Sunday, March 21, 2010

Being a Bridesmaid Part I - What a Bride Needs to Know

As you all know, I've been a maid of honour 3 times and a bridesmaid four times (my fifth stint rolls around this September!). When people find out the number of weddings I've been a part of, some tease that that I'm like Katherine Heigl in "27 dresses" and ask what do I do with all those dresses! Some people, usually "professional bridesmaids" like myself, roll their eyes and give me an comforting pat and say, "Wow. I feel for you." And once in a blue moon, a bride or groom will ask me for my opinion or advice, which is interesting because I use to expect this to happen more often. However, I've come to realize, brides and grooms don't want advice from experienced wedding attendants; they want advice from fellow brides and grooms. After all, it's always best to learn from those who have "been there, done that."

Many weddings ago, I realized that my knowledge of weddings often surpassed my brides', and that many brides have never been in a wedding before their own weddings. My experience has taught me to: consider having the ceremony and reception in the same venues to save on transportation costs, hire a day-of-coordinator for peace of mind, bring snacks and water for the wedding party, tuck a sewing kit in my purse, wear a button-down/loose top for hair and makeup, give the photographer a schedule & list of 'must' photos, consider not having a traditional wedding party head table so your bridesmaids & groomsmen can sit with their significant other or friends.... and the list goes on. I've witnessed many snafus, surprises, blessings in disguise, and learned how to (or not to) deal with them. Moreover, I've been lucky enough to see which elements in a wedding actually turn out as beautiful as they are planned on paper. Brides and grooms don't often understand the depth of my knowledge. Not that I blame them as it's one thing to be in a wedding and quite other to actually plan one. And there's something to be said about venturing together, as an engaged couple, into the blissful, sometimes dark world of wedding planning and making it your own though your own discoveries and mistakes. (Not for me though. I'm way too Type A. I can spend hours researching an item before I purchase it!) Thus, I only provide advice when asked or provide very general help in the way of internet links or vendor recommendations. I may have the title of "professional bridesmaid" but I don't want to add "bossy" to the title! With that being said, there is one area of weddings that I am pretty vocal about - the role of the bridesmaid (for purposes of this post, maid of honour is included in that label). So listen up, brides, 'cuz I have a few things to say!

What Does it Mean to Ask a Friend to be Your Bridesmaid?

Congratulations! You're engaged. You probably called your families first, and then squealed the news to your girlfriends. Maybe even sent them a mobile pic of the ring. I love getting that call. It's such a thrill to hear that excitement and happiness in your friend's voice. You may have already chosen your bridesmaids (hell, you may have picked them out even before you picked out the guy!). After all, you can't imagine not getting married without these girls who have stuck by you thick and thin. Interestingly enough, in early Roman times, according to Dessy's "A Bride's Guide to Bridesmaids", bridesmaids served as 'protectors' by donning similar dresses and intervening if any vengeful suitors or thugs tried to steal the dowry or harm the bride. It's also thought that the Western concept of bridesmaids stemmed from later Roman law which required 10 witnesses at a wedding in order to ward off "evil spirits" that may be in attendance. Although bridesmaids no longer have to fend off thugs or unwanted guests, they still continue to be a great source of support for brides during the whole wedding process. Before you pick out those girls who will stand by your side for the next year or so, keep in mind what it means to ask a friend to be a bridesmaid.

1. You're Asking Her to Financially Invest in Your Wedding.

This may seem harsh but it's true. In one of my first blog posts, I noted that I had on average spent $1255 on each wedding I had been in. That's no small chuck of change. Keep in mind the following costs your bridesmaid is incurring for your wedding:

- Costs associated with a dress (on average between $200-$400) that they'll likely won't wear again. i.e. Your bridesmaids are purchasing the dress solely to wear it in your wedding. As much as you would like to think they will wear the floor length, coral gown again you so carefully picked out, they won't. Case in point - I've only worn two bridesmaid dresses more than once. One of them was a black dress that I had picked out because the bride let us wear anything we wanted as long as it was black. The other dress I wore again because I had spent so much on it that I felt the need to get more use out of it! Don't forget that alterations can range from $30-$100.

