A friend of mine has been a bridesmaid in 10 different weddings, meaning she’s basically a real-life Katherine Heigl in 27 Dresses. Seeing as she has yet to be secretly profiled by a handsome wedding reporter with twinkling eyeballs and a penchant for mansplaining the lyrics of “Bennie and the Jets,” I’ve taken it upon myself to correct this journalistic oversight. I recently sat down with her and inundated her with questions about everything she’s learned — from choosing a bridesmaid dress that doesn’t suck to dealing with weird relatives.
Just like there’s no right way to get married, there’s no right way to be a bridesmaid. My friend’s experience errs on the side of traditional — and American — but her insights offer an entertaining peek behind the curtain of what being in someone else’s wedding can entail beyond holding up the bride’s dress while she pees. Keep scrolling to read what she had to say.
On the Dreaded Bridesmaid Dress
My general disclaimer on bridesmaid dresses, most of the time, is that you’re never going to look your best, but you’re never going to look your absolute worst. Generally, these dresses are not stylish, they’re not cool, but they’re usually okay. There are obviously exceptions to this. I’ve seen some really, truly bad dresses (one of my friends had to wear one that was short, bright orange, lace and corseted), but for the most part, you have to remember this day isn’t about you, and just suck it up. No good can come from telling a bride you hate the bridesmaid dress she picked out. It’s just not worth it.
That being said, I would advise brides to choose one that is darker-colored and not form-fitting through the hip. Generally the fabrics for bridesmaid dresses are not very nice, and a darker fabric with a forgiving silhouette makes that less apparent. A navy dress, a black dress, a dark blue, a dark green — these are all good colors to consider. They also don’t have to be pricey to get the job done.
When purchasing your bridesmaid dress, always order one or two sizes up. You generally tailor these dresses no matter what, so it helps to have a little extra fabric to work with, especially if you’re worried about it looking too tight. One bridesmaid dress I wore was really small in the hips, and I’m a hippy gal, so I ordered up two sizes and then took in the waist and bust and it fit perfectly.
It can seem nice initially when a bride lets girls pick their own dress, whether it’s giving them complete freedom or letting them choose their own silhouette with a particular fabric, but oftentimes I’ve found that it ends up creating more work and being more difficult than anticipated. Because then all the bridesmaids have to go try stuff on and it can take months to find something, and sometimes they’ll pick something out that the bride will ultimately want to veto, etc. In my experience it’s better if the bride picks out a specific dress, and that’s what everyone wears. (But I’ve heard it work out the other way — so just know your audience.)
On Being a Genuinely Helpful Bridesmaid
Be really responsive and responsible. Order your dress on time, don’t make the bride chase you to get the dress ordered (for most bridesmaid dress manufacturers, you can’t place the whole order until everyone has placed their individual ones). Or, if you’re doing something more individualized, try to pick it early, and try to be flexible.
RSVP to everything, even if it’s assumed that you’ll be there. Not RSVPing is so rude. It’s my biggest pet peeve. If you can’t make it to XYZ event, it’s totally fine. Just communicate it clearly and as early as possible. In general, don’t make the bride chase you for answers. Let her know why you won’t make it.
Don’t be territorial over the bride if you are a bridesmaid. The bridesmaid who is always trying to get in the photo with the bride and be her best friend — that’s not a good look, and it’s not helpful. I can’t repeat this enough: It’s not your day.
If a bride is panicking or stressed about something, be quiet and calm and ask what you can do. It’s actually not helpful in those situations to start offering solutions, because usually your solution isn’t going to be what they want to hear, or even possible for that matter, so it’s better to just be like, “I’m here for you. Let me know if I can get you anything. Do you need a water?” It will make things worse if you fuel their anxiety by opining on what happened.
In general I’ve been fortunate with the brides whose weddings I’ve been in, but people can get so weird when it comes to weddings. People lose their minds. I’ve definitely seen brides in other weddings freak out and mistreat their bridesmaids. It’s easy to get caught up in the moment and forgot the big picture.
On Bridesmaid Hair, Makeup, Footwear and General Organization
Don’t ask for a hairstyle you’ve never tried before. Don’t ask for makeup you’ve never tried. Always ask for natural, normal makeup (unless the bride has hyper-specific requirements) and do your hair in a way that feels comfortable. If you’re combining a mediocre dress with new hair and new makeup all at the same time, you’re going to look in the mirror and be like, “Oh my God, who am I?”
Most brides are flexible when it comes to how you choose to do your hair and makeup, but if they have a particular vision you don’t love, that’s just another instance in which it’s best to suck it up and go with the flow.
