Relationships

Wedding Do or Don’t: Having Bridesmaids

Kelsey Miller wedding

Before I got married, I never really had a detailed fantasy of what my wedding would be like. I had no dream dress or colors in mind. But there was one thing I always knew I did not want…

Bridesmaids. No way.

Hear me out: In my mind, asking a friend to be your bridesmaid wasn’t an honor. It was asking them a huge, expensive favor. It was like saying, “Hey, do you wanna take on a second job for like a year, except there’s no pay and I’m your boss?! Benefits include: penis straws, credit-card debt and a dress you’ll never wear again!” I had already asked one of my best friends, Jon, to be our wedding officiant. Frankly, that role — which involved paperwork, notaries and writing a wedding ceremony — was a very big ask, but somehow, the bridal party seemed more fraught.

Of course, I knew that some folks found bridesmaid duty fun — myself included! But I also knew others hated it. And though I wasn’t interested in many of the “traditional” bridal party pastimes (see: Bridesmaids), I couldn’t stand the thought of laying additional stress on my closest friends. These were the people who had been there for me through everything: career low-points, family drama and the hideous anxiety I weathered during the early years of my relationship with my fiancé, Harry. It was their friendship that had gotten me through, and bolstered me with the strength and security to take this leap into marriage. I absolutely wanted them there with me on my wedding day. But when they’d given me so much already, it didn’t feel right to ask for more.

I soon realized I wasn’t the only one in the anti-bridesmaid camp. The (many, MANY) wedding message boards were filled with stories about family complications and friend-group politics:

“I really don’t want my sister to be a bridesmaid, but my mom will flip if she’s not.”

“My best friend is going to be eight months pregnant when I get married. I don’t want to pressure her to do all the bridesmaid stuff, but I also don’t want her to feel left out.”

“My college roommate made me one of her 12 bridesmaids, but my wedding is smaller. Do I have to make her one anyway? Also, she’s a NIGHTMARE.”

This is the funny thing about weddings: You want them to be pure joy and celebration, but so often you wind up navigating other people’s expectations and etiquette. It’s impossible to please everyone entirely, least of all yourself. Sometimes it seems easier to just opt out of certain traditions, lest you wind up in a passive-aggressive email thread with your mom or cropping your NIGHTMARE college roommate out of the wedding pictures.

These days, wedding sites are chock-full of “bridesmaid alternative” roles or ways that you can involve people without labeling them the b-word. A Practical Wedding (one of my go-to wedding resources) suggested considering a “Bridal Brigade” — a slightly less formal bunch of good friends (not necessarily all women), who’d be up for helping out on the big day. Maybe Anjali, a great public speaker, could do a reading. And Josh could keep an eye on the Polaroid and make sure no one wandered off with it. Nothing too stressful.

I also noticed people on the message boards talking about “non-bridesmaids.” Non-bridesmaids, it seemed, were friends who had the option of doing all the traditional bridesmaid tasks, but weren’t obligated. They could come dress shopping if they were free; and if they wanted to hang out and have Champagne while you got ready, great! But there was no formality and no need to pose for pictures. I really liked this concept in theory, but in practice, it kinda just seemed like non-bridesmaids were, y’know, friends.

About three months after getting engaged, I was sitting with my friend Debbie — who would be getting married six weeks before I did. I was her bridesmaid, of course, and I was enjoying every second. Taking a million pictures during her dress fittings, shopping for comfortable heels, planning her chill bachelorette weekend in Maine — it was a blast! As for me, it was different, I explained. Absolutely, I wanted her and other close friends to be with me on the big day. But I didn’t want to make them feel like “maids.” I just wanted them to know how important they were to me.

“Soooo, why am I not a bridesmaid then?” Debbie asked.

That’s when it clicked. I’d been so wrapped up in the idea that bridesmaid was a pain-in-the-ass role that nobody wanted, that it hadn’t occurred to me I could just not make it a pain in the ass. I could let them buy dresses they liked. I wasn’t legally obligated to have a movie-style meltdown the night before my wedding. I could just be myself. Fine, maybe the slightly more stressed and high-strung version of myself. They’d seen worse.

In the end, my three close girlfriends stood up with me, in lovely different-colored gowns. Changing my mind about bridesmaids was one of the best decisions I ever made. It made the months leading up to my wedding more enjoyable than I thought possible. We celebrated and planned and hung out just as we would have otherwise, but I felt good knowing they had a special place in my wedding. Sometimes, I realized, sticking with the tradition makes things easier than bucking it. And sometimes the tradition is just more fun.

