Thursday, June 4, 2009

Bridesmaid's Guide: Just Say No

Unfortunately, this is one of those things in life that is "just not done." If someone asks you to be her bridesmaid, assume she considers you to be one of her closest friends. If you are her sister, remember that the two of you are supposed to be close. Refusing is tantamount to saying, "I don't care to be a member of your intimate circle celebrating the most important day of your life." It's impolite. If you can say these words without concern for the consequent damage, refuse without a second thought. However, if you want to preserve the relationship without offering this level of commitment, read on.

We realize that whether it's due to your fabulous networking or because you've been holding onto the remnants of a friendship you've outgrown, it can happen that a woman has cheerfully put you on her "A" list of friends, whereas if you could just remember her last name, you might find room only on your "C" list. Sigh. The price one pays for possessing charisma. If you can't nobly accept the honor of serving as this well-intentioned bride's attendant because you know you will stumble most ignominiously in fulfilling your duties, it is far more gracious to find a credible excuse right away to avoid the whole affair. Better to risk a "tsk-tsk" now than to provoke a chorus of hisses later.

Perhaps there are extenuating circumstances—a scheduling conflict, lack of funds, or a death in the family—that prevent you from serving. A true friend will appreciate your honesty if you say, "I am so honored, but I just can't afford to participate the way I would like to as a bridesmaid. Would you settle for me as a guest?" Or whatever your heartfelt cop-out is. Practice in front of a mirror or with a tape recorder until you look and sound firm and unable to be swayed. Practice, practice, practice.

With apologies to Miss Manners, we offer these irreproachable excuses:
  • "I am scheduled for a Cesarean that day and am expecting twins."
  • "I testified against a Colombian drug cartel and am entering a witness protection program."
  • "I was once engaged to your fiance and he left me when I developed a yeast infection."
  • "That's the week of my honeymoon! I'll be in Rialto."

Do you get the idea? Seize upon a life-and-death scenario, nonrefundable plane tickets, or a critical business trip. Good luck. And watch out for dogs at the border.

Bridesmaid's Guide: The Party's Over

PSTD, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, is a reaction to a psychologically traumatic event outside the range of normal experience. It occurs erratically among veterans of war and manifests itself in recurrent nightmares, cold sweats when recollecting the battle experience, reluctance in deepening social relationships, feelings of guilt, and sleep disturbances.

The flower girl has caught the bouquet. The band is packing up. You've managed not to tear your dress while dancing and you've posed for candid shots with guests whose names you've forgotten. The bride and groom have thanked their parents and are on their way to a transatlantic honeymoon in a rented Bentley trailing shoes and soup cans. Rice is sticking to your hair. All is quiet in the jungle. Hey! The wedding is over.

You're feeling expansive, proud, and slightly deflated; you've survived and your performance merits an honorable discharge, but you feel you've lost a guerrilla to domesticity. You feel slightly older, but sense a hew perspective developing within you about the value of family and the importance of hallowed traditions you once pooh-poohed. When ambivalence begins settling in and making you feel irritable, congratulate the parents, bid farewell to out-of-town relatives or far-flung friends, and get the hell out! Return to your hotel room or, preferably, directly home.

If you are single, avoid indulging in too much circumspection now, as it will lead to depression. Instead of mourning the loss of a single friend and the husband you think you'll never find, treat yourself to a hot bath and ponder your next hair-raising adventure. Remember that old German proverb: Fur jeden Topf, gibt es eine Dekel ("For every lid, there is a pot"). Life is a banquet, and there are plenty of dishes you've yet to sample. So many men, so little time. If you are dating, relish the time you can spend with your beau that doesn't involve refereeing invitation-list-clutching mothers. Already married? Be grateful you've made it past that tough first year the couple is now entering and treat your husband to a night to remember.

As you mentally debrief yourself after the bridesmaid mission, follow these steps:
  • Get rid of that dress! Rather than dumping it into the trash compactor, dry-clean it. A high-end cleaner will clean, spot-treat, and restore a gown to its original luster. Ask about an anti-sugar stain process that removes stubborn champagne and cake-icing stains. If the dress looks presentable, a consignment shop will give you half of whatever they receive for it. Also, thrift shops around the nation will take dresses in decent condition. You won't receive any money back but you can get a tax deductible and help a good cause at the same time. If you have a perverse sense of style, recycle the fabric for a pillow for your Labrador.
  • Throw away the wilting flower arrangement you took from your table at the reception. Toss it sooner if it looks like Audrey II, the botanical specimen from Little Shop of Horrors.
  • Make notes on how you would do a wedding differently.
  • Sort through the phone numbers you collected from the ushers—-but don't call the suave one who smelled of Aqua Velva.
  • Regale friends who don't know the bride with wedding anecdotes.
  • Look forward to getting together with the bride when she comes back from her honeymoon full of stories.
  • Rent movies or watch TV sitcoms that celebrate or will make you cling to the single life: Auntie Mame, First Wives Club, Fatal Attraction, All in the Family, Married ... With Children.
If you find yourself suffering from PWSD (Post-Wedding Stress Disorder), try therapy in one of these forms: strawberry Haagen-Dazs, an Italian black lace teddy, a new hair color, a Swedish massage from a man named Sven, Manolo Blahnik heels.
You are now ready to resume your life as a civilian!

Superstitions: If you sleep on a piece of the groom's cake, which in many cultures are handed out at the reception as favors, it is believed that your future spouse will come to you in your dreams.

Bridesmaid's Guide: When Things Go Awry (Part II)

Case #6: The Pesky Parasite
Alicia's dream was to be married in a redwood forest. Her bridesmaids agreed that this would be an enchanted wedding—until the mosquitoes descended upon them as the couple exchanged vows. Knowing they were being videotaped, the young ladies valiantly smiled while suffering a thousand stings. Then they spied a mosquito the size of a small sparrow alight on Alicia's bare back. The maid of honor bravely stepped forward and swatted the offending insect, realizing that to preserve the bride's unblemished back was of higher priority than affecting a seamless, agonizing performance for a tape that could be edited.

