How to Organise Your Bridal Party

The bridal party’s role in the wedding is so much more than smiling for photos and organising a hen’s party or bachelorette.  I didn’t realise the extent of this myself until the days leading up to the wedding itself, and didn’t fully appreciate how completely indispensable my bridesmaids were until even after the wedding.

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I’ve put together a complete guide to your bridal party, from choosing your attendants to the wedding day (and beyond, if you’re lucky).  

Head to the wedding planning index for a list of content and if you haven’t already, check out the little white book wedding organiser and diary.

I’ll cover:
Traditional bridal party attendants and roles (and alternatives);
What to consider when choosing your bridal party;
What is reasonable to expect of your bridal party (both in time and financially); and
How to show your appreciation for your bridal party’s time, effort and support.

Bridal Party Traditions
Traditionally, a bride’s sisters would be chosen to be her attendants, and a groom’s brothers would fill the male roles.  If each only had one or two siblings, they might also ask another close relative best friend, then a niece, nephew or child of a close friend as a flower girl or page boy.  Traditionally, more formal weddings would have larger bridal parties.

Now, traditional roles have changed: a bride might even choose a best male friend to be one of her attendants, or a groom might include the bride’s brother as one of his, if they’re close.  It’s sensible to keep bridal party numbers proportionate to the number of guests.  For example, we had a bridal party of 9 (plus us) out of 75 guests, which is on the higher side.

There are also other roles for siblings and close friends to fill.  Having a friend act as MC or perform a song or a reading during the ceremony can be just as special.  For example, Blair and I chose to have one of our best mutual friends as our MC, and even asked a friend to be our celebrant.

Don’t worry about having even numbers in the photos or at the ceremony line-up. Instead, pick the numbers based on those people you really truly want to be a part of your big day (and ideally, people who you truly want to be a part of the rest of your lives).  Seeking to even up numbers is likely to make you ask people you wouldn’t otherwise. We had 5 bridesmaids and 4 groomsmen.

What to consider when choosing your bridal party
Wedding planning requires a lot of decision making: venuedress, invites and cake to name a few.  Choosing your bridal party requires just as much consideration as any of those, perhaps more – it’s a very hard decision to undo.

These are the women and men who help plan your pre-wedding parties, lick envelopes and tie ribbons, hold your dress up while you pee (truly), witness your vows and the signing of the registry, and stand by you and your husband’s side in your wedding photos forever.  No pressure, but choose wisely.

First, sit down with your fiancé and discuss the bridal party
Don’t be afraid to take your time in asking your bridesmaids and groomsmen to be part of your special day.  Each person chosen needs to be right for both their individual roles and as part of a group.  It matters less that you have even numbers, or a large and glamorous squad of ‘maids, than who those attendants will be.

Talk to your fiance about how many people he envisages, whether your or he has any particular requests that the other include a sibling or best friend in the other’s group.  If applicable, tell him that you want to have a male friend as one of your attendants and gauge his response.

Budget
Even if the bridal party pay for their own attire, the cost of having a bridal party adds up – consider transport to the venue, bridesmaids’ bouquets and groomsmen’s boutonnieres, and bridal party gifts.  If you’re no paying for the bridal party attire, be very considerate as to how much each person can afford.

Venue
Consider whether the venue would look crowded with a large bridal party, or whether there’s room at the altar for the bridal party to stand.  Similarly, is the venue suitable for a large head table, or will you split the bridal party up to seat everyone?

Availability
Consider whether your bridal party will really be available to help you, both before the wedding and on the day.  Before the wedding, if your potential bridesmaids or groomsmen have work or family commitments that take up a lot of their time, they may not be able to help you with wedding preparation, or devote time to planning a hen’s or stag party.  If one of your girlfriends lives a long way away, is looking after her own small children (or is pregnant), she may also find it difficult to be available and able to help.

For example, if your friend is swamped with work and can barely come out at the weekend for brunch, they probably won’t have time to help with your wedding – which is, after all, the point!

Don’t be pressured
Whether a future mother-in-law is pressuring you to include your finance’s sister, or you feel obliged to ask the friend who made you her bridesmaid, be assertive and make decisions which make you happy.  You only get to choose once.

Who’s reliable?
As much as you might love your younger sister, or feel close to certain friends, bridesmaids and groomsmen fill very important roles that really require people who can be relied on.  Whether they’re forgetful, tardy, immature or perhaps even self-centred, they may not be the right choice for your bridal party.  Remember, a true friend will always respect your decision.

Consider the party as a group
Think about how the bridesmaids and groomsmen will get on together as a group – the last thing you want is to deal with any unnecessary drama (either between the girls, guys, or between each other).  For example, one of my bridesmaids was dating one of Blair’s groomsmen at the time we asked them, but they soon broke up, and there was a little fallout.