I caved on the penis straws, too.

Kelsey Miller wedding

Kelsey Miller wedding

Kelsey Miller wedding

Kelsey Miller wedding

What’s YOUR take on bridesmaids, non-bridesmaids, Bridal Brigades, etc.? Are you into them? Do you like being in a bridal party yourself?

P.S. 15 wedding dos and don’ts, and what would you do differently at your wedding?

(Photos by Katie Osgood, courtesy of Kelsey Miller.)

  1. No bridesmaids for me. We ended up with a small 45 people wedding (thanks to an ovarian cyst removal that also turned into endometriosis removal, into a “start trying for kids ASAP after). 60 days to plan a wedding, guest lists got cut down, my parents were able to host the wedding in their backyard, our good friend Johnnie The Scot (he’s Scottish and the global ambassador to Suntory Whisk(e)y) agreed to marry us in a park, by a creek across the street from my parents in Chico, California. This was before the Camp Fire.

    No bridesmaids, no groomsman, and we both decided we weren’t doing anything we weren’t comfortable with or felt obligated to. We had $5000 budget, paid by ourselves (no honeymoon included) and pretty much stuck to it. I was already asking friends to buy a last minute plane ticket to Sacramento, California and drive almost 2 hours to little Chico. I was so thankful for those who came, they all felt like bridesmaids and groomsmen.
    And I think after such a small ceremony that turned into such a rager, everyone felt really connected to one another.

    My mother had a wee fit about no registry. But she came around. We specified in our first invite, via email (we sent out regular invites after) we were so thankful if they could make the trip happened, no gifts please. My fiancé had also asked (he’s in the bar industry) for people to bring a special bottle of their choosing if they’d like to crack open and share with the group. This turned into dozens of rare whiskeys, rums and Tequilas that floated around. At one point there was a huge tasting happening at the bar. His mother, not a huge drinker professed, I LOVE SCOTCH!

    At the end I say, you do you. Be patient with friends and family who question what’s happening, they mean it from a good place. Who knows what will come of it. Perhaps opening a vibrator at a Vietnamese restaurant in Austin during a routine girls check in dinner that turned into a bachelorette party for 3. Only for a few hours or so, I gotta work early ladies. Life is too short and full of other stressful things like infertility to worry too much about what others will think. 26 bridesmaids or 0!

  2. stephanie says...

    I just have to add that the third pic – the posed one in front of the frames, of you and the maids and your husband is stunning!

  3. Steph says...

    I didn’t have any bridesmaids and I have no regrets at all. We had a small ceremony at home and a party with friends later, no drama, no fuss, no extra costs, and all of my close girlfriends were there on the night. I know one in particular was upset about it but you can’t make your wedding about what other people want or I really do believe that that is when you look back with regret – when you aren’t authentic to yourself.

  4. Meg says...

    I had one bridesmaid. I didn’t want a bachelorette party or bridal shower. I told her she could wear whatever she wanted, give a speech (only if she wanted), hang out with me while I got ready on the day of, and hopefully come to the rehearsal the day before. It was so simple and still so special.

  5. Elese Marks says...

    Love this post. When my husband and I got married, I was feeling overwhelmed with planning and paying for this incredibly large and extravagant party. I knew from the very beginning, that the day of the actual wedding, I did not want a house full of people fussing about and adding any extra stress than I needed. We decided to only have 1 best man and 1 maid of honor. My husband’s best friend was his best man, I chose my closest cousin for my maid of honor. I had my uncle officiate the ceremony, one of my husband’s sisters recite a bible verse during the ceremony, and my best friend recite a beautiful poem. My husband and I come from different cultures–I am born and raised New Yorker, and he was born in Pakistan and moved here as a teenager. We included some traditions that were special to him–such as Mehndi two days before and a Baraat. I invited his sisters to my mom’s house, along with my closest friends and cousins for henna. I also made flower petal cones for my close friends to toss on my husband when he arrived on his horse during the Baraat. I tried my best to make everyone feel special and included, while also sticking to my guns about having a nice and relaxing wedding morning.