Moral: Know your territory and be prepared. In this case, it would have been sensible for the bridal party to share a can of bug repellent before donning their wedding outfits. At a beach, sunscreen is essential. For a wedding in New York, bring Mace, in Los Angeles, an oxygen inhaler.

Case #7: The Pregnant Maid of Honor
When Allison agreed to be Cynthia's maid of honor, she never anticipated that Cynthia's wedding would be postponed and rescheduled so that Cynthia could book her reception at the darling inn she and her fiance had discovered only three weeks before their original wedding date. A year after the original date, Allison had married her longtime beau and was enceinte. In her fifth month, she was starting to show. At a second shower for the still-bride-to-be Cynthia, Allison mentioned that she was having her dress for Cynthia's wedding altered to accommodate her new shape. Cynthia cleared her throat and studied her reflection in the bread knife. "Allie," Cynthia began, "you'll be eight months pregnant on my big day... it wouldn't look right next to the other-bridesmaids. I thought we might have Richard's sister stand in for you." Cynthia had never been more than cordial to Richard's seventeen-year-old sister, Trini, who incidentally was very photogenic and very thin.

What could Allison do? When Cynthia asked her to be her maid of honor, Allison was still a single, svelte woman, and Cynthia. was certainly entitled to include her future sister-in-law in her. wedding party. Allison let Cynthia's rude comment hang in the. air and endured the rest of the shower. The next day she phoned Cynthia and told her that she was mailing her the dress along with the original bill so Trini could reimburse her. She wished' Cynthia well and said that she hoped Cynthia would understand if she wasn't feeling up to being at the ceremony. The day of the wedding, Allison and her husband sent Cynthia and Richard a lovely letter of congratulations.
Moral: Know the friends you pledge your assistance to, and be sure they are worthy of your love and patience. Don't let a fretful bride lead you down a path of increasing financial burdens and inconveniences. Strive for graciousness even when the bride behaves in a selfish or just plain undignified manner.

Case #8: Bad Hair
The prospect of sharing a hairstylist with nine other women didn't appeal to Tawny, so she begged her regular hairdresser, the tal ented Josef, to fit her in for a last-minute appointment. She needed undivided attention for her long, temperamental tresses. In her bridesmaid dress, Tawny sped to the salon, where Josef coiffed her mane to perfection. Slightly late, she raced her fire-engine BMW convertible to get to the outdoor ceremony on time One glance in the rear view mirror confirmed that the salon's hair sprays was no match for 75-mph winds. While trying to fold a scarf over ) her elaborate 'do, Tawny smeared red nail lacquer on her nose. Undeterred, tires squealing, she parked in front of the Audubon club and made it to the rose garden as the music began. Two minutes later, before a single photograph had been taken, a blue bird flew overhead and left a slimy calling card atop Tawny's head.

Moral: Don't leave all your grooming preparations until the last minute. Unless you want to risk life, limb and bouffant, leave yourself plenty of time to get to the altar. The bridesmaids hair and nails should be done by a professional on site, or at a salon with prearranged transportation waiting. If you think hair is more important than being available for the bride before the ceremony, you should be a hairdresser, not a bridesmaid.

Case #9: The Felonious Limousine Driver
The bride's family had arranged for a fleet of limousines to transport guests from the church to the reception. Four bridesmaids in one limo were alarmed when their driver took a left turn instead of following the other cars. They were furious when he joked that he was going to sell them into white slavery. One bridesmaid peeled off her pantyhose and blindfolded him while another grabbed the wheel. A third bridesmaid was able to call the police with the cellular phone hidden in her bouquet. Unflustered, they . arrived in time for the wedding photographs.
Moral: Don't let a nutcase or a hijacking stop you from getting the job done. Your outfit is replete with weapons. Use a stiletto heel to bring the enemy to his knees; garrote him with an under-wire brassiere; pierce his eardrum with a bobby pin. (See "Wedding Survival Kit")

Case #10: The Waltz That Wasn't
At a country-club wedding in Maine, a flamenco band showed up to substitute for the orchestra the bride had hired. There were many older folks at the wedding, and the bride and groom had felt that everyone would enjoy some big-band music. The bride was in tears and refused to enter the ballroom until she heard shouts of merriment accompanying the exotic music. Her bridesmaids were teaching her uncles, all in their seventies, how to flamenco! She decided to follow in their footsteps and the dancing lasted until past midnight.
Moral: Always set an example for the less spontaneous with your flexibility and enthusiasm.

Case #11: The Lecherous Photographer
After an hour of posing for wedding photographs, the bridesmaids realized that the photographer had positioned them so the afternoon sun was shining through their linen dresses, outlining their bare legs. Annoyed, one of the bridesmaids told him he'd have to reshoot the two rolls of film he had already taken. When he refused, she found a beefy usher who was only too happy to be of service. The photographer handed over the erotic film and performed his job as instructed for the rest of the session.
Moral: Take advantage of the one thing that ushers have to offer—brawn. Other than that, they primarily serve as decoration!

Case #13: The Missing Crabs
A seafood-loving bride hired a caterer that was famous for his Cajun flavored soft-shell crabs. Her entire wedding carried out a Cajun theme. Unfortunately, the caterer's truck overheated en route to the reception. His assistant saved everything but the crabs. The New Orleans bride was devastated. Her maid of honor, a chef from New York, grabbed a local usher and ordered him to drive her to the area's largest fish store. She bought a mess of clams and rescued the reception with a Long Island-style clambake.
Moral: Share your hidden talents to save the day. Always find a safe man or woman to be your chauffeur in unfamiliar cities.

Case #13: The Tidal Wave
At a wedding held on a Caribbean island during hurricane season, a ceremony was taking place aboard a yacht. Suddenly, a tidal wave broke over the side, leaving the entire wedding party drenched but unharmed. When the best man reached into his pocket for the wedding ring, he realized it had washed away. The next day, a plucky bridesmaid rented a metal detector and walked the entire perimeter of the island until she found the antique platinum ring.
Moral: You can never place enough importance on the ring.