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What roles?
When considering who to ask to be in your bridal party, consider what roles your attendants might have to help you with:

  • Organising an Engagement Party (are they organised, helpful and responsible?)
  • Choosing the dress (are they going to be honest and help you look the best you can on your wedding day?)
  • Making invitations/place-cards/favours (are they going to have the time and inclination to do so?)
  • Plan your bridal shower and Hen’s do (and make sure you get home in one piece)
  • Getting on with one another, and possibly following instructions from the Maid of Honour
  • Keeping you company the night before your wedding day (and easing any last-minute jitters)
  • Getting ready on your Wedding Day (will they calm you down or stress you out?)
  • Making a speech about you (can they speak publicly and refrain from embarrassing you?)
  • On-the-day roles including encouraging guests to sign the guest book; ordering family into photos; and tending to stray children and groomsmen!
  • Appearing in your wedding photos (and therefore possibly appear on your living-room wall for the next 60 years – will you still be friends?).

Of your group of bridesmaids and groomsmen, it’s helpful to have friends with different strengths.  For the bridal shower and hen’s party, it’s great to have a planner: someone who is insanely organised, reliable and wants every little detail to be just right.  On the day, it’s good to have someone in charge (not necessarily, but) possibly the Maid of Honour, to keep the other bridesmaids – and the groomsmen – in check.  And, of course you want to be surrounded by girls who will bring out the best in you, who’ll hand you a glass of wine when you’re stressed out, melting your worries away, and get the party started at your bachelorette.

At what cost?
Traditionally, bridesmaids have been responsible for all the costs of their own attire and accessories: bachelorette party; gift for the couple and a gift for the bride.  The bride traditionally covers the cost of each bridesmaid’s bouquet; transportation to the ceremony and reception; a thank-you gift; and hair and make-up if the bride requires it to be professionally done.  If that is the case, brides ought to be prepared to spend at least $100 on each bridesmaid’s bouquet, and around another $100+ on a gift.  Alternatively, brides may choose to pay for their bridesmaids’ outfits in lieu of an expensive gift, but the costs add up either way.  The average cost of a bridesmaid is apparently $1,700, so it’s up to you and your maids how much you each cover.
For example, I bought my bridesmaids dresses, paid for half their accommodation, their make-up, bouquets bought them each Peter Alexander robes and had prints made, and they paid for their shoes, hair, and my hen’s party and bridal shower.

how-to-ask-your-bridal-party-bridesmaids-groomsmen

Show your appreciation
It’s essential to say thank you to your bridal party (and anyone else who has contributed to your big day). Your speech is the perfect time to do so, or you might like to set some time aside the night before or the morning of the wedding to do so, and gift your bridal party a gift.  Some ideas for gifts: jewellery to wear on the day, bridal robes, make-up, champagne, special chocolates, an engraved item, or a voucher (dinner, in-home cleaning, etc).  If you can’t afford to buy a gift, show your appreciation another way: if you’re a skilled cook you could make some meals for them, deliver baking, offer to help with laundry or childcare, for example.  Bridesmaids often give up a lot of time for the bride and the wedding, so be sure to notice and appreciate any time, money or support given.

What if things go wrong? Can you un-ask?
Well, of course you can, but doing so will put both you, her, and the other bridesmaids (or groomsman) in a very difficult position.  If things really have gone wrong, and you don’t feel like he or she is able to fulfill the role, or the relationship has changed, think about the best way to avoid any hurt feelings.  You don’t want to cause any awkwardness that will permeate on the day.  Instead of un-asking them altogether, you could ask them to do a reading instead, showing that they are still a special part of your day.  Any conversation along these lines should be done privately and discreetly.  Be aware that dealt with improperly, you could be ending the friendship.  In the end, the bridal party should be a group that makes both the bride and groom happy, and positively contributes to the wedding day of your dreams.

Best Man’s Responsibilities
Traditionally, these are the responsibilities the Best Man was responsible for:
– Help the groom choose the suit or tuxedo
– Touch base with the groomsmen to ensure the correct sizes are ordered for everyone
– Organise the stag party
– Get the groom to the venue on time
– Look after the rings if there is no ring bearer
– Act as a witness and sign the wedding register with the Maid of Honour
– Make a speech at the reception and toast the couple
– Help round people up for photographs
– Collect and keep safe cards and gifts
– Make final vendor payments
– Dance with the Maid of Honour
– Return the groomsmen’s suits to the rental shop

Head Bridesmaid/Maid of Honour
– Helps the bride find her wedding gown and attends all fittings
– Helps to fulfill “something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue”
– Liaises with the other bridesmaids for dresses and accessories
– Arranges or hosts the bridal shower and plans the hen’s party
– Helps the bride get ready on the morning of
– Holds the bride’s bouquet during the ceremony
– Adjusts the bride’s veil and dress as needed during the ceremony and for photos
– Acts as witness and signs the wedding register with the best man
– Helps the bride go to the bathroom in her dress
– Play hostess at the reception, sharing jobs such as encouraging guests to sign the guest book and informing them of where to put wedding gifts
– Dance with the best man
– Take the bride’s dress to be professionally cleaned and stored

Once you’ve chosen, you might want to pass this article onto your bridesmaids so they know what to expect, or ask them to read How to organise the bridal shower which was written with assistance from my bridesmaids.

Head to the wedding planning page for an index of our content and if you haven’t already, check out the little white book wedding organiser and diary.