  6. Liza says...

    My best friends and sisters and I made a promise to each other after I was a bridesmaid for a somewhat-close friend at her Disney wedding (nightmare): no bridesmaids. Don’t ask me, I won’t ask you. Sounds mean but we were all so relieved not to have to be or include bridesmaids in our weddings.

    At my wedding, my siblings and friends got to wear what they wanted and do what they wanted, without any obligations from me. For what it’s worth, we also didn’t have a cake (waste of money), dancing (awkward), real invitations (sent an email), a photographer (it’s the 21st century, all photos look good now), a rehearsal dinner (what’s to rehearse?!), gifts (too much stuff already), or a proper wedding dress for me (it was blue with a peacock print!). And it was so great — what we had was just the most fun stuff, and it gave us the freedom to splurge on our rings and a fancy hotel room for the weekend and still come in well under our $15k budget.

    Not bad for a Manhattan wedding!

  7. Jenni says...

    My fiancé and I are getting married this summer, and between the two of us, we have a lot of siblings and a LOT of close friends. It was too hard to narrow down, so we considered having no bridal party at all to avoid having to cut down. But we realized that that wouldn’t really reflect who we are as a couple. Our community is SO important to us, and neither of us would be who we are without our people. So instead we are going super unconventional, and having 26 – yep, twenty six – people total in our wedding party. They won’t stand up at the front of the ceremony – they will process and sit at the front for the majority of the time. When we say our vows, the whole group will be invited to come up and stand in a semi-circle around us. There won’t be “bridesmaids” or “groomsmen” because at this point we are both close to all of them. They’ll all wear boutonnières, different colors (can you imagine a crowd of 26 people all in the same colors?!) and each be assigned silly titles (“Day-Of Therapist”, “Barista- On-Call”, etc). It’s a little different, but feels very us!

  8. Veronica says...

    My husband and I married five years ago, and we opted not to have a wedding party. We had to have witnesses and readers for the ceremony, and we have many siblings, so they filled those roles. Our cousins and close friends need only show up as guests :) I think it was wonderful. My sister planned a low key bachelorette wine tasting day, and some of my friends did not make it. That was okay, though; everyone attending had a wonderful time, and it was very low key. Some of the grunt work, such as making table numbers and putting on tablecloths, fell to my husband and I, but a lot of the wedding party “duties” are things I wouldn’t wish to foist on my friends and family anyway. Some of my friends didn’t understand our reasoning at the time, but now that they have planned or are planning their own weddings, many have told me that they appreciate in retrospect that they were able to celebrate with us just as guests. My husband and I have no regrets about ditching the wedding party!

  9. Jill says...

    I went back and forth about it, but then we moved away from our core group of friends. We decided we wanted a wedding party because we wanted to make sure that our friends would be close by throughout the day and we’d have lots of photos together. But planning a wedding is stressful! I’m all for people doing what works best for them.
    –FYI in the end we ran out of seating so we needed them standing anyway.

  10. Michaela says...

    I’m having 10 brides(people) in my wedding this fall! 4 are cousins, 2 are my brothers, and 4 are close friends from various points. I really struggled with this, but I knew I would feel like I missed out on something if I didn’t have a wedding party and didn’t have people to come get ready with me/share in the joy, so I’m trying to make it as low-stress as possible! They’re all wearing blue dresses or suits, light colored shoes (or brown shoes if suits!), and I’m going to ask them to come do a DIY spa day and hike as my bachelorette party, which I’ll definitely be involved in organizing! My MOH is supremely artistically talented and I’m bouncing ideas off of her, but I’m trying not to ask them to do a ton of travel (most are local- one is coming from another continent but just for the wedding!) or pay for a lot of things (other than dresses, which since they’re picking out I hope they’ll be able to re-wear, but I swore I wouldn’t say that to them! So I’m telling the internet instead- one is already planning to wear it as a guest dress to another wedding!), but just be there and share in the joy with me.

  11. Tess Williams says...

    I LOVE where this piece ended up- you came to the conclusion that I was screaming in my head the whole time!! How much of a pain in the ass being a bridesmaid is totally up to the bride herself- and having bridesmaids can be such a wonderful, special experience. Obviously everyone should be able to do exactly what they want for their own wedding, but I am fully team bridesmaids!!