Remember those folks who told you that no more is required of a bridesmaid than to look beautiful while walking up the aisle? These are the same clowns who, when giving directions to a local church in a countryside of rolling hills and winding roads, say to an out-of-towner in a rented car, "You can't miss it." You know better.

Every wedding represents an adventure from which dozens of anecdotes can be collected. The exemplary attendant stores away the most outrageous war stories for her granddaughter, imparting to her when she comes of age the wisdom of the guerrilla bridesmaid.

Bridesmaid's Guide: When Things Go Awry (Part I)

A host is like a general; it takes a mishap to reveal his genius.

Unforeseen events, in weddings as in war, can mar the best-laid plans. The ever-vigilant bridesmaid anticipates the unexpected and is always ready to spring to action. As a bridesmaid, you are a deputy hostess—a responsibility all the more urgent when the bride is suddenly indisposed or when things go awry. Brides have been known to faint when wedding tents collapse, rings are lost, or florists deliver the wrong flowers. This is your time to shine. The wedding disaster is an opportunity for the bridesmaid to show her mettle and prove she is more than just another pretty face. The old and young will gaze upon you in wonder and ask in awestruck tones, "Who is that bonneted maiden?" You will go down in family history as the spirited heroine who helped avert a crisis with her quick thinking and good humor. Or at least the bride will be really grateful. Of course, there are some instances when an extraordinary bridesmaid is the unsung heroine. With absolute discretion, she takes measures to ensure that no one ever finds out the nature of the calamity that she has forestalled.

You've heard the stories from friends and sisters who have returned from the field. Sometimes the bride has tantrums. She hurls her new china at the groom when he nonchalantly observes that his ex-wife registered for the same pattern. She isn't talking to her future in-laws because they want to serve whitefish at the rehearsal dinner. She's fired the priest because he won't refer to God as "She" during the service. Overnight/ a fun-loving single woman has transformed into the finicky future Mrs. Fuss, lamenting aloud when surrounded by well-intentioned friends that nothing is as perfect as she had imagined it would be. Reaching for an ever-changing vision, she tears more pages out of Bride magazine and runs to the bridal shop to select new bridesmaid gowns hours before the wedding, or she dictates that all bridesmaids must report to the beauty salon for lime-green manicures. Never mind that they are wearing elbow-length gloves! Yes, sometimes the bride goes mad, and you'd better expect it. Roll your eyes when she's not watching and cluck-sympathetically—but proceed, because it is your task to help turn the wheels of the great marriage machine.

Occasionally the bride's behavior is exemplary, and what goes wrong has nothing to do with her whatsoever. Of course, you could be the most capable, stalwart bridesmaid on earth, but a confluence of events—weather, roadblocks, bad hair—can conspire to make you look bad. Sometimes beyond etiquette, above manners, a bridesmaid needs ingenuity to help her cope. What to do when the mudpack hits the fan? Here are some stories about disasters major and minor that feature bridesmaids who either rescued the bride from years of psychoanalysis, or who, in retrospect, wish they'd been a little more alert. These heroic and cautionary tales will remind you to remain calm when confronted with any crisis on that red-letter day.

Case #1: The Broken Engagement
Teddy Simpson and Alexandra Albright were the perfect romantic couple and for seven years had been the envy of many of their friends. Continuing a great family tradition, they met during their junior year at Princeton, where Mr. and Mrs. Simpson had met and where Mr. Albright had first laid eyes on Mrs. Albright. Their parents were such major benefactors that the college president happily gave their children personal parking lots. For two years, Teddy's hunter-green Triumph sat cozily next to Alexan-dra's orange Karmann Ghia as Teddy and Alexandra strolled hand in hand along the paths of the idyllic campus.

When they graduated, Teddy gave Alexandra his grandmother's emerald-and-diamond ring. Their mothers began planning the wedding. Teddy went to Harvard for his MBA and Alexandra took an assistant's job at Sotheby's. Shortly after Teddy became an associate at Morgan Stanley, 350 family friends received the long-awaited wedding invitations. Ten of Alexandra's girlfriends were fitted for bridesmaid dresses at the Vera Wang Salon on Madison Avenue. Then, four days before the wedding, all the invited guests received Federal Express packages with an announcement that read, "Mr. and Mrs. Chase Albright announce that the marriage of their daughter Alexandra Wells Albright to Mr. Theodore Burke Simpson, by mutual agreement, will not take place."

Only the maid of honor, Siobhan O'Reilly, knew the details of the drama that had gone on behind oak-paneled doors. Shortly after Alexandra had moved to New York, she met an Arab importer who whisked her away on a magic-carpet ride of the world's glittering cities every weekend she didn't dutifully board Amtrak to visit Teddy in Cambridge. Teddy no longer seemed to offer the same excitement and, more infuriatingly, had developed a habit of patting her on the head and giving her a peck on the cheek before dozing off every night. When Alexandra confided to Siobhan that it had been six months since she and Teddy had done anything more strenuous in bed than pass sections of the Sunday paper to each other, Siobhan sat her down and poured some brandy into her tea. It didn't take Alexandra long to realize that she didn't want to go to every Princeton homecoming game for the next 30 years with Teddy, though he had been her first love. She gave Teddy his ring back and named her first child Siobhan al Hussein, after the friend who made her open her eyes. Teddy is happily married to a woman he never makes love to with the lights on. The Simpson parents still do not talk to the Albrights.

Moral: Be an intuitive bridesmaid. All brides have last-minute jitters, but some have grave second thoughts that need to be aired. Listen sympathetically and tell the bride she'll have your support no matter what. If she wants to back out, there will be some hell to pay, but nothing so terrible as what she would go through in a divorce. A canceled wedding is an awkward and sad time, even if some of the major players are terribly relieved. Whether you hear firsthand, by letter, or by phone, don't ask a lot of impertinent questions that will compound somebody's humiliation and never, ever let on that you were there when it happened.

