The Bridesmaid Advice You NEED To Read

Illustrated By Mary Galloway.
Confession: Before 2015, I hadn't been in a single wedding.

I had attended three weddings in my entire life. And I’d never been asked to do anything other than show up and smile. My knowledge of bridesmaids (and the all-important maids of honor) was limited to what I'd seen in movies like 27 Dresses and The Wedding Planner.

So, last year, when one of my closest friends from college asked me to be maid of honor in her upcoming wedding, I wasn’t sure what to do. I said yes in a panic, because I was pretty sure that saying no was out of the question. She’d been planning her wedding since before we finished college — so this was major.

In the year since then, I’ve learned so much about what it means to play a key role in someone else's wedding. I've also had the unique experience of sharing my title and duties with a co-maid of honor, also an old college friend. It’s great because I have a teammate and partner of my very own throughout what can be a fairly trying experience. It also means that the bride isn't leaving all her planning to a newbie with little wedding know-how.

There's a reason they call it a maid of honor. It’s truly an honor to be asked, and to share and partake in these meaningful moments in a close friend's life. Is it scary? Yep. Is it exhausting? Yes. Do I wish that the first week of June would just get here already so the wedding would be over and I could go chill on a beach for a few days? HELL YES. But this is what I signed up for.

The wedding is still months away, and I’m sure that I’ll learn so much more. But as I work through the good, the bad, and the WTF, I’m happy to share what wisdom I have. Ahead, the 10 most important lessons I’ve learned about the major expectations and tasks that come along with being a bridesmaid or maid of honor.
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Illustrated By Mary Galloway.
Before you say yes, consider what you’re saying yes to. Being a maid of honor (or bridesmaid) is a major commitment to your friend’s wedding day — and everything leading up to it. When you say yes, you’re agreeing to several things: a big financial commitment, a huge time commitment, and a lot of responsibility.

You’re going to spend lots of money on food, transportation, dresses, gift bags, party favors, and more. You’re dedicating your time to answering emergency text messages and group emails, making phone calls to bridal salons, looking through dress catalogs and resort websites, and helping to build Pinterest boards. This can all be lots of fun! But don’t discount the fact that it will be work, and that a lot of responsibility is being placed on your shoulders (in addition to your own day-to-day and life goals).

What you really need to keep in mind is that it's okay to say no, too. The person asking you to be in their wedding is most likely a very close friend or family member. And they want you to be a part of this. But if you can’t commit the time, money, or energy this task requires, you have a responsibility to tell them that. Let them know you love them, and you want to be a part of their big day, but maybe this isn’t the best way for you to be included. You don’t want to say yes and be that bridesmaid who complains or rolls her eyes at every turn. You don’t want to be unreliable or drop the ball. That hurts the wedding and your friendship.
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Illustrated By Mary Galloway.
As the maid of honor, you’re the leader of the pack. Leader doesn’t mean dictator, but it does mean you need to take charge. There’s a reason the bride asked you to be her MOH: She knows you’ll get the work done. You’re tasked with making sure everything runs smoothly: helping set up appointments with salons, coordinating travel for the bachelorette party, making sure that everyone is clued in to the game plan, helping people book their rooms, and taking the lead on planning fun events.

As maid of honor, you’ll have lots of other responsibilities that come with the title, but know that being steady and reliable is key. Being open and available to talk is also a big part of it. If a bridesmaid is feeling insecure, or worried about the fit of her dress, or absolutely hates the place you’re all having dinner, or is scared to talk about how she thinks she's spending too much money, that’s where you step in.

Because you’re the leader, you’re also the go-between for the bride and the bridesmaids. You have to let the bridesmaids know what the bride absolutely needs. But you also have to let the bride know when to back off a little, or rethink expenditures because it’s bringing down the bridal party. It’s a delicate balance, and not something people like to talk about. But you’re the maid of honor: If not you, then who?
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Illustrated By Mary Galloway.
I’m going to say this again and again: Communication is EVERYTHING. For my friend’s wedding, the bridesmaids are geographically divided: Half of us live in New York City and the other half live in D.C. And that’s actually very lucky, because at least we're all on the East Coast. But it’s often the case that a bride’s friends don’t live near each other.

