You Should Know How to Do This: Being in a Wedding Party

It’s summer (or, more accurately, “a weekend from March through October”), so everyone and their brother is getting married. If you’re 19-35, you likely have at least three scheduled throughout the season. If you’re 19-35 and a Southerner, you’re…well, you’re probably not reading a blog because you’re at a wedding right now.

This is me as a bridesmaid, age 19.

This is me as a bridesmaid, age 19.

I’m not going to write a post about how to be a wedding guest, because if you DON’T know how to do that, you’re probably also the person writing the insane comments about how Obama is a reptilian alien sent to destroy us at the bottom of Slate articles.

If you’re actually a monster, here’s how you do it: you RSVP according to their wishes and on time. You bring a date or your children if your written invitation specifically says that your others (significant or otherwise) are invited but you don’t ask if you can otherwise, and you certainly do just wing it. You send them a gift from their registry or to the charity they’ve named or you give them cash to avoid anything like this. You show up on time to their wedding and you do not make a spectacle of yourself or complain at any time. THAT IS IT. You just arrive, act polite, send a gift, and then go home. If your girlfriend has to stay home, you can dance with available flower girls and aunties and everyone will think you’re sweet and you’ll have fun anyway. If you can’t afford to get a sitter, you can’t afford to go to the wedding. If you think everything on the registry is tacky, maybe reevaluate who your friends are because maybe they’re gonna stay tacky.

But I digress.

As a Southerner, an event designer, and a person aged 19-35, I’ve borne witness to a lot of weddings. Oddly, the thing that seems to cause the most strife (after the mothers of the bride and groom) is the wedding party. Across class, race, gender, religion: the people who stand up for the happy couple create so much drama. Please do not be a strife-giver.

The thing is, being a good bridesmaid or groomsman isn’t hard to do. It’s expensive for sure, but it’s also exceptionally easy to get out of, and you’re allowed to say no. Once you’ve committed, though, you’re in it to win it. I’m sorry. That’s just how it is.

How do you get out of it? Simple: “I am so honored that you would even consider asking me, but I don’t think I can afford to right now.” Done. You’re done. It’s what Kristen Wiig should’ve said in Bridesmaids, and it’s what you should say if you feel like your friend is going to become insane while planning, if you genuinely cannot afford it, or if you would rather see the bride marry Nick Nolte circa 2002. If you’ve signed on to the Good Ship Blush and Bashful, you’re voluntold to do all the things listed below, and have thus officially surrendered the right to complain about how you’re gluten-free, hate cummerbunds, or really want to have the boy you’ve been dating three weeks in the wedding pictures.

With the caveat that weddings are changing and I often see bridesmales and best gals, for the most part, being a bridesmaid is mostly still the domain of women, and being a groomsman is still largely in the purview of men. If you’re in a less traditional wedding and have an etiquette question, please feel free to email me and I’ll do my best to help you do the right thing. On the whole, though, this is a pretty good list of things to bear in mind for the wedding parties for: straight weddings, gay weddings, expensive weddings, weddings just one step up from an elopement, Jewish weddings, Catholic weddings, second weddings, weddings where both parties are 19, military weddings, pagan handfasting weddings, Americanized Indian weddings, weddings between the children of heads of state, weddings between the children of schoolteachers, etc., etc., etc. If your particular cultural subgroup has some customs I don’t know about, obviously adhere to those rather than whatever I’ve told you to do. DUH.

For both male and female attendants, I’d like to put in a request that you avoid getting completely canned at the wedding itself; you don’t want to be the woman remembered for hitting on someone’s 15-year-old cousin,* the guy who vomited on Aunt Pearl,* or any variant therein. Not to be a killjoy, but they’re taking a ton of photos of this particular day, and the kissy face/glassy eye/red cheeked thing isn’t the look anyone is aiming for. Have a great time, but don’t embarrass yourself or, uh, your nice, newly-married friends. You are a kind of wedding co-host, so be a good host. I promise you’re going to have fun.

See how sweaty?

See how sweaty?

Let’s start with the ladies. Gentlemen, you can skip to the bottom, or read on to discover why your girlfriend is crying over nosegays. File this away under “reasons I’m glad to be a dude” along with stuff like “peeing standing up” and “making a whole dollar for every 88 cents Kirsten makes.”