-Costs associated with bridesmaid accessories and shoes

-Costs associated with organizing, hosting and attending your bridal shower(s)

- Costs associated with organizing, hosting and attending your stagette (travel and hotel costs if these events are out of town)

- Costs associated with the wedding day: hair, makeup, nails, travel and hotel costs, and the wedding gift

2. You're Asking Her to Invest Her Free Time in Your Wedding.

The older I get, the less time I seem to have. The weekends fly by way too fast and often times, it's difficult to find a spare moment. In other words, my time is precious and I treasure any spare time I have. I'm sure you feel the same. When you're planning a wedding, your spare time likely disappears for at least a year. Kind of sucks, right? Well, keep that in mind when your bridesmaids are participating in wedding-related activities. Bridesmaids generally devote their time to the following duties:

-pick out, and try on bridesmaid dresses
-attend fittings
-organize and attend the bridal shower(s) and stagette (which may require your bridesmaids to take days off from work if the events are out of town)
-attend the rehearsal
-participating in the big day

Things to Consider

Now you might think I must have had some bad experiences as a bridesmaid in order to sum up my experiences as "money and time" sucks. Sure, I have some war wounds but in general, I've had a blast being a part of so many friends' special days. The purpose of this post is not to chastise brides for being "bridezillas" but to ask them to put themselves in their bridesmaids' shoes. After all, every bride wants their friends to feel honoured to be part of their wedding. At the same time, no bride wants their friends calling her "bridezilla" behind their backs. Here are some things to consider when it comes to asking your bridesmaids to participate in your wedding:

It's not their big day. It is yours and your fiance's/fiancee's; and while your friends are no undoubtedly ecstatic for you and are honoured to be part of your big day, it is simply not their big day. Your friends have their own priorities. They even may be in other weddings. Hell, they might be even planning their own wedding! So while you are spending all your spare time and hard-earned money on your big day, you can't expect your friends to do the same. Think about it - would you spend $1000 on attending a friend's graduation ceremony and reception (a equally big day in your friend's life)? When framed this way, its seems a bit excessive right?

Your friend may not want her back scratched. Many brides wash away the guilt of asking their friends to spend copious amounts of money and time on their weddings by proclaiming, "I'll be doing the same thing for her." This isn't necessarily true as not all brides choose to have bridesmaids. Nor do all brides want to ask the same girls they served as bridesmaids for to return the favour. If I ask all those girls who had asked me to a bridesmaids, I would have eight bridesmaids rights off the bat (and I would so make them wear their own bridesmaid dress they made me wear!!). In other words, don't bank on your friend 'returning the favour.'

Be mindful of your friends' finances. Unfortunately, people are still struggling in today's economy. If you have a friend who is having trouble making ends meet, you may want to give her the option of being in your wedding. Explain to her the possible costs, how you'll do your best to keep costs down, and then leave the decision up to her. If she says no, then perhaps you can find another way for her be involved (e.g. she could do a reading during the ceremony). Obviously, you will be disappointed that she can't be a bridesmaid but just remember at the end of the day she's still a friend and she will be at your wedding. (Aside: I once had a bride guilt me into being a bridesmaid even though I had already declined due to time and money constraints. I gave in because if it meant that so much to her, I felt I should do it. Did I make the right choice?)

Keep costs down. Believe or not, this is easier than you think. For instance, there are a ton of beautiful bridesmaid dresses out there that are under $150. I once suggested a cheaper alternative to a bride and she remarked, "It's poorly made." My thinking is that if the dress is only going to be worn once, then it likely doesn't have to be well made. It can even from, gasp, Target. Listen, you know that I'm a fan of Vera, Melissa, Jim like any other girl but at the end of the day, the dress just needs to look good on the day of, right? If you are able to, think about contributing some money to the dresses. After all, it is your big day. In some cultures, the bride and groom pay for all costs related to their attendants being in their wedding. Makes a bit more sense if you ask me. However, since revolting against the long established Western tradition of bridesmaids footing most of the costs is not option for most, do your best to keep costs down. My number one tip? Choose a colour and let your bridesmaids choose their own dresses in that colour. If the dress is something very important to you, then scrimp somewhere else for your bridesmaids. For more cost-cutting tips, click here.