So how do you coordinate dress-shopping, bridal showers, and bachelorette games from across the country, or even the world? Email chains. Email will become your best friend. When you can stand it, group texts can also be a major help. If that doesn’t work for your team, try creating a GroupMe.

The reasons I place email above everything else on the list are: 1) It’s fast and easy. 2) It lets you add photos. 3) Even a non-tech person, who hates texting and thinks Facebook is weird, can use it. That said, not every bridesmaid needs to be on every single chain. Use your maid-of-honor skills to keep things streamlined.

Currently, I’m on a “bridesmaid dress” chain, a “bachelorette” chain, a “wedding shower” chain, and a separate chain with my co-maid of honor and the bride about wedding shoes. Four chains really isn’t that awful, especially when it includes sharing GIFs and jokes with friends — in addition to picking a dress we all love.

Not only does email help us communicate and coordinate on big decisions or events, it also lets us be sneaky (in a good way!). The MOH is the leader of most email chains, and that means you get to have secret communication with bridesmaids and the bride’s other friends to plan big surprises and fun events.

Think of the chain as a secret coven — like the Illuminati for weddings. You ladies control everything. Isn’t that just the best? Don’t you feel like Harriet the Spy? Or someone cooler, like Nikita? Yes, you are Nikita, wedding spy.
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Illustrated By Mary Galloway.
Do you remember shopping for your prom dress? Wedding-dress shopping is exactly the same — but multiplied by 1,000. It’s like prom-dress shopping on steroids. You’re most likely going to the bride’s dress fittings, and you’ll probably be part of the small team of people to accompany her as she goes to bridal salons to find that perfect dress. This is actually a really fun, cool thing to do. You get to be a part of an incredibly meaningful moment for the bride: You’re going to be there when she finds that dress, the one that she’ll say “I do” in.

Let’s not forget you’ll also be shopping around for bridesmaid dresses. In my case, the bride had very few requirements for our look. She just wanted us to be comfortable and to “look like the hottest girls at the party.”

But some brides are — how do I say this — borderline militant about bridesmaid dresses. They may have specific elements they want in their bridesmaids’ dresses: a specific neckline, or a cape. Some are into a certain brand or length. It’s really at the bride’s discretion. And that’s why you’re here: Try to temper the bride’s expectations with the reality of what the bridesmaids prefer. Because really, who wants to spend a couple hundred dollars on a costume from 27 Dresses that they’ll never wear again?

Finally, fittings — for you and the bride — can be emotional. And not just because she looks beautiful in that perfect dress. (However, I do highly recommend bringing tissues to try-ons and fittings because you’ll cry, she’ll cry, her mom and aunt will cry. Just sobs of delight everywhere!)

The truth is that dress-shopping, like swimsuit-shopping, can be a nightmare for some people. There’s this horrible societal pressure for every woman to be a waif at her wedding. Sometimes salons don’t have big enough sizes. Sometimes there’s awful lighting over a mirror. Sometimes you, or a bridesmaid, or the bride herself, will feel fat in a dress. That’s okay! Stay positive. Be kind when sharing your opinion about a dress on someone’s body. And remind everyone that you’re here to get a dress for your body that makes you look radiant — no one else. Don’t settle for anything less!
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Illustrated By Mary Galloway.
One of the many duties of a maid of honor is to host or co-host the bridal shower. In the past, there was strict etiquette about who should and shouldn’t host the shower. One school of thought was that it should be the bride's mother or future mother-in-law. Some maintained that immediate relatives of the bride should not host, because it could look like they’re soliciting gifts. Today, anyone can host the shower, but it usually falls on the shoulders of the MOH and bridesmaids.

Know your bride well — because wedding showers usually have a theme. My friend’s entire wedding has a theme, since she and her fiancé met abroad (in Brussels!), so that really helps us narrow down the bridal shower’s key decor elements.

The wedding shower happens a few months, or even weeks, before the wedding. It’s during a very stressful time because the actual big day is right around the corner. Your job is always to be the bride’s wingwoman, so you need to keep the event fun, easy, and totally stress-free. Make sure you book a location far in advance, and send out invitations a month to six weeks in advance.