Bride’s Side

Okay, great. So you love your college roommate/best friend since 4th grade/sorority sister/drug dealer/Junior League buddy/co-stripper/work wife Rachel. She’s engaged and she wants you to be a bridesmaid! This is very sweet and probably means that she cares about you very much. While you are still on the phone with her/having lunch with her, it is perfectly okay to have a frank talk about how much this is going to cost. A word to the wise: you’re probably not going to get out of there for less than $1,000, but the bride can’t make different choices if she doesn’t know people are struggling to keep up with the Jones’. If she’s imagining this bridesmaid dress and you’re imagining this one, or Rachel’s wanting this bachelorette weekend and you can afford this, better to know now.

You’re going to be responsible for throwing Rachel a shower, doing the bachelorette party, and being at the wedding. Where I’m from, a bridesmaids’ tea isn’t unheard of, but is usually low-key and not a massive consideration. Other than that, your only obligation is to occasionally listen to the bride yammer on about cocktail napkins or that her uncle is going to drunkenly pants someone.* That’s it. You don’t have to help do crafts,* you don’t have to go to every fitting,* you don’t have to fly back and forth to Richmond a bunch of times.* If you want to, great, but that’s not what you signed on for.

First things first, the dress.

Rachel tells you what to wear and you say, “I love it. It’s beautiful.” My own mother, one of the world’s most lovely and tasteful people, once wore a butter yellow matte jersey dress with spaghetti straps and a sheer capelet. You know what she said? “I love it. It’s beautiful.” My best friend, an exceptionally reasonable and generally low-maintenance woman, wore a pink-on-pink sateen and satin tube dress. You know what she said? “It’s beautiful, I love it.” You can reverse the order of the statements, but that’s all. Look, there is only one woman at this shindig whose outfit is Page 1 news, and it ain’t yours. No one is looking at you and saying, “oh my god, Akrithi is wearing this hideous strapless satin column dress and she must be mortified that eight other girls are wearing it too.”* Everyone knows Rachel put you up to this. Buy it, and if it’s truly horrible, donate it or trade it for something more useful.

Here is a photo of my best friend wearing a really quite nice bridesmaid dress that she perhaps would not have herself purchased but actually looks lovely on her.

Here is a photo of my best friend wearing a really quite nice bridesmaid dress that she perhaps would not have herself purchased but actually looks lovely on her.

Be self-sufficient, and get the alterations done without bothering her. Show up to the church/vineyard/temple/park with your hair and nails done (if you don’t do them together), and look appropriate. There is no need to consult with much of anyone to get these things done.

Second things second, the shower.

The maid of honor is usually the point-person for this, but this is where planning and playing to your personal strengths comes in very handy. Real Simple has a good week-by-week checklist for how to handle this stuff, but remember to show up on time, look nice, act nice, and help keep things on track. It’s about this time I’d suggest you all get a good, old-fashioned Google doc and update it regularly with who has paid, who is doing what thing, etc. Someone needs to find a place, someone needs to decorate, someone needs to record gifts, someone needs to wrangle the discarded wrapping paper. Divvy up tasks and get to it.

Even though you’re throwing the party, you do need to send a gift for this, but you can spend about $20-50 on it and it can come off the registry. It definitely needs to be very tame and tasteful since Rachel’s grandma will be there. There’s really no reason you can’t get out of a bridal shower for under $200 all told since, for some reason, you eat virtually nothing and drink not at all and you split the costs among the group.

I’d like also to politely ask that you not make me play a bunch of weird games because no one likes those.

Third things third: the Bachelorette Party.

This, unlike bridal showers, has the potential to actually be something closer to how one may traditionally define “fun.” If you stay away from boring cliches, it can be great. The idea is that this is supposed to be about stuff you maybe couldn’t do after you get married (which I think is insane, but that’s another story for another time), so consider this a great excuse to have a really good night/weekend with Rachel and other ladies you like a lot. Bachelorette parties feel like birthdays on steroids: everyone is celebrating the lady of the hour, and everyone has a blast. If you want to bring a gift, now’s the time for sex toys, trashy lingerie, or anything else that is porny.

