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Bridesmaid Duties: What Does a Bridesmaid Do and What Is It Like to Be One?

Kierstin learned a lot from multiple stints as a bridesmaid. Now she shares her knowledge with future members of the bride's party.

Learn what it's like being a bridesmaid on duty.

Learn what it's like being a bridesmaid on duty.

My Experience as a Bridesmaid

I was not actually the best bridesmaid ever, not by a long shot. My past career as a bridesmaid is fraught with jealousy, lack of funds, the perils of youth, and basically just total and complete disinterest. The first time I was asked to be a bridesmaid, I had just turned 19, was disenchanted with all things commitment and romance, and bowed out at the very last minute via a letter no doubt scrawled on pink lined paper, leaving my best friend (somehow, she still speaks to me) in a lurch.

The second, my cousin and I were both 20, and I obliged with a rush of excitement combined with a deep desire to scream into a pillow.

The wedding was five hours south on Labor Day weekend, on a sweaty afternoon stuck in Detroit traffic with my father, who chain-smoked the entire way. The lovely yellow strapless dress her mother-in-law had picked out was about two sizes too big, which made it easy to shimmy into in the passenger seat before bolting into the venue 20 minutes before the ceremony, where I flashed my pearly whites at the camera like I was some kind of hero.

A month later, I stood precariously on the steps of the church I grew up in, balancing myself over heels in place of my usual Chucks, and watched two of my best friends get married in what felt like the longest ceremony of my entire life. In basically every picture taken during the ceremony, I'm a blur of green tulle trying to stay within a nine-inch radius and not topple the graceful women behind me.

Then, there was my brother's wedding, three years later, in a church that was about 100 degrees. I feel this was my best effort. I did not make the bride cry, I did not wobble, and my dress stayed on my body with little to no effort. But after I waived down the ambulance to pick up the groomsman who'd passed out three minutes into the ceremony, stood in a cold October rain for a few thousand pictures, and danced with my cousin to some Ja Rule, I collapsed into the living room of my crappy apartment, kicked off my sweaty pink flats and declared to my husband (not the boy who ran off to get an education, godspeed to him, wherever he is) that I was completely and forever done being a bridesmaid.

And so far, I've managed to stick to my word. Still, all of these years later, I often wonder if the reason I myself never had a real wedding is that I was such an awful addition to the bridal party that I knew karma would come to get me at my own ceremony.

So, take it from me, there's a better way to be a bridesmaid.

It's not the moment you've been dreaming of all your life, but it's one you'll probably relive over and over and over again between the ages of 22 and 35. So strap on those heels, pick up that bouquet, and pull on those big-girl-bridesmaid-panties.

Bridesmaid Duties: What's Expected

Before the WeddingOn the Day of/at the WeddingPost-Wedding

Contribute money and time towards planning the bachelorette party and bridal shower

Arrive early to have your makeup and hair done

Get in touch with the Maid of Honor to see if there's anything else that needs to be done (like helping to write thank-you notes)

Shop with bride and the rest of the bridesmaid crew for dresses (also, pay for your dress, shoes and anything else you'll need to wear on the day-of)

Be ready to pose for lots of pictures

Return anything you've personally rented for the ceremony

Attend fittings for your dress (and possibly pay for these fittings)

Offer emotional support to your bride

Rethink whether you ever want to commit to this journey again

Purchase gifts for bridal shower and wedding

Offer to help with any clean up or last-minute tasks

Attend rehearsal dinner

Before the wedding

Before the wedding

Get on the Same Page as the Maid of Honor

Once the dust of excitement has settled and everyone has soaked in the big news, reach out to the MoH and find out what you can do to help her pull off showers, parties, and planning. Because If you think being a bridesmaid is a lot of work, being the Maid or Matron of Honor is kind of like a temporary career change.

Where to Start

If she's still in the vague-planning stage, now is your chance to throw out some ideas of things you would enjoy, whether it's planning games for the bridal shower or picking out favors for the bachelorette party. Just be sure not to overcommit yourself. Start off with one task and once you've fulfilled it, consider volunteering for more.

Expect to Spend a Lot of Money on Things You Will Never See or Wear Again

This is just a hard truth of being a bridesmaid. Every bride says things like, "I'm picking a dress you can wear again!" or "I don't want my wedding to bankrupt my best friends," but the thing is, you will never wear that dress again. The good news is that personally, I've had luck consigning my pretty wedding-wear at resale boutiques after the wedding.