  12. Macy says...

    This was one of the most stressful parts of our wedding for me last year. I had five sisters/sister-in-laws and that was non-negotiable despite varying levels of closeness. To add anyone on top of that seemed ludicrous. So I did some reflecting on what being a bridesmaid actually meant to me- more than the dresses and parties- and what I wanted more than them to stand at the altar on the wedding day was to know that they were willing to support us in the highs and lows of our marriage for the years ahead. I ended writing my closest friends letters, telling them specifically how they had contributed to who I was and my relationship with my fiancé, and asking if they would commit to supporting us in the years to come. We did yoga the morning of the wedding, they came and went as they could/wanted to the whole day, they kept me company and laughing, I painted them all a painting as a thank you for their friendship, they each had a little job during the wedding, and I treasure the picture of all of us, completely mismatched dresses and all. (But sorry sisters… I know you will never wear your dresses again!)

  13. Laurel says...

    My husband and I struggled picking a wedding party when we started planning. He has a pack a friends who are all “best friends” while I had just 3 close friends I would consider asking. In the end, we had our siblings who are all brothers stand with us. We called them our “Brothers of Honor”. The moments of my brothers helping me with my flower and gown were priceless. All throughout our ceremony, we had our closest friends be a part of the ceremony. One sang, one played the violin, others did reading. It was perfect.

  14. Anna says...

    If I get married, I do not want to have bridesmaids. In my family the tradition (stretching back generations) is that you only have a small wedding attended by family only, maybe a few friends in some cases. Often the only couple attending are the people to be wed and the officiant! The only people that help with the big things in general are your relatives.

    I want my wedding to be stress free and small, with only me and my hubby to be and the officiant. I want my friends to enjoy attending a small feast afterwards where there will be fun and joy.

    When I think of getting married, the focus for me is on honoring my Lutheran faith, bridesmaids have never factored in!

  15. I had the same as you — 3 close girlfriends as bridesmaids — but one thing I do regret is I just sort of assumed they would be there with me on the big day (the whole day, helping me get ready with things, etc) but one of them went MIA for the whole morning and it occurred to me — I hadn’t ACTUALLY asked them to be somewhere at a certain time, just assumed they would. It was lovely having bridesmaids and being lenient with style of dress, etc but if I could go back, I would be more specific as to what I would’ve liked their help or assistance with — what role they would actually play on the big day besides just standing at the ceremony.

  16. Amelie says...

    In France, we just do flower girls/page boys and then one or two adults are witnesses who sign the register. The witnesses just organize the bachelor/bachelorette party, they wear whatever they want. I had 6 or 7 flower girls from the ages of 2 to 12, daughters of friends or family members. It was perfect. Little girls are all about the princess dresses!! They were so excited to wear their matching white dresses and carry my dress/veil and have their own bouquets. And there was no headache for anyone involved. I paid for their dresses and their mini bouquets, which probably came out to less than $500 total. Their mothers got together and found matching shoes and cardigans, which I thought was so sweet because I didn’t want to impose anything and they ended up wanting to! The pictures of my little troupe of girls in front of me is one of the sweetest things ever.

    • Anna says...

      Love this so much

  17. Rachel says...

    Girlfriend and I were married in 1998 (pre-domestic partner registry, pre-any-state recognition, pre-federal recognition) and we chose to have no attendants. Just the two of us walking into the round sunlit chapel together. I wouldn’t change a thing.

  18. Stacey says...

    Love this so much and can completely relate to everything you expressed! I had also convinced myself that bridesmaids were “inappropriate” for getting married at 35. They’d all been there, done that, and had long since retired their respective bridesmaids hats. But then I was flipping through Casey Rose Wilson’s wedding in Martha Stewart and she said she worried about the same thing about getting married around the same age and came to the conclusion that she was proud of those friendships and all the years and work they had put into them. Reading that made it all click for me. I walked down the aisle on December 15, 2018 with my six best friends by my side. And they surprised me with an incredible flash mob (with my groom!!) during the reception. Getting ready and being with them on the big day are some of my most cherished memories. Bridesmaids are THE JAM!

  19. Caitlin L. says...

    Your wedding looks absolutely beautiful!

    I think your rationale is so freaking thoughtful, and I think ultimately what I got from this was that the most important thing it to just relax and enjoy what’s happening, instead of the politics of wedding planning (which is really, really hard, and it sounds like you managed in a way that made you happy:).

