Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Bridesmaid's Guide: Protocol/Etiquette (Part II)

Good manners are made up of petty sacrifices. —Ralph Waldo Emerson

When a friend asks you to be her bridesmaid, realize that she's creating a fantasy and you're invited to join it. Remember when you were very young and played "pretend"? The neighborhood kid with the dominant personality (the bully) got to set the rules. Now you're an adult and the bride is the dominant personality, a princess who will be transformed into a queen during this play. Remember that it's already been established that she gets the hero, so the only way to win this game is to look noble while helping her achieve that perfect day. What if she grossly oversteps all boundaries of friendship and propriety? Why, set her straight. Of course, you'll try diplomacy before guerrilla tactics. Read on.

Q: I love my cousin dearly, but for her wedding, which is on Halloween, she has chosen orange bridesmaid dresses and green hats. We are supposed to carry a candle instead of flowers. I refuse to be dressed as a pumpkin!
—Spooked in Spokane
A: Dear Spooked,
Not only does this witch expect you to dress like a pumpkin, she's asking you to pay for the privilege. Unless she is planning a very campy wedding—that is, if the officiant is Dra-cula and the groom is going to bite the bride's neck—this costume is inappropriate for a traditional wedding. Alas, you cannot drop out because you hate the dress. If that were permitted, bridesmaids would be extinct.

Enlist the help of her mother and your own to exert subtle familial pressure. Invite the other bridesmaids to your house or schedule a conference call to discuss the regalia. If the other women concur that this attire is hideous, contact the bride and let her know that you all feel uncomfortable. If she still refuses to acquiesce, you've got to remember that this wedding is her dream, and the color and style of dress are a reflection of her taste, not your own. Don't ridicule her and make her feel like a fool. Bite the bullet, wear the dress, and laugh about it later.
Guerrilla tactics we would never recommend: If she insists and the attendants find themselves being fitted in orange tents at the bridal salon, pay an elegant stranger to whisper audibly: "Some brides try so hard to be original, it's just tacky." The elegant stranger's chic friend must murmur, "Yes, it is so sad." If all else fails and you must endure this indignity, don't throw rice at her after the Halloween ceremony. Throw pumpkin seeds.

Q: A good friend has just asked me to be her bridesmaid. Her wedding, to which I was invited, is next week. She told me I am replacing another friend who had to cancel because of an emergency. I feel insulted to be asked to be a member of the wedding party so late. How should I respond?
—Polly Proxy
A: Dear Ms. Polly,
You've been chosen! Forget grievances about being a "second-best" friend and accept. You say the bride is a good friend; welcome this milestone in your relationship, roll up your sleeves and you'll become an even better friend. However, if you're no Pollyanna and can't shake off the feeling that you're just a convenient stand in, go directly to "Just Say No" post. Better to be a cheerful guest than a churlish attendant.

Q: I've been a bridesmaid ten times and, unlike most women I know, I love the entire zany process! A co-worker recently asked if I'd be her bridesmaid. Of course, I accepted in a heartbeat, but now my worry is this: Am I obligated to ask each woman for whom I've been a bridesmaid to be my bridesmaid when I get married? If so, I am going to have to say no to this woman and everyone else until after I've had my own ceremony.
—Madcap Martyr
A: Dear Madcap Martyr,
You are truly one in a million. Doubtless many will be disappointed that they cannot march for you on your triumphant day, but fortunately you are not required to reciprocate the favor of asking someone to be your bridesmaid. Carry on!

Q: Along with five other bridesmaids, I am planning a shower for a bride who is insisting that we invite her father, brothers and fiance. We are livid, as we had planned an afternoon tea, and everyone knows that men won't eat finger sandwiches. We are all busy professionals and don't want to scrap our original plans. How do we satisfy her?
—Teed off in Boston
A: Dear Boston Tea Party,
I daresay that a bride who wants so many males present at such a traditionally female gathering would herself not fully appreciate the pleasures of a tea. If the wedding date allows, throw her shower on Super Bowl Sunday. Either the men won't come at all, or they will come with their own beer and pizza. She can explore both her yin and yang sides as you and the other bridesmaids share scones and lovely Devonshire cream. Remember, this is the one wedding event other than the bachelor party in which the bride has no say! The guest list/activities, and food are at the sole discretion of you and your fellow bridesmaids, who don't have to plan this nice occasion for the bride at all. Pass along this information to your rude bride. You don't have to satisfy her. That's the groom's job.

