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Bridesmaid Alternatives: A Compendium


by Meg Keene, Editor-In-Chief

So today, I’m sharing a collection of wedding party alternatives – for those of us who don’t feel like a traditional wedding party works for us… exactly. A few readers have taken to calling me the Alternative Wedding Librarian, which… is kind of true. So today, a collection of ideas, pulled from the APW archives.

Bridesmaid Alternatives: A Compendium | A Practical Wedding

Christina and Patty, who’s musician wedding took place in the backyard of their LA home, coined the term Bridal Brigade, for the team of women who helped them put together their wedding. When I heard about this, something inside me clicked, and I suddenly felt sane again. It wasn’t me! There were other people who couldn’t work with the wedding party, and had found an alternative! At some point during my planning process, Christina wrote me a note about how she loved that the term Bridal Brigade had become synonymous with feminist non-conforming bridal party, here on APW. But seriously. Look at those ladies! Who doesn’t want a gusty and glam group like that at their backs? Here is what Christina told me about her Brigade:

I only had one week off work to get married, so I knew I needed help! The idea of the Brigade didn’t come overnight. Again, I didn’t really feel like I had to follow the “traditional wedding model” and I wasn’t really comfortable with the idea of “bridesmaids.” What I did know: I wanted my friends and family involved, so the Brigade happened organically, really. It all started with the cupcakes: one day I was sitting with my friend Moore & I told her we were getting married. She immediately offered to make our cake. She’s an amazing vegan baker {I’m allergic to dairy & eggs}, so it was an amazing offer–I couldn’t refuse. We decided cupcakes would be more fun. Patty’s favorite baker, Danny, offered to make more cupcakes–her favorite flavor: pecan chocolate! The rest just grew, we talked about details that would be fun to diy {the cupcake tiers} and we asked our friends if they would help out. We scheduled “Project Brigade” craft weekends about once a month: we thrifted, crafted, hung out, went to vintage expos to look for wedding attire, laughed…It was loads of fun and really made the wedding a community effort. By the way, even though it was the “Bridal” Brigade, everyone involved were both friends of mine AND Patty’s, so it felt like our friends really knew us as a couple.

Bridesmaid Alternatives: A Compendium | A Practical Wedding

From this idea, David and I formed our own rag-tag group of friends into a Bridal Brigade. There were people that helped us set up, there were people that took polaroids, there were people who did readings, people who held flowers, people who made sure everything went as planned. It wasn’t traditional, but it worked for us. On my desk I have  a picture of David and I surrounded by old and new friends, grinning their heads off before our wedding. And that’s what I needed.

Bridesmaid Alternatives: A Compendium | A Practical Wedding

Then there is the genius Lauren, who got married the same weekend that we did, and had non-bridesmaids:

A non-bridesmaid: Listens to me complain about how expensive weddings are. Comes wedding dress shopping IF she wants. Helps my mom throw a shower. Comes to the bachelorette party if she can. Helps out doing whatever she likes to do or is good at (i.e. baking snickerdoodles, making invitations, making funny videos of the other guests, drinking mimosas, etc). Helps me get ready day-of (hint: this may involve drinking mimosas). Tells me when I’m being bride-zilla-ish.

Bridesmaid Alternatives: A Compendium | A Practical Wedding

A non-bridesmaid does NOT: Wear the same dress as all the other non-bridesmaids. She wears her own dress (or skirt, or lovely pantsuit) instead. Get her hair or makeup done for my wedding (you all are very familiar with making yourself look beautiful every day), Caveat: if you WANT to get your hair or makeup done because you love any excuse to be pampered, then I am all for that! Pamper yourself! Carry flowers. Caveat: if you really want some flowers, I will get you some, just for being such a fabulous friend. Stands in the front of all the other guests. But you can sit in the front row if you arm wrestle my brother for his spot!

Bridesmaid Alternatives: A Compendium | A Practical Wedding

Rebecca, who had her own Bridal Brigade, offered these words of advice for the non-traditional wedding party:

If you are enlisting the help of friends AND forgoing traditional bridesmaids, give people titles. It honors the relationship you have and empowers them to take ownership of the project. I watched a friend be really disappointed because although she had a large friend base, none of them wanted to step on each other’s toes so not much got done. She says now that if she had told them they were the Bridal Brigade, like I did, and explicitly given them permission to communicate with each other without going through her, she would have felt less burdened.

Bridesmaid Alternatives: A Compendium | A Practical Wedding
And then there was Sarah. Sarah’s sisters were her bridesmaids, but she had many more women that she wanted to honor, so she told me this, ‘My “something blue’ was a group of 13 very special women who wore blue to ‘stand up with me in spirit.'”

Bridesmaid Alternatives: A Compendium | A Practical Wedding

Then there is Maddie, who sent me this email sometime before she threw her amazing and lazy wedding

I haven’t found a quirky offbeat name for my ladies, but I did get this great e-mail from Kristina who lives in California yesterday after I e-mailed all of them about dresses. The correspondence went like this:
Me: Not to complicate things… But if you feel like saying fuck it and all wearing bright colored dresses, I’m also cool with that. Coordinating is a bitch
Me: P.S. Have I mentioned what a horrible decision maker I am?

I think what I wanted to tell you was that APW has helped me to appreciate not only the way that my future husband and I can make this our own, but how the people who have helped shape us to become who we are today will also help shape our wedding and how we grow as a couple together. And having a bridesmaid who understands that yes, I WOULD like my bridal party to look like an Erykah Badu music video means the world to me.

