Bridesmaids Tell All

We asked some veteran bridesmaids how they really feel about weddings, the dress, the rest of the party, everything. Here's what they had to say.

What They'd Like You to Know

Yes, your bridesmaids are thrilled for you. But don't forget that their lives may not be going as well as yours is at the moment—maybe one of them just survived a difficult breakup or got turned down for a promotion at work. If someone in your bridal party is facing these kinds of issues, you needn't pretend that you're not happy with what's going on in your life — but at the same time, you shouldn't be so self-absorbed that you blithely ignore their issues, cautions Leslie Parrott. "Ask them questions about what's happening in their lives," she says. "Make sure that your conversations don't all revolve around you and your many planning crises."

And when it comes to the honor of being in your wedding, would you ask first, or simply assume? Checking first is always a good idea: "You should never assume a friend wants to be involved," says Leah Ingram. "There may be financial reasons that would prevent her from doing so, or maybe she's trying to get pregnant and doesn't want to deal with any outside pressures. But on the flip side, don't assume that somebody doesn't want to be involved for the aforementioned reasons — again, ask first."

Do bridesmaids want a laissez-faire bride, or are they itching for you to direct the show? Former maids differ on this point. In the case of dresses, you're probably better off choosing yourself, after at least getting input from everyone. In fact, most bridesmaids welcome the bride's suggestions. "If your instinct is to give direction to your bridal party, go for it. You may not be happy with the result if you leave the choice up to them," says Julia. "And oddly enough, you may be doing your bridesmaids a favor by stating outright ‘I like this dress' or ‘I like this style,' or ‘This is the dress, go buy it.'"

Bridesmaids will gladly shoulder the responsibility — but they'll also gladly receive appreciation and thanks. Make time during your wedding plans just to relax and have fun with your bridesmaids. Kris suggests planning a pampering, girls-only "spa day" with your attendants a few weeks before the big day. Jennifer's sister had a "wedding party weekend" at her parents' summer home so that members of the bridal party could get to know each other. "During the day, we went water-skiing and swimming together," says Jennifer. "At night, we stayed up late, built a bonfire, made s'mores and played board games. It was really fun."

And while your girls know how crazed you'll be the morning of your wedding, do try to remember them. Case in point: Breakfast! If they're with you from the morning on, primping and taking photos, they may well be starving by the reception. "Half the time, you're at a hotel and the bride doesn't think of ordering room service," says Christine. "I've been in two weddings where we didn't get breakfast. Unfortunately we started drinking in the limo, and then we were loaded by the time we got to the reception!"

Brides often give their attendants gifts to thank them for their help. Our panel's advice: Skip the traditional items, and opt instead for something completely unexpected, like a gift certificate for a massage or manicure (these pampering gifts received the highest points from our bridesmaid panel!). Or choose something unique for each maid. "My sister-in-law, who's a very creative person and has wonderful taste, purchased different gifts for each of her seven bridesmaids," says Julia. "They were all beautiful: some received hand-painted pottery, others a unique piece of jewelry. Each gift said something different about each relationship, which is much nicer than everyone getting the same thing."

The members of your wedding party share a unique bond with you. In the coming months, they'll likely listen sympathetically when wedding details get the best of you, take time to plan and/or attend your bridal shower, shop for and purchase dresses, and share in your excitement and joy as the big day approaches. For all that, don't forget to let them know how much you love and appreciate them along the way.

*These names have been changed to protect privacy.

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