Choosing which friends do and don’t make the cut as a bridesmaid is, let’s be honest, one of the hardest decisions any bride has to make. And there are no black-and-white rules. You can have 10 bridesmaids or zero. Sisters and sister-in-law or just friends. But, you do have to choose. And, that decision, is often one clouded in anxiety and stress.
“Do you think they’ll be offended if I don’t ask them?” I asked my fiancé, just a couple of months ago. To which he cleverly – and quite bluntly – answered: “It’s your decision. No one else’s. They either respect it or don’t.”
As someone who’s been a bridesmaid five times, I know exactly how exciting, special and tough being a bridesmaid really is (at this point, I really should add ‘professional hen-party planner’ to my CV). But being part of so many of my friends’ weddings’ made my decision on who to choose as my own bridesmaids all the more difficult.
And I know I’m not alone. “I didn’t expect choosing bridesmaids to be one of the most difficult decisions of the wedding planning process – especially considering I’m trying to plan a three-day destination wedding,” says one bride-to-be. “It’s not just a case of who you want around you on the day, but how it will look against the number of groomsmen, affordability and worrying about upsetting people. I’m personally finding it hard to balance old and new friends. I speak to my ‘newer’ friends and local friends daily, but does that mean they should take a spot over friends I’ve had since childhood? I don’t want my friends to feel like I’m rating them when in reality, I love them all the same.” Picking who’s going to be part of your ‘bride squad’ really is an emotional rollercoaster.
From the moment you post that joyous “I said yes” picture on social media, prepare for the questions to start rolling in. “So who are going to be your bridesmaids?” they’ll say. “I’d look good in a bridesmaid dress, don’t you think?”, “I’m a bridesmaid, right?” And, immediately, the pressure is on.
Who should you pick as bridesmaids?
“It can feel so awkward,” says wedding planner Ella Hartig. “It’s something every bride comes up against – perhaps thinking ‘oh I really want these people but I’m supposed to have these’. It can be really hard, especially when there’s politics at play, but my advice for any bride is always to just go with your heart.”
And that’s exactly what I did. Luckily, I have two younger sisters who I’m both incredibly close to, so they were always going to be bridesmaids. I then cherry-picked the rest; my best friend from school, my best friend from university and two of my closest London friends who I see the most now.
Some of the best advice I was given – when it comes to picking bridesmaids – was to really think about the morning of your wedding day (when you’re getting ready and having your hair and make-up done) and ask yourself the following: Who do you want there? Who’s going to bring the fun energy that’s going to make you feel excited for the day ahead? Who’s going to be calming and reassuring if you’re freaking out and feeling nervous? Who will flap and fluster and stress you out?
“Time absolutely flies by during that morning section,” says Hartig. “And depending on who you have around you, that last half an hour can either be really fun or really stressful. So choosing the right people is so important. There are so many characters: the bridesmaid who’s already drunk and no use at all, the one who is panicking herself and therefore panicking you, and the really reliable friends and family who are there no matter what goes wrong and will calm you down.”
How do you propose to your bridesmaids?
Once you’ve made your decision, you then have to work out how you’re going to ask them – which is another task entirely. Most brides tend to write a thoughtful “will you be my bridesmaid?” card (there are lots of cute options on Etsy, Papier and Not On The High Street). But recent years have shown a trend for full-on bridesmaid proposals, complete with bridesmaid boxes brimming with ‘Team Bride’ goodies.
“It’s more and more common that bridesmaids are gifted with something these days,” explains Hartig. “There are some lovely gift boxes out there – from the likes of Gigi & Olive and Etsy. But it’s also nice to include something they can use for the wedding, like pyjamas or a robe for the morning of.”
Of course, there is no right or wrong way to ‘propose’ to your friends. Writing a heartfelt card, explaining how important their friendship is to you, is just as lovely as going out for brunch and being spoiled with a box filled with Prosecco, heart-shaped sunnies and matching hair scrunchies. Again, it’s totally up to you and how big of an ‘occasion’ you want to make it. “So don’t feel bad if you’d prefer to keep it low-key,” adds Hartig.