Case #2: The Lost Groom
The morning of Josh and Laura's wedding, Josh disappeared. His parents were distressed, but hesitant to call Laura and give her what could only be upsetting news. They roused a stuporous Jamie, his brother and best man, who confessed he could not recall anything about the bachelor party the night before. Fortunately their sister, Amy, had overheard Jamie's plans for the night's activities. She retrieved an unconscious Josh from the floor of a downtown topless bar and dropped him off at home before driving to Laura's house to join the other bridesmaids. Amy never mentioned the pathetic but harmless incident to Laura and received a round-trip ticket to Aruba from her appreciative brother.

Moral: If the couple really loves each other, don't let them see each other in a negative light in the hectic days leading up to the event that will forever join their fates.

Case #3: The Broken Arm
Bonnie was a very athletic, outdoorsy kind of girl. When she got engaged, her friends thought it would fun to throw her a ski shower, even though it was April and they all lived in San Francisco. Everyone brought a ski-related gift—long underwear instead of lingerie, new ski poles, certificates for lift tickets, and so on. One bridesmaid bought her roller blades. Bonnie eagerly bounded down the stairs and laced them up. Off she zoomed down the hill, blond hair flying. Twenty endless minutes ticked by on the hallway clock before the bridesmaids began exchanging glances. They found her two miles away, clutching her elbow and receiving affectionate licks from the basset hound that had gotten in her way. Her white cast matched her wedding dress, but she and the groom had to make alternate honeymoon plans, as their ski vacation in Peru was out of the question.
Moral: Don't let the bride use her shower gifts until after she is married.

Case #4: The Couple on the Lam
Thomas's parents, blue-collar Long Island Catholics, were upset that his wedding to Ruth was not going to be held in their church. Her parents, Orthodox Jewish psychiatrists, had insisted on a synagogue miles away in New Jersey. Thomas and Ruth heard nothing but dire warnings from their parents about what a mismatched pair they were and endured months of grilling about how they would raise their as-yet-unborn children. Finally, in exasperation, Thomas and Ruth enlisted the help of their attendants to plan their elopement. Sans parents, Ruth and Thomas, along with the maid of honor and best man, flew to Las Vegas to be married. The attendants remaining in New Jersey made up excuses for the couple's absence until the deed was done.
Moral: Sometimes attendants may be called upon to perform in absentia. The most celebratory wedding doesn't have to be the wedding that happened the way it was planned.

Case #5: The Bride and the Best Man
The music was already playing, but the bride, Linda, hadn't reappeared after exclaiming that she'd left her blue garter in her bedroom and running back to her parents' house. Nancy, the maid of honor, couldn't find Linda in her room, and slowly walked back downstairs. Pausing by the library doors, she heard Linda's voice Relieved, she swung open the door, only to stop herself short from entering. Linda, in her wedding dress, was on the leather sofa? nibbling the best man's earlobe! Aghast, a blushing Linda tried to explain herself to Nancy as the best man adjusted himself with st-rakish grin. Nancy held out a firm hand and shook her head "Linda, don't give me any bullshit. You're stressed and you've1 momentarily lost your mind. Fix your lipstick and get your derrière outside." Linda ran past Nancy, who in one motion took a-bold step forward and slapped the out-of-town best man across, his too-handsome face. "This never happened and you're.on the-next flight out of here." She turned on her peach peau de soie heel and made it back to the processional line without a hair infer chignon out of place. Moral: See the Moral for Case #2. Keep a level head and be prepared for all kinds of hijinks. Don't let the bride's behavior faze you.

Bridesmaid's Guide: At the Wedding (Part II)

It's perfectly okay to drink incessantly, line dance, and flirt with the drummer, but don't forget you're still on duty here and have obligations to the bride. Periodically check in with her and see if she needs you for anything. Make sure she gets something to eat (with all of that running around from table to table, her food may be whisked away by the waiters before she even tastes it); confirm that her makeup is holding up; help her into the bathroom if necessary. While you'll be satisfying the requirements of a bridesmaid, you'll also be fulfilling the most important duty of all, having a great time.

Superstitions: Guests around the world throw rice or grain at the newlyweds to symbolize fertility and growth in their new life together.

Your Date
This brings us to a very important and sensitive matter. What if you're attached and would like your significant other to attend the wedding as your date?

Bear in mind that it is not necessarily your "right" as a bridesmaid to invite a guest. Guest lists are carefully compiled with a sharp eye on the bottom line; relationships are weighed against the cost per head quoted to the bride and groom by the caterers. If you are not invited with a guest, it isn't because the bride hates your boyfriend (at least that shouldn't be the reason). It's more likely that the reception hall can hold only so many people, and the guest list must be Hmited accordingly. Guest lists are like tiered wedding cakes; intimate family and closest friends are on top, and very extended family and acquaintances are on the bottom. Sounds simple, but think about how the bride's second cousin Trisha will feel if second cousin Lisa is invited and she isn't. The point is that people are invited in groups. If one person from the group is omitted, then they are doubly offended when they discover that people on the same tier are holding invitations to the big event. This applies to boyfriends and significant others as well. The bride and groom can't invite one person with a guest and then tell another guest that they cannot bring a date.
While you may be thinking, "But it's only one person," think again. There are probably ten other people who would like to bring dates; ten people is the equivalent of an additional table. For moderate-sized weddings of approximately 100-150 guests, the line today is typically drawn at engaged couples or live-in partners. Smaller weddings will preclude all guests except for spouses; larger weddings usually allow for guests to bring the milkman if they so please. If you feel strongly about having your significant other by your side at the wedding, it is acceptable to ask the bride if you may bring a date, but be conscientious and make it clear that you understand her dilemma.

