Awkward questions about Bridesmaid World answered by a four-time bridesmaid
My friend Hilary is a wise person whose opinion I ask about most things. She has particularly strong credentials in Bridesmaid World: An August wedding will mark her third occasion as a bridesmaid this year, and fourth overall.
So, yeah, she has real talk for the alleged recycling qualities of bridesmaid dresses and spontaneous, lavish bridal party expenses.
Here's to hoping her advice helps you as much as it helped me.
Have you ever worn a bridesmaid's dress again, or is that idea a big lie?
To use your PolitiFact terminology, it's probably a Mostly False. I do have a dress that I am re-using for another wedding where I got to choose my own bridesmaid's dress, but for the most part I just feel like it's a losing proposition. It's tough to make bridesmaid's dresses look like anything else, frankly, even the prettiest ones. It might be a beautiful dress, but when you wear it, it always feels like the best accessory is a bouquet.
Is it better for the bride to pick out the dresses without input from the bridal party, or is trying to avoid trouble just asking for more trouble?
I have mixed emotions on this one. On the one hand, I do feel like the more input you get, the more complicated it becomes. If you ask people for their input and then disregard it, there's always drama. It can be a case of "better to ask forgiveness than permission." I think for the most part, if you agree to be a bridesmaid, you are essentially saying "You are a close enough friend that it is OK if you make me spend $200 on a horrible dress that I will never wear again. I will not complain about it to your face."
On the other side, I was in a wedding where I had very different coloring from the rest of the bridal party, and the shade of dress that was picked was not at all flattering for me. There was a part of me that would have loved to have been consulted before being forced to wear a dress the color of bubblegum, but again, I realized that this wasn't about me. The bride was a good friend; she had been through enough of my life's trying moments with me that I was more than willing to look awful for a day. It was her wedding, not mine.
I like the new trend of letting bridesmaids pick from a handful of bride-chosen styles. That way, the bridesmaids have some input, but only after the bride has laid out the initial guidelines. It lets the bridesmaids show some individuality while avoiding a power struggle. My one hard don't: don't let one bridesmaid have all the input on the dress. If the bride has all the input, I think the bridesmaids generally accept that, but if it's one bridesmaid doing all the choosing, I think it's a recipe for hurt feelings.
How can a bride tastefully broach how much bridesmaids are willing to pay to be part of the experience?
Just be up front about what your expectations are as soon as you ask someone to be your bridesmaid. Do you want a bridal shower in September in your hometown, a Vegas bachelorette party in December, and a destination wedding in February? If you expect your bridesmaids to attend all of that OR ELSE, I'd strongly recommend asking friends for whom you know this won't be an insurmountable financial burden.
If you want to do all of that but don't care if some people can't attend due to finances, say something like, "Here's what I'm thinking for bachelorette and shower -- if that's not doable for you, please don't put everything on a credit card to be there. Your presence at the wedding is enough for me." Also gently indicate that if they will have to miss these events, advanced notice would be greatly appreciated. It's one thing to not be able to afford it; it's another to leave other bridesmaids in the lurch at the last minute because the bridesmaid suddenly "can't afford it." (On a quick etiquette note here, bridesmaids, if you DO have to miss something at the last minute, you should offer to pay your share of the bride's expenses. The bachelorette party and other events are often as much a responsibility as buying a dress.)
There's also the third option, which is to keep things low-key and at a level you know people will be able to commit to. However, as I indicated above, I wouldn't ask for input on what the bachelorette should look like. Again, give the bridesmaids a few options to choose from, but don't ask them to come up with ideas out of thin air. If I can communicate one thing, it's this: bridal party power struggles happen in vacuums (see The Toast).
What are your thoughts on uniform hair, shoes and accessories?
If you are not providing hair, makeup, and accessories free of charge, I think it's a little unreasonable to dictate that everyone needs to take advantage of these services in order to look the same. However, if you as the bride are paying for it and have this vision that everyone needs to look like Audrey Hepburn in the ballroom scene in "My Fair Lady," girl, you do you.
I, personally, have never minded when I've been told "wear black pumps," or "wear silver shoes." It helps me to know what to look for and that I'll be in line with what everyone else is wearing. Don't get so specific that it's impossible for the bridesmaids to find the right shoes, though. And bride-provided jewelry is always nice. That, I will wear again.
What's the most inconsequential thing brides worry about on their wedding day?
You know, I don't feel like most things that end up upsetting brides are inconsequential, whether it be hair or music or flowers. A lot of planning goes into that. You've gotta feel your feelings when something goes wrong or when you worry that it will. But I will say this: if someone in your bridal party is making things actively about them, or making you feel bad about your decisions, that is inconsequential. A wedding is about you and your partner, not about whether your best friend from middle school likes your color scheme. And, honestly, there's no better time to get the toxic, dramatic people out of your life than before you start a new journey with your spouse. Those people -- the ones who cause drama and make everything about them, even on YOUR special day -- are not the ones you should be asking to support you in one of the most important moments of your life and beyond.
What's a nice way for brides to show you THEY CARE?
1) Make everyone feel like part of the wedding. If you've asked someone to be in your bridal party, it's ideally because you care about them and want them to be there. Don't play favorites with bridesmaids, or send two bridesmaids on coffee runs while the others help you get into your dress. The most meaningful things to me as a bridesmaid have been the personal notes I've gotten from brides and the time I got to spend with them, not any bridesmaid gift. I think acknowledging the time commitment and hard work that goes into being a bridesmaid is really appreciated, as well. It's a super meaningful experience, but being a member of the bridal party takes a lot more effort than being a guest does.
2) Don't make me do a choreographed dance. That's really all I've ever asked.
What else should I have asked you?
I think the choosing of the bridesmaids is a really tricky thing, and it's important to think about the dynamics of the people who will be standing up with you on your wedding day. These people are going to have to spend a lot of time with each other, and a lot of time planning things together -- and honestly, planning by committee is one of the most stressful things you can ask anyone to do. It can be hard not to hurt people's feelings if you don't include them in the bridal party, but sometimes it's the best thing to do.
Do you have one friend you love, but she rubs EVERYONE else the wrong way? Do you want to ask your friend from high school to be in your wedding, but all your other bridesmaids are friends from college, and your high school friend is shy and reserved? Sometimes trying to include everyone can end up causing more deep relationship problems in the long run than saying, "You are one of my closest friends, and I would love it if you could supervise the guest book, or sing at the wedding, or come dress shopping with me." There are more ways to include someone than having them in your bridal party.
If these thoughts aren't enough for you, check out this throwback column by Times' Pasco bureau editor Molly Moorhead, who wrote a column attending seven weddings in a year, including why she didn't feel bad for spending $25 on a windchime for her ex-boyfriend's nuptials.
Wedding Week recap: