Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Bridesmaid's Guide: The Maid of Honor, Responsibilities

The finest combat leader forges bonds of friendship with the enlisted soldiers but maintains the social barrier that enables her to instruct, to criticize, or to give the orders that may send them into mortal danger.

The greatest honor a bride can bestow upon a woman is the role of maid of honor at her wedding. By conferring this sacred title upon you, she has acknowledged that you are the friend she cannot do without in this world. She likes you a little bit more than any other bridesmaid, she's known you a little longer, she trust you a little more, she believes you to be the most able bridesmaid, she loves you like a sister ... or you actually are her sister.

The maid of honor, otherwise known as the honor attendant, is the premier bridesmaid, La Grande Fromage d''attendants (translation: The Big Cheese of the attendants). She is second in command only to the bride's mother, and required for even the most modest wedding ceremony, if only to serve as a legal witness. Usually a close girlfriend or relative, she is the bride's confidante and consultant, the assistant wedding coordinator, and the appointed leader of the wedding attendants. In short, the maid of honor is the combat leader who gets to boss around all of the other guerrillas.

There are actually two kinds of honor attendants: the maid of honor and the matron of honor. While essentially the same, the first title refers to a woman who is single and historically "untried," while matron of honor refers to someone who is married and (hopefully) has sex on a regular basis. The job description is the same, but tradition dictates this distinction (1) so the best man will know if he can cop a feel during the first dance, and (2) so the women can point and murmur, "What a shame ... always a bridesmaid, never a bride." Some brides who are sticklers for protocol might ask, "Does this mean my maid of honor has to be a virgin?" Get real. If that were a criterion for being a maid of honor, the term as we know it would cease to exist. Luckily, modern society allows us this slight fudging of terminology so the maid of honor may walk down the aisle confident that she won't be stripped of her title because she is living in sin with one of the ushers.

If you are the maid or matron of honor, the bride will lean most heavily on you throughout her engagement and during the actual wedding reception. You'll be her emotional ballast. You should be prepared to lend a helping hand. The bride's undecided between the lavender taffeta gown with the matching pillbox hat and the ochre tulle with matching bonnet? You're there. To save money, the bride wants to tie ribbons around the napkins at each place setting herself, rather than ask the caterer to do it (there are 400 guests)? You're there. The bride's ex is the Unabomber and she's just received his wedding gift in the mail... okay, you shouldn't be there, but you get the point.

Sometimes a bride chooses to have both a maid and a matron of honor if she is very close to two women—one single, one married—and she doesn't want to favor one over the other. What if both women are single or both are married? The question has been asked if it is inappropriate to have two maids or matrons of honor. While formal etiquette dictates that this is a no-no, we say, "Why not!" Planning a wedding is stressful enough for the bride without her having to choose between two sisters or two friends to fulfill this position of status in her wedding party. No one has ever felt slighted for having to share the title of maid or matron of honor. The importance of the title is not halved simply because the bride cared enough about both women that she wanted each to play a special part in her wedding. If, however, the bride has three or more sisters or friends of equal closeness in her life, please suggest to her that she have you all act as bridesmaids and ask a special relative to stand in as the honor attendant. It's just not chic to have a whole group of women crowding one poor groom. Besides, they'll appear less like honor attendants and more like a posse insuring that the groom doesn't try to skip out.

Celebrity Trivia: Hollywood columnist Louella Parsons served as Rita Hayworth's witness at her civil ceremony in 1949 to Ali Khan at the city hall of Vallauris, France.