Q: I am my sister's maid of honor and want to plan her bridal shower, but I have read that the bride's relatives are not supposed to give the shower. Why not? How can I proceed without appearing gauche?
—Feeling Greedy
A: Dear Feeling Greedy,
Traditionally, members of the immediate family are not supposed to give the bridal shower, as it would appear unseemly to solicit gifts for a sister or daughter. However, it is the maid of honor who is officially responsible for the shower, and it is perfectly acceptable for a sister to be the maid of honor. The way out of this quandary is to ask an enthusiastic bridesmaid to be your co-coordinator and mail the invitations under her name.

Q: I am a maid of honor trying to plan a shower for a bride whose mother is already warring with the groom's mother over wedding arrangements. Each has offered to pay for all the shower expenses and has very specific ideas about the kind of shower I should give. How do I handle them?
—The Ref
A: Dear Ms. Ref,
Advise these dueling dowagers that as the maid of honor, you are the general in charge of this congenial function. You can give the bride a wonderful shower on a limited budget (see "The Bridal Shower") that allows you and the other bridesmaids to foot the bill. These women had their chance to serve at least three decades ago.
Accept their money only if they agree to follow your orders. If only for one day, they must be allies. Warn them that your primary goal is to make the bride happy at her shower. If they break their peace treaty, they cannot sit down at the table.

Q: The bride never asked me whether I'd be bringing a date to the wedding. Shall I tell her first, or can I just show up with him?
—Lucky in Love
A: Dear Lucky,
Refrain from surprising the bride, other than with a bridal shower. Ask her if you can bring an escort (see "Your Date," p. 91). Usually, a wedding invitation extends to a spouse or significant other. If she allows you to bring your Romeo, take the quiz on p. 93 before you tell him the good news.

Q: As a bridesmaid, I helped plan and attended one shower for the bride. Now her co-workers have asked me to one that they are giving. Must I go and do I have to buy a second gift?
—Broke in Brooklyn
A: Dear Broke,
It would be nice if you went and met these other friends of the bride, but you do not have to bring a second shower gift. This would be excessive. In addition to the bridal attendants, family friends, colleagues and distant relatives may want to give showers. If several people want to give the bride a shower, they should consult with the bride so she can help divide the guest lists. The shower should be a pleasantly anticipated event, rather than a burden, so nobody should be invited to more than two.

Q: I am the matron of honor for a bride who has been married once before. What kind of shower is suitable?
—Sticky Situation
A: Dear Sticky,
Ask the bride what she wants. She may feel uncomfortable asking friends who participated in her first shower to come to a second, bearing more gifts. Consider a small luncheon. Lavish gifts would be inappropriate and standard house-warming gifts are probably unnecessary.

Q: I've already purchased and paid for the bridesmaid dress that the bride originally selected for her wedding. She has since fallen in love with a new dress and has asked all the bridesmaids to buy this dress also. What can I do?
—Friends with Flaky
A: Dear Friend,
A bride must be compassionate. Her fickleness should not strain your finances. Even if all her bridesmaids can afford another dress, it is wrong. Take her aside and tell her that your budget for her wedding does not allow for a second dress. Unless she wants to pay for this dress, regretfully state that you are going to have to drop out of the wedding party.

Q: I am Jewish and will be a bridesmaid at my friend's Catholic wedding. Am I supposed to participate in the religious part of the ceremony?
—Clueless in Cleveland
A: Dear Clueless,
Yes, the attendants are supposed to take part in the ceremony, even if the attendant belongs to another faith. You may not take communion or drink from the chalice, but you should join in the prayer and kneel, stand, kneel, stand with all the other guests in the church.

Q: The bride and groom are both recently graduated students. I'd like to give them cash, but heard that this is not appropriate as a wedding present. Can I break the rules?
—Practical in Poughkeepsie
A: Dear Practical,
The argument against cash has always been that it is wrong for the bride and groom to know the monetary value of your gift. Well, don't they also know the dollar amount for every item for which they've registered? We dismiss this etiquette rule as outdated and say that money is a practical, always happily accepted gift; has it ever been exchanged because it was the wrong color?

Q: I saw a crystal vase that I would like to buy for the bride and groom, but it was at a store where they are not registered. The bride grows roses and I think this vase would look spectacular in their new home. Can I still buy it for them?
—Dream Guest
A: Dear Guest,
Yes. The best gifts are the ones chosen with care and given with love in your heart. This sounds like that kind of gift.

Being a bridesmaid can strain a friendship, or it can bring two friends closer together. At times your duties will feel anachronistic, but there is nothing old-fashioned about supporting a friend. Who needs etiquette and good manners? We all do. They are the basis for wonderful friendships that reward you with comfort and happiness all your life—including the day you get to enact your own long-held wedding fantasy!