If the bride agrees, you have another potential problem on your hands. You are, after all, on duty; being at someone else's beck and call doesn't always make for the greatest date. Often a date is brushed aside due to bridesmaid responsibilities—he can't sit with his date at dinner because she's at the table for the wedding party, he's in limbo during the formal pictures, and so on. For more established relationships, leaving your date to fend for himself isn't much of a problem. However, if your date is someone relatively new (we know of a bridesmaid who had a first date at a wedding) and hasn't met your friends, you may have bitten off more than you can chew. If you are considering bringing a date to the wedding, respond to the following statements with a "yes" or "no" to determine if you are better off going stag:

_ _ 1. I have met my date at least twice before.
_ _ 2. My date knows my bra size.
_ _ 3. My date has met the bride and/or the groom.
_ _ 4. My date is friendly with the bride and/or the groom.
_ _ 5. My date knows other people who will be at the wedding.
_ _ 6. My date has seen me naked in the daylight.
_ _ 7. My date calls me by a pet name.
_ _ 8. My date calls parts of me by a pet name.

If you responded "yes" to more than five of these statements, you should know your significant other well enough to know whether or not he would have fun at the wedding even though your attention is drawn elsewhere. If you responded "no" to more than five, think twice before you bring that date. You'll be in the thick of the wedding festivities and he'll feel out of place; you may even feel burdened. If you answered "no" to all of the above, GO SOLO! You'll have a better chance of getting lucky with the bandleader.

For a single bridesmaid, a wedding is a great place to find a date. You're in the limelight; you're perfectly coiffed; people are asking you to dance. And we've never heard of anyone being rude to a bridesmaid (it's right up there with cursing at a nun). Use,, the opportunity to walk up to that cute guy at the bar and tell him it's a bridesmaid's duty to dance with every single man at. the wedding. It's easier to be bold when you're wearing a brightly' colored taffeta dress. Take advantage of your position and keep a'; pen and paper in your garter belt.

Superstitions: In some rural Chinese villages, sugar cane is tied together with ribbons representing wishes for the bride and groom's life together to be sweet.

Catching the Bouquet
The throwing of the bridal bouquet is one of the most common reception traditions. There are several theories as to where the custom of the bouquet toss originated. One belief stems from early England, when it was believed that the bride was endowed with the power to transmit good luck to another person. People at the wedding tried to tear away bits of her clothing, and tried to snatch her flowers and headpiece. In self-defense she would throw her bouquet to the grabby crowd. In fourteenth-century France, throwing your bouquet was considered more demure than tossing your undergarments (garter). Either way, the belief was that the single woman who caught the bouquet would be the next to marry.

Unfortunately, for every winner, there are numerous losers; in order for one woman to walk away from the toss triumphant, the rest of the single women have to return to their seats, dejected. Due to the advances of feminism in recent years, many brides have chosen to forgo this tradition, which holds maidens up as poor pathetic creatures who need a man in their life. And grateful women around the country have heaved a collective sigh of relief.'

However, many brides like to stick with tradition and feel compelled to include this ceremonial toss in their reception schedule. As a bridesmaid, it is important to note that if you are single, you must participate. You don't have to make an enthusiastic dive for the posies, but you should at least put your arms up at half mast. Of course, if you really just can't bear the ritual, hide out in the bathroom until it's over.

Toasting the Bride and Groom
Though toasting the bride and groom is traditionally the bailiwick of the best man and the father of the bride, many people are so moved at a wedding that they feel compelled to speak. While the bride and groom have most likely worked out a schedule of toasts with the band, these impromptu speeches are a common occurrence as the evening wanes and the liquor disappears. If you are the honor attendant, you may want to express your best wishes for the couple ahead of time. Giving a toast can be a very nerve-wracking experience; even the most articulate people get awfully tongue-tied when they're full of emotion and champagne. As a bridesmaid, however, you are not obligated to give a toast at the wedding and should really only do so if no one else from the bride's side is planning to make a toast, and if the general consensus among the other bridesmaids is that you should be the spokesperson. If you do decide before the wedding that you will get up and speak at the reception, we recommend that you put together a few well-chosen words ahead of time. If you are inspired to speak in the heat of the moment, just try to keep it simple. Branching off into detailed recollections about your shared youth with the groom and playing doctor in his garage may make the guests squirm in their chairs. Resist the temptation to blabber, and try to keep your toast short. Food gets cold and people get bored. If you can't keep it short, put it in a letter and give it to the bride and groom after the wedding.

Toasting Tips
  • Shared childhood or school memories are always a touching source of material upon which to base a toast.
  • Simple congratulations and well-wishing work nicely too.
  • Speak up so everyone in back can hear you.
Superstitions: Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue: this superstition is perhaps the most recognized. The "old" represents the good luck of the bride's single life being carried into her married life; the "new" symbolizes her new life with her husband; "borrowed" is the tie that binds her to friends and community; and "blue" is for purity and fidelity.

Bridesmaid's Guide: At the Wedding (Part I)

The shower was glorious, the bachelorette party was a bash, the rehearsal went off without a hitch, and you received a beautiful Elsa Perpetti pendant as a gift from the bride for your services. With the help of Valium or meditation and herbal tea, you've gotten a good night's rest. Your nails haven't chipped yet and that blemish on your chin is finally disappearing. Even the raspberry-colored taffeta bridesmaid gown looks kind of fetching in the light of the new day. You're feeling in control and confident. You've been training for months, preparing and planning. Yessiree, W-Day is looking pretty manageable from the toasty confines of youi bed.
Well, pardon the wake-up call, but the real battle still lies ahead. You've survived basic training but, as a bridesmaid, the wedding is where you pull together everything you've learned in bool camp. All of your preparation, your meticulous planning—today is the day you will use it.
If you've planned well and prepared thoughtfully, you should be able to make it through this day with very few problems (barring acts of God and those little things that lawmaker named Murphy always talks about). If not, well, there's still time to make up for it. Consult the maid of honor as early in the day as possible (wake her up at the crack of dawn if you have to) and get the plan for the day. You're a modern woman—have her fax it to you. Then follow the checklist below, gather your things together, and get your butt out the door.

Superstitions: If the bride writes the names of her unmarried friends on the sole of her shoe before she walks down the aisle, the name that rubs off first will be the next person to get married.

