This is a post that has been stirring in my mind for the past 8 years- seriously- since I started a full-time career as a wedding photographer. I have photographed over 120 weddings in those 8 years, which means I've worked with 120 brides (many of whom were also bridesmaids in one of those other 119)!
Standing right beside those 120 brides were the (somewhere around 480?) women whom they selected as bridesmaids- typically very important friends or family members of the bride.
Being a bridesmaid is a real honor. You get to be up front and close to someone's wedding day. You have insight on the bride's feelings, the details, and the dynamics that not many do. I feel the same way about wedding photography- no other wedding vendor is going to have quite as intimate of a look into a couple's lives as I will on their wedding day. When I am reminded of that I realize what a responsibility I have- and it makes me want to work that much harder.
I think most women want to be someone's bridesmaid- to feel chosen and special- but what I've realized over the years is that though it is a position of honor, it is also one of service. I have to be honest- I've also been a bridesmaid/maid of honor a few times myself- some of these suggestions are the result of things I wish I'd done better. However, most of them are the result of the many kind and thoughtful women I've had the pleasure of watching put these very things in action. So, here are my suggestions on how to be a GREAT bridesmaid:
1. Don't fuss.
Yes, it is your job to be helpful to the bride. Please find her earrings for her or help her tie her sash. But please, don't fuss about things that are not important. There is a heightened air of stress that happens on a wedding day- a point at which if something is not finished, it's not going to ever be finished. If every wrinkle is not perfectly steamed out of the wedding dress before time to put it on, please don't fuss. Just help the bride get into her dress. I promise that no one will see that one tiny wrinkle once she is walking down the aisle.
By the same token, please don't fuss about yourself. It is your job to make sure your dress is steamed, altered, etc. before the wedding day. If you want to paint your nails, please do it before the wedding day. If your dress is wrinkly, or you don't like your hair, please remember- it is HER day. Your smile and great attitude will go a lot farther than a perfectly pressed dress or an amazing updo.
Moral here: You do the bride more favor by majoring on the majors on her wedding day. Don't add to the stress by attempting to fret over every "imperfection".
2. Communicate with the bride ahead of time.
The best way you can accomplish #1 is to communicate with the bride ahead of time. Ask her what things are most important to her (i.e. what's worth worrying about). Ask her how you can best be of help on the wedding day. It's really more your job to be considerate of the bride and her feelings than to interject with your opinion on her wedding day (unless asked). So, know how she feels about stuff.
3. Steal the bride's phone.
This tip comes from my friend and fellow wedding photographer, AlexM. Seriously. Steal her phone. There are always at least 2 people who text at the worst possible time things like, "Where is the chapel again?" or "What time do we need to be there?". These are legitimate questions but ones the bride does not have the time (or sometimes mental capacity) to answer. Help her out and be personal assistant for the day.
4. Be early and respect the day-of timeline.
Your punctuality is just one more way to love the bride and groom. She and her vendors (like myself) have gone to a lot of effort to put together a timeline that will allow for the beautiful day she planned. Even if you think it's a little silly to get there 3 hours ahead of time, THERE IS A REASON. Be there and be on time. Do what you can to stay on schedule, and to help everyone else stay on schedule.
5. Anticipate needs.
Be aware of what's going on around you (if you've done a good job taking care of your own needs ahead of time, this won't be difficult). Offer to find someone/something that is missing (there is always something). Dry off the bouquets before portraits. Pick up the bride's train as she walks. Simple acts go a long way.
6. Plan childcare.
I have seen many mommies with young kids do the bridesmaid thing (and I also did it a couple of times). Even if you are Super Mom, you cannot take care of your small kids the whole day. Have someone there to hold/dress/get kids from place-to-place for you. If you need to feed a baby, do your best to work with the timeline of the day (I know it can be tough!).
7. Smile and find the positives.
Emotions are high. Even if it's raining, the bride and groom will still be married. Even if you lose the ring right before the ceremony, they'll still be married. Even if another bridesmaid spills nail polish on the bride's train 15 minutes before the ceremony (yes, that really did happen- refer to #1), the bride and groom will still be married at the end of the day. Choose to be a positive, helpful resource.
8. Be present at the reception.
Your duties are not over after the ceremony. The bride will still need help transferring things, bustling, and there has to be someone clapping and celebrating for them as they enter the reception. Don't run and hide in a corner. Check in with the bride and DANCE. Even if you feel like an idiot. You've already survived standing through the ceremony in heels- you deserve to dance!
9. Toast with grace and intentionality.
I have heard some fabulous wedding toasts, and some terrible ones. If you THINK you MAY have to give a toast at the reception, please try to think about it for a little bit and maybe at least write something down. :) This should be obvious- but needs to be said- do not imbibe so much beforehand that it makes it difficult to give your speech. The BEST speeches I have heard have never been because they had the funniest old story- they were the best because they were written with the bride and groom's BEST qualities and BEST future in mind. They are complimentary of the bride and groom, and forgetful of their faults.
That's it for now! Any other tips you guys can think of?