    I am a not super classic or particularly religious person, but (by choice) had a very traditional Catholic wedding. The church my parents go to is beautiful and quaint, but mostly is really accepting of people from every walk of life, so I still felt myself and was able to honor my parents and the customs I grew up with, even though I don’t practice really anymore. That being said too, I had bridesmaids, but to not hurt my close friends only had my sisters, my cousin who grew up like a sister to me, my sister-in-law and my childhood best friend. Everyone made sense (it was still 5 women!), and my best friends understand too. They still planned a bachelorette for me without me asking and helped me all along the way.

  20. Sarah says...

    I’m getting married in the fall, and just having a wedding at all is more traditional than I thought I would go, so ditching the wedding party was a no-brainer. My partner and I each have a close friend who is more like family, so those two will have some kind of role on our wedding day, mostly determined by them. I also asked a dear friend to officiate, and we may incorporate a couple of readings by other loved ones. We just moved across the country, and none of my close friends live in our current city or the one where we are getting married, so even if I did have a wedding party, I wouldn’t get to do the fun stuff with everyone. This way, our friends and family can just relax and have fun, and no one needs to feel left out or stressed out.

  21. Lynda says...

    We’re getting married at the end of May with only 46 guests so it seemed like a good excuse not to have a bridal party! My bestie of 20+ years is my MOH/witness and my fiance is having his female friend as his best woman/witness. No bachelorette or bridal party and we haven’t specified a dress code or colour for the best ladies–we trust their judgment. So far it has been easy and stress-free and I have no regrets!

    • J says...

      I LOVE that your fiancé is having a best (wo)man! In my adult lady life I have only been a part of my guy friend’s grooms parties since my closest female friends are either unmarried (like me) or didn’t have bridesmaids. People often are shocked when I tell them that not only have I been a grooms lady/best woman but that 2/3 weddings were for heterosexual couples. The biggest thing being in groom’s parties has taught me is that the stereotypical ‘bride thing’ is often untrue and more so, unnecessary. I was able to stand alongside my best friends with only a moderate expense and meaningful time (as opposed to a 7am hair and makeup call) spent. Having said that, I fully believe that people want to celebrate their friends and as long as you are clear with what you want without adding guilt or pressure everyone will naturally fall into their comfortable wedding rolls.

  22. Alex says...

    Love this! I am super lucky to have a ton of close girlfriends who have been with me through all of my phases of life, but I knew if I had all of them has bridesmaids that would be literally 12 people. A. That’s annoying and B. our small venue wouldn’t have even been able to have that many girls standing in a line. I opted to just have my sisters stand up with me, but I hosted my girlfriends for a champagne toast before the ceremony. 30 minutes before I had to see everyone else, it was just my best friends and me drinking champagne, toasting each other, and getting to connect before all the craziness. It’s one of my favorite parts of the day and I love that I did it that way :)

  23. Rachelle says...

    My brothers were my bridesmaids :) I had so many beautiful friends from different stages of my life that I couldn’t choose. I had them all involved in different parts of the wedding (getting ready, bachelorette, picking out the dress). But, at the end of the day my siblings are in my life for good and it meant a lot to honour them that way.

  24. Ashley says...

    Getting married in June, sans bridesmaids. We had so many things to consider: uneven numbers of siblings/bridesmaids and groomsmen, family politics, not wanting to burden anyone, long-distance travel, and the fact that neither of us really cared about the tradition in the first place. I don’t know how much this decision has to do with it, but wedding planning has been a BREEZE!

  25. Leanne says...

    I didn’t want to choose between friends and create obligations either. At the end of the day, it was important to me to have people stand up and show support for me who I knew would always be there to give me a stern talking to when needed or lift me up. I chose my older brother and two younger sisters to be these people. I had no maid of honour. I had a group of local friends who threw me the best bachelorette get together, full of wine drinking and my best pals. I dreamed of a look like yours – hey everyone, wear something you’re comfortable in! Wear the colour of your choice! But in the end, they all ended up in the exact same shade of blue (so random, so not one of our “colours” but so perfect). My husband and I had our vision for why we were having a ceremony – and it was that we wanted to acknowledge those people around us who made us into these people and who will continue to support us and hold us accountable in good times and bad. When we looked at our decisions through that lens, it was all so simple: spend the money on good food, pony up for hair/makeup to thank my crew as we get ready together over champagne, play lawn games with our guests post-ceremony like a big family reunion.