It's your big day not year. The BF came up with this saying. He is constantly astonished by the number of duties involved with being a bridesmaid. He frequently comments on how different it is from being a groomsmen. As he states, "You show up for a tux/suit fitting, organize a stag, and show up for the wedding. Three days, the end." Usually these three days happen in the same month! For us ladies, it's a bit more time consuming (and a lot more fun!) than that. There can be multiple fittings and multiple showers. Understand from the outset that not all of your bridesmaids will be able to attend ALL your events - your girls have separate lives which entails other obligations. It may be helpful to outline to your bridesmaids from the outset which events are important to you so they can schedule accordingly.

Weddings Last One Day...

.....while friendships can last a lifetime. I once heard a story about a girl turning down a bridesmaid gig because she was unemployed. She apparently was honest with the bride and expressed her regret. The bride snapped back, "I guess you won't be attending the wedding at all." Now this is obviously an extreme but unfortunately brides do lose sight of the bigger picture. At the end of the day, you choose your friends to be part of your wedding because you cherish them and can't picture being married without them by your side. Keep the above points in mind and you'll have supportive, happy, proud and glowing friends for life by your side on your wedding day.

Coming up later in the week......
Being a Bridesmaid Part II - What a Bridesmaid Needs to Know


Chic 'n Cheap Living said...

Great post and um, 8 weddings. I bow down to you darling.

This is a great guide for brides and so true. I was very cost conscious for my girls since I'd been in a few weddings too. 2 of the girls stayed with my family during our wedding and we didn't do a stagette, just a simple dinner since the bridal shower and wedding were the same weekend. I'm glad that brides (or is it just older ones) are starting to pay for the bm dresses. I also help my ladies wear their dresses, but who knows.

Anyway, the graduation analogy is great too. It's an important day but just one day!

BEL said...

yes yes! i agree on all counts! i hope i'm being understanding! i remember how it feels. i have purple, pink, blue and silver dresses in my closet to prove it! i love the idea of paying for your attendants wasn't in the budget for us so I just told the girls to wear a black dress of their choice, and black heels. hopefully it works out!

The Marry Melodies said...

Fantastic post!!! Going through the motions now and this is mostly the reason we choose to have only 1 attendant on each side. Less drama and easier for
us to cover the costs.. Who needs 10 Bridesmaids anyways right!? :p

I haven't had the honor of being a bridesmaid yet, but from what I've heard.. It ain't cheap!!

Can't wait until part 2!!

You are THE pro bridesmaid!!

Marie-Ève said...

Great advice! You're so sane through it all, thank God...

Amy said...

This is a great post- I've been both a bridesmaid and in "house parties" several times and I know more than anything that it adds up!

I think most of my friends have done a good job, though I think another thing brides have to consider is the sheer number of weddings their friends are going to- I have attended about seven a year for the past three years!

Punctuation Mark said...

I can sympathize with your stories... great advice too! have a nice one!

Colleen said...

When my fiancé and I sat down to discuss the wedding party, I told him to determine who he wanted by his side, and I would choose ladies to match.

He decided on two men - our debate was truly about two or three - so I have two co-matrons of honour. It works out for all of us, as we are able to keep things simple and we are keeping our costs as low as possible.

I went with a theme of black and red. The ladies dresses will be custom made in black, but will be a dress and fabric of their choice. We went fully custom for two reasons 1, due to my being rather voluptuous, I had no choice, and 2, we found a very reasonable dressmaker and the ladies decided they WANTED to go with her too. I didn't pressure them.

One of my co-matrons will be altering her dress after the wedding, so she is having hers designed from the start with the alterations in mind.