And then, there is just the bad-ass wedding party. Because really, if that works for you, why make it more complicated than it needs to be? But maybe you need some non-traditional inspiration? Ok! Go:
Bridesmaid Alternatives: A Compendium | A Practical Wedding
Danae and her ladies (bride in pink, bridesmaids in white, natch).
Bridesmaid Alternatives: A Compendium | A Practical Wedding
Sarah and her ladies. Note how they make pretty traditional dresses look totally bad ass?
Bridesmaid Alternatives: A Compendium | A Practical Wedding

And Marisa’s ladies in grey jersey. Blogworthy? Maybe. But I think they’ll actually *wear* these dresses again. I would.

Bridesmaid Alternatives: A Compendium | A Practical Wedding

And *of course* at this point, no indie bridesmaid round up would be complete without a picture of Kristina and her lovely bridesmaids. This woman has style bred into her genes, but she really made the one color many shades thing WORK – don’t let anyone tell you it doesn’t.

So break out of the box. Or don’t. But remember, the point is to honor people you love. So find a way that works for you, and then tell them over and over again how much they mean to you (and pick up the tab if you have them wear matching dresses). It’s that simple.

PS You know why I wrote this post? Because I would have *killed* for it back when we were planning. So here is to paying it forward!

Photos, in order: Chris Strother Photography, One Love Photo, Lisa Rigby, Lisa Rigby, J Wiley Photography, Photography By Shea, Eve Event Photography, Lillian and Leonard, One Love Photo, Amanda Borozinzki, Michele M. Waite

Meg Keene

Meg is the Founder and EIC of APW. Her first book, A Practical Wedding: Creative Solutions for Planning a Beautiful, Affordable, and Meaningful Celebration, was published in January 2012, and has been a top three bestseller on the wedding bookshelf ever since. Meg has her BFA in Drama from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. She lives in Oakland, CA with her husband and son. For more than you ever wanted to know about Meg, you can visit MegKeene.com.

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  • Nicole

    I joked that my brother was my bridesmaid. But really, he walked down the aisle and stood next to me during the ceremony. My fiance’s brother and sister stood next to him. The guys wore matching khakis and blue jackets, but really only because they’re both younger than us and broke and we wanted to buy them some nice clothing. We told his sister (who was 7 months pregnant), to “pick a green dress, whatever the hell you’ll feel good in.” I had my mom, sister-in-law, and a few friends come play at the salon with me the morning before the wedding. We asked 4 people to give toasts. One of those toasters helped me shop for wedding dresses (even though I ended up buying a dress that I tried on by myself at BCBG), and planned a little bachelorette night. We bought small gifts for all who helped us in some way. That was it. The lack of a real wedding party fit perfectly with our low key, non-traditional ceremony, and we never once regretted it. There was never any indication that anyone was offended that they didn’t have a title or weren’t asked to do anything. And I have to say, it seems totally insane that anyone would ever be.

    • http://suburbaliciousliving.blogspot.com/ Lauren

      Although my brother didn’t stand up with me (nobody did), he joked during his toast that he was the most handsome maid of honor ever. It rocked.

    • http://www.ukuleleinrouen.blogspot.com Kinzie Kangaroo

      We’re planning to have my brother be my “Maid of Honor” of sorts, and Donnie’s sister to be his “Best Man.” Actually, they’ll just be the two people who know us best and whom we want to have up there next to us. As soon as we accepted that we weren’t looking at gender to determine our sides, it fell into place and feels a lot more comfy now.

      • Kibbins

        Same here – my brother is my “man of honor” and his sister is his “best woman”. It’s a lot for our traditional families to wrap their heads around – only one attendant each and opposite gender at that – but it highlights the importance of family. Also, my closest friends all live in different states and his closest friends all live in Georgia, while the wedding is in Wisconsin. I didn’t want anyone to feel pressured into being there – if they’re able to make the trip, that’s enough extra money for them to spend. My only hope is that my girlfriends will be around while I’m getting ready the day-of to keep me calm and offer distractions ;-P

  • http://abandbwedding.blogspot.com/ bethany

    I’ve been mulling this topic around in my head for a while now. too few? too many? how the hell does it automatically go from 3 to 11 if I include more people? do I even WANT bridemaids?
    (the term “my maids” makes me shudder.)

    needless to say, the timing of this post is uncanny.

    so I can now lay awake plotting and scheming.
    and less sleep will be had by all.

  • fleda

    Yeah. My husband and I had “Teams.” We copied some friends of ours in adopting this term. The words “bridesmaids” and “groomsmen” were just so violently inaccurate and anachronistic. My Team was all women; his was a bunch of men and also his sister.

    I told all my women (which is what I actually ended up calling them most of the time: “my women”) to choose their own dresses; this resulted in some protest, because I have a reputation for being horribly stringent about aesthetics. But once I convinced them that the perfection I wanted was about individuality, not uniformity, they were down with it. I really didn’t want a matching line-up. I mean, these ladies are lawyers and mothers and art historians and hospital managers. They are not a bevy of virgins–they are complicated, experienced, interesting adults. I wanted that to show!

    We decided somewhere along the way that only our siblings (not the other six or so Team Members) were going to walk up the aisle and stand up in front of the church with us. I was so worried that my friends would feel demoted and offended. Were they? No. They were wonderful. And they (with my sisters) planned a nice little mimosa-soaked Not-Shower for me, and they also stepped in and saved the day when I got sick during the week before the wedding and could do nothing but lie on my back and whine.

    Also: I was glad to be able to include and honor different friends in different ways; ie, two close friends of mine who were not Team Members did readings during the ceremony.

    • Alis

      I just have to say, I literally laughed out loud at “bevy of virgins.”