Wedding showers are really for the bride’s dearest friends, so every single person you invite should already be on the wedding guest list. Otherwise, what are they doing there? Make sure your guests know it's customary to bring a gift to the shower (so there are no miscommunications or awkwardness). You may even want to let them know where the bride and groom are registered, as a helpful hint to people who really don’t know what to get.

The shower comes down to three fun elements: food, games, and gifts. If there’s great food and wine, easy icebreakers, and everyone’s having fun, then you've done your job!
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Illustrated By Mary Galloway.
When I hear "bachelorette party," I think of Ina Garten, the Barefoot Contessa. Why? Because Ina is the queen of parties. She even has an entire cookbook just about entertaining. Most episodes of Barefoot Contessa have the same formula: There's some holiday event in the Hamptons, so Ina is throwing a special dinner! She enlists the help of several wealthy friends who all have special hobbies and talents — like handcrafting vases or making flower arrangements with local flora — and they combine their talents to produce the perfect event.

That’s totally what a bachelorette is. You’ve got a special occasion, and it’s time to plan an awesome event. So enlist the help of your talented bridesmaids, and you’ve got this.

Our bachelorette-party email chain is very secret, and very exciting. We discuss activities that I’m not at liberty to divulge in a public forum. No, we’re not going to Vegas. My friend likes horseback riding, wine, spa treatments, wine, good food, and did I mention wine? So we’re headed to a great resort hotel and spa for a long weekend. But you should pick something that's right for your bride, of course.

Etiquette dictates that the bridesmaids cover the bride’s cost for the bachelorette party. Make sure you discuss this with the other bridesmaids before settling on an activity. Bachelorette parties can be as simple as a night on the town or as crazy as a weekend in Miami. But if it’s too expensive for the bridesmaids, you need to find another party option.

If one person is really struggling to pay, have a discussion about it and try to find a solution. Maybe she could pay less than others. Or work out a way to pay for some of the bachelorette's expenses, but not all. Since we’re all in our 20s, living in expensive cities, and want to have an out-of-town excursion, we’re paying for the bride’s hotel, transport, and food as a team. But any extras — like horseback riding or insane facials — are on her.

Aside from the guest list, the bride should have no idea what's going on. It's a surprise! The most important thing about the bachelorette is to make sure the bride is having fun. It’s all about celebrating her! If you pick a place she loves and bring people who love her, as Garten would say, “How bad can that be?"
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Illustrated By Mary Galloway.
Showers and parties and dinners, oh my! Honestly, you’ll likely have to attend a LOT of events — not just the bachelorette and the bridal shower. You’ll have to go to the engagement party (if there is one), rehearsals, the rehearsal dinner, the fittings, and maybe even other events like cake-tastings. (Although, tasting cake sounds like the best “job” in the world. Sign me up!)

Again, being the MOH is a major commitment. That means showing up for all of these pre-wedding events (unless there’s some kind of emergency or work situation you can’t get out of). Yes, it’s a lot of nodding, smiling, and pantyhose. But it’s all important to your friend.

You’re not just there to celebrate, you’re there as backup. If the groom’s parents need last-minute help at the rehearsal dinner, step in. Are the bride’s parents unable to greet all the guests at the engagement party themselves? Help them.

If the next year or so of your life is too crazy to accommodate all these pre-wedding events, then maybe you should reconsider being a maid of honor. Remember: There’s nothing wrong with being honest about what you can and can't commit to.
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Illustrated By Mary Galloway.
Here’s the thing: I’m a phenomenal public speaker. If that sounds like hubris, it’s not. I’m just naturally very good at giving speeches. Yes, I get scared and have to focus on one or two people in the crowd, but I can do it. I was a tour guide in college, and I’ve never really been scared to open my big mouth in front of tons of people.

With that said, the idea of a wedding-day speech scares me a little. Why? Because it’s a big deal! Mess up on a school tour, and you can correct yourself. But if your joke flops at the wedding — oh, no!

