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Ask Team Practical: How To Be A Kickass Bridesmaid

We are long-distance best friends, both looking to plan weddings in the next couple of years, and both interested in nontraditional weddings. One of us is waiting on a ring and the other is about a year from engagement, so there won’t be too much overlap in our planning (read: this question is not “how do we avoid Bride Wars?”). However, we’re both on tight budgets and are realizing that there will be a gap between how much we want to be there for each other, and how much we are physically able to be there for each other (what with one thousand miles of distance and all).

We love APW as budget-minded, feminist, nontraditional (soon-to-be) brides, but today we’re writing as bridesmaids/MOH’s. We are both thinking about taking the non-bridesmaid route and taking each other as MOH. APW has given us some great posts on alternate bridal parties, but can we hear more about the time between assembling the team and getting hitched? What duties are bridesmaids “supposed” to perform during both wedding planning and actual wedding, and which ones are really necessary? More broadly, we’d love to hear stories from fellow readers about your experiences with or as bridesmaids/MOH’s, especially those who were/are long distance!

Far Away Besties

Dear FAB,

You guys already know what I’m gonna say here.

Other than getting a fancy title and wearing what you ask, a bridesmaid doesn’t really have “duties.” When you ask someone to be your bridesmaid, you’re really just taking the opportunity to show everyone, “Hey! This person is special to me!” Not to take on some free help in planning your dream wedding.

But that’s from a bride’s perspective, right? What if you’re a bridesmaid? Or even, an overachieving sort of gal who really loves the bride and wants to be one effing fantastic super-bridesmaid? Sort of a different story. So, just for you guys, FAB, I’m going to tackle this from the position of, “How Can I Be a Stellar Bridesmaid?” What’s required? What’s not really required, but sort of expected? And what’s the fast track to winning a Bridesmaid of the Year Award (I hope it’s a sparkly trophy).

The bare necessities bridesmaid will:

  • Stand up front with the couple during the ceremony.
  • Wear what the couple asks. And pay for it, unless the couple decides to be generous.
  • Get herself to the wedding without hassling the couple about it. They may want updates just to make sure you’ll be there, but don’t assume they’re taking care of your travel or a place to stay. You handle that, like a grown-up.
  • Come to the rehearsal. Like a pro. That means: listening to instructions, being polite to everyone’s mom, not overtly hitting on other members of the wedding party, not being even a little bit drunk.

And that’s pretty much it. You guys are long distance? All you really have to do is make sure you get yourselves there for the rehearsal and wedding, and make sure you’re wearing the right stuff. Got that, and you’re golden.

The extra stuff that’s usually involved, but is actually optional:

  • Throw a bridal shower. Team up with whatever other bridesmaids there are and, in most cases, the moms of the couple. Traditionally, the mom was not part of the shower planning at all (it was considered self-serving for a mother to plan a party so that people would give her kid gifts). But, generally today, moms are pretty involved and might already be planning one whether you know it or not.
  • Throw a bachelorette party. There aren’t really etiquette guidelines for this one (even my spell check is convinced that “bachelorette” isn’t a word). Plan a fun night—whether out or in, at a bar or in a cabin, with penis-shaped lollipops or sans. Sometimes it’s strictly bridesmaids, sometimes a ton of the bride’s friends. Like I said. No real rules here, just whatever would mean “night o’ fun” for the bride. If the bridesmaids are long distance, often this is just a night at the bar two days before the wedding. (Note: a night at the bar bacheloretting the NIGHT before the wedding has pretty much been proven to be a bad idea.)
  • Buy a wedding gift. Most groups of bridesmaids decide on a budget and chip in on a gift together, but that’s not required if it means just another thing to try to get six girls to decide on via email. You all may disagree, but I generally think bridesmaids should stay away from the registry. Sure, the couple wants everything on that registry, but you guys are the folks who (presumably) know them best. If anyone is going to get something they don’t just need (can opener? oven mitts?), but something they’ll actually love (gift certificate to their favorite restaurant? awesome handmade wooden commemorative thing she Pinned from Etsy?). Leave the blenders and bed sheets to Aunt Helen who hasn’t seen her in years. Get them something thoughtful and meaningful.