  • http://sherwoodspecialists.wordpress.com Kayla

    We had one of our male friends be the ‘bouncer’ for our wedding and reception, because that title sounded way cooler than ‘usher’.

    • http://www.hellerandhellerfurniture.com Jenn

      that’s amazing! I will so borrow that idea :)

    • http://www.kelliraepowell.com Krae

      Kayla, you are awesome.

  • Isabelle

    I love APW. I discovered it not too long ago and it’s comforting to see others who have the same philosophy about marriage.

    That said, we have witnesses. I chose my sister, who I consider to be my best friend, and my FH chose is dad. They are going to attest that we are who we say we are and that we consented in this marriage.

    I had an idea of walking down the aisle as a clan, a team, both my fiance and I with a (small) group of people that supports us in different aspects of our lives. I don’t fit the traditional standards either in most ways, so it doesn’t make sense for me to have bridesmaids. There’s some great ideas here to incorporate more people into the wedding, to make it meaningful, thanks.

    • http://funnysmartandimportant.blogspot.com lindsay

      I had witnesses that morphed into the bridal party-type. I had my sister, he had his brother and my brother officiated. We originally just wanted my sister and his brother to do a reading, but in the end they walked down the aisle and stood up from during the ceremony. That’s probably partially because we really didn’t care so much of the when/where of their readings and the traditional manner worked fine. Also, my grandma was really insistent on “WHO IS STANDING UP FOR YOU!?!” and didn’t understand while Kari wasn’t technically my maid of honor, she’d be signing the marriage license too.

      We had a very small ceremony and didn’t do a lot of the traditional stuff prior to the wedding (time crunch – we actually just had a bridal shower a few weeks ago). It was important for us to have our family up there with us, though.

    • http://made-of-sun.tumblr.com/ Trisha

      We walked to and from our wedding site (a short distance from the reception area) as a group. It was a spontaneous, unplanned thing, but ended up being so perfect. Being surrounded by the people who love us was way more important to me than being the center of attention and having everyone stare at me as I walked in by myself.

  • Chelsea

    One of my very few had-to-have pictures was me and my bridesmaids hanging out on my porch – inspired by that picture of Kristina! I could never remember where it was that I first saw it or exactly what it looked like, just that something about it gave off that fun cool vibe. So glad that the mystery is solved!

  • http://www.kelliraepowell.com Krae

    The bridal party was oddly easy for me. I have 3 sisters and have been roommates with my best friend for almost five years. Done. My fiancee chose his brother to be best man and he has had the same 3 best friends since elementary school. Funny part: My best friend looks more like my sisters than I do! They are all leggy and blonde. I’m really, really short. Heh heh. I couldn’t resist having them all wear the same dress…I’ve been calling them my gorgeous back-up singers. So much fun. For a minute, I was tempted to have them wear flats. Did I mention how short I am? It was my best friend’s thoughtful idea. That way they wouldn’t tower over me in the pictures. But then I thought to myself: Dude. You have a gorgeous leggy bridal party. Strut it! I told them to pick out golden high heels. I can’t wait to see them in their finery…wedding is in 3 weeks…AHH!!

    • ddayporter

      that sounds awesome!! leggy back-up singers with gold high heels? hawt.

    • http://made-of-sun.tumblr.com/ Trisha

      Love it!

    • Nicole

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6-WQzhZnSPM

      leggy leggy leggy leggy blondie blondie blondie blondie!

      Sorry for the completely irrelevant, non-constructive post. But your leggy blonde bridesmaids reminded me of this song from Flight of the Conchords.

  • ddayporter

    eh. I don’t think you have to pick up the tab if you have them wear matching dresses. definitely make sure they’re ok with it when you ask them to be a bridesmaid, or if you can afford it that’s a really great gesture, but I would never expect the bride to buy my dress, even if it’s matchy and I probably can’t wear it again. I subsidized my ladies’ dresses as much as I could, but no way I could have afforded to buy them – although it was not my idea that they should all wear the same dress, they all chose to do it that way.

    having said that, I guess yes. If you’re making them wear matching dresses that they all Hate, maybe better to buy the dresses yourself. but really, the solution there is to not make them wear dresses they hate. right?

    • Vmed

      When I stood for my older sister she let us have input into which dresses and while it’s nice to try and subsidize your team’s dresses, I never expected her to (and she didn’t). I mean, I never wore it again, but at least it wasn’t hideous?

      OTOH I will try to pay for my fsil’s dress (though not my sisters’) because she’s still a student and having been a working student myself, I get that those dollars can mean a lot.

      (also, can’t help but love jcrew I ordered both possible sizes and got free shipping and then returned the one that didn’t fit as nice at the store)

    • Michelle

      I’ve been a bridesmaid twice and never had the dress paid for. It’s a very nice gesture for the couple to buy them if it’s in their budget, but not expected at all. I said yesterday that that’s why I kept it to one person, so I could pay for her dress. I wouldn’t have been able to do that with 3 or more bridesmaids.

    • elemjay

      I think this may be US-specific protocol. For example, I think it’s reasonably standard in the UK that if you are a bridesmaid then the bride and groom pay for your dress. And frankly if someone is going to tell me what to wear, then I think it’s pretty reasonable that they pay for it too (especially if it’s kinda ugly or unlikely to get worn again)….

    • Sarah

      It was the same way for me … let them know ahead of time that I wouldn’t be able to help, and when we shopped (as everyone else has mentioned, they didn’t want to shop without me there!) we tried to keep the dresses in their budgets. Of course, the dresses they fell in love with were more expensive than hoped. My sister was able to make it work, but my best friend wasn’t. So we stepped in and helped bring it back down to what she could afford. It wasn’t ever expected, or anything I’d planned on offering, but it was important to me that she have a dress SHE loved and felt gorgeous in.

