To give you some guidance, we called in the experts — Xochitl Gonzalez of wedding design company A.a.B.Creates, Angel Piu of social wedding community Weddingful, and Elizabeth Bailey, an eight-time bridesmaid who's put in ample amounts of legwork — to lay down all the must-know tips. From combating cold feet to giving gifts she won't return and getting through it without needing a bail-out plan, being the best bridesmaid ever has never been easier.
What to wear
…to the bridal shower: Much like the wedding day, let the bride be the only one who's wearing white to her bridal shower. Even if her wedding dress is neon green, play it safe and choose any other color in the rainbow. As a matter of fact, whether the shower is a no-fuss BBQ or more like tea with her royal highness, feel free to break out your best cheerful, printed ensemble. Save the sexy cuts and shiny fabrics for another time, since the shower is your opportunity to bond with your BFF's close family and friends. You don't have to go entirely WWGD (What Would Grandma Don), but it won't hurt to err, just slightly, on the demure side.
…to the bachelorette party: The bachelorette party — whether it be an all-night rager or a weekend at the bride's uncle's beach cottage — is a chance to rekindle that friendship flame and toast to the bride-to-be's last days as a single lady. And, yes, short and tight dresses may seem like an appropriate option for dancing the night away, but if you're not a body-con kind of lady, this is not the time to start. Get festive with embellished tops, ruffled dresses, and statement heels, but be sure that you're comfortable in whatever you're wearing just in case your night of dancing lasts well into tomorrow. Also, keep the envelope clutch at home and go for a crossbody. You'll want to have both hands free for sipping Champagne, giving the bride a helping hand (should it be necessary), and y'know, waving them in the air like you just don't care.
…to the wedding: You're probably going to be wearing whatever ensemble the bride-to-be has dreamed up. But unless there have been explicit and finely detailed directions, you can add a few personalized touches that make the look still feel you. A pair of stunning heels, your favorite vintage chandelier earrings, or your go-to shade of lipstick will customize your look without stealing any thunder from you know who.
Totally unhappy with the seafoam, ruched dress you've been dealt? You do have a right to an opinion, Gonzalez reminds us. "You have one chance and one chance only to express concerns about a bridesmaids dress. Take it," she advises. "If your opinions are ignored, fret not. It's just one night and you can untag your photos."
What to give
…that's personal, special, and not cheesy: There are more wedding gift ideas than you could fit on any Pinterest board. But this is not just any bride, it's your friend, and you're aiming to gift something she truly wants and deserves. For a sweet token of friendship, look into a chic update to your old camp friendship bracelet she'll wear almost as often as her wedding band, or DIY a Polaroid photo diary for her to hold onto forever.
Bridesmaid vet, Bailey — whose preferred personal and inexpensive touches are custom beer koozies for the bachelorette party — suggests that "if you and the other bridesmaids are collectively giving the bride a gift for her wedding, you can research the spa at her honeymoon destination and go in on a couples massage for when they arrive." Keep in mind that experiences are much more fulfilling than things, so why not help the couple make its post-nuptial getaway extra special? Bailey also suggests gifts that keep on giving, such as a joint membership to the local museum, botanic gardens, or other cultural institutions. And, if you're looking to do a good deed before the couple jets off, "the most useful gifts and gestures have been to just offer help," Piu advises. "Ask them what they are still missing in their wedding, and step up to find it for them." Any stressed-out bride will be eternally grateful.
…from the registry (Do you really have to stick to it?): Perhaps you believe you can pick out a table setting that's much better than the one the couple has selected from [enter department store name here]. And, hey, maybe you can. But, the important thing to remember, Gonzalez tells us, is that "couples take a lot of time to select things that they like." If they're asking for a toaster, a wine rack, or a multi-colored vase, maybe it's because that's exactly what they need. "Usually when people go off the registry, it's more about them trying to prove how good their taste is than about the person receiving the gifts," says Gonzalez. Therefore, if you do choose to stray from The List, stick to those previously mentioned personal gifts for your friends, and not just what you think they coulda, woulda, shoulda registered for.
…if you decide to give cash: As a member of the bridal party, you've likely already shelled out some money for this big day. But, when it comes to the couple's present, a general rule of thumb is to cover your plate and that of your date should you bring one. Depending on the size of the affair, that could be far beyond your budget, so Gonzalez suggests that $100-$125 per person should be a safe bet. Of course, it's you who needs to be comfortable with the amount you give. Don't feel like you must cut a check to the couple. "Save that for their aunts and uncles to do," our expert tells us. "And let [the bride] think of you every time she uses her new platter from John Derian."
What to do
…when you feel like this wedding is causing you to go broke: If this is your first time up to bat as a bridesmaid, we, and our experts, caution you to be prepared for the expense. The bridesmaid dress and all the day-of add-ons are one thing, but once you incorporate the shower, bachelorette bonanza, and those special, thoughtful gifts, the bills can accumulate to several hundreds or several thousands of dollars. Piu says that setting a budget is important, and to determine the amount by how close of a friend the bride is. "Do everything you can to make it and not miss out," she says. Of course, even with that I'll-make-it-work attitude, don't be afraid to give yourself a dose of reality. If it looks like you'll be eating ramen for a year just to join the bride and her six other bridesmaids for an extravagant weekend on the Cape, SPEAK UP. "Talk to the bride about your concerns and let her know that you are nervous you won't be able to swing some of your duties," says Gonzalez. "She'll either let you know that she understands or she will want to keep it low key for all of you." Ultimately, it's about being honest with yourself.
…when the bride gets cold feet: Some brides will experience a bit of nerves before they take the jump, and some may not, but staying calm and supportive will never steer you wrong. Planning can be tiring, but — big picture — tying the knot is a huge moment in your friend's life, so it's not uncommon for emotions to run high. "Validate her feelings that it is normal (which it is) and try and help her see if she's anxious about the wedding (common) or if she is not sure she should be getting married to this particular person," Gonzalez recommends. "If it's B, I suggest you bring in the bigger guns." That could mean the bride's mom, dad, great-great aunt, best friend since childhood, etc., whoever will help the bride get to the root this anxiety.
Conversely, the worst thing that bridesmaids could do when the bride gets freaked out or things are not going exactly to plan is to flip your wig, too. "Never be a gaggle of bridesmaids in dresses clustered together freaking out," says Gonzalez. Use those handy problem-solving skills, keep your cool, and trust that, as most brides would agree, it all works out beautifully in the end.
..when things get tense: Bickering with your fellow bridesmaids or eye-rolling at the bride's texts do happen, whether we want to talk about it or not. The bride could be consumed with to-do lists and, as Piu says, the bridesmaids may be left in "this Big Brother house fighting for tasks or attention."
Communication is key. If the bride has been divvying out tasks among the bridesmaids, only take on what you can truly commit to. And furthermore, if you're the one calling the shots, be considerate about what you're asking for. "If you don't demand (or expect) someone to take on a planning or financial duty that you know they aren't up to, then you will avoid building resentment among the bridesmaid pool," Bailey tells us. "Plus when you play to one of their strengths, they will feel recognized and appreciated. If her cousin is super crafty, let her take on handmade touches for the shower decor while her rowdy sorority sisters steer the bachelorette party planning."
Overall, the way to relieve tension — be it between the bride, the mother of the groom, or the Justice Of The Peace (it could happen) — is to remember why you're stressing in the first place. You're here to celebrate a huge step for someone you love. When it comes down to it, nothing else is more important.
Illustrated by Zhang Qingyun