While it is a bridesmaid's responsibility to take an active role in all pre-wedding and wedding-day festivities, it is the maid of honor who is in charge of actually making and executing many of those plans. The standard duties of the maid of honor are as follows: (Note: the bridesmaid's duties in previous posts not mentioned here also apply to the maid of honor.):
  • Escort the bride on any and all reasonable wedding-related errands. This does not mean that you must fly to Chicago, if you live in Iowa, to help her find her wedding gown. This does mean, however, that if you live in the same or a neighboring town, you should set aside some mutually convenient time to accompany her on basic errands (gown shopping, bridesmaid gown shopping, choosing invitations, and so on).
  • Initiate the plans for the bridal shower and be the party coordinator. See "The Bridal Shower."
  • Help address wedding invitations. Yes, it sucks, but it's part of your job if requested. Keep in mind that this duty does not extend to writing thank-you notes. We know of at least one bride who had the audacity to ask her maid of honor to begin composing her thank-you notes while she was on her honeymoon. The maid of honor is not a secretary. Thank-you notes are a personal expression of gratitude from the recipient to trie giver. The bride and groom should sit down and undertake this chore together. Under no circumstances is it ever appropriate for a bride to delegate this responsibility to a third party. If the bride asks you to do this, pull out this blog, point to this paragraph.
  • Choose the gift that the bridesmaids give the bride and collect the money for it. This additional gift is optional. Many people aren't even aware that an additional gift is sometimes given by the bridesmaids. Use your judgment.
  • Coordinate the fittings of the bridesmaids' gowns.
  • Hold the bride's bouquet during the ceremony, in addition to her own.
  • Hold the groom's ring during the ceremony. Yes, with two . bouquets in hand already, it's a lot to carry; try putting it on your pointer finger before the service begins.
  • Serve as a witness, both ceremonial and legal. The maid of honor is a crucial witness in the wedding ceremony, even if the bride is married by an Elvis impersonator in Las Vegas. Although the maid of honor traditionally signs the marriage certificate, the bride may choose another person to serve as her legal witness on other documents (such as the Ketubah in the Jewish religion) in order to allow another friend or family member, to play an honored role in the wedding.
  • Straighten the bride's train and veil after the processional and before the recessional. Many past maids of honor have been overzealous in this task and, when lifting the back of the train to puff it out and straighten it have exposed the bride's tushy to the guests. This is a wedding, not a livestock auction, and the goods should not be exposed for public viewing.
  • Lift the veil for the husband's kiss, if she is also the bride's sister.
  • Stand in the receiving line. If the wedding is larger than 50 people, there will be a receiving line. (See "At the Wedding.") Shake hands, smile, be friendly. Exchange pleasantries.
  • Propose a toast during the reception. Optional. If you start to sweat and break out in hives at the thought of speaking in public, you may want to pass. However, giving a toast is a wonderful opportunity to express your good wishes to the bride and groom. It's a smart idea to remain relatively sober until after your speech; while a good belt may calm the nerves, no one wants to listen to you go on for 20 minutes about how much you love everyone.
  • Assist the bride's mother in helping the bride change from her wedding gown into her going-away clothes. This will also include helping the mother of the bride put the bride's dress away—no small task.
While the preceding responsibilities represent the most traditional duties, there are other functions the maid of honor can perform that are equally indispensable to the bride. As the maid of honor, you can wear many other hats besides a bonnet, including those of:
  • Bustler. You've seen pictures of those wedding gowns that have trains so long you could park the limo on them, right? How do you think a bride dances at the reception with a parking lot attached to her posterior? She bustles the train. There are several kinds of bustles and it's your job to be able to help her bustle it so that the hem lies evenly all the way around. Make sure you take at least one trip to the bridal salon with the bride so that the saleswoman or tailor can show you how it's done.
  • Platoon leader. The squad is under your command and they'll look to you for information about the whos, whens, and wheres of the wedding. Send a pre-wedding newsletter to each of the bridesmaids.