      I think you have to take each situation into account. If you want to pay for the dresses, and can, go for it. You’ll be thanked. Offering to help out those that are students, or in other rough financial patches can also be wonderful gestures. But no one is going to be angry if you aren’t helping, or can’t. There’s a reason you’ve asked them to stand with you after all … these are the ladies who love you best.

      Then again, if you’re dead set on $1000 gowns, I might need to rethink that advice. ::winks::

    • http://www.bourbonlove.wordpress.com kat

      I get where you’re coming from, but the key thing is to GET FEEDBACK from your ladies if you’re making them dress all the same.

      For my sister’s wedding, my mother paid the deposit for the dresses which amounted to half. so instead of $150, I paid $75. Also, I was very involved in the process; they asked me about colors, styles, price; I got to try it on first, and she picked the dress that was my favorite. It was a lovely dress and a good experience.

      For my cousin’s wedding: she had 11 bridesmaids (I’m sorry but that is just way to many), and didn’t want to/didn’t think of it/or couldn’t take the time and trouble to ask us all what we thought. I get it; too many cooks in the kitchen. I didn’t get to see the dress, I didn’t get to give input about the color or the design or the fact that she picked a Christmas-green, floor length dress for an outdoor wedding in August (hello, 100 degree heat!). The dress could be shortened by the company, but she liked it long; the dress came with spaghetti straps, but she wanted us all to match (strapless is a major problem for me!). Essentially I was emailed a link to the dress and instructions to buy in less than a week.

      The dress was $186 and I had to get it hemmed for $35. Do you have any idea what kind of dress I’d get if I was spending $200? Definitely not this one. In the end, I felt that being a bridesmaid simply meant I was an accessory/decor for her pictures and I had to put up crazy $$ for parties (where I also got zero input).

      okay, rant done.

  • http://nighttraintodetroit.com amy

    SO glad to see this. Especially love the last picture of Kristina with her huge pack of bridesmaids. I will probably also have a huge pack of bridesmaids, which lots of people seem to kind of frown on, but I really can’t understand why!

    When we set arbitrary limits on how many attendants we’d each have, we found ourselves making unkind judgment calls about some of our closest friends. (Has so-and-so been kind of a lousy friend this year? Can I really include blah-blah, when all she’s done this year is leave me weepy voicemails? Am I obligated to include my sister, who hates my fiance?)

    Eventually we just decided to throw all of that out the window. It’s our wedding. We want to be as inclusive and love-promoting as possible. Bring on the gigantic wedding party!

    • http://twitter.com/dmrkns dev

      I have to admit, I am one of those girls that kind of looks down on big bridal parties. I think I just associate them with big, extravagant WIC-conforming weddings. I guess that’s because the only weddings I’ve been to that had big bridal parties were crazy expensive weddings with perfectly matching bridesmaid dresses/accessories/hair/make-up/etc. And those weddings made me a little uncomfortable.

      When I look at the picture of Kristina and her gorgeous green bridesmaids, and hear practical ladies like you talk about why you’re having a big bridal party, the whole thing makes a lot more sense to me. So, I just want to say- I’m sorry for being so judge-y. I’m really trying to eliminate that part of my personality! :)

      • http://nighttraintodetroit.com amy

        Oh gosh, I just re-read my comment … I didn’t mean “we” in a sancitmonious, “We are all guilty of being judge-y toward our loved ones” way!

        I meant that my fiance and I were starting to feel like total grouchy, creepy friends. I didn’t mean to imply that anyone who has a small bridal party is acting the same way! My goodness! That would be so rude.

        We are just one of those couples that has a pile of really awesome friends who are all equally important to us. Scott told me before we even got married that he was either going to have ONE best man (his brother) or 12. And I said I couldn’t pick just one best lady. So here we are now, with 7 a piece. So far. We keep wanting to add people, but we’re starting to move those extras into other non-bridal party roles, like doing readings, playing songs and otherwise decking the halls.

        • Liz

          no worries, amy. that’s how i read it. ;)

        • http://twitter.com/dmrkns dev

          I didn’t think you were being sactimonious or judge-y either. I was just admitting that I’ve been guilty of that in the past. :)

    • Jackie

      I just had to exactly this comment. We are having a fairly small wedding (about 68 people including the bridal party) with a rather large bridal party (6 bridesmaids and 5 groomsmen). I actually really like being a bridesmaid for my close friends because I feel like that is the best way to spend a lot of time with the bride and groom so I definitely couldn’t draw the line.

      Everyone who hears about my rather large groups of ladies, gives me a confused look, but it makes me happy!

    • http://made-of-sun.tumblr.com/ Trisha

      I would have loved to have had a big bridal party, but it didn’t really fit with the wedding aesthetic we had chosen. that being said, I totally loved my no official bridal party wedding.

  • Grace

    Every time we talked with anyone about our wedding or sat down with a vendor I swear the first question was something about the bridal party – how many, what dresses did I pick for them, etc etc etc. The blank stares when we tried to explain the roles made me feel like I was the first person to ever do this differently and I doubted myself a lot during the process. Now, two weeks after our wedding, we are so happy we stuck to our guns when people told us “but usually…” My husband is from South Africa and his best friend is still there and was not able to make the long journey for our wedding. We didn’t feel like picking a stand in best friend just to have a best man because you are supposed to have a best man. So we didn’t. I have a long-time friend, whose wedding I stood in, and who I really wanted to have there with me, especially getting ready for the day. I asked her to stand, called her my attendant, and SO appreciated her calm presence and all the help and support she provided. During the ceremony, she processed before me and stood with us at the front of the church. At the point where the bride hands off her flowers and the couple step up to exchange vows and rings, she took my flowers and sat down with her own very special family. When it came time for the rings, my brother and my husbands sister joined us and presented the rings. They were the witnesses and, both being already happily married, we thought it was very fitting for them to show their support by presenting us the rings we would give to one another. Their spouses each performed a reading for us. It was perfect.