Because I haven chosen black dresses, my matrons are welcome to use shoes they already own, and the style of dress we have chosen to go with means that no accessories are required other than earrings, if they choose.

I had a third friend in mind, but she is unemployed with a brand new house and two small children. I told her upfront that we were debating two or three attendants and stressed that while I wanted her to be with me, I didn't want to add financial strain to her situation.

Four months later she is still unemployed with no prospects lined up, so it worked out well that we went with two attendants. She is still going to be with me on my special day and I am happy to have her there. And she is excited to be there too.

Weddings are expensive for everyone involved - I know we are planning ours in terms of "acceptable loss". We know it will cost us more to host the wedding than we will receive in gifts. That is fine with us. It means we are being creative without scrimping, and that creativeness extends to all parts of our wedding.

I'd love you to post up your suggestions for "the day" to the bride - I know I wouldn't have thought of the sewing kit, for starters, could you create a post and a list with your suggestions?


// S said...

fabulous post. every bit of it. every bride-to-be should have to read it.

being a BM is such a huge financial & time commitment -- so many brides just *expect* everyone to drop everything and cater to their "big day".

great post! xo

Barbara said...

This is great advice and an interesting read! Quite often the bridesmaid's point of view is overlooked. Thanks for sharing!


WOW this is a FANTASTIC post!!! We're all lucky that you're spreading your knowledge. Seriously what great perspective! Thx for sharing :)

honey my heart said...

you are amazing, and your knowledge about weddings and being in a wedding party is beyond great. i am passing this along to my future bride friends!!

The Professional Bridesmaid said...

@MO - I accidentally deleted your comment!! Here is Mo's comment below:

This is a book in the making. Seriously, I'm being totally serious, I think if you wrote about the history, did some case studies of girls and what they spent, totally a book. Not that you have ample time on your hands, but, just sayin' if you DID have the time, shop this puppy around. :)

I have not been a bridesmaid yet (in October I will!) but I look forward to it! The bride is going above and beyond and paying for our dresses, hair, and makeup.

I'm paying for my sisters' shoes and hair, but unfortunately I think they fall under the spend an average of 1k+ since they paid for a Jenny Yoo dress and are flying here. Ahhh sisterly love. They owe me after all the times they stuck me under a box as a child and sat on it. The joys of being the baby of the family.

The Professional Bridesmaid said...

I'm so impressed by all of you....your friends are so lucky to have such a great 'bride'! Thanks for all your lovely comments. I was a bit worried that this post was going to come across harsh.

@Colleen - I will definitely come up with a list and post it. Stay tuned.

@Mo - Can you be my agent please!!!??? Also, I can't believe your sister put you in a box and sat on it! hehehe. Revenge is sweet, no?!

very married said...

This is an amazing post. Like truly amazing.

I'm going to sound like I'm bragging when I say this but here goes: I'm really happy with how I tried to keep things in perspective at my wedding. I provided my bridesmaids with their accessories, told them to bring whatever shoes they wanted, and picked a dress that was only $72 (i say only, but that's more than I usually spend on dresses...)

I think what really kept things in perspective was that one was 11 years old. If I wouldn't put the responsibilities or cost on the 11 year old (though, obviously her parents paid for it) then I wouldn't put it on my friends/sister.

Dotty said...

Nice post! Some really good points all brides should read.

AZ in August said...

Great post! I've been a bridesmaid 3x before and Mr. AZ has been a groomsmen 7x before for a grand total of 10 weddings before ours. I think it really puts it in perspective for the bride. I made sure to have the girls buy their dresses on sale-I stalked the JCrew site for to get their dresses for less than $100. One of them asked me what shoes to buy- I said silver, gold, or brown- or you know whatever color floats your boat. One even asked me what makeup to wear?! Duuuude I'm not making them wear matching makeup.
I absolutely LOVE LOVE LOVE This post! So much that I'm now a follower. :o)

The Professional Bridesmaid said...

@AZ in August: lol. Thanks for following. I'm looking forward to catching up with your blog. I can't believe Mr. AZ has been a groomsmen that many times. He could write his own blog!

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