The downsides of being a bridesmaid

Photo by Jessamyn Harris

I recently received some questions from a journalist for an article she's writing about bridesmaids. I thought I'd share my answers here.

Q: What do you think are some of the (perceived or actual) down sides of being a bridesmaid, and how can a forward-thinking bride avoid putting her maids through those experiences?

In the process of researching my book, I spoke to one former bridesmaid who'd been chastised by the bride for getting her shoulder-length hair cut into a bob before the wedding. The bride fuh-REAKED out, because now this one bridesmaid wouldn't be able to have the pre-set bridemaid updo.

While this story is pretty fucked up, the thing it makes the most clear to me is that brides and bridesmaids need to be well matched! If, as a bride, things like pre-ordained matching up-dos are super insanely important to you, then pick bridesmaids who are into meticulous aesthetics.

I think it's really important to have a discussion up-front about what the expectations are. Just ask the bride straight out what she wants and expects from you. If it doesn't sound like your cup of tea, tell her you love her and would love to help with the wedding in some other way, but that you're just not in the right headspace to be the bridesmaid she needs. No one's to blame — it's no one's fault. You're better off having this discussion be a little awkward than dealing with months (or years!) of stress around a wedding you don't want to be in.

Q: What are some of the things that make a bridesmaid's experience a positive one?

I didn't have a traditional wedding party, but I did have loads of friends helping me with my wedding and part of how I made it fun for them was by praising and focusing on their skills. I have one friend who's a high powered corporate type, and she was the most awesome bridal bod guard EVER! I told her how much I always admired her ability to wrastle people when we worked together, and asked her if she would want to help protect me from the little day-of wedding organization questions on the day of the actual wedding.

… and since she LOVES doing that sort of thing, she was happy to help. It was a win/win for both of us … she felt appreciated and recognized for her skills, and I enjoyed her using them for me on my wedding day!

I think bridesmaids will get the most fun out of the wedding process by thinking of it as their wedding gift. This is the most amazing gift you can possibly give — your time and magical skills! If it feels like a burden, then you're not helping with the right parts of the wedding.

Q: What are some of the more creative themes, roles and/or outfits for bridesmaids that have been featured on your site?

I loved these bridesmaids in their black dresses and converse lowtops.

But my all-time favorite were these rollerderby bridesmaids.

  1. I cut off my hair for my stint as a bridesmaid too… LOL I gave myself an at-home chop because I despise updo's.

    For the most part, being a bridesmaid was fun, but I balked at the fact that we had to BUY our dresses while the groomsmen got to RENT tuxedos. At the last minute the bride's mom took pity on all us poor recent college graduates and paid for the bulk of our gowns. It was a super traditional wedding, but at least we did get to pick the style of our gowns, even if not the color. All 5 of us 'maids had completely different body types!

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  2. I had one and we went dress shopping together. I had a color in mind, but that was it. After that…letting her pick her own hair, jewelry, shoes, makeup…whatever…just as long as she showed up. :)

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  3. I think that the two main perceived downsides of being a bridesmaid are having to wear a dress you never would have picked out, and the cost involved in the whole thing (dress, hair, makeup, jewelry, and throwing showers and bachelortette parties all cost more than just going to the wedding.)

    To avoid these problems, you can let the bridesmaids pick out their own dresses (maybe in a specific color) and try to find dresses that they *really* will wear again. Also, don't require the hair & makeup be done professionally unless you're paying for it. Try to make budget-conscious choices for your bridesmaids when deciding on the dress, shoes, and jewelry, and let them choose their own as much as you can.

    Oh – and try to find out what alterations to the bridesmaid dress will cost ahead of time – depending on the type of material and the numbers of layers, it can get *really* expensive. I spent more on alterations for a bridesmaid dress than I had ever spent on buying a dress other than that bridesmaid dress and my wedding dress. Argh. I know the bride had no idea that the alterations would be that expensive.

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  4. My dear friend's (now) sister-in-law shaved her head, bald as a cue ball, the week before the wedding. My friend didn't have pre-planned hairstyles for us, and she was upset, but she rolled with the punches. It seems (in hindsight) that the head-shaving was an attention-getter. That bridesmaid was asked all day if she had cancer and she basked in the attention.