  • http://extragrunty.wordpress.com/ Vanessa B.

    Thank you Meg. This post will be sent to various family members and friends to help with the resulting confusion when I ask people to assist us and to please not wear matching dresses. Oh, I can just imagine the looks of confusion on their faces as I try to explain. *grin*

  • http://made-of-sun.tumblr.com/ Trisha

    The way we ended up choosing to honor our closest friends was by inviting them to the wedding. The small, thirty person wedding. We would have been happy to say our vows in private, and then throw a huge celebratory party after. As soon as we started planning, we realized that we had people we wanted to honor, and include. This list of people (and their significant others) became the guest list.

    • Kibbins

      I can’t really “Exactly!” this, but I do “Envy!” it. That sounds absolutely perfect. Unfortunately, I have my mom’s family to not piss off (10 brother and sisters, spouses, both grown and younger children…), and our guest list quickly hit 100. *sigh*

    • Sandy

      I’m in a very similar situation and am hoping to stick to my guns about the same thing. I am marrying my wonderful BF after two years together, but this my second wedding. In planning the wedding, I’m confronted by everything that made me feel awful before during and after my first. The wedding party is just the first. Suddenly I have to evaluate my friends and choose the “in” ones and the “out” ones; this is just one of the ways that weddings remind me of prom and make me feel just as inadequate as I did in high school.

      The major problem comes in the form of my best friends. I have two people I love desperately who have been the most supportive and wonderful people I have ever met. We met in college and they have been with me through everything for the last 10 years. Unfortunately, they are very close-minded when it comes to my BF. They are of a different political persuasion as he is (I am as well, and it’s never been a problem) and cannot seem to get over it. They don’t trust him and won’t get to know him very well because they disagree with his opinion on health care reform and the like.

      How do I bridge this gap? How do I get married without the people I love the most being recognized? But, while they’ve never been anything other than supportive, how can I have them as my team when I know they don’t love my future husband? I pray to have the strength find a solution and these stories help me believe that a happy wedding is out there. Thank you, ladies, all of you.

  • KristieB

    Weddings (and wedding parties) should be about surrounding yourself with the people who will love, support and help you the most when things get nuts (during and after the whole wedding process).

    Call them what you want, but as a bride – you NEED to have a group of people you can count on. You can put these people in matching dresses or they can wear what they want. They can stand at the front or they can sit next to your Uncle. They can carry flowers, bibles, parasols or nothing at all. They can do readings, usher people or just have your back. It doesn’t matter as long as you have these people.

    D & I would have never survived without our crew. We had a traditional 2 boy, 2 girl wedding party – but they were so much more than the people who looked good in coordinating outfits. On top of our fabulous four, we traveled to Hawaii with 25 of our closest family and friends. Every single one of these people did something amazing for us while we were there that made the whole wedding/ trip.

    • ka

      Kristieb, Do you have a blog/are you a wedding grad? We’re trying to pull off getting 20 people to Costa Rica, and I’d love to hear about your Hawaii wedding! Maybe I’m missing something obvious, but I’m coming up short in finding destination wedding help in blogland…

    • Laura

      Hmmm, althought I think its great that many people have lots of close friends that help with their wedding – with or without the bridesmaid title – I’d imagine there are many of us who don’t have those kind of relationships, for various reasons, and I think we’ll still manage to pull off a wedding :)

  • Sarah

    I love love LOVE the “something blue.” Makes me wish I’d heard of it a week ago … BEFORE we’d shopped for my mom and godmother’s dresses!

  • Alyssa

    “And having a bridesmaid who understands that yes, I WOULD like my bridal party to look like an Erykah Badu music video means the world to me.”

    Dude, I want EVERY DAY to look like an Erykah Badu music video. I think I need to adopt this as my mantra.

    And it’s great seeing how so mnay people have dealt with the bridal party issue. Like Meg said, i really do think this post is needed for those struggling and I know people will find it helpful after we’ve all long moved on to new topics!
    Look at you guys, helping out future baby brides who aren’t even dating their fiances yet…how cool is that??

  • Class of 1980

    The WIC would have you believe that weddings parties have existed in an unbroken line since ancient times. It’s just not historically true.

    I think wedding parties need to become OPTIONAL.

    For some people, having a huge wedding party is being authentically true to themselves and the life they are living. I know people like that and they should embrace it.

    But for others, putting together any wedding party at all is going to feel contrived and/or is going to add unnecessary stress to their plans.

    A wedding is supposed to be arranged to fit your life. Your life isn’t supposed to contort to fit a predetermined wedding structure.

    • http://www.bourbonlove.wordpress.com kat

      Exactly! I mean we all saw “I Love You, Man”, right? When I was at first thinking I needed 6-9 good-looking ladies to be bridesmaids, I had a strange feeling that I was shopping around for friends. When I started to think I could just have my 3 sisters, I grew super comfy with the idea.

      • KristieB

        I mean, how many times do we hear/ read about picking people who will look good together at the front of the church. Or the debate about one of your besties being pregnant. Honestly, I would be devastated if that was the reason I was/ wasn’t picked. If you are that shallow – don’t get married.