The Good
  • A Connecticut bride eloped at the last minute, exasperated by the bickering between her mother and the groom's mother over the wedding plans. She made arrangements with the bridal boutique to buy back her attendant's gowns and then sent them each a bouquet of tea roses—the flowers they were supposed to hold during the ceremony.
  • A New Jersey bride planned a very extravagant wedding complete with haute couture bridesmaid gowns, recognized the economic burden she had placed on one of her less financially able bridesmaids, and discreetly offered to cover part of her expenses. The offer was gratefully accepted.
  • A reluctant bridesmaid from Los Angeles gave up her Fourth of July weekend to fly to Houston for her college roommate's wedding. At the rehearsal dinner she was seated next to an usher who was also from Los Angeles. Fireworks ensued and they were married two years later during the Fourth of July weekend in their own city.
  • One Manhattan bridesmaid, short on cash from living in the fast lane, was able to negotiate a lay-a-way plan with the sympathetic store owner with whom the bride made arrangements for the bridesmaids' gowns. This arrangement made it possible for her to proudly fulfill her bridesmaid's duties and pay Con Ed.
  • A young single rabbi was asked to perform the marriage ceremony for one of the couples in his congregation. At the wedding, the father of the bride invited the Rabbi to stay for the reception and introduced him to his other daughter—the maid of honor. A match was made and they were married the next year!
  • After catching her third consecutive bouquet at a friend's wedding, a frustrated Philadelphia bridesmaid vowed never to participate in the useless ritual again. Later that year, as a bridesmaid in a college roommate's wedding, she was cajoled into participating in the dreaded toss. Once again, she was victorious. She cringed at the idea of having to endure some lout placing the garter on her leg and watched the garter toss in agony. The winner? The groom's handsome roommate from Yale law school. As he moved the garter up her thigh, her body temperature rose. The two were married within the year.
The Bad
  • In Manhattan, a maid of honor who was trying to plan a shower with the bride's future sister-in-law became incensed when the relative never returned any of her phone calls. She ultimately mailed out the shower invitations without listing the girl's name alongside her own for the R.S.V.P. The groom called her to complain and told her to apologize to his sister.
  • During a postceremony photo session, a gushing Michigan bridesmaid holding a glass of wine went to congratulate the bride. An excited guest ran up behind her, and threw his arms out to embrace them both. He knocked the wine all over the front of the bride's gown—before she even had a chance to greet any of her guests! The moral? Always serve white wine at a wedding reception.
  • After the processional to the chupah at a Boston wedding, one matron of honor took it upon herself to entertain the guests during the ceremony with a Charleston jig. She was ostracized during the reception.
  • A Southern bridesmaid visiting up North didn't understand the nickname "Denise the Menace" given to a sweet-looking, towheaded flower girl. During pictures before the ceremony, when the visiting bridesmaid was asked to hold the flower girl, the child bit her.
  • One Dallas bride arranged for a hairdresser to come to her hotel room and do both her and her bridesmaids' hair. A selfish bridesmaid was unhappy with her coif and insisted that the hairdresser style her hair again and again until she was satisfied. The bride was still waiting her turn. Eventually, the bride had to do her own hair.
  • A Miami bridesmaid was asked to wear a bright banana-yellow dress, and was told at the rehearsal that the processional would consist of dancing down the aisle, in a traditional ethnic ceremony. (And you were worried you'd slip ...)
And the Ugly
  • A bewildered Rhode Island bridesmaid was stranded on the dance floor in the middle of the first waltz when her partner, the usher who had escorted her down the aisle, was hauled away by his 300-pound date as she hissed that he'd been "too willing."
  • One New York bridesmaid didn't leave enough time to drive to a wedding in Boston. She got stuck in traffic and arrived five minutes before she was due for pictures. Having planned to primp at the hotel, she ultimately had to go to the wedding unshowered!
  • A Kentucky bride received a cocker spaniel puppy from her groom. She asked her maid of honor to hold "Cupcake" while she had her hair done. The dog wet on the maid of honor's gown. The bride laughed and commented that the dog was as nervous as his mistress. As for the urine-soaked gown, she joked, "Well, the show must go on!"
  • During a bouquet toss at a Boston wedding, a group of young unmarried women eagerly awaited the pitch. When the bouquet was thrown, a sixtyish woman who had been through a recent bitter divorce dashed in front of the maidens, snatched the bouquet, and shouted, "I need this more than you!"
  • One New York City maid of honor, the sister of the bride, organized a surprise engagement party at a renowned hotel and informed guests it would be a cash bar. Appropriately, she wrote "no gifts" on the invitation, then called certain friends of the bride to tell them that the "no gifts" request didn't apply to them, and they really shouldn't come "empty-handed."

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