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  5. as a perpetual bridesmaid and a future bride i think the best advice i can give is really treat your bridesmaids with respect and tell them often how much their effort means to you.

    the times when i've had the worst attitude is when i fely like my presence didn't truly matter and that was simply there to do the crappy jobs nobody else wanted to do.

    the times i was happy to do all of those crappy jobs were with the brides that really made clear how grateful they were and it felt like a real moment in our friendship not just in her life.

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  6. The best was when I was the only bridesmaid and teh bride let me wear an old prom dress I had. She said that wanted red and since I already had a dress, we were all set!

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  7. I was sort of frustrated that the bride didn't demand more of me! It was my first bridesmaiding experience and everything I'd read warned me of scary demanding Bridezillas. She just wanted me to order my dress, find some strappy sandals, get my hair done however I wanted IF I wanted and… show up.

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  8. As a bride, my goal is simple. This day means more to me than my bridesmaids. This is just a party for them.

    They are allowed to pick out their dresses, whatever they want. All I care is that it is a shade of blue, whatever shade they like.

    They can do their hair, nails, makeup, whatever however they like.

    They know I would like some assistance with decorating and clean up after the reception. But the whips won't be drawn if they decide not to help.

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  9. As the journalist in question who prompted this discussion, I wanted to weigh in and let any brides, bridesmaids or other interested parties know they can contact me directly to share their experiences — double bonus points for anyone who has connections to the upstate NY area! e-mail me at epopek@thedailystar.com if you want to share more!

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  10. I've tried to be very good to my bridesmaids. I told them that all I wanted was for them to wear a black dress. They could all wear totally different dresses, didn't matter to me. Oddly enough, they all picked out the same dress. Uber weird.

    I also told them that they can do their hair however they want it, makeup, jewelry, nails, etc. however they want it. If they want professional anything I will definitely help them find it but that's totally up to them.

    I don't want this to be a harsh experience, it's a wedding, it should be fun! And I don't want to hurt friendships by being a rigid bride.

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  11. I was sort of frustrated that the bride didn’t demand more of me! It was my first bridesmaiding experience and everything I’d read warned me of scary demanding Bridezillas. She just wanted me to order my dress, find some strappy sandals, get my hair done however I wanted IF I wanted and… show up.

    haha! I can totally relate to this! The minute my friend started sending us bridesmaid e-mails, I would ask if she needed help to plan her bachelorette party, or to pick out her dress. I thought that this would be a fun experience, but the MOH must have thought that I was barging in on her duties and politely told me that they had everything under control. When we finally met together the day before the wedding, it was only for dinner at a restaurant and it was boring and VERY stuffy.
    I'm not going to be an overbearing bride to my bridesmaids, but I do plan to have a girl's night out and try to involve my girls only if they chose to.

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  12. I am in the process of planning my wedding and I definitly want my "girls" to be happy comfortable and pumped about this great party we are putting on. I am allowing my girls to choose their own hair style, dress styles, shoes etc. my day is about who has got me to this point and i dont want my girls to feel fake, because i have true love for each of them.
    i dont want to be a demanding bride adn ruin their day! its good to know i'm not the only one with these crazy ideas of being open minded and true :)

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  13. My focus is on having an exuberant and casually elegant experience. My bridesmaids' were asked to buy a silk tafetta or silk faille dress from J. Crew in black, in whatever style they wanted. They can wear whatever shoe that want as long as it's not a really bright color. They can also wear whatever accessories they want as well, and hair and make up service is optional and very reasonable if they want it.

    I just want them to have fun and feel beautiful and feel like themselves. They all have fabulous taste so I really didn't worry. My MOH (my sister) is the biggest challenge since she has already lost a ton of weight and is being fussy about the dresses. She complained that "there are only like a dozen choices!" The other women give me enough support to make up for her! I love them!

    I think brides need to think about their relationship with their bridesmaids and not their "supporting role".

