A bridesmaid accompanies the bride at her wedding. Usually, a bride will have at least a maid of honor, along with one to four bridesmaids.
Being chosen to stand up alongside the bride as she marries her beloved is an honor; thus, the bride will typically ask her closest female friends or relatives such as sisters or cousins to be bridesmaids. If the bride wants to have male friends stand up with her, they are called bridesmen, and their duties will be similar if not identical to those of bridesmaids.
The pre-wedding duties of a bridesmaid will vary, with the maid of honor having the most duties. They might include:
- Helping the bride choose her dress and the bridesmaids' dresses. It is crucial that the bridesmaids assist in this task, because bridesmaids' dresses can be hideous tangerine or lime green monstrosities that you will never be able to wear again; if the bridesmaids act as voices of reason during the choosing of the dresses, you can end up with a tasteful gown you can wear at other formal occasions.
- Helping select, purchase, or create wedding decorations. The closer the maids are to the bride, the more involved they are in this process.
- Helping put together the wedding program, both in terms of how the wedding will proceed and in selecting the paper/fonts for the program itself.
- Organizing/hosting the bridal shower. Typically, the maid of honor does this, but in other situations the mother of the bride might host and the maids might assist.
- Organizing/hosting the bachelorette party. Once again, this is typically the responsibility of the maid of honor, but the maids might decide to do this as a group. Bridesmaids who want the wedding to go smoothly will ensure that the party is not the night before the wedding, and will ensure that the bride doesn't get alcohol poisoning, overdose, and/or run off with a male stripper. And above all, the maids responsible for the party should consider what the bride will want. While some may consider excessive drinking and last-minute fornication to be the whole point of the party ... she (or the groom) might not. Friendships and weddings can wreck on the rocks of an ill-considered bachelorette party.
- Arranging for the rehearsal dinner. This means finding out who will attend, and helping with the cooking if the dinner is at someone's house. Otherwise, it means coordinating with the bride's and groom's family and making reservations at an appropriately nice restaurant. The groom's family will traditionally pay for the dinner, so in this regard the bridesmaids' responsibilities are only organizational.
- Helping select, assemble, and mail the wedding invitations.
Whew! That's a lot. Come wedding day, the bridesmaids just have to throw on their dresses and be on time, right?
Wrong. The wedding day is when bridesmaids are most crucial; even a bridesmaid who had nothing to do with any of the aforementioned duties still has important tasks to do:
- Get yourself prettied up, but not so pretty that you outshine the bride. This means getting tasteful jewelry and shoes to match your gown, and getting your hair and makeup done if that's what the bride wants -- even if you're not used to such frippery. In the wedding I was involved in, all us bridesmaids got our hair done at the same salon; the mother of the bride helped pay for our 'dos. All of us were nervous about what was going to be done to our hair; my stylist studied at the Torquemada School of Beauty and I hurt for days after because of the 25 bobby pins she jabbed into my scalp, but I did get a good hairdo that was impervious to all manner of wind and humidity.
- Run interference for the bride. This means helping with last-minute tasks, keeping annoying relatives away from the bride, etc. Think of the bride as President, and the maids as immaculately coiffed secret service agents. And if an angry ex-girlfriend of the groom shows up at the wedding, knowing a little judo might come in handy.
- Keep the bride calm, comfortable, and sober. If the wedding is of any size, the bride will freak out at some point. Your job is to calm her down, and to keep her from running away. Here are some things you should have on hand to keep things going smoothly:
- makeup foundation and powder
- bobby pins
- small safety pins
- small pair of scissors
- extra pantyhose
- a fan
- a bottle of water
- headache medicine
- duct tape
During the wedding itself, the bridesmaids along with the groomsmen will precede the bride and groom in the processional; typically the maids will have their own bouquets, but the maid of honor will hold the bride's bouquet during the ceremony if there's no flower girl. The maid of honor may also hold the groom's ring before the exchange if there's no ringbearer.
A bridesmaid is far more than a simple ceremonial decoration. So, when choosing your bridesmaids or bridesmen, be sure to find people who are cheerful, organized, efficient, resourceful, and unflappable.