  • Wedding Survival Kit
  • Dress
  • Shoes
  • Two pairs of pantyhose or stockings/garter belt
  • Directions (with any emergency contact phone numbers)
  • Invitation
  • Makeup
  • Handbag
  • Underwear (optional)
  • Bra/bustier
  • Required headgear/ extra pony tail holder or barrette
  • Extra change (for phone calls) and a few twenty-dollar bills (like your mother always told you—"just in case!")
  • Camera
Primping with the bride and the other bridesmaids is one of the best parts of being in the wedding party. You're sitting around with the girls, chatting and munching on snacks, while people play with your hair. There is a lot of excitement surrounding a wedding. When a friend's marriage is about to become a reality and you are a member of the wedding party, you're in the thick of it all. Break out the camera and take pictures.

If you are getting your hair done professionally, wear a button-down shirt. One dedicated bridesmaid we know spent a small fortune to have her hair done at a salon alongside the bride. Her hair looked gorgeous, but how in the world was she supposed to take off her tiny T-shirt without mussing the new coif? Another bridesmaid had to cut the shirt off her body!
Celebrity Trivia: When she wed Senator John F. Kennedy in 1953, Jacqueline Bouvier's bridesmaids wore pink silk faille and red satin gowns created by African-American designer Ann Lowe. Jackie's sister Lee Radziwill served as her matron of honor a second time when she wed Aristotle Onassis in 1968.

Formal wedding photographs are the bane of every bridesmaid's existence. You're on your feet wearing spiked heels in soft grass, standing totally stiff in a dress that's too tight, attempting to hold a smile while the photographer asks you to "turn this way" for about the 400th time. You're trying to banish thoughts of pulling an Alec Baldwin and putting your fist through his camera lens when the photographer finally says, "Okay, now the ushers." Ah, sweet relief.

Professional photos are a prerequisite of almost every wedding. Whether the pictures are taken by Bachrach or the groom's second cousin, formal photos capture everyone looking their best and provide the bride and groom, as well as the rest of the wedding party, with a special and irreplaceable memento of the wedding day.

While the bride will most likely have given the photographer a list of photos she particularly wants taken, many of which will include the bridal party, be sure to ask the bride for a photograph with her alone and make sure she gets one with all of her female attendants. Chances are that in the flurry of the millions of things the bride has tried to prepare for, she may have forgotten to request these two shots and she'll be grateful that you reminded her. These two photos make great keepsakes for you and the bride. Whatever you do, don't go directly to the photographer and start requesting pictures of you with your boyfriend. He or she is hired by the bride and groom, under their instruction, and is there to capture their day, not your good side. If you start insisting on certain photos, you might detract from what the bride and groom really want. If there is a photo you would really like taken, there is plenty of time at the reception to place yourself in front of the photographer's lens.

Celebrity Trivia: Carolyn Bessette chose John F. Kennedy, Jr.'s sister, Caroline Schlossberg, and not one of her own, to serve as her matron of honor at their secluded 1996 wedding.

Well, you've practiced your march and you know your position. All that's left to do is focus on the end of the aisle, smile, and try not to trip. The following are a few helpful hints for marching gracefully down the aisle:
  • For a Christian processional, leave three or four pews between you and the pair in front of you.
  • For a Jewish processional, leave half the length of the aisle (unless instructed otherwise).
  • Don't hum to the music.
  • Be careful of runners, as they tend to scrunch up.
  • Don't blatantly scan the congregation for your friends.
  • Don't drag your feet.
  • Don't drag your partner.
  • Don't make small talk with your partner, even if he is cute. There's plenty of time for that at the reception.

OK, you've successfully maneuvered your way down the aisle, you've all formed an almost perfect V shape, and a roomful of strangers are now staring back at you. You feel very important. The following hints are designed to help you maintain that facade of poise:
  1. Don't chat with your neighbor—even if she is dying to tell you about how she left the rehearsal dinner with the best man.
  2. Don't swing your flowers.
  3. If you have to blow your nose, do so discreetly (hide a tissue in your hand under your bouquet before you go down the aisle). Dabbing is better than blowing.
  4. Don't clear your throat when the officiant asks if anyone objects to the union.
  5. Do try to look interested in the ceremony. Or inspired. Or just serene.
Finally ... on to the reception! The best advice we can give here is don't turn a stately walk down the aisle into a mad dash in a fervor to get to that punch bowl.

The Receiving Line
As guests begin to filter in to the reception, most likely, if there are more than 50 guests, there will be a receiving line to greet them. The order goes like this:
First in line—Bride's mother
Second in line—Bride's father (optional)
Third in line—Groom's mother
Fourth in line—Groom's father (optional)
Fifth in line—Bride
Sixth in line—Groom
Seventh in line—Maid of honor
Eighth in line (and so on ... )—Bridesmaids (they may stand in any order they choose)
Superstitions: An old wives' tale says that if your younger sister gets married first, you have to dance barefoot at her wedding or you'll never find a husband.

The Party!
Once the guests have been properly greeted and have had their opportunity to hug the mothers and kiss the bride, FINALLY it's time to party. Everyone knows that the reception is the big party that follows the ceremony, where the guests get to celebrate the marriage with the newlyweds. You mingle with the guests, drink to your heart's content, and dance till your feet hurt. Most wedding receptions follow a format similar to this one:

1. The bride and groom are introduced to the crowd.
2. The new couple dance first.
3. The parents and bridal party join the couple on the dance floor.
4. Everyone joins the bridal party on the dance floor.
5. Everyone sits down for the first course or salad (if a buffet is served, people begin to eat).
6. People dance.
7. The main course is served (if it's a buffet, people continue to eat).
8. People dance more.
9. The bride dances with her father. 10. The groom dances with his mother.
11. More dancing and drinking.
12. The bride and groom cut the cake.
13. Dessert is served (if it's a buffet, the grazing continues).
14. More dancing and drinking.
15. The bride tosses her bouquet.
16. The groom tosses the bride's garter.
17. The best man tosses his cookies.
18. The man who catches the garter puts it on the leg of the woman who caught the bouquet.
19. The reception comes to a close and the newlyweds take off for Tahiti.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Bridesmaid's Guide: The Wedding Rehearsal and the Rehearsal Dinner

A mock battle or simulated skirmish introduces the soldiers to battle-like conditions so that they can troubleshoot before the actual, high-stakes occurrence.