    Use this newsletter to inform the troops where they'll be falling in for the rehearsal dinner, hair and makeup, and pre-wedding pictures. Remind them about scuffing up the bottoms of their' new shoes for added traction, make sure each one knows to pick up extra pantyhose, and confirm how each will be transported from the ceremony to the reception. This newsletter is the perfect opportunity to keep everyone in the wedding party apprised of the schedule for the wedding and to ensure that there are fewer slip-ups.
  • Chief information officer. It's 6:30 P.M. and the guests have begun to arrive—do you know where the officiant is? Make sure you do. As the assistant wedding coordinator, it is crucial that you carry a copy of the bride's contact list. Fill in the Contact Sheet with the contact names and numbers for all wedding attendants and service providers including the hairdresser, makeup artist, and so on. Also, carry spare change or a calling card for last-minute phone calls. Don't expect anyone to have loose change on her (taffeta dresses rarely come with pockets). The modern alternative to a germ-covered pay phone? Your own cellular phone.
  • Voodoo practitioner. If the bride is superstitious, she may put you in charge of making sure the groom doesn't see her in her wedding gown before the ceremony begins; it's bad luck. You should know such mysterious things. For instance, if the groom steps on the bride's gown or veil at the altar, he will dominate the household. If the bride steps on his coat, she'll control their home. The maid of honor or the mother of the bride may drape the bride's veil over the groom's feet, while the best man will take it off and throw it back, ensuring that the man will rule. This power struggle can go on interminably.
  • Checklist holder. The bride should have a checklist of all the things she'll need on her wedding day: dress, shoes, something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue. A day before the wedding, run through her checklist with her to make sure she has everything she'll need (and will still have a day to pick up anything she doesn't); then run through it again on the day of the wedding before she leaves her house.
  • Bad guy. While the bride is the commander-in-chief, you're her general on the front line and can make decisions about how to handle minor skirmishes in her stead. Suppose the videographer is handing out his business cards to everyone at the reception, and the band is taking their break just as the happy couple is about to cut their wedding cake. Reprimand the videographer; goose the band. Service people must behave properly and adhere to schedules; they are professionals hired to do a job. You have the authority to keep them in line. The bride shouldn't be pulled out of her first dance or a romantic reverie to play the heavy. As the maid of honor, it's your job to handle on-site crises.

As you can see, your primary goal as the maid of honor is to relieve the bride of having to worry over too many details on her wedding day. This responsibility extends to solving problems that arise, both minor and major. Be prepared for the mundane, such as helping the bride maneuver her hoop skirt into the bathroom stall, as well as for the potentially deadly, such as intercepting the groom's rabbit-boiling ex when she waltzes into the reception uninvited. Many things can go wrong at a wedding and often do. You must be on the alert so the bride can enjoy her day. This is no job for the faint of heart. The key to being a successful maid of honor is a lot of preparation and a very good sense of humor.

Traditions: In the Christian faith, it is traditional for the maid of honor and best man to be appointed the godparents of the bride and groom's first child.


For the wedding of:___________________
Wedding date: ___________________

This pre-wedding newsletter contains specific information for the bridesmaids about the details of the rehearsal, the rehearsal dinner, and the wedding. If you have any questions, please call
(your name)
at telephone #_____

The Rehearsal and the Rehearsal Dinner
The rehearsal will be held at_ o'clock at:
(location/address) The rehearsal dinner will be held at _ o'clock at:
(location/ address)

The Wedding Day
Primping Schedule:
The following is a list of the bridesmaids who have arranged for hair and makeup sessions and their assigned primping times. We will be primping at:
(location/ address)

Makeup Schedule Hair Styling Schedule
(time/name) (time/name)

At ___ o'clock, we will be dressing for the wedding at:
(location/ address)

Wedding Schedule:
Start time ______
Meeting place/address ________
Bridesmaid's name Means of transportation to ceremony
Additional information:

Name Phone Number
Bride __________
Groom __________
Mother of the bride __________
Father of the bride __________
Mother of the groom __________
Father of the groom __________
Bridesmaid __________
Bridesmaid __________
Bridesmaid __________
Bridesmaid __________
Bridesmaid __________
Bridesmaid __________
Best man __________
Usher __________
Usher __________
Usher __________
Usher __________
Usher __________
Usher __________
Officiant __________
Readers __________
Ring bearer __________
Ceremony music contact __________
Flower girl __________
Caterer/venue __________
Band contact __________
Florist __________
Videographer __________
Photographer __________
Makeup person __________
Hairdresser __________

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