The good news is: Whether you’re a great public speaker or terrified of standing in front of a room full of people, you can make this a fantastic speech. Make sure you plan in advance. Don’t wing it. Unless you’ve got the charisma of George Clooney, the coy smile of Scarlett Johansson, and the speaking techniques of a character in an Aaron Sorkin movie, don’t do it. You will fail. You don’t have to write out the entire speech; maybe just write down key phrases or bullet points. Just be sure to have index cards nearby so you can recover if you stumble.

The advice I hear most often is to stay honest. Be genuine. Talk about what you know. Speaking from the heart is always a good idea, especially at weddings. If you’re not funny, then don’t write jokes. If you want to tell an old story, be sure that it’s not embarrassing. Ask yourself: Would I want someone to tell this story about me in front of my grandmother?

Lastly, Champagne is great for nerves! Just don’t overdo it before it’s your time to talk. Slurring, burping, and drunken speeches are memorable — but not in a good way.
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Illustrated By Mary Galloway.
If you forget everything else I've told you, remember this: You’re the bride’s go-to girl. You’re her wingwoman. You’re her support system. Or, as I like to say, her “ride or die” friend.

I know this all sounds cheesy, but it’s true. The bride will have a lot on her plate, and by helping her manage small details, like picking the right nail-polish color and shoes, you’re being a big help. You’re also the emergency contact for the wedding. If there’s ever a problem or question she needs help tackling right away, you’re the person she’s going to text, call, or email first.

On the big day, she might need you to do crazy things. Like hold her dress while she’s peeing, reapply her lipstick, hold her bouquet, dance with drunk relatives, help her blow her nose, show people where the bathroom is, have secret snacks in your purse, etc. That’s what makes you so “ride or die,” though. You’re willing to do whatever it takes to make sure these nuptials go off without a hitch. And leading up to the wedding, you might have to craft place cards, build chalkboard mirrors for menus, and help her collect flowers for wedding-day crowns.

Your job as the “ride or die” friend isn’t just about emergencies, crafting, and decision-making. It can be as simple as making sure that the bride laughs when she’s stressed out. Or taking her out for dinner and drinks when she needs a break from planning. Maybe you’re the person to help her with invitations (like my tag-teaming MOH partner did last week). Or maybe, you’re just there to be a shoulder to cry on when it’s all just too much. Sometimes, just listening and nodding enthusiastically about frosting or types of lace is helpful. I’ve learned that my facial expressions alone can both help the bride make a decision and entertain her enough that she’ll laugh out loud.

Remember when I said the bride chose you for a reason? Well, this is part of her reasoning. She knows that you can keep her sane. That you’ll check her when she’s off her rocker. That you’ll back her up if something goes wrong.

Being “ride or die” doesn’t mean you have to die for this wedding. It just means you’re down for whatever. There's a good chance your friend will return the favor someday.
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Illustrated By Mary Galloway.
This is one of the most important rules of being in a wedding: You’re not alone. There’s a lot resting on the shoulder of a maid of honor. Not everyone has a co-MOH to share duties with, like I do. But you do have the other bridesmaids. They’re not just friends to fill out the wedding party for pictures and show up to parties — they’re here to help you. They were also chosen for a reason: The bride loves them and knows that they want to help her in any way they can.

So give them tasks, and don't be afraid to ask for help. If you really can’t make a call to that salon because of a work commitment, or you’re busy with a family situation, let them know. Chances are the other bridesmaids are ready to step into the ring.

I keep saying that I’m so lucky that I get to tag-team with my co-maid of honor. But I’m also very lucky because we get to tag-team with all the other bridesmaids. When we needed lodging in New York, a bridesmaid put everyone up in her family home to help us all save money. When I couldn’t think of bachelorette-party games (because it’s just not my thing), two bridesmaids stepped up and took over. Everyone in the bridal party is a leader, and it’s your job to use their strengths. If you ever feel overwhelmed, tired, angry, or confused, turn to the other bridesmaids. You’re all taking this crazy ride together.

And never forget that while the bride is on a whole different level of stress (read: crazy), she’s still your friend, too. If you’re too busy to get something done, be honest. She’ll ask another bridesmaid to take on the challenge and be grateful that you told her upfront.

Then she’ll probably suggest you drink some wine — because that’s what good friends do.
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