[Etiquette is] a substitute for war.
Imagine yourself at an elegant French restaurant with the handsome, smart guy you've been dating for several months. He's meeting your parents for the first time. Suddenly he picks up the flower vase, tosses the blooms, and replenishes his water glass with the contents of the vase. You're flabbergasted and horrified. You think, "Who is this guy? What other bizarre behavior will he treat me to if I stick around?"
Sometimes even the most intelligent and sensible people get a little nervous when the spotlight is on them. Combine scrutiny with flashbulbs and a finger bowl and suddenly they're acting as if they were raised in a barn. You laugh—but at a wedding, this could be you. One certain way to avoid socially short-circuiting and making a spectacle of yourself is to rely on your good breeding (or just follow our advice).
Growing up, you were taught everything you needed to know about table manners and how to be a charming weekend guest, but chances are your mother or other legal guardian let wedding etiquette slide. Now that the wedding invitations outnumber the J. Crew catalogs in your mailbox, you find yourself wondering if it's crass to give cash as a gift and whether it is acceptable to have a date accompany you. As a wedding guest, you can often get by on common sense and with some advice-seeking phone calls. But the day you receive The Call, the questions multiply and issues of dignity loom. Good wishes and a mail-order gift won't suffice. The time has come for a new level of professionalism. As a bridesmaid, you've got to do more than show up.
You've got to behave.
A wedding is the bride and groom's Big Day, but all eyes are on the entire wedding party. A not-so-funny thing can happen when you put on a dress that's been picked out especially for you—and five other girls. You may feel a lot more like window dressing than the beloved friend the bride wanted to include in her wedding. Fears of resembling decoration understandably lead to feelings of vulnerability and anxiety. You may be seized with an urgency to assert your individuality. Perhaps you'll roar into the church parking lot on your Harley-Davidson while the bells are chiming, or nuzzle the priest on the dance floor, or pull out your harmonica and jam with the band. Forget it. Stand out by knowing the drill and performing it with grace. This is what breeding is about. It doesn't shout, it shows.
THE WELL-MANNERED BRIDESMAID
Manners adorn knowledge, and smooth its way through the world. —Lord Chesterfield
Protocol? Etiquette? No, these are not concepts that became outmoded when Eisenhower left office. They are virtually synonymous. Protocol is a code, established by precedence. It is a rule that you can memorize and follow. Etiquette is the conduct prescribed by authority to be observed in social or official life. Etiquette and protocol are traditional rules of behavior established over generations. These social codes impose order on a complex world and remind people to interact honorably and with sensitivity. You learn etiquette at home, by watching and mimicking role models. You exercise etiquette—good manners—with the help of instinct, sound judgment, and your heart. The rules of etiquette may sometimes seem inflexible, but should be viewed as a helpful road map across unfamiliar territory, or simply the double yellow line on a road well traveled. As a blue-blooded race-car driver once observed, protocol tells you how to put the wheel on the axle, etiquette is the grease that makes the wheel spin, and good manners inspire the winner of the race to shake hands with the other drivers. Protocol tells you through which door to make an entrance; etiquette tells you how and to whom you introduce yourself once you are inside. The warmth of your introduction and the personalized gift you thought to bring are the admirable manners that get you invited back. Get it? Protocol and etiquette can be diagrammed; manners makes elegant use of the diagram, doesn't flaunt the diagram, and never embarrasses others who don't have it. Traditions change, but what follows are some protocol basics for bridesmaids to remember, along with ABCs that distinguish well-mannered bridesmaids from the ill-mannered.
1. The prospective bridesmaid responds to the bride's invitation to be a member of the wedding party if not immediately, as promptly as possible. As soon as she has a wedding date in mind, the bride is obligated to inform as many family members and close friends as she can, so no one feels slighted by hearing the exciting news secondhand. When the bride makes these calls, she asks some individuals to be attendants. Therefore, help her out by giving her an answer as quickly as you can.
- An assenting bridesmaid first asks the bride to give her an estimation of the costs involved and has checked her bank account to ensure it can withstand the financial burden of the mission.
- The ambitious prospective bridesmaid inquires about the number of single men who will be at the wedding before confirming that she can participate.
2. The bridesmaid is not expected to respond to the wedding invitation she receives. As she has agreed to be a bridesmaid, it is understood that she will be at the wedding. The invitation is sent to be kept as a memento.
- A beloved bridesmaid includes the invitation at the end of a personalized scrapbook she presents to the bride at the shower,
- The battle-weary bridesmaid throws the invitation into a drawer with her diaphragm, her condoms, and the fifteen other wedding invitations that have arrived in the mail this year.
- A generous bride may help her bridesmaid with some of these expenses. If the bride's maiden name is Hilton or Marriott, her attendants ought to concern themselves with room service rather than room rates.
- A cost-conscious bridesmaid cheerfully accepts the accommodations at Aunt Dora's home and sleeps in a bunk bed.
- The cheap bridesmaid totals her expenses and deducts this sum from the price of what she will spend on the wedding gift.
- A diplomatic bridesmaid sensibly steers the bride toward an attractive dress that is affordable for all attendants.
- The determined bridesmaid insists on the dress that is most flattering to her figure; the wedding is her opportunity to meet her future husband.