Wear comfortable shoes. Ask if any portion of the evening happens on grass, and if so, don’t wear high, spiky heels. Some brides will ask you to wear a certain shoe color, but usually the bridesmaid dresses are long enough that it doesn’t matter and it’s up to you. If you know you’re going to be a bridesmaid in a lot of weddings, it can be worth investing in go-to “bridesmaid shoes.”
The day of, when everyone’s getting ready in one room, there’s just so much shit everywhere. You can so easily misplace your stuff. I would advise picking a corner, leaving all your things there, and being deliberate about it. I know so many people who’ve lost things amidst the chaos.
Also, even though most of the focus will be on the bride, don’t forget to take care of yourself, mentally and physically. I was in a bridal party once where another bridesmaid was puking the entire time we were getting ready because she had a stomach bug. (She ended up rallying for the ceremony, but she was like, “I was this close to going up to the wedding planner and being like, I can’t stand up there. I’m sorry.”) It’s okay to tap out if you need to, or even just take a quiet moment for yourself in another room.
On Financial Planning
Being a bridesmaid is often very expensive. You have to buy a dress, plane tickets, a hotel room, a gift (often multiple), not to mention the cost of going on a bachelorette trip if there is one. Since you usually have some sense of which friends might ask you to be a bridesmaid and when they’re planning to get married, it can help ease the financial burden if you’re able to start mentally (or literally) setting aside money for all of these things well in advance. Look at your schedule a year out with weddings in mind and think about it logistically from both a financial and travel perspective. I would also say if a bride is in a position to pay for the dresses, that’s such a gift to the bridesmaids. Same for hair and makeup. It’s a much nicer gesture than giving your bridesmaids a tote bag or other kinds of swag, which is typical.
If you can’t afford to be someone’s bridesmaid, just be honest about it. If you’re worried about any expense, communicate that. Don’t be afraid to give her a $20 gift. It’s fine, she’s not going to fault you for that. If she does, she’s not being a good friend.
On Her Most Memorable Bridesmaid Disasters
Most memorably, at one wedding I was in, the bride got her dress from this random boutique off the side of a highway, and it didn’t arrive until six weeks before the wedding. She had to do all the fittings within that time period, which is doable but tight. We went to pick the dress up and try it on two days before the wedding, and the woman was teaching me how to zip it up and bustle it and all that. As it was being zipped up we heard a sound and the whole back of the dress sort of ripped open and basically fell apart. The bride’s mom was like, “Okay, we need to leave now.” They took the dress to a local tailor who basically stayed up for 36 hours and fixed it.
In general, the most challenging or potentially disastrous thing about being a bridesmaid is having to manage your friend’s family members. During one of my friend’s weddings, I was sitting with her sister before the ceremony, and she turned to me while drinking champagne and told me she’d taken a Klonopin. I had a brief moment of panic, but luckily it turned out fine!
On the Worst Thing About Being a Frequent Bridesmaid
It can be really exhausting. A wedding is already a long event to begin with, but as a bridesmaid you have to get there early, you have to take days off of work, you are up eight until midnight, etc. And then there are often other events that go along with it, like rehearsal dinners and receptions and brunches, and as a bridesmaid you kind of have to be at full capacity for each one with a smile on your face. Even if you’re happy to be there in theory, it still adds up.
On the Best Thing About Being a Frequent Bridesmaid
You get a lot of extra time with the bride that nobody else does. Think about it: At most weddings, no one actually gets to hang out with the bride. I just went to wedding as a guest this past week, and I gave the bride a hug at the reception and saw her for a second on the dance floor. That was it!
On Using What She’s Learned to Plan Her Own Wedding
After being a bridesmaid 10 times and attending eight other weddings as a guest, I have a pretty clear sense of what I want my own wedding to look and feel like. I’m very focused on making the moment that everyone walks into the reception as energetic as possible. I think sometimes when the bride and groom walk into the reception, it’s sort of anti-climactic. They get announced, then they just sit down. I want to keep things feeling upbeat.
I would also recommend keeping the dinner and speeches quick. If you have an incredible speaker, give them free rein, but that’s obviously rare. The tradition in the U.S. is for the father of the bride, best man and maid of honor to give speeches at the actual reception, and then a brief “thank you” speech from the groom. I think that tends to work pretty well, but of course every wedding, family situation, you name it is a bit different!
I’m going to do a first look and take the majority of photos with the bridal party at my parents’ house before. Then afterwards, we’ll do one more shot with everybody at the reception because it’s a different venue and it’s cool. But that’ll take literally five minutes. Then everyone can go get a cheese puff.
Feature photo by TM &©20th Century Fox via Everett Collection.