Plan to do this particular thing about six weeks before the wedding, maybe closest-in a month before. That way, it doesn’t feel anticlimactic but does feel like a break from planning. Do not, I REPEAT, DO NOT do this the night before the wedding. The night before is a time to have like, two bourbons, watch Snapped and go to bed at a reasonable hour.

This should be about relaxing and having fun, so the sky is the limit. If Rachel loves to eat penis cake and go to strip clubs with her bra outside her clothes, uh, have fun? Don’t fee like you have to do all that, though. Go to a spa, go paintballing, loll around on the beach aimlessly, camp out, wine taste, go to Vegas. I don’t care! I don’t. Unless you’re going hot air ballooning, in which case, invite me! Anyway, plan carefully, use your Google doc, and have a good time. Make sure that you don’t overschedule, that you DO get a cab, that you find something kind of fun and unexpected to do, and that you have some stuff to do that doesn’t involve drinking (there’s going to be someone underage, pregnant, or in recovery, so make sure they feel included). The only DO NOT is “do not let Rachel do anything that is going to adversely affect her relationship with her fiance in the long run.”

Last but not least, the day of.

Plan to arrive ten minutes early to the place you’ve been asked to meet in your butter yellow matte jersey dress having brushed your teeth with the appointed toothpaste.* Do your hairs as a group, put on the official coral lipstick, and get thee to the appointed locale. Make sure the bride has everything she needs, hold whatever you’re asked to hold, and bustle her dress or whatever. Make sure she eats, and that she doesn’t have anything in her teeth. Rachel should never know that the caterers are late or that the dahlias are actually chrysanthemums.* Run whatever interference is deemed necessary. Give a toast if asked (my go to: “Congratulations and best wishes. May the best of your past be the worst of your future.” AND SCENE.) and eat the provided snacks and drink the provided drinks.

You. Are. Finished.

Groom’s Side

Full disclosure: I have never actually been a groomsman. Fortunately, I have planned and executed a lot of these wedding thingies, and I know some stuff about this.

So Rachel’s fiance, Andrew, wants you to be a groomsman. You were on the football team with him/in the service/fraternity brothers/actual brothers/in jail together, and now he wants you to stand up for him at his wedding. This is a big honor and you should act like it. Fortunately for you, the financial burden for a groomsman is almost always substantially lower, so this is probably less of a consideration. Generalizing wildly, grooms have likely not given a ton of thought to what their weddings should be like, and thus are easier to talk out of extremely expensive options in this regard. Nevertheless, if he’s wanting to go to Bangkok for the bachelor party, it’d be super to know that at the outset.

As a groomsman, you are responsible for showing up on time to the wedding in the appointed outfit, making sure the groom does the same, and taking him out for his bachelor party. It’s not unheard of for there to be a “tool shower” or a “couple’s shower”, but that’s a directive that is likely to come from the bridal end of things and is pretty uncommon all told. You are also obligated to listen to Andrew worry about his aunt saying something racist to Rachel’s biracial niece or about reception entrees if he would like to discuss that with you.*

Like I said at the beginning: lucky you, your to-do list is much shorter.

First things first: the appointed outfit.

It’s probably a suit. You just rent the suit and then show up. If it’s a kilt, then you wear the kilt and do not complain. If it’s a military wedding, you likely already own your outfit! How handy! Make sure you shave, get a haircut, and generally look as presentable as is possible on the day in question. Good news! You don’t at any point have to say, “Oh, it’s beautiful, I love it!” It’s my impression that men generally do not discuss their suits like this in large groups, but feel free to if that’s what you and your friends like to do.

This is from my friend Sarah's wedding and is an example of how to be in a wedding party (e.g., show up, on time, and act super nice).

This is from my friend Sarah’s wedding and is an example of how to be in a wedding party (e.g., show up, be on time, act super nice, drink the Smirnoffs’ for the groom when he gets iced to avoid a wedding meltdown).

Usually here is where I say “second things second” but since this list has only two components, I guess I can say, “now you do the bachelor party.” God, this is making me wish I were a boy.

So on to the bachelor party. Can I say this as a ladyperson? You do not have to go the the strip clubs or buy the dude a hooker’s time. This is completely unnecessary, unless, you know, everyone likes going to strip clubs and Rachel says it’s cool if Andrew pays a hooker a visit a few weeks before his wedding. Rachel’s friends were responsible for making sure she didn’t do anything that would result in her wedding being cancelled, and you owe it to Andrew to ensure the same.

