Over the weekend my cousin, Bride-to-Be in October, asked me "What's reasonable to ask of my bridesmaids?" and then yesterday a friend asked "As a maid of honor what on earth am I supposed to do?" It struck me that these two questions are rarely answered together and from both perspectives, so I thought I would take an opportunity to explain common things expected of Bridesmaids/Maids of Honor, and hopefully provide Brides with some perspective on all your Bridesmaids do for you. I hope as Brides read this they understand that while being in your wedding is truly an honor, it's also a lot of work!
Let me start by saying that what is shared here is (as always) 100% my opinion, and is based on some research I've done on sites like theknot.com. Etiquette is always different depending on who you ask, so if you're in a wedding ask your Bride what she wants. And if you're a Bride, tell your Bridesmaids what you do and don't expect from them. Most people can't read minds! There are countless articles available on the net on this topic, and I would highly recommend those on theknot.com.
As a Bridesmaid, you should EXPECT to:
Buy a dress chosen by the Bride to wear on the day of the wedding. Hopefully your Bride lets you and the other BMs give some input, but she doesn't have to. Cross your fingers and hope it's under $200.
Host a Shower for the Bride-to-Be. All Bridesmaids should help plan and financially chip in for this, but the Maid of Honor typically runs the show and may foot more of the bill. If families are really spread out or the Bridal Party is large sometimes there are multiple showers, talk to your Bride about what she wants.
Organize a Bachlorette Party for the Bride-to-Be. Good news here is that guests usually chip in for their share. Having a per head cost stated on the invites is totally acceptable --that way guests know what they need to chip in up front and what they get for it. This could be as easy as organizing a bar tour where people pay for their own drinks and buy the Bride-to-Be drinks. Most bars and restuarants will give a package deal or drink specials to bachlorette groups.
Buy a gift for an engagement party (if there is one), the shower, and the wedding. Yes, that's two or three gifts total. Gifts at Bachlorette parties are totally optional, and if given are usually small and more of the racy/fun variety. I've been asked before how much is appropriate to spend, and I don't think there is a standard answer. You should evaluate your own lifestyle and what you can afford. Typically if you are invited to the wedding with a date, you would want to increase your gift to show it's from two people.
Know all the wedding information inside and out. People will ask you, "Where are they registered?" "What time the ceremony starts?" "Is there an open bar?" "Where should we park?" and the list goes on. Even though all these answers may have been on the shower or wedding invitation, sometimes people just don't read. Be patient with them. If you can't keep it all in your head, memorize the couple's website to refer to guests, or keep copies of invitations handy to reference.
Act as Co-Host at all wedding events. The Bride and Groom are only 2 strong, and not everyone knows each other. Help out by introducing family to friends and vice versa; look after the family of the betrothed --especially grandparents and children; take pictures; point guests toward the gift table, etc. Do not take over events planned by others, just help direct things to help it all go smoothly.
Other things a Bridesmaid MIGHT have to do...
Buy shoes chosen by the Bride to wear on the day of the wedding. Sadly, I have not found a definitive way out of this one in the past. I think suggesting that everyone wear the same color shoe, but use a pair they already have is great, but some brides just don't go for it. It's probably best to just go along with this one if the Bride seems set on having matching shoes. Again, cross your fingers and hope they are under $50.
Wear a certain color/style of jewelry on the day of the wedding. For example: pearls, which if you don't already have you are doing to have to purchase. Tip: pearls from Claire's look just fine in photos-- no one will know but you.
Pay for professional hair, makeup, and/or manicure for the day of the wedding. Some Brides want everyone to be professionally made up. I'm of the opinion that if a Bride has to have this she should pay for it as a gift, but that's just me. Tip: try to talk to your Bride about what is essential or not and if you have a friend who is good with hair and makeup who can help, instead of paying for a pro.
Carry/transport gifts from the wedding to a hotel suite or someone's home.
Decorate the get away car and/or honeymoon suite.
Stay in the hotel the night before or night of the wedding, depending on if you traveled from afar.
Attend a Brunch the day after the wedding.
Additional duties for the Maid of Honor:
Make a Wedding Day Emergency Kit! This is serious aka not the place to slack. You need fashion tape, bandaids, deodorant, razors, q-tips, nail polish remover, clear nail polish, extra stockings (seasonal), lip gloss, tampons, safety pins, perfume, concealer, waterproof mascara, batteries (for a camera), shout wipes, bobby pins, floss, contact solution, nail clippers/nail file, mints, mouth wash, sewing kit, bottled water, granola bars or 100 cal packs, body lotion... I could go on. Try to get sample sizes, or put a few of each item in small ziplocs. Throw all of this into a cosmetic bag or a gift bag --pretty much anything with handles!
Plan and Organize the Shower for the Bride to Be. Hopefully other Bridesmaids are willing to help, both by pitching in and helping out financially, but at the end of the say the Shower is your thing. Typically all female guests invited to the wedding would be invited to a Shower, but as guestlists grow this becomes massive. I would consult your Bride about her expectations for the size, guestlist, theme, location, menu, etc. of a shower. Most Brides have a pretty clear picture of what they want. The knot also has fabulous articles on this topic, simply put in Shower on their search bar.
Write a toast (if asked by the Bride) to give at the wedding reception. Be careful with being too funny, remember grandparents are present! And it shouldn't be any longer than you can stand to hold your glass with out your arm starting to hurt (aka 2 minutes). Traditionally the Maid of Honor's remarks are addressed to the Groom as good wishes and tips for making his new Bride happy, but MOH's can share a short favorite memory of the Bride or a heart felt poem or quote.
Attend wedding vendor appointments with the Bride. Give your opinion when asked, and know when to bite your tongue, haha. You know your bestie, there may be times when she doesn't ask and she needs to hear it, but other times when you need to just Let it Be. ;)