Other things that can end up adding up are:

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  • Special meals out leading up to the wedding
  • Travel accommodations for the bachelorette party
  • Gifts for the bridal shower and wedding
  • Money: You will be expected to chip in for all of the above to cover the bride's share.

What to Do if You Can't Afford Wedding Activities

If you can't afford something, say it upfront and ASAP, and, if you can, try to share this with whoever is planning the event while avoiding the bride as a go-between (brides are a bottle of orange soda—shake them too often and they'll eventually explode, leaving a lasting mess). In nearly every wedding I've been in, there's been an income imbalance between at least a few of us. If the Maid of Honor is planning a wine-tour weekend upstate and asking for two paychecks from you to secure your room, take a deep breath and write her a short message letting her know that's not in your budget, but you're happy to chip in X amount of dollars towards the bride's share, and you can't wait to see the pictures.

Pencil in Important Dates

Whether you're an old-school planner-in-the-purse kinda gal or saving dates in your fancy smartphone, make sure to keep track of the Where, When, and Who Withs of dress fittings, bridesmaid bonding brunches, and other important pre-wedding appointments so you don't let anyone down.

Jot down how much money you should expect to spend for each event, too, just to keep yourself from going broke without at least a little warning.

At Least Try to Pretend You Like Your Dress

Unless it's restricting your breathing in some way, just nod and smile and let her pick the dress. This is the one time that free-expression is not encouraged.

The Exception

If the bride is asking for genuine input, then make gentle suggestions towards dresses in your price range.

Don't Strangle the Bride

Always be the one that bestows grace and if she's just really asking for it walk away and approach the situation once you've had some time to chill out and put yourself in her narrow, blister-inducing shoes.

Being real, she probably does deserve a good talkin' to but as they say, save the drama for your mama and if you witness her ream out her little sister at the florist, give you the death glare when you suggest carrot cake at the bakery or trash talk the groom's mom right in front of his grandma this is not the time to play vigilante friend-hero by putting her in her place.

Why Not?

Because she's overwhelmed.

Deal with all of the negative attributes of her personality that are sure to come pouring forth in the coming months by reminding yourself over and over again that she has to squeeze into her gown in just a few short weeks and low blood sugar is a real bitch.

Don't Expect a Lot From the Bride

Just going right off from that last little tangent, be understanding of the bride and don't expect too much from her during the planning process. Let her off the hook from those Friday night flicks and don't be pushy when she sends you a sheepish text telling you she's too tired to grab lunch. Planning a wedding isn't the fun that Pinterest wants us to believe it is and she's almost certainly dealing with burnout and questioning every major life decision she's made since 8th grade.

How to Maintain Your Friendship, Even Through Wedding Stress

If she seems extra cranky or aloof lately, send her a quick text to check in and see how she's holding up. Keep things lighthearted but let her know that you're here for her and you're excited for all that's ahead of her. These little reminders of why you're friends in the first place can go a long way in preserving the friendship past this short, wedding season of life. And if she's a new friend, say your step-brother's long-distance fling turned fiance, this is a great way to forge a bond that will hopefully last a lifetime.

Own Up to Being a Wet Blanket

These are the number of bachelorette parties, lingerie soirees, and trips to the club I attended in my career as a bridesmaid: 0.

I'm a total wet blanket. Maybe you're not, maybe you're super fun and cool and you can get down in any situation without being given a written itinerary and doing a dry-run before the actual event. But if not, just own up to it, let the bride know you're boring af and ask the maid of honor where to drop the gift bag of edible panties before you curl up for an evening of light reading in the tub.

Why It's Okay to Decline Pre-Wedding Invites

Even if they're disappointed, your friends will have more fun in the end if you're not there wrecking the vibe. If you really want to contribute, offer to meet up after the festivities as the designated driver or come by the next morning to drop off a hangover-friendly breakfast.

Purchase a Wedding Gift

I know I shouldn't have to say this but I SUCKED at buying gifts for my brides (I told you, I was honestly the worst). It was a mixture (or excuse??) of being twenty and pretty damn clueless about how the world worked and also being super broke. But a good rule of thumb is to shop the registry and pick a gift in the $75-$100 range.

Stay Out of Relationship Drama

This is an intense time and the bride and her betrothed are bound to be bickering and maybe even have at least one big blowout breakdown (and maybe even a six-hour break up!) before she walks down the aisle. Just like I told you before, nod and smile even if you're dying to admit your total hatred for her future husband or wife. Because, in the end, they're getting married and anything you say in the heat of the moment can and will be used against you.