What should you do? Oh, kinda whatever you want. I’m now going to copy and paste from above with a few modifiers:

Plan to do this particular thing about six weeks before the wedding, maybe closest-in a month before. That way, it doesn’t feel anticlimactic but does feel like a break from planning. Do not, I REPEAT, DO NOT do this the night before the wedding. The night before is a time to have like, two beers, play XBox, and go to bed at a reasonable hour.

Go to a spa, go paintballing, loll around on the beach aimlessly, camp out, wine taste, go to Vegas. I don’t care! I don’t. Unless you’re going hot air ballooning, in which case, invite me! Anyway, plan carefully, use your Google doc, and have a good time. Make sure that you don’t overschedule, that you DO get a cab, that you find something kind of fun and unexpected to do, and that you have some stuff to do that doesn’t involve drinking (there’s going to be someone underage, pregnant, or in recovery, so make sure they feel included). The only DO NOT is “do not let Andrew do anything that is going to adversely affect his relationship with his fiancee in the long run.” Other than that, have a great time.

On the day of, you’ve got some tasks. They are as follows:

  • Fetch out-of-towners from the train station or the airport.
  • Decorate the getaway car if that’s something you’re doing.
  • Lint roll your outfit (which is also pressed and fits nicely and is on your body at all times). Bring extra lint rollers because someone will forget this.
  • Assist the ushers in getting everyone to their seats.
  • Be generally supportive of the other attendants by helping to make sure they have things they need, then willingly fetching said things. Remember: your outfit is likely less cumbersome than any woman in attendance’s outfit.
  • Flirt tastefully with the groom’s mother and dance with single ladies who express an interest in dancing. Chat meaningfully with the flower girls about their coloring projects at kindergarten next week.
  • Get the groom there sober, shaven, clothed, and with the wedding band.
  • Offer a sincere toast at the reception if asked.

Your overall duties are light. Just be glad you aren’t having your hair molded into a hairdo last seen at the 1984 Miss Staten Island pageant.*

So that’s it. You’re now totally prepared to be a good groomsperson or bridesfriend.  Any questions? Happy to help.

Want to share your worst-case-scenario wedding stories in the comments?

*represents real thing from my life and is in no way made up.

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4 responses to “You Should Know How to Do This: Being in a Wedding Party

  1. super sound tips. now asking for a bit of advice because you have generally excellent taste: my best friend is getting married, and i can’t make it to the bridal shower because it’s in north carolina. i’m sending a gift in my stead, but can’t think of anything that doesn’t suck. the bride lives in new york and is moving to DC after the wedding to live with her soon-to-be-husband, so i don’t want to get her anything big that she’ll have to lug around. she and her fiance have requested charity gifts or cash, but this is going to be a good old southern shower (greensboro, NC) so i feel like that’s not going to fly in front of her mom’s friends, although i’m tempted to say SCREW IT and just write them a check. thoughts? ideas?

    • I LOVE GIVING ADVICE, JANE. Thank you for this opportunity.
      Since you’re going to the wedding itself and this is your best friend forever for life, you probably know her taste pretty well. You have two choices:

      Option a: you send a small gift to the home of her mother. Places like Pottery Barn and other commonly-registry’d places will send it wrapped. This makes a good impression on her mom because you sent the wedding gifts to the traditional place, and also covers the “is it wrapped and lovely?” problem. Since she didn’t register, but you do know her really well, you can probably swing this.

      Alt option b, which is more personal: some kind of art object/home product that is donating the proceeds to charity? Not like one of those Marc Jacobs breast cancer shirts, but maybe more like this: http://www.lostlizardtc.com/2/post/2011/01/proceeds-from-pendleton-blanket-sale-to-benefit-american-indian-college-fund.html
      It’s personal and useful/pretty, makes a nice impression, and makes mom happy while also donating to charity like they want.

      The only thing I’d avoid, actually, is the check, because it will make her mom judge-y, and as we all know, weddings are not about the people getting married at any point after the moment they say, “WE’RE ENGAGED!” to someone’s mom.

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