Like any theatrical event, rehearsals are crucial for a successful show. We all know a wedding is one big Broadway extravaganza: boy lead, girl lead, boy meets girl, they fall in love, they kiss, they're married. There's music playing, people singing, and assigned seating. There's even a big dance number; it's called The Processional. (Right together, left together, right together, left together, stop, and turn...) Well, the wedding rehearsal is just a dress rehearsal without the fancy costumes. This is your opportunity to iron out all of the kinks in the program before the big show. You'll be performing live and you'll be subject to intense scrutiny. Perform beautifully, and you'll receive raves, maybe even applause; stumble, and the reviews will haunt you until the day you die. Without a rehearsal, who knows what kind of mayhem might break out at the wedding: bridesmaids wandering aimlessly around the altar or chuvah, like lost souls, wondering where they're supposed to stand; ushers racing down the aisle after the ceremony, leaving their designated bridesmaids behind. The rehearsal gives everyone in the wedding party an opportunity to go through the motions so that on the big day, when the director (a.k.a. the officiant) says "Places!", all the actors know where their places are. Traditionally done the night before the wedding, the point of the rehearsal is to give the whole bridal party a chance to "rehearse" the ceremony. A day or two before W-Day, the wedding party, the officiant, the musicians for the ceremony, and any other people participating in the ceremony (such as honored guests who might be reading a passage during the ceremony, flower children and so on) meet at the ceremony site to go through the motions. It is possible, particularly if the ceremony will not be in a church or synagogue, that the rehearsal will be just for the wedding party. It is also possible that the bride may choose not to rehearse, which may be all fine and dandy if the wedding will take place on a farm and the bridal party will be dressed in overalls. However, if the wedding is expected to be relatively traditional (for example, if guests will eat their meal with utensils and are expected to wear footwear), try to persuade the bride to have some form of rehearsal, even if it is extremely brief.

Weddings consist of three acts: the processional, the ceremony, and the recessional. It's important to know your place in each so that you can concentrate on trying to not to trip on the runner instead of wondering what you're supposed to do once you get to the end of the aisle. During the rehearsal, the wedding party practices the processional and the recessional and takes note of their positions for the ceremony. This is your only opportunity to practice your part, so be a good bridesmaid and try to pay attention.

The Processional
The processional as we know it today is actually a drastically abbreviated version of the first wedding processionals. While in our society the processional refers to the bridal party's walk down the aisle and up to the chupah or altar, it is a mere vestige of the original processional. In past centuries, whole villages marched through town from the bride's home to either the new home or the church. Some villages in countries around the world still per-form this processional ritual. But, chances are the whole town isn't invited to your wedding, and the people who are invited most likely won't be participating in a march through town, so it is safe to say that you can probably find your place in one of the standard processional formations listed in this section.
There are as many different styles of processionals as there are religions (including atheism) and it's important to know where you stand in each. Following are the most common processionals; please note your position in each.

In a Protestant procession, the officiant, the groom, and his best man are not a part of the procession. They are already positioned at the end of the aisle by the altar.

First—Ushers. Ushers enter from the back of the church in pairs, by height from shortest first to tallest last. If there is an odd number of ushers, the shortest usher should go down the aisle first. Spacing between each pair should be three to four pews.

Second—Bridesmaids. The bridesmaids follow right behind the ushers. If there are fewer than four bridesmaids, they should walk single file. While technically bridesmaids are not placed in order of importance during the processional, it is traditional that in the case where there are fewer than four bridesmaids, the bridesmaid who had the most responsibilities is at the back of this line, closest to the maid of honor. If the responsibilities were shared equally, the bridesmaids form a line according to height, with the most petite in front. Again, if there is an odd number of bridesmaids, the shortest goes first, by herself. More than four should pair off according to height. If there are junior bridesmaids, they follow the bridesmaids down the aisle, solo, in order of height.

Third—The maid of honor. The maid of honor follows the bridesmaids, or the junior bridesmaids if there are any. If there is a matron of honor as well, or two maids of honor, or two matrons of honor (or whatever!), they can walk down the aisle side-by-side or single file. It's the bride's choice.

Fourth—The ring bearer and flower girl. These young attendants follow the maid of honor. They can walk together or separately. In the case of the latter, the ring bearer goes first, and the flower girl goes right before the bride. While these young cherubs add charm to any ceremony, you may want to warn the bride about including extremely young children (under the age of two-and-a-half). We heard of an eighteen-month-old flower girl on her way down the aisle who announced to the guests that she had just gone "doo-doo". While some people think this is cute and adds a personal flair to the ceremony, not all brides are keen on diaper talk during a beautiful ceremony.

Fifth—The bride and her father. "Here comes the bride ..." The bride is always on the left arm of her father.

A Catholic processional is the same as a Protestant processional, with the option that the ushers may also already be stationed at the end of the aisle with the officiant, the groom, and the best man.

At a Jewish wedding, everyone in the wedding party, including the officiant and both the bride's and groom's immediate families, is usually a part of the processional. Although there are variations on the positioning of the bridal party in the Jewish processional depending on whether the ceremony is Orthodox, Conservative, or Reform, the common processional is as follows:

First—The rabbi. The rabbi is first to walk down the aisle. If there is a cantor, he walks alongside the rabbi, on his right side.

Second—The bride's grandparents. "Bubbe" and "Zayde," as the bride affectionately calls them, follow the rabbi.

Third—The groom's grandparents. This proud couple follows the bride's grandparents, a position from which Grandma Goldberg can check out Grandma Weinstein's gown and comment to her husband on the tackiness of wearing beading in the afternoon.

Fourth—Ushers and bridesmaids. Marching in pairs of twos made up of one usher and one bridesmaid, these couples proceed down the aisle together in order of height—shortest first, tallest last. Of course, if there are more bridesmaids than ush-ers, an usher may escort two bridesmaids down the aisle at once. This coed pairing can probably be traced back to a shrewd matchmaker in a long-ago shtetl. No self-respecting Yenta would ever pass up an opportunity to introduce a nice Jewish boy to a nice Jewish girl.