        • Kibbins

          Oh my… I’ve never heard/read that. Good thing too … things could’ve gotten ugly ;-)

    • Liz

      1980, i feel like this sentiment can be applied to just about everything we talk about on APW. it should be the slogan or something.

  • http://koruwedding.blogspot.com/ Koru Kate

    I LOVE all of these ideas! I’m going the traditional route but I really, really wish I’d had these photos to show my family & maids that non-matching dresses or (oh the horror!) different dresses in shades of the one color look beautiful. Instead, we’re going bridesmaid dress shopping on Saturday so my lovely ladies can wear the same dress in the same color. I had to choose my battles.

    • http://www.bourbonlove.wordpress.com kat

      I hit a wall with this too. I wanted my ladies to take the money they’d spend on a bridesmaid’s dress and just go and spend it on a dress they LOVED in a regular shop. What I heard back was some confusion, some weird fears about NOT matching, etc. So I gave them guidelines and we shopped together, so they have a look but not matchy matchy. And we had a blast shoppping.

      Don’t worry about going the traditional route; if your ladies want that, then I’m sure you guys will come up with something that will please you too!

      • KristieB

        I only had 2 girls and I wanted something fairly coordinated (but not twins). I think the total non-matchy route looks amazing with 3 or more girls. My girls are also just those kind of girls who like the whole super coordinated thing and probably would have ended up with the same thing anyway.

        I had two options for them – same colour and fabric and different dress OR same dress and different colours. These options seem to help the total stressed out girls who are worried their dress may not be “right.” J. Crew has great options for either route (if your girls are between size 2 and 14) and the dresses are fairly wearable for other functions.

        Another really awesome option that I’ve seem done lots is telling every girl to wear a black cocktail dress (she WILL wear it again) and have them wear accessories in your colour family. Girls don’t seem to stress about black as much as they do about “shades of green.”

        • http://koruwedding.blogspot.com/ Koru Kate

          I’m telling you- I tried it all. All of your suggestions are awesome too! They’d probably work with any family & bridal party besides mine who I love & adore no matter what. First, I said let my maids wear their own black dresses. It didn’t fly. Next, I said let me pick a color from a designer & choose your own dresses. It didn’t fly either. So we’re going bridesmaid dress shopping tomorrow. I’d hoped to skip the bridesmaid dress shopping but now that I’m going, I will make the most of it & have fun! Just as I didn’t care if they didn’t match in photos, I can’t care too much that they will match :-)

          Although I completely draw the line at telling them what shoes or hairstyle to sport that day!!!

  • leigh

    My wedding is organized by committees, just like any of the number of events or plays I’ve produced. Each committee is formed of people who have expressed an interest in that specific area. I’ve found that it’s essential to be organized and give everyone advance notice when something is asked of them. And to always say THANK YOU and give people food or drinks when they are helping. I have a dress committee (they look at pictures, come to fittings, tell me I look pretty, and speak up on my behalf), a cake committee (people baking cakes for our dessert buffet), crafting committee (invitations, placecards, you name it). It’s good to have people with different skillsets and put those to use. That way, someone isn’t doing something they hate or aren’t good at, which I think breeds so much drama in the typical bridesmaid fashion.
    In addition to the planning committees, we’ve designated people to do readings, hold huppah poles, sing songs on the wedding day. These people represent a large cross-section of our friend/family community, honor those that are important to us, and (again) ask people to do things that they are comfortable with or super talented at.
    We will acknowledge everyone in some small way at the wedding – immediate family has real flowers, my mom has made fabric rosettes for other family and those involved in the ceremony, and I’ve scored adorable cupcake pins on etsy for the cake bakers. I like the idea that people will be able to point to something at our wedding with a sense of ownership and attachment, and that everyone has gotten closer in this process.

    • ka

      This is what we’re doing too! Yay for the right to choose to do what feels right! I felt like a crazy person for deciding not to have a wedding party, until I came here and read about the “Bridal Brigade.” For me, the decision came from not wanting to have to measure my friendships against the bridesmaid yardstick, and my fiance mentioning something about a co-ed groom’s side involving ex-girlfriends (yea, a little tooo unconventional/just-not-appropriate even for me, haha…). Instead we want to bring the Party back to wedding party, and take the stress out! I’m really excited about having people contribute in ways that will get them excited too.

  • http://katydid972.wordpress.com Kathryn

    You guys! There were skinny blonds in the post today. And we all survived!

    Kudos to Meg for an excellent series of posts on vacation, and thanks bunches to our lovely guest moderators.

  • peanut

    I feel like my bridal party picked themselves. I originally didn’t want one, but then my closest friends just stepped up and flew across the country for dress shopping, planned a bunch of get-togethers in honor of my engagement, listened to me bitch, gave me thoughtful feedback on important decisions….it was actually kind of a roadblock that they didn’t have an official “status” or whatever. A year into our 18-month engagement I realized it was “meant to be” for me to have bridesmaids, so I drunk-texted them to make it official. Oh, and my fiance is having zero groomsmen. He didn’t want any, and I am cool with that. I don’t know if there were any hurt feelings from other friends, but I figured if they genuinely wanted to be involved in my wedding, they would have done it regardless of whether or not they were part of the bridal party.

    I also love the bridal brigade idea, except that since I am avoiding DIY at all costs since our wedding is out of the country, I didn’t really know what “jobs” to give them except for putting up with my drama and drinking with me for no good reason. It just seemed easier to say, ok you’re my bridesmaids, now your role as moral supporter is official.

