Preface: This is a long-form list that perhaps goes into too much detail (is there really such a thing as too much detail when you’e researching?)
1. Do your research
Timeline: Yesterday, today and tomorrow.
If you haven’t been in a wedding before you’ll feel more relaxed and less stressed if you have a handle on some things (like how a wedding shower is different from a bridal shower). In the long run being better informed will help your bride out too— you’ll be a great resource for her to bounce ideas off of or call for a second opinion. You won’t only be the best bridesmaid ever, you’ll be the Yoda of weddings.
2. Communicate with your bride
Timeline: Always. Always. Always.
Take her out for coffee and chat about the wedding in general, what she needs from you and when she needs it. It could be she’s super Type-A and doesn’t need a ton of help, or it could be she’s drowning in details and would really appreciate anything you have to offer. You don’t want to be too be too aloof or too involved, you want to be juuuust right.
3. Attend the Engagement party
Timeline: A year-ish before the wedding.
It’s possible this came before she asked you to be a part of her bridal party, but if not then it would be good for you to go and show the happy couple your support. Keep it classy (think “business casual” but with a funky flair); her family and friends will be there. It may be a great place to mix and mingle with other bridesmaids if you haven’t met them.
Pro-tip: This is one of the times you may be expected to bring a gift. If money is tight, spring for something with sentimental value or a little thing you really know they need. It’s the thought that counts, not the dollar dollar bills.
4. Pick out your dress
Timeline: 4 months before the wedding.
Thankfully, the days of awful, tacky dresses are (mostly) a thing of the past. These days trends are pointing more toward “wearable” dresses (e.g. something you could, in theory, wear again somewhere other than a costume party). This is great news for bridesmaids! However, that is not to say it’s a free-for-all.
Perhaps your bride already knows what she wants her girls to wear and you just have to pick out your size and hand over your credit card. Then again she may have no idea what color or neckline she wants. She could want everyone to wear the same dress or go a more mismatched route. No matter what look she decides on, you’re going to need to go shopping together (or at least, go shopping and send her tons of pictures if you live far away) and have her pick something out.
Pro-tip: If your bride sends you out into the dress wilderness on your own, ask for color swatches! Paint chips from Home Depot aren’t the same as fabric swatches— color prints differently on paper than fabric— but they’re free and a great resource to make sure every bridesmaid is on the same color page. Otherwise there are so many different colors of “grey” you may be tempted to turn to Grey Goose.
5. Pick out her dress
Timeline: Whenever she wants.
This is could be something she wants to reserve for her Maid of Honor, but maybe her MoH is out of town or she just likes having all her girls around. Either way the best bridesmaid ever shows her bride support! It’s important that your bride knows you’re excited about her wedding and it’ll mean a lot that you find the time in your busy schedule to try and be there for her.
Pro-tip: If she has a bustle, it would be good to know how it works so you can help her transition between the ceremony and the reception. Or if she needs to pee. Oh! And if you can’t be there when she tries on her dress, ask for pictures. Trust me on this.
6. Order your dress
Timeline: 3.5 months out.
Repeat after me: “I will not procrastinate. I will not procrastinate.” Some places (like David’s Bridal) require dress orders 3 months in advance depending on the style. Give yourself at least 3 months, that way you won’t be rushed and your bride won’t panic. Don’t forget to go pick it up and make any alterations required! Alas, you will have to buy it yourself, but at least you get to keep it at the end of the day— most guys have to shell out a pretty penny just to rent the suit.
Story time: One of my friends did everything right and ordered her dress three months before the wedding. Two weeks before the wedding she called the store and she found out they shipped it to the wrong address. They swore up and down they’d over night it to her. Did they? Nope. Two days before the wedding she bought a dress off the rack. This is just to say that even the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry. Or, you know, you can’t control everything, but hopefully it’ll work out in the end.
Pro-tip: Pick up your shoes and any jewelry you need when you can. Do not put the details off until the last minute. Do not pass Go! Do not collect $200.
7. Attend the Bachelorette Party
Timeline: Any time before the wedding.
The Maid of Honor, or whomever coordinates it, should be contacting you about the party before she sends out invitations. It could be that she’s talked to the bride and planned the whole thing already, or it may be she’ll email you asking questions about where/when/how much you can spend. Do everything in your power to go to this event. (Was that dramatic enough?) You can let your hair down and have fun with the bride and her gal pals. Whether you go to Vegas or have an epic night glamping in a backyard, it will be memorable.
Pro-tip: This is another gift-y event, but on the bright side, you usually are given a favor too.
8. Attend the Bridal Shower
Timeline: 2 months-ish before the wedding.
Typically her mom, her future mother-in-law, all the aunts, cousins and female family friends will be invited to this event. They may even throw it— there is no hard-and-fast rule about who throws the shower other than the couple doesn’t generally throw it for themselves.
Pro-tip: This is another gift-y event. Do not give her anything that will embarrass her in front of her great grandmother. And they could have more than one shower, so make sure you plan ahead.
9. Ask your bride if she needs help*
Offer to do some DIY projects with the bride-to-be a month or so before the wedding. Ask if she needs help making the programs if you know she’s stressing over it. You can bring over a bottle of wine and start putting together the favors or making decorations for the reception or even just hang out without talking about the wedding. You’re her friend first. Maybe she needs a mental break from thinking about floral arrangements or could desperately use an extra set of eyes looking over her seating arrangements.
*There is a right way and a wrong way to offer assistance. Whatever you do, do not pass judgement. Unless she’s asking you to dress up like Ronald McDonald, keep in mind this is for her. Try to not compare it to what you would do and have fun with it!
10. Attend the Rehearsal dinner
Timeline: The Night (or two) Before the Wedding
Arrive early and try to pay attention. Make sure you have a nice dress or outfit (think funky business casual). Does the bride need help getting there? Offer to drive her and the groom so they can drink and enjoy themselves with their families. Know where you’re supposed to be and make friends with the groomsman you’re walking down the aisle with if you don’t already know each other. Do not get drunk and make poor choices in front of their families, you do not want to be known as the hot mess.
Pro-tip: You may be able to give an informal toast. This would be a great time to tell the couple how much you love them and share any (appropriate!) anecdotes or sweet stories.
11. Don’t be a jerk
Timeline: To infinity and beyond!
This should all be common sense, but it’s worth saying: don’t get a brand new tattoo the day before the wedding that leaves you bleeding through your dress. Don’t drink to excess so you’re hungover— or worse, still drunk— during the wedding. Don’t be Isla Fisher in the Bachelorette. Don’t get a sunburn that turns you into a lobster. Don’t go MIA. Don’t act like it’s your wedding. Don’t be catty with other bridesmaids.
12. Bonus Ideas To Make You The Best Bridesmaid Ever:
- Play to your strengths: if you have an artistic eye, maybe offer to look at photographers portfolios with her, or if you’re a Type-A planner, offer to help layout their place settings if their reception is DIY or if you’ve got killer penmanship, offer to address Save The Dates/Invitations
- If she’s stressed out, have a double feature with Bridesmaids and The Bachelorette and bond over her favorite wine (her hubby-to-be can come too)
- Or help with whatever her significant other may not be interested in doing
Let her know she’s not doing this alone! Even if she doesn’t need your help, offering shows you care about her and want to help. You should be well on your way to kicking some serious bridal booty.
Make sure you check back for my follow up post on How to Be the Best Bridesmaid Ever: Wedding Day Edition.