Just for the Maid of Honor:

  • Serve as bridesmaid ringleader. Organize the ladies, make sure they’re handling their shit with punctuality and communication, and make sure they all have the info they need.
  • Give a speech/toast. Possibly. Not every wedding has that part.
  • Tag along whenever she asks. Dress fittings, venue viewings, (hopefully, yum) cake tastings.
  • Hold the important stuff. The ring for her partner, the bouquet during the vows, the train when she’s trying to walk around.
  • Witness the signing of the marriage certificate.
  • Record gifts at parties. 
  • Make sure she looks great. If she wants you to, help her get dressed before the wedding. Keep tabs on how she looks during the wedding and straighten the train/blazer/pleather jeggings/veil if anything looks out of place. Bustle her gown between ceremony and reception if she needs it, and then take whatever she wore to the ceremony home with you after the wedding if she’s jetting right off to her honeymoon immediately.

All of that stuff above is well and good. Show up for stuff, pay for things. But, being a super-terrific bridesmaid is more than either of those things. It’s all about the spirit of the thing. It’s a matter of doing whatever you can to make sure your friends have a great time (terrific news for you long-distance buds!).

Extra bonus points bridesmaid will:

  • Be super available the day before and the day of the wedding. You know. Just be ready to cart cases of champagne to the reception site, help set up folding chairs, reapply mascara when her mother-in-law makes her cry.
  • Dance at the reception. First ones on the floor, last ones off. Seriously, ladies, get that party rolling. If you ask our girl Emily Post, a bridesmaid is a quasi-hostess of the wedding. Mingle, chat up the guests, make sure everyone is enjoying themselves. And, break out your Macarena as needed.
  • Filter your bitching. That other bridesmaid who totally isn’t carrying her weight, skimped on her share of the costs, and didn’t even show up to the shower on time? Complain about her to the other bridesmaids, but not to the bride. Same goes for those ugly shoes you had to pay $300 for and that gave you blisters. Fine, whine about it. But not to the couple. You’re there to alleviate stress, not add to it.
  • “Keep crazy twelve feet away from the bride at all times!” That gem comes from Meg. She’s adamant that is the bridesmaid’s only real job. Matching dresses are optional, she says. Crazy buffering: mandatory.
  • Bring some necessities just in case. My day was saved by a bridesmaid with the forethought to bring some safety pins and deodorant. (We have a few ideas for emergency kits over here!)
  • Keep that couple hydrated. Getting married is thirsty business.
  • Be emotionally available throughout the whole process. No one really talks about it, but wedding planning can be a lonely time. When you’re getting married, you’re facing so much crazy stuff that you logically know should not be crazy (another argument about where Uncle Ralph is sitting? Honestly?). You’re facing major life change. You’re happy, but maybe also a little sad and frustrated. It’s a lot. A bridesmaid, ideally, is someone who you always could count on when you needed someone to cry to or laugh with before. So, you keep them close to you during this emotionally fraught time, when the chances of needing a cry or laugh (to avoid crying) are at their height. As a bridesmaid, you wanna be there and ready for all that stuff. Call and ask how the wedding planning is going, and suck it up through the seventeenth episode of tears and angst over place card fonts.

You see that giant list of bullet points I just made, FAB? Kind of overwhelming, yeah? But, notice that the biggest part is the chunk where I talk about being an emotional support. I know you guys are long-distance pals, and it may be hard to plan a bridal shower or tag along to a dress fitting, but being supportive is something you can do from anywhere. Emotions travel via phone, email, and Skype! How convenient of them. Being a bridesmaid just comes down to holding a place of honor. And being an emotional support during a weird and emotional time makes that relationship worth honoring.

*****

Team Practical, what makes someone an awesome bridesmaid? If you’ve planned a wedding without your best friends nearby, how did you involve them in planning?

Photo by Leah and Mark.

If you would like to ask Team Practical a question please don’t be shy! You can email Liz at: askteampractical [at] apracticalwedding [dot] com. If you would prefer to not be named, anonymous questions are also accepted. Though it really makes our day when you come up with a clever sign-off!

 

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