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  14. Having never been a bridesmaid (and not contemplating it in the future), I just wanted to avoid being the "jerk" bride. I thought it would be easy. My maids are both slender and pretty much the same shape. I picked two colors and suggested they go wild with finding dresses they liked. I wanted them to have their own that they'd actually like and wear (but I preferred that they pick the same color if they could agree on it). One gave me a basic shape guideline and claimed one of the colors and the other refused to even look. Guess which one complained about what I ended up picking.

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  15. I'm getting hitched and I told my chicks that they couls would whateva as long as it was deep purple, right. They freakeed out. So, I picked out a site that they can build their own dress with the color i chose, they un-freaked, yay. I did this for a reason. I was un-invited to a wedding b/c i was a unruly bm. I told her to shove the wedding up her ass, basically. Well, atually, I didn;t fit in her scheme of people, body type, look and natural cheerleader, suck-ass that she already had in her group. Her new to be husbnd was my good friend, probably best friend and I matched them up together. She acked me about to choose btn two shoes, picked the worng one. She told me not to gain lbs. not to cut my hair, that i would need to tan and whteva the godess wanted. I can't, can't do that to my friends. I would feel like an asshole. So, i will be paying a portion of their dressed that they can pick out. Taking them out to the City to go shiny shopping. Each have a skill I've asked them to use, like super powers and my girl sarah with nutso tats get to show 'em off. I hink I'm pretty nice with it all, but you can never please everyone.

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  16. My sister recently got married, and I ended up dictating her wedding date. She wanted a summer wedding, but because I am living and working in S. Korea I couldn't guarantee that I could come home for the summer. I told her I could come home for February 23rd. She told the bridesmaids to find a black cocktail length dress and she did all our hair and makeup the day of the wedding. She was a pretty kick ass bride!

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  17. I am a soon-to-be-bride and I don't dictate to much to my bridesmaids. Me and my maid of honor picked out her dress and my other for bridesmaids dress too. I picked out their dresses mainly because I do have a vision for my wedding. I did ask for all my bridesmaids opinions on the dresses so that they won't be wearing a dress that they hate. I have asked that they pick out their own shoes in the color black and they can wear their hair anyway that they would like. I sent out an information letter to all of my girls to let them all know everything they need to know out my wedding. My biggest problem truely is I have to my head-strong bridesmaids in my wedding party. They all want to take charge and make sure this day is perfect for me. I, myself, am I more laid back bride and like to roll with the punches. But I do believe that a bride should try her hardest not to get so caught up in little details that won't even matter the day of the wedding and enjoy the planning. Also, don't lose sight of the real improtance of that day which is marrying the man you love.

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  18. I'm going to be a bridesmaid in a bit and couldn't be more disgusted with how my "friend" the bride is handling things (the wedding, her fiance, etc). I can't wait til I get married (not have a wedding, but get married) so my boyfriend and I can do things right. I'm so glad this site exists – it's reassuring to know that there are sane people who can get married without turning those awful wedding planners into bibles. Thank you!

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  19. As the MOH in a friend's wedding, I have discovered that the most important things for a bride to consider are:

    1) The financial strain that a wedding can put on the bridal party. My friend has been great about this with covering the cost of getting my hair done, and choosing affordable dresses.

    2) Actually wanting to spend time with your girls without it being wedding-related. Unfortunately, my friend has not done so well at this one, and I really feel that it could be the beginning of the end of our friendship, as I don't see things improving once she is married and wrapped up in her husband.

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  20. "I balked at the fact that we had to BUY our dresses while the groomsmen got to RENT tuxedos."
    Yeah, I've always wanted to spend $150 on an outfit that I have to return the next day. At worst, a bridesmaids' dress can be taken to a consignment shop, though of course many do tend to run more expensive than $150.

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  21. I was a bridesmaid for my cousin a few years back and she was a complete nightmare to be a BM for!! She made us buy makeup she specified in the shades/colours she specified, which of course was expensive! Plus it didn't suit me so I couldn't wear it again :(

    I'm getting married next year and think I'm being pretty relaxed with my BM. I did have final say on her dress since I'm buying it, but made sure she loved it. I'm paying for her to get her hair and makeup done on the day with me – but I'm happy for her to pick her hairstyle out. I want her to be comfortable and look beautiful!

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