Fifth—The best man.

Sixth—The groom and his parents. In the Jewish procession, the groom is always escorted by his parents, with his father on his left and his mother on his right.

Seventh—The maid of honor. As in a Christian ceremony, if there are two honor attendants, they can walk either side-by-side or single file, with the honor attendant who has performed the most duties just before the bride.

Eighth—The ring bearer. The ring bearer follows the maid of honor and marches down the aisle solo.

Ninth—The flower girl. Like the ring bearer, the flower girl also marches down the aisle solo. See the outline of the Protestant processional for our caveat.

Tenth—The bride, her father, and her mother. Enter the main attraction. As with the groom, the bride is escorted by both parents; her father is on her left, her mother on her right.

An alternative processional for a Jewish wedding is that the ushers walk down the aisle separately from the bridesmaids. When this processional is used, the ushers walk after both sets of grandparents and before the best man. Still another kind of procession is found in Orthodox Jewish weddings, where the wedding procession does not include ushers.

This is where an on-site wedding coordinator comes in handy. Whether the wedding is at a large hotel or a small restaurant, there is a person in charge at the site who will know what type of procession best suits the site. Follow his or her lead.

The Ceremony
Rehearsing the ceremony is almost as critical as rehearsing the processional. Everyone has an assigned place and you need to know where that place is (see "He Does, She Does") Also, it is very important that anyone who has a special role in the ceremony has a chance to run through his or her part at least once. This will give everyone an opportunity to see how the ceremony is going to flow and to pick up their cues (such as when the maid of honor takes the bride's bouquet or the best man hands the groom the bride's ring). Whether you're reading a poem or playing an instrument, there are specifics you'll need to cover at the rehearsal—for instance, "How will my poem get to the lectern? Do I have to carry it?" or "How do I lower the microphone for my oboe solo?"

Also, everyone in the wedding party has a designated position once he or she reaches the end of the aisle. Depending on the denomination of the ceremony, the bride and groom and all of their attendants each have preassigned positions in the ceremony. Making neat little formations isn't easy (have you ever noticed on television how drill sergeants make enlisted men do all that marching?) and it will definitely take practice to get it just right. The following are the most common formations:


Protestant and Catolic wedding ceremony formation

An alternative to this formation is when the officiant has his or her back to the guests and the couple, the maid of honor, and the best man face out. The attendants then form a semicircle around them, also facing the guests.

The positioning for the Catholic ceremony is identical to that of the Protestant ceremony.

In a Jewish ceremony, the bride, the groom, their parents, and the honor attendants all stand under the chupah, or wedding canopy. The ushers and bridesmaids stand neatly around the fringes of the chupah (after all, there is only so much room under a little canopy), and the grandparents sit down in the first row and take a load off (oy vayl). The following is the standard formation around the chupah:

Jewish wedding ceremony formation

The Recessional
You know the old saying: What goes up, must come down: Well, once everyone has marched down the aisle and the couple has said their "I do's," you have to go back up the aisle in order to leave the ceremony site and get to the bash that follows. Consult the following to figure out your place in each:

First—The happy couple. The groom on the left, the bride on his right.

Second—The ring bearer and the flower girl. The flower girl should be on the ring bearer's right. Third—The maid of honor and the best man. The maid of honor is on the best man's right side. Fourth—The first of the bridesmaids and the ushers. The bridesmaid and usher closest to the center aisle are the first to leave. The bridesmaid will be on the usher's right. (If thereare more bridesmaids than ushers, the usher can escort two bridesmaids at once).

Fifth—The rest of the bridesmaids and ushers. After the recessional, the maid of honor joins the bride, the groom, the best man, and the officiant in the signing of the marriage certificate, and then finally you're off to the reception. (Party, party, party!)

Same as the Protestant recessional.

In a Jewish recessional, the order is as follows, always with the female on the left: First—The happy couple. Second—The bride's parents. Third—The groom's parents. Fourth—The ring bearer and the flower girl. Fifth—The maid of honor and the best man. Sixth—The bridesmaids and ushers. The bridesmaid and usher closest to the center aisle are the first to leave. The others pair up and filter out behind them in kind. Seventh—The rabbi and the cantor. The cantor is on the rabbi's left.

As you can see, everybody has his or her place in a wedding; rehearsing the ceremony gives the entire party a chance to familiarize themselves with the flow of the ceremony and to get comfortable with their parts. Remember, a confident bridesmaid is a happy (and smiling) bridesmaid.

The rehearsal dinner follows the rehearsal. The groom's parents usually throw this event, but it can be given by someone from the bride's side or even just a close friend. The dinner can be attended by just the bridal party, or it can be open to all the out-of-town guests who have come for the wedding the following day. In a Christian ceremony, the groom's'parents are not a part of the processional or recessional and as such, it is not necessary for them to participate in the wedding rehearsal itself; however, they are always included in the rehearsal dinner.
If no bridesmaid luncheon has been given, either by the bride or the bridesmaids, it is at the rehearsal dinner that the bride gives her attendants a gift, thanking them for throwing the bridal shower, for assisting her in putting together the wedding, and for accepting an active role in the occasion.

Most important, the rehearsal dinner not only represents a meal for those tired souls who are exhausted from rehearsing for the big event; it is also an opportunity for the bridal party and close family to toast the bride and groom in a more intimate setting.

The rehearsal dinner is a great opportunity to share personal memories of the bride and/or the groom (not too personal, of course; remember that the bride's parents are listening and they may not appreciate the story about how Laura accidentally left her diaphragm out on the kitchen counter that time you had the Tupperware party) and to make any presentations you may have planned. One bridesmaid we know prepared a slide show of pictures of both the bride and groom growing up. Another bridesmaid presented the bride with a handmade ivory silk bag for the bride to carry on her wedding day. The rehearsal dinner is a much more informal setting than the wedding and is a wonderful occasion for sharing memories of the bride and groom with a more intimate group of friends and family.