How to Do It

Your best bet here is to listen, withhold advice, and just keep reminding the bride that you trust her judgment and support her. The less you say, really, the better. Acting as a sounding board will give her the ability to sort out what she's feeling and admit things out loud to herself while not actually technically talking to herself.

The exception here, of course, is if there's abuse of any kind happening. In that case, it's time to use your friend-powers for good.

Make It to the Rehearsal Dinner at All Costs

This is one event you need to try really, really hard not to miss. Save for like, norovirus, you need to be there because this is what determines the success of the wedding day. You'll find out where to stand, how to stand, who to face, who you're walking with, where to park, etc.

As I mentioned before, one time I tried to ditch out on the rehearsal dinner and I made the bride cry and question if anyone in this world even loved her.

Don't be like me.

During the wedding

During the wedding

Have an Emergency Kit So You Can Be the Hero

Whether you've been asked to or not, fill a tote with these handy things to haul to the wedding if an emergency should arise on the big day.

What to Have on Hand at a Wedding

  • A mini sewing kit for those last-minute tears and tweaks.
  • Ibuprofen because when has someone not asked, "does anyone have an ibuprofen?" at a wedding?
  • Baby wipes are a great way to clean makeup off your hands or wipe crumbs off a chair while avoiding stains on your outfit when the bathroom is occupied
  • Avoid a "wardrobe malfunction" with double-stick tape.
  • Clear hair elastics to sweep braids and buns back into place should the original style fail
  • Likewise, bobby pins in light and dark colors can really save the day from a total hairtastrophe.
  • Minty mouth refreshers like gum, mints, and even some disposable toothbrush whisps
  • Relaxing lotion, preferably in a lavender scent to help calm any pre-ceremony jitters
  • Deodorant, because someone is bound to forget. Plus, swiping the stick across your feet before stepping into your heels can help keep sweat and slippage to a minimum.
  • Extra snacks that are easy to grab like a package of cheese sticks, a box of crackers, and a bunch of bananas
  • An extension cord in case the room you're getting ready in is running low on outlets
  • Translucent bandaids for blistered heels
  • Pens and a pad of paper because, who knows, you might want to jot something down old-school style
  • A handful of tampons and thin pads
  • Safety pins for broken straps that have no time to be sewn
  • Extra nylons if they're part of the wedding day garb
  • Mini tissue packs for teary-eyed mother-in-laws to clutch in the pews

Things to Bring Along for Before the Ceremony

These are really, really obvious, but hey, we all make mistakes, so here's a list of things all good bridesmaids should make sure to have in their possession before heading off to the wedding:

  • Your ceremony outfit
  • Undergarments
  • A button-down top and shorts to wear while you're getting your hair and makeup done so you can keep your outfit clean of hair products and bronzer
  • Flip flops to wear between photography locations. Just slip them off and slip into your heels for the pictures to keep your shoes clean and feet blister-free.
  • Makeup for touchups
  • Your phone and charger
  • Your bag/purse and wallet

Pack Protein

Stay satiated and pack protein-rich, shelf-stable snacks along with a bottle of juice or a few pieces of fruit. Eat a good breakfast, pack a good lunch (in case the bride flakes out on this duty) and stay snacky throughout the day.

Here's Why

You'll be doing a lot of walking, jumping, and coddling today and you'll have no time for hunger pains.

Ceremony Etiquette

Be Nice to the Photographers and Vendors

They're getting paid good money to put up with the bride's mom, not you. This isn't the time to complain about your least favorite angles or request that all of your favorite songs be played on the dance floor.

Stick to Your Designated Responsibility

Are you in charge of making sure that the flower girls get back to their dad after the bridal party pictures are taken? Make sure you have all the details for your designated job, stick to it, and unless you're asked for help in another area stand back and let everyone else fulfill their own obligations to avoid burnout before the end of the evening, or worse, stepping on someone's proverbial toes.

Don't Walk Too Fast

Whether you're heading up or down the aisle, keep your pace slow enough not to trip. It's better to walk a little slower than to drag your partner with you.

Find a Focus

For me, this is the single hardest part of being a bridesmaid. I don't do well standing still. Find an object just above eye level to focus on and return your gaze to this spot if you find yourself dazing off.

Hold Your Bouquet Like a Grownup

That means you need to hold that bundle of flowers at waist-level and not all squished up against your boobs. At your belly-button, specifically.

Stay Off Social Media

This is a really important one. By all means, snap photos, but hold off on posting them anywhere and I mean anywhere until the photographer and the bride have begun uploading pics.