    • Liz

      peanut, that’s a little like what happened to me. i had decided just my sister and his would be the “bridal party.”

      and then i hung out with some friends. and the entire time we were supposed to be watching chick flicks, it was, “OH! didn’t you say you wanted 1940’s hair for your wedding?! look at this site i found…” and “i bought this for you to use on the honeymoon!” and amazingness like that.

      they were bridesmaids. so i gave them the title.

  • Maddie

    Is anyone else in love with the infinity dress? I wish I had known about it when I was pulling together my Erykah Badu music video. :) Would have been soooo much easier.

    http://www.etsy.com/listing/52441993/hibiscus-orange-convertible-wrap-dress

  • saturday

    i had my 2 brothers stand next to me and he had his 3 sisters. and a whole bunch of friends made the wedding work.

  • Rebe

    Such great ideas, and it’s wonderful to have such a plethora of possibilities presented in one space. Thank you. I am only just beginning to play around with the idea of the “wedding party”– it will most likely be asymmetric and mismatched as my fiancé is Chilean and many of his friends won’t be able to make it to the ceremony on this end… The traditional titles really don’t cut it for me: I’m thinking “bodagals” for the girls and perhaps “groomsdudes” for the guys? It is reassuring to hear people embrace larger parties if their lives are full of friends that contribute meaning and significance– it seems to me that the last thing that weddings should be about is exclusion, and drawing lines to keep numbers down defeats the purpose of finding a role for every one and making sure that every one feels the importance of their contribution. Thanks.

  • Kate

    Mine were non-bridesmaids (although I love “bridal brigade”!). My college friends plus one fiance (who was very proud to be a non-bridesmaid), who arrived the week before W-day. They hung bunting and put labels on home made chutney and picked and arranged the flowers with me and did my hair. They read a poem together as part of our ceremony, but above all, kept me sane and laughing
    and made sure I remembered to keep my knees together during the chair lift (this is key!).

    It was important to us that our families were involved too on the day, not just in the planning. My father in law, who I respect and love (and has a great marriage: this was really important to us) married us, our mothers gave the readings, my father gave the family speech (just one family speech – sweet and simple), my sister sung us down the aisle, and our brothers were witnesses and held the rings. We were truly married by our loved ones, and it is what made that day the best of our lives.

  • Lisa

    I have to say, this post would have likely changed the course of my wedding, had I in fact had the opportunity to read it before my wedding (which happened six weeks ago now). We made, what we thought was, the excellent decision to go sans bridal party – no bests, no honours, no nothings. In our heads, it was perfect logic – why make people buy dresses, why make people do all that work, why make people feel obligated if they don’t totally dig the idea of what comes with it? Little did we realise that our friends would relish being a part of the joy, that they wanted to make the wedding a mad success, and that sticking them in those dresses (suits, matching Aloha shirts, whatevs) was the least we could have done to honour their efforts after they tied bows, made calls, arranged details and essentially organised our ‘destination’ wedding that was 9,000 miles from where we live (but in their backyard). Funny how the brain works when you’re in the throes of wedding planning, but it’s good to take a step back and think things through. If I knew then what I know now… Guess I’ll just have to write a Wedding Graduate post?

    • meg

      Yes!

  • http://luckyme23blogspot.com Jessica

    I’m only having a MOH and the boy is having two Best Men. He couldn’t pick between his best friend and our mutual best friend. I had decided awhile ago to have his sister as my MOH, but when I started thinking of BMs and the fact that I’m going to 7 weddings next year, I just didn’t want to place that burden on anyone. Maybe it’s because I haven’t asked for help, but it doesn’t seem like any of my friends have been chomping at the bit to try and get in on the wedding planning action. Luckily, my MOH is an artist and super talented in all areas of design. If it wasn’t for her, there might not have been more than a bride, a groom and some food next April. And when I get really tired of planning, I remind myself that this is really all you need (you don’t even really need the food).

  • http://www.bowiebride.com Bowie Bride

    We called our wedding party Team Zissou. It was a unified party of men and women. No one person specifically belonged to me or to my husband based on gender. A few men walked down the aisle with another man, my husband and I were both escorted down the aisle by our sisters (who we called the HBIC’s — ‘head bitches in charge’ — which basically meant they were our best man/maid of honor), and everyone was told they could wear whatever they wanted to wear. We just did what felt natural for us. And that certainly was not going to involve rules and matching outfits. ‘Rules and matching outfits’ sounds like being in Catholic School. No thanks.

  • JESS

    I couldn’t bring myself to have Bridesmaids it was one step too traditional for me and I think it can turn (from previous experience!) into a crazy: “you have to wear this, you must help me with this, you MUST get your hair done the way I like it.” I hate ALL of that, but love the idea of honoring women who have been important to me and my life and who I have had great times with and have learnt so much from. So instead I did choose 9 lovely VSLs. My very own Very Special Ladies. They are buying their own dresses (most important criteria: the love it and will wear it again) in shades of Blue and or Orange and I’m buying each of them a handmade hair flower which is being made especially for them based on their outfits. I hope that means they will just have fun, and that we’ll all have fun together! Great to see how the different shades worked so well for various people and that it actually looks cool!- I think we will end up close to the “something blue” crowd and I can’t wait.

  • ellobie

    I have way more close friends than my husband and I knew I didn’t want to make all my favorite girls wear the same dress. We did two things a little differently:
    1) Our bridal party stood in a semi-circle behind us/our celebrant, alternating girl/boy/girl/boy/girl/boy/girl, which made my 2 “extra” girls not look “weird” at all, and
    2) All the maids wore the same orange & pink shoe and each picked out an orange/pink/orange&pink dress of her choosing. It rocked.