- An economical bridesmaid already knows the name of the consignment shop that will resell the dress for her.
- The environmentally conscious bridesmaid recycles the gown as a scarecrow for her vegetable garden and forgets to remove it before the bride comes over for tea after her honeymoon.
- A frugal bridesmaid comparison-shops for the caterer that will give them the biggest bang for their buck.
- The forgetful bridesmaid never booked the private room at the restaurant where the shower is being held.
- A gracious bridesmaid offers useful suggestions about place, theme, and guest list.
- The grudging bridesmaid shows up late to indicate her displeasure with the early hour set for the shower, and spikes, the punch because nobody else wanted mimosas.
- A harmonious bridesmaid exchanges her phone number with the other attendants and goes with the flow.
- The halfhearted bridesmaid doesn't know the names of her comrades. The hell-bent bridesmaid treats every detail as a matter of life and death.
- An indefatigable bridesmaid offers to pick up the helium tank' for the reception party balloons with her Ford Explorer when she hears that all the ushers drive Miatas.
- The inept bridesmaid takes her car to the repair shop the week before the wedding, owns a broken answering machine, and leaves traces of her lipstick on each envelope that she seals.
- A joyful bridesmaid is always punctual and ready with a camera to record those special moments.
- The jealous bridesmaid is available only for the wedding ceremony, or attends only some of the functions, making it amply clear to all other participants the many appointments she had to juggle to make her presence possible. She, not the bride, is the star.
- A kindly bridesmaid arranges a lovely dinner for the bride at her favorite restaurant.
- The kinky bridesmaid pays a gorgeous fireman to show up at the bride's door after her lovely dinner.
- A loyal bridesmaid tells the bride that her jitters are natural.
- The lethal bridesmaid reveals rumors she's heard about the groom's infidelities.
- A meticulous bridesmaid arranges a carpool with other attendants and brings a survival kit with extra stockings, clear nail polish, and other necessities.
- The messy bridesmaid shows up late with her dog in tow.
- A noteworthy bridesmaid neatly signs her name and records a personal remark that the bride will always treasure.
- The nosy bridesmaid flips through the book and reads everyone else's entry while other guests wait to add their own names and good wishes.
- An optimistic bridesmaid smiles charmingly on command so the session doesn't last two hours.
- The obnoxious bridesmaid wears false eyelashes that flutter in the breeze and perfume that makes everyone sneeze.
- A poised bridesmaid stands straight and smiles without fail.
- The political bridesmaid refuses to walk behind an usher and carries her bouquet like a firearm.
- A qualified bridesmaid knows to be quiet while she listens to the cherished words that the bride and groom exchange during the ceremony.
- The quixotic bridesmaid recites the vows that she would have written.
- A reasonable bridesmaid adjusts her pace to that of the couple in front of her and trusts that her escort will do the same.
- The reproachful bridesmaid trips herself on the dress she didn't want to pay a tailor to hem and hisses at her companion to slow down.
- A sociable bridesmaid greets each guest with warm words of welcome.
- The shocking bridesmaid offers guests unsolicited comments about the suitability of the nuptial match and, while gulping from her glass, apologizes that the champagne is Californian and not French.
- A thoughtful bridesmaid opines that the mother of the bride can still fit into the gown she wore on her wedding day.
- The toxic bridesmaid asks her who does her collagen injections.
- An understanding bridesmaid does not tap her glass incessantly with her silverware, demanding that the bride and groom kiss for the crowd.
- The unrestrained bridesmaid switches placecards so she is seated next to the sexiest usher, then removes the satin ribbon from her napkin and ties the usher's wrist to his chair.
- A vigilant bridesmaid never yawns while the father of the bride drones on nostalgically about his little girl who has grown up.
- The vampish bridesmaid winks at the groom as he toasts his new wife.
- A witty bridesmaid composes a clever and short poem to wish the bride and groom a loving and prosperous future together.
- The wanton bridesmaid reveals that she and the groom played Spin the Bottle in junior high and that she hopes his technique has improved since then.
- A Xenon dance-clubbing bridesmaid foxtrots with the bride's groping fifteen-year-old brother, makes the bride's grandfather feel like Fred Astaire, and comes equipped with a pair of rubber-soled flats.
- The xenophobic bridesmaid refuses to dance with men she doesn't' know. The X-rated bridesmaid wants to lambada stripped down to her black leather G-string.
- A yielding 'bridesmaid allows the bride to be the center of attention.
- The yearning bridesmaid asks, "What about me?"
- A zealous bridesmaid makes a point of engaging any guest who is standing alone in light, friendly conversation and setting him or her at ease.
- The Zen bridesmaid sits quietly by herself meditating.
- An altruistic bridesmaid allows charity cases optimum catch position.
- The aggressive bridesmaid body-checks any female over fifteen who gets between her and a fistful of flying lilies.
- Sometimes, it makes sense to wait a year. If the couple is buying a new home, they'll appreciate receiving gifts at their new address. A bullish bridesmaid buys the newly weds four place settings, anticipating the needs of a young family.
- Sometimes, it makes sense to wait a year. You never know— what do you think their chances are! The bookie bridesmaid calculates the couple's odds of staying together and indiscreetly collects for the pot.