Stay Out of Family Drama

Nothing is freakier than family fights on someone's wedding day, but they're bound to happen and if they're happening right in front of you, excuse yourself until they've reached their Full House moment.

And if it's your family say a passionate prayer before ducking out until things have settled. I'm seriously all about just running away from conflict when it comes to weddings. Or you could make up an arbitrary dilemma to distract your family from their own arbitrary dillemmas—"Holy cow, dad, I think someone peed under the chuppah, let's investigate!"

At the reception

At the reception

Don't Strangle the Bride

I really do need to say this again.

By now, she's exhausted. She's spent however many months or maybe even years of her life planning this and she's probably becoming progressively crankier after having her picture snapped for the three thousandth time. Have mercy and remember that you are basically through the worst part. Once she gets some mediocre filet mignon in her system she's going to be returning to her classically cool self.

Control Your Flirting

Keep flirting down to like, a 3 or 4. And no more than that.

Do not be remembered as the girl who hit on the groom's cousin every time the song changed. Be remembered as the best bridesmaid ever and enjoy some coy interaction without overdoing it.

Limit Your Alcohol

Another obvious, but by the time you reach the reception you'll no doubt be running low on energy, carbs, and discretion. Sip slowly and toss back a bread stick or two before hitting the bar again.

Load Gifts Into the Designated Vehicle(s)

And gently, you animal! If the load-up crew is short a pair of hands or you're just really hankering for a peek at those instant pots and floor lamps, this is a good place to extend your good nature for helping. Plus, it gives you an excuse to breathe some fresh air and take a break from the noise inside.

Find Out What Needs to Be Taken Down/Cleaned

I've photographed weddings that were all-inclusive, and the venue took care of take down. I've also been part of weddings where the bridal party was expected to tear down the entire wedding post-reception (yay, church weddings) before getting the a-OK to head home. Find out your post-wedding status and if you have a designated job to help everyone get home earlier. If not, volunteer for one or two things (like taking linens home to be washed) so you're not left with a really awful task like scraping wax off the candle holders. Ugh.

Things to Bring Along for the Reception and Post-Reception Cleanup

Even if the venue/caterers/vendors say they'll be cleaning up their areas post-reception, it's always a good idea to avoid extra cleanup fees by bringing along supplies of your own. Here's what you should bring for the post-reception clean-up:

  • 3–4 spray bottles of cleaning spray and a few rolls of paper towels: Grab a big jug of concentrated cleaning spray like Mrs. Myers Clean Day to mix with water. Pass out bottles and a roll of paper towels to lingering bridal party members and start scrubbing frosting and gravy off tables, chairs, and the mic stand.
  • A box of heavy-duty trash bags: for anything that the venue crew doesn't trash
  • A left-behind-box: because you know there's going to be at least four wallets left behind
  • Mr. Clean Magic erasers (the heavy-duty kind): because they are a true miracle and can remove almost anything from almost anything

Tie up Loose Ends

If you were put in charge of returning vases to the groom's aunt or dropping all of the wedding gifts off to the bride's apartment, make sure to do it within a timely manner (no later than a week after the ceremony).

Help Return Rentals

Send the Maid of Honor a text to ask if there are any rentals that need to be returned and if she needs help transporting them. Maybe she'll just appreciate the company.

Offer to Drop-off/Pickup the Gown From the Cleaners

If there's no need for help with rentals, offer to drop off or pick up any dry cleaning from the cleaners and keep it stored safely until the newlyweds return from their honeymoon.

Address Envelopes for Thank You Cards

It's okay if your handwriting isn't the greatest. Guaranteed, most brides are so worn out by the time they step off the plane from their honeymoon, the last thing they want to do is start sending out thank you cards. Common courtesy says you have 6–8 weeks to accomplish this task after receiving wedding gifts though, so help her get a head start by offering to stamp and address her envelopes while she writes the thank-yous.

Be the Best Bridesmaid You Can Be

If I could do it all over again I'd have given my friends way more support, a lot less attitude, and been on top of things like getting my dress altered so it wasn't about to fall off on the dance floor and chipping in money for the parties and showers. Maybe I was just meant to be a horrible bridesmaid so I could bestow these lessons on to you and save you from years of post-wedding anxiety.

Probably not, but it's a nice thought.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

Questions & Answers

Question: Can a guy be a bridesmaid?

Answer: Of course! My husband and I didn't have a wedding but if we had, I'd have totally asked my brother to stand on my side with me.