What should you give a bridesmaid?
Each time I’ve been asked to be a bridesmaid, the bride has given me a lovely card – sometimes there was cake involved, sometimes booze – but it was nearly always in person. I knew I wanted to try and get all of my bridesmaids together and ask them at the same time – but organising seven different diaries (mine included), and trying to keep it a secret, proved to be a bit of a challenge. So I ended up asking them all on the same day, but not quite all at the same time.
First, let’s start with the gifting. I knew I wanted to buy them something to mark the occasion, but I wasn’t entirely convinced how useful the bride boxes would be. Sure, they’re very fun – but I wanted to get something I knew the girls would actually use. I decided to get them each a pair of Lululemon sliders – anyone who knows me, knows I’m usually dressed head-to-toe in activewear, so something from one of my favourite brands seemed fitting. And then I scoured Etsy for something a little more ‘bridesmaid-y’ that I could pop their initials on, and they could potentially use at my future hen party (whenever – and wherever – that may be). I settled on these cute mini straw totes – so, hopefully, the hint that I’d like to go abroad somewhere sunny for my hen was well and truly heard! I finished their gifts with a bunch of pretty tulips from my local florist and bought them each a “Will you be my bridesmaid?” card from this gorgeous wedding stationary brand called Gable & Grain, which I found on Instagram.
Next came the task of actually asking them. I invited them all, individually, to come over to my house on a Saturday afternoon, under the guise of going out for a catch-up afternoon tea. One of the girls couldn’t make it, so we ended up going to parkrun that morning, and when she came back to mine “for a quick coffee”, she then saw all the gifts laid out on my kitchen table and I asked her then and there. The rest of the girls all arrived a couple of hours later – I’m pretty sure they all knew what was actually going on, or at least had an idea, but they all did a great job of pretending to act surprised. After lots of excited squeals, we then walked up the road to The Mitre at Hampton Court – a boutique hotel on the river – for the most glorious afternoon tea, paired with a glass of celebratory champagne, of course. It truly was such a happy, laughter-filled day. And I knew I’d made the right decision on who to have as bridesmaids.
How do you tell someone they’re not a bridesmaid?
But the stress around navigating bridesmaid proposals doesn’t end there. You then have to think about the friends that perhaps falsely assumed they’d be joining your bridesmaid crew, and aren’t, or the close friend who, as harsh as it sounds, didn’t make the cut. How do you tell them? And how can you make it less awkward?
“You can always tell them that you’re going to keep the bridal party quite intimate – if you’re only having a couple of bridesmaids – but then probably have really big hen dos or stags and defer the attention away from the wedding and onto that,” suggests Hartig. “Or, if they are a close friend, give them another role. If they’re great at planning, suggest they help X with planning a part of the hen. Or ask them to do a reading in the ceremony.”
It’s best to just be completely honest and transparent. I decided to make my bridesmaid proposal as public as possible by posting it on social media – so all my other friends would know exactly who my bridesmaids are, and there wouldn’t need to be any more awkward “so who are you having as bridesmaids” questions.
If all of this just sounds like too much stress. Just rip up the ‘rule book’ and don’t have any. “I’ve definitely noticed a trend where you either go big on bridesmaids or not at all. A few of my couples last year didn’t have any bridesmaids or groomsmen,” says Hartig. “Particularly with smaller, intimate destination weddings where there’s maybe 30-50 people in total attending the wedding. You then see the friends or siblings that would have maybe filled those roles naturally just step into them, just without the title of ‘bridesmaid’.
“But if you are having bridesmaids, there’s definitely also a trend for having more and more. It used to be maybe three or four bridesmaids as standard, but I’ve not had a wedding in the last year where there were less than six bridesmaids,” she adds.
Whether you decide to have a wedding with lots of bridesmaids or none, three best men or one, six flower girls or a child-free day – it really is completely up to you. After all, it’s your day, and your wedding should be about picking the traditions that feel right to you, and rewriting the ones that don’t.
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