with the other bridesmaids, and she sometimes carries a slightly more elaborate bouquet than the other attendants.

The bridesmaids are select friends and family, who are usually about the same age of the bride. They attend pre-wedding parties and also help out with some wedding preparations. They wear matching or coordinating dresses (usually paid for themselves) to the ceremony and are customarily given a gift by the bride as a token of appreciation.

The best man is often the groom’s best friend or a close family member. His formalwear matches the ushers’ and he pays the rental fees himself. He hosts the bachelor party, holds the ring during the ceremony and leads the other men in the well-wishing.

Ushers are also close in age to the groom. They are usually chosen by the groom, and their primary function is seating guests at the wedding. They each wear and pay for matching formalwear, and the groom usually gives each man a present as a thank-you for participating in the wedding.

Children between the ages of 9 and 14 are best suited for the duties of candlelighters, junior bridesmaids or junior ushers. These attendants wear coordinating dresses or formalwear. Flower girls are usually family members, or a friend’s child between the ages of three and nine, and they carry a small bouquet or basket down the aisle in the ceremony. The ring bearer is often a boy, but the duty can certainly be carried out by a little girl as well. Boys under age four wear an Eton suit or may be dressed in a similar fashion to the ushers. Parents pay for their children’s attire when asked to be in a wedding, unless otherwise notified by the bride or groom.

One of my bridesmaids just found out she is pregnant. She’ll be seven months along at my wedding. Should I worry about finding another dress for her, or should she figure something out?

If the bridesmaids’ dress you selected can be adapted (a kinder word for “enlarged”) for your pregnant pal, go for it. If that’s too hard, how about having her wear a maternity dress in the same color, or a close approximation? If you insist on approving the dress beforehand, you can make this a fun project for the two of you. Have pillow, will shop.

I would like each of my bridesmaids to wear a different color, but I don’t want them to clash. How can I make this work? What should I do about flowers? The groomsmen?

The key to pulling off a multicolored bridal party is unity, meaning your bridesmaids should all wear dresses made of the same material in a similar tone. If you’re opting for jewel colors, choose shades like emerald green, sapphire blue and plum—all of which look good together. If pastels are your passion, try dusty rose, pale gray and sage. Flowers should coordinate with each dress, meaning each bouquet should be a different color. But unless you want your party to look like a dance troupe, don’t play mix-and-match with the guys. Have them go with a uniform look—navy suits, black tuxedos or white tie.

My guy is equally close to his two friends. Who should be his best man?

It’s perfectly fine for your fiancé to have two people stand up for him. His friends can split the best man duties and even do a tag-team toast.

One of my bridesmaids doesn’t seem enthusiastic about my wedding. Should I ask her to quit the party?

No. This is your wedding, not a political primary. And besides, once you’ve asked someone to be an attendant, you can’t un-ask her. Consider why your friend isn’t jumping for joy regarding your wedding. Is she busy with school? Working long hours? Raising a family? Even though the wedding is likely the most important thing in your life right now, it’s probably not in hers. So get a little perspective. If being busy isn’t the reason for her aloofness, could she be jealous? If that’s the case, go easy on her and don’t dominate your time together with talk of flower palettes and china patterns.

I have three best friends, two of whom are married. Can I have one maid of honor and two matrons of honor? Does that mean my fiancé would need to have more than one best man?

Yes to the first question; you may have one maid of honor and two matrons. So you have more BFFs than your fiancé? No big deal. Most women have more close friends than men do, because we’re better at managing friendships. (It’s also why we live longer, but I digress.) Your husband-to-be should only stand with men he feels close to: his brother(s)? His college roommate? Not the guy who delivers his nightly pizza. (As a nice gesture of inclusion, many grooms ask their fathers to “attend” them, since they’re not “giving away” anyone as the bride’s father often does.) Your fiancé can call them all “best men” or “groomsmen,” whichever he prefers. These days, just as we don’t always match our shoes to our bags (to say nothing of hats and gloves), your combined wedding party does not have to be 100 percent symmetrical. What matters most is that you include all those you’d like to be a part of your ceremony and that you enjoy your big day.

I love my three bridesmaids—do I have to pick a maid of honor? How would I explain that without upsetting the other two? Would the lack of hierarchy mean that no one would feel obligated to plan my bachelorette party? I want them to work together and be able to save money.

What a good problem to have! No, you do not have to choose a favorite amongst your besties. I can’t think of a single reason they would be upset; the contrary should be true. But lest you think I’m all Pollyanna, I blame reality TV for amping up the competition in relationships. No one will get voted off the island; no one will be sent home without a rose. Tell your BFFs exactly what you’ve told us and enjoy yourselves.

Do I need to ask my fiancé’s sisters to be bridesmaids? Should he invite my brothers to be groomsmen?

Including future in-laws in the wedding party is always a good idea. After all, they’re soon-to-be family and snubbing them could start you off on the wrong foot. However, depending on the wedding-party size you were envisioning, you might need to rethink asking other family members or friends to be your best guys and gals. If size doesn’t matter to you (ahem), then ask away. But, if you’re set on keeping your wedding party on the smaller side, fear not. There are several other important ways you can include loved ones in your big day. You might want to ask them to escort your grandparents down the aisle, pass out the wedding programs, do a reading during the ceremony, or man the guest-book table. Also, regardless of the role these special folks end up playing, make sure you’ve given them corsages and boutonnieres to wear on the big day to denote their VIP status.

I have one too many bridesmaids. How can I work the extra friend into my wedding?

Good news—you won’t have to invent a role for your friend. There’s no bridal law that says you have to have an equal number of male and female attendants. Single attendants of either sex can walk up and down the aisle alone or in pairs, or a groomsman can accompany two women, one on each arm. As for the first dance, it’s optional to have the entire wedding party pair off to join you and your husband for a spin. If you do want everyone on the dance floor, your solo maid can dance with her date or with another honored guest—your grandfather, a family friend or a favorite uncle.

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