Being asked to be a bridesmaid is a wonderful honour, and one that most girls feel incredibly lucky to experience.
However, if you’ve never been one before, or don’t know much about the formalities of a wedding, it can seem a slightly daunting task. Worry not, though, I’ve put together the ultimate guide to being a bridesmaid, and outlined your key roles and bridesmaids duties for before, and on the day. Enjoy.
A bit of background…
The history of the bridesmaid varies across cultures, religions and time periods. In early Roman times, bridesmaids formed a kind of bridal troop, who marched alongside to accompany the bride to the groom’s village. This ‘protective shield’ of similarly outfitted bridesmaids was supposed to intervene if any wayward thugs or vengeful suitors tried to hurt the bride or steal her dowry.
However, the Western bridesmaid tradition seems to have originated from later Roman law, which required ten witnesses at a wedding in order to outsmart evil spirits believed to attend marriage ceremonies. The bridesmaids and ushers would dress in identical clothing to the bride and groom, so that the evil spirits wouldn’t know which couple was actually getting married. Even as late as 19th century England, the belief that ill-wishers could administer curses and taint the marriage still existed. In Victorian wedding photographs, for example, it can take quite a bit of inspection to pick out the bride and groom!
Getting ready… The morning of the wedding
It makes sense for all the bridesmaids and pageboys to get dressed at the bridal home or wherever the bride is getting ready. This helps to prevent creasing of the wedding outfits and gives everyone the chance to make any last-minute adjustments.
If you’re chief bridesmaid (or Maid of Honour if you’re married), your role on the day is of utmost importance to the bride and the other attendants. You must maintain a calming influence throughout the day, and be as organised as possible.
On the morning of the wedding, you’ll need to ensure that everyone is where they should be, when they should be, and that the right clothes and accessories are ready for the right person.
Your other duties in the morning include: arriving at the bride’s house in plenty of time for the hairdresser and make-up artist being on hand to help dress younger attendants; looking after a handbag for the bride, containing tissues, blotting paper, and a lipgloss for touch ups throughout the day. We also recommend you pack an ‘emergency kit’ for the morning too – this could include plasters, some rescue remedy and of course a sewing kit incase any little clothing rips occur.
Getting to the ceremony
The chief bridesmaid, bridesmaids and other attendants will probably travel to the ceremony venue with the bride’s mother. Your calming influence may be tested to the limit, as everyone will be excited and perhaps a little emotional about the coming events.
Once all the attendants are assembled, the photographer may want to take some pictures before the bride arrives. The chief bridesmaid will have to organise the other bridesmaids and pageboys, particularly very young ones.
Duties at the ceremony
When the bride arrives, the chief bridesmaid will need to ensure everyone is assembled and in the right position behind her, ready for her entrance. Calm any excited little flowergirls and pageboys using bribery (sweets) if necessary.
Make any necessary adjustments to the bride’s veil and dress so that she looks absolutely gorgeous for her big entrance. All eyes will be on her!
Bridesmaids also have very specific duties. You follow the bride into the venue (or you may go first, American style) and usually sit near the front, ready for the procession back out at the end. Make sure that you know where to go and that young children have their parents seated close by.
Once the bride has joined the groom, the chief bridesmaid takes her bouquet and gloves, if she is wearing any, and looks after them for the duration of the service.
If in a church, when the couple sign the register, the chief bridesmaid goes with them into the vestry or side room, accompanied by the best man, to witness the signing.
On leaving the ceremony venue, the chief bridesmaid and the best man take their positions behind the bride and her new husband for the recessional.
Other older bridesmaids will be escorted by the ushers. Younger bridesmaids and pageboys will follow behind.
Once you are all outside, the chief bridesmaid may need to arrange the couple and attendants for the photographs. It is also quite usual for the chief bridesmaid to have her photo taken with the best man.
Next, the chief bridesmaid gathers together any runaway younger attendants and get them all into the car to take them to the reception.
Once at the reception, the bride may want the chief bridesmaid to be a part of the receiving line. The purpose of the line is to allow the guests to meet the bridal party, and to ensure that the bride and groom say at hello and thank you to each guest.
You may also have the responsibility for displaying the bride’s bouquet somewhere safe (and preferably cool), ensuring it doesn’t get damaged during the rest of the day. Liaise with the venues wedding co-ordinator to get a vase or jug of water to keep the flowers refreshed.
The chief bridesmaid should also circulate amongst the guests during the reception, ensuring that they are enjoying themselves and don’t need anything. In this way you act as the bride’s back-up; she will have only limited time to spend with each guest.
Although the speeches at the reception are generally a male prerogative, it is becoming more usual for either the bride, chief bridesmaid, or even both of you to make a speech.
The first dance is exclusively reserved for the newlyweds, but it is traditional for the chief bridesmaid to take to the floor with the best man and join the happy couple midway through the first dance.
Finally, when the couple change into their going-away outfits, the chief bridesmaid should be on hand to take care of the bride’s wedding dress and ensure that it is returned to her home. The other attendants’ outfits may need to be returned if they’ve been hired and she may well ask you to take responsibility for this.
There is a lovely tradition behind the small thank-you gift the bride and groom will probably get you. The giving of extra presents to the bridesmaids is an ancient custom, handed down from the days when the groom had to catch his bride and, rather than actually chasing her, he used to bribe her friends to lure her to a place where he could stealthily approach her!