  • Lindsay Werner

    I was so happy to see this post. When I think about all the people in my life who I would like to honor, there are just too many. I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings, and I really do want to include everyone! Here’s my idea for my own alternative bridal brigade. This is still a work in progress (we’re not even engaged yet, so there you go. . .) If anyone has advice or comments, I’d love to hear them. Doing something new is scary, but exciting.

    The end goal of all of this is to build community and bring people together.
    We want to have a very DIY, casual summer camp wedding with everyone hanging out for a weekend, boating, swimming, hiking, roasting marshmallows. . . and participating in making the wedding, if they would like to do so. I want it all to be voluntary and fun, but also all very much appreciated and acknowledged. I have already decided that it’s way more about the process than the result (and I hope that I keep that philosophy up). If the cakes all get decorated by the kids, for example, and there’s frosting and sprinkles everywhere- that’s awesome. I don’t need a fancy cake. I’m picturing a dozen sheet cakes with my guest’s icing art all over them. I don’t need people to dress up. If everyone shows up in t-shirts and jeans, that’s great. I was thinking it might be fun to tie-die a bunch of t-shirts with friends a few weekends beforehand for people to wear should they choose to. See where I’m going with this? In the end, I want to have a program poster board with pictures of people having fun pitching in and thanking people for their help. I want people to bond and laugh over these projects. Here is a list of ideas that I have to get people involved and to honor the people in our lives:

    • Baking/Decorating Cakes (I’m a big fan of rainbow cakes, and they’re super fun to make, especially for kids. The decorating part may be way more practical than the baking aspect, though.)

    • Making garlands with found objects- Buttons, scraps of cloth, acorns, pinecones, bottlecaps . . . whatever!

    • Making streamers from sticks and ribbons. Streamers!

    • Music! So many of my friends are fabulous musicians or music lovers. At summer camp, we all break out guitars and sing around the campfire, right? So why not encourage that atmosphere? I was thinking that one evening, we might have a talent show with skits, dances, sing-alongs, jokes . . . whatever folks want to do! Worst case scenario, if no one has anything planned, we just bring out a karaoke machine and some beer/wine, and we all sing along as the crickets chirp and the stars shine overhead (Okay, maybe I’m over-romanticizing this a bit, still. But still, can you tell I’m excited?)

    • Music! (Part II): Some of my friends have actual radio DJ experience (Thank you UMass, Emerson, Oberlin and Hampshire College). I want to have an ipod hooked up to speakers for the dancing portion of the evening, but I’ll take all the help I can get from people who know what will get people grooving.

    • Dancing! I love the coordinated dance routine idea both for the ceremony entrance and for the reception. I was a theater major, and have a lot of fabulous friends who love to perform for crowds. My plan is to choreograph something, tape the dance moves with instructions, send them over the internet to those who would be excited to participate, and then they can practice their booty shaking wherever they are. This is probably the most complicated part of the wedding, but it’s the part that I’m most excited about.

    • Flowers- I have two ideas for flowers that I’m interested in: 1) Grow them myself (Dahlias!) 2) Make paper flowers. Another fun weekend project!

    • Readings during the ceremony.

    • Officiants- We’re going the secular route. My initial thought is to bring one person from his family/friends and one from mine. This may be the only role that is not totally volunteer, where we actually invite specific people to officiate.

    • Masters of Ceremonies/Stage Managers: Again with the theater people. The idea behind this job is to be the ones who, at a certain time, will grab a mic and announce what is happening next. People herders. But I imagine some of my friends may want to bring a certain amount of flair into this job as well. I don’t want to burden any one person with the whole job. I figure different folks can have different announcements to make. The Announcer of the Cakes. The Lord of the Dances. The Proclaimer of the Toasts. . . etc. I’m picturing fancy official looking party hats. This will need some organizing and some agreed-upon schedules. The great thing about the summer camp situation is that we can dance as late as we want, (according to the head of a summer camp with whom I talked). Though we need to fit a lot of things in fairly early on so people can wind down if they like, we can dance until the sun comes up the next morning should we choose.

    That’s my idea at present. It’s certainly not a plan that would work for everyone. I’m not even sure if it will work for me, but planning events and organizing large groups of people is something I can do. Plus I’m starting early. Plus I may have your advice. What do you think of my alternative bridal party idea? What do you think might work? What do you think might need to get pared down? I look forward to your comments!

    Cheers,

    – Lindsay.

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  • Chelsea

    I am so thankful for this post! My wedding is going to be pretty offbeat in the sense that we are getting married in a totally different state in order to bring my family and my fiancé’s family together for the first time. It will be an intimate wedding with 2 at home celebrations in our home states. I can’t afford to pay for 9 girls to go out of state and I can’t expect all of them to be able to make it to the ceremony. My solution: use my sister as my only “bridesmaid” and honor all 9 girls at my Texas reception with a special gift and slideshow (thanking each and every one of them for their friendship). I think I’m going to call them my “offbeat bridesmaids” or “my something blue”. This has been the only thing I’ve been stressing about, so when I saw this post, it definitely made me feel confident about having an offbeat wedding. I just hope they all understand!

  • Lindsay Christine

    How would you suggest bringing up the “non-bridesmaid” idea to your friends, who you’ve known for years, and who also expect to be included in your wedding as a bridesmaid? I still would want them to feel special, and set apart from the other guests, but I know giving them the official title and responsibilities of “bridesmaid” could certainly cause disaster on my wedding day. I only want a Maid Of Honor, my sister, and a Best Man, my fiancé’s best friend.

    How do I introduce this concept to my friends without insulting them? Or causing them to lash out at me?