I've lost count of the number of TV shows about brides-behaving-badly. There's "Bridezillas
" (now in double-digit seasons), "Say Yes to the Dress
" (which they usually don't ...), and "Million Dollar Weddings
" (or, "Even though it's all free, I still want exactly what I want"), just to name my three favorites.
Secret's out. Being a bride is one of those rare life moments where you get to pull the "this is my day" card. For the millions of women getting married every year, that means months of stressful prep leading up to 24 pressure-filled hours.
But what it means for those who serve in the courts of the wedding-day queens is something very, very different. For those saints (i.e., us), it can be 12-plus months of smiling, nodding and muttering, "I'm never going to wear that" under our breaths. Tempers can flare and feelings can be hurt -- all with good reason: Being a bridesmaid is expensive, it's stressful, and no matter what, you can't say no to the bride.
Or can you? As one friend who's been bridesmaid to four would-be Bridezillas put it, "It just shouldn't have to be this way!"
With wedding season in full swing, and the engagement boom just behind us, here are some healthy suggestions on when and how to put your foot down when asked to be in a bridal party.The Ask
I know someone who included a clause in her bridesmaid ask: No one could be pregnant in her wedding. As in, put your family plans on hold until I walk down the aisle 'cause if you get knocked up, you're out.
Nothing says friendship quite like your-looking-good-
in-my-wedding, but the point here is that the writing will be on the wall very early in the bride's reign. In most circumstances you can't say no to actually being a bridesmaid, but you can establish what you are and are not willing to do. What you can't say: "Yes, but I refuse to wear yellow." What you can: "Yes, but with medical school there may be pre-wedding events I just cannot attend," or, "Yes, but I'm trying to get pregnant, and I'm not stopping for the sake of your pictures."
The Bridesmaid Dresses
Going into the dress-shopping process (if you have any say, that is), it's important to remember that there's maybe a 10 percent chance you will like this dress. That part you'll have to let go. But on the issue of cost, the bridesmaids should be considered.
This is where the maid of honor has the tough conversation. If the bride chooses a $1,000 Vera Wang for her mix of 20-something maids full-well-knowing cost is an issue, the MOH can gently recommend an option that's in a more comfortable range or suggest that because the dresses are on the more expensive end that the group wear shoes they already own and handle their own hair and makeup. The key here is that one person in the bridal party -- the MOH or person closest to the bride -- has the conversation avoiding nine OMG?!?! emails to the bride.
The Bridal Shower
It's customary for the bridal party to collectively pay for the bridal shower, but the key word here is "collectively." One bridesmaid can't decide a champagne brunch at the Ritz is best choice and email the group with the costs. Talk about it as a group, and be honest about the maximum you can contribute. That's first and foremost.
But the role of the bride in planning this pre-day fete is often the stickier situation. To her, the bridal shower is a sort of dress rehearsal for the big day, and she may want to control it as such. Here's where a sensible check-in and approval process can save lives. Step one: Establish the bride's big-picture desires. Step two: Determine how to execute as a collective. Step three: Bring your plan to the bride for approval, explaining which elements of her dream shower you aren't able to accomplish and why. You can't say no if she wants to play the silly bridesmaid games, but you can say no to renting 100 antique tea sets from London.
The Bachelorette Party
Here is where things can get really sticky. Bachelorette parties can be expensive, especially if travel is involved. The bride does get to choose what she wants and where, but if affording that is the difference between paying your electric bill or living without power, by all means say something. Much like the dress situation, the MOH should step in here to say, "If it's a weekend in the French Riviera, several people are going to struggle."
Unfortunately you may find yourself part of a wealthier court. In this case, make adjustments where you can. Perhaps you'll go for two nights not three, skip the spa sessions, or not invest in the $120 Juicy Couture be-dazzled "Bridesmaid" sweatsuits. Discuss this openly with the bride; it's OK to say, "I want to be there for every part of your wedding, but here are the cold and hard facts."
The Big Day
Save up all the patience you can muster, because no pre-event tops the main event. You may have to wake up painfully early and sit in a salon as nine other women get their hair done before you. You may have to talk the bride off a ledge when her makeup isn't quite right. I know a set of bridesmaids who were asked not to eat lunch so their dresses fit perfectly. In these respective cases I recommend you A) bring magazines, B) be prepared to re-do her makeup yourself, and C) hide a granola bar in your purse, because the wedding day is the least opportune moment to start in on the refusals.
The No-Fail Rule
If you have to wear it -- on your body, face, hair, or feet -- you can't say no. Even if you know you'll never, ever "shorten the dress and wear it again." The look of this wedding is up to the bride, meaning you surrendered your own looks when you accepted her offer. You can make helpful suggestions. You can ask if your hair can be done half-up because it looks best that way. But if the color is burnt orange and the hairpiece is a giant butterfly, practice smiling.
If you have to pay for it -- your portion of the bridal shower, your trip to the bachelorette party, your burnt-orange-dyed silk strappy sandals -- it's somewhat open for discussion. The key here is to take your issues up with the MOH or other bridesmaids first, and be honest up front.
Serving as an active participant in the happiest day of your good friend's life is a lot of pressure, so much so that many people endure a lot of crazy. If you know your bride and know that "no" is never an option, hunker down, prepare for the ride, and write it all down for when it's your turn to drive.
Jessie Rosen writes 20-Nothings.com, an account of getting by from 2-0 to 3-0. She has three calls of duty as a bridesmaid under her belt and has yet to tell a bride "no."