These days, it's important to keep in mind that there is no "traditional" when it comes to weddings anymore. Do what feels right and things will be perfect.

Question: Can I still be a bridesmaid if I’m pregnant? Is it a good idea, or should I bow out?

Answer: Whether you were asked to be a bridesmaid before you became pregnant, or when you were in the midst of your pregnancy (which is unlikely, since many brides and grooms try to avoid asking a friend to do that), deciding whether to continue on with your bridesmaid responsibilities while you’re growing a new life can be super stressful. On the one hand, you want to be there for your friend during this special time. On the other, you’re probably starting to deal with the anxieties of preparing for a new baby and all of the aches, pains and other woes that can accompany that and make it hard to attend wedding functions and stand for an extended period.

So, if you want my personal opinion, I don’t think it’s a good idea to commit to standing as a bridesmaid when you’re pregnant. A few of the reasons I think it’s a bad idea are that your body will be changing quickly from week to week and that can make dress tailoring difficult, the wedding day is a long, tiring commitment for the bridal party that involves a lot of walking, standing still for extended periods of time and almost always too much heat (why do so many brides plan weddings for 2 PM in the middle of July in a field??)

Thus, I would tell my friend that I’m grateful for the honor, but I need to bow out because of the pregnancy. If you haven’t announced your pregnancy to anyone yet, you still need to let your bride or groom know right away so that they can make other arrangements for their bridal party.

If you feel that you’ll be missing out on the festivities leading up to the big day, and you’re in a financial position to do so - you could always say that you’re not up for standing in the wedding or even committing yourself to going to the wedding (especially if it’s near or shortly after your due date), but that you’d love to help contribute to and attend whatever showers and parties are happening leading up to the wedding. You could even reach out to the maid of honor, let them know the situation and volunteer to say, purchase the put together the bachelorette party favor bags.

This approach will help you to still feel like you’re honoring your friend without over committing yourself when you also have something very big ahead of you!

Question: What do I do if, as a bridesmaid, I can’t afford the dress that the bride or groom has picked out?

Answer: Often, and I don’t want to say always, because I know that’s not the case, brides and grooms are receiving financial help from their immediate family to help fund their wedding. This is not so for the bridal party! If your bride or groom has picked out a dress that’s far beyond your budget, you need to be honest with them and let them know. Before bringing anything up with the bride or groom, find out if the store that the dress is from offers payment plans, but never go into debt for a dress you’re going to wear one time (and I said it in this article, and I’ll say it again, you will never wear the dress again).

If that’s not the case, you’ll have to let the betrothed know and ask if there are any other options and if not you should bow out of the wedding. I know that might seem drastic, but my logic here is that if you can’t afford the outfit they’ve picked out for you to wear on the day of, then you also can’t afford to contribute to all of the parties, dinners, and celebrations that’ll take place before the wedding either. Just let them know in a non-confrontational, non-blaming way. Say something like “Hey, it really means a lot to me that you invited me to a part of your wedding and I don’t take the responsibility lightly which is why I need to let you know I can’t afford to be a bridesmaid and still fulfill my responsibilities. You deserve to have someone standing with you that can be there for you in all ways and it saddens me to say that I can’t do that.”

One thing you should never do is ask the bride or groom to pay for the dress. It’s just not appropriate, even if it’s a close friend or family member.

Your bride or groom should respond in a graceful way or even offer a way for you to be a part of things without breaking you financially. That’s what good friends do. Unfortunately, people aren’t always good friends when they’re planning their wedding and you can’t hold their dreams for their big day against them. Be kind, they’ll probably be upset but you should always reply in a kind way that doesn’t put the blame on them or create more tension than is necessary. Not being able to afford a friend’s wedding is a bummer but in the scheme of life, this is of low importance and chances are you’re not the only one struggling to meet the financial demands of the impending wedding.

Question: I’m a bridesmaid, but I can’t walk in heels. Should I ask to wear different shoes?

Answer: Uh, yeah! Let the bride or groom know that you’re wobbly in heels and ask if they can pick you out a pair to wear while walking down the aisle and standing during the ceremony.

Offer to buy the heels as well (so you’ll be buying two pairs) to wear during the photos so your bride or groom can still get the look they’re going for without watching you topple their entire bridal party during the ceremony.

If they won’t relent, practice walking and standing in heels leading up to the big day and then slowly wean that friendship post-wedding. What kind of petty friend insists you wear heels when you can’t? You don’t need that negativity in your life.

© 2017 Kierstin Gunsberg

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