Bridesmaids: A Training Manual

You bridesmaids joyfully accepted a position in the matrimony corporation, and now, like any hardworking employee, you have a job to do.
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Is there anyone out there besides me who's feeling a little sorry for the Bridezilla these days? This oft-maligned monster-in-white -- with actual TV shows dedicated to her outrageous behavior -- has been getting a bad rap of late, and might as well be taking Frankenstein as her new last name. But can we give the poor gal a break for a moment? After all, she's in the heat of planning a wedding day that she's likely been dreaming of since childhood, and has a 24-hour window to get it right -- with any luck, no do-overs in her future. Complicating this one-shot, fairytale opportunity are a potential host of landmines, including, but not limited to, anxieties over money, tricky family dynamics, loss of independence, pressure to look her all-time best, and the potential judgments of everyone on the guest list about her choice of food, venue, dress, vows... and mate.

You bridesmaids, on the other hand, joyfully accepted a position in the matrimony corporation, and now, like any hardworking employee, have a job to do. I speak from experience, having sat on both sides of the desk; and while I'd like to think I wasn't an evil bride, some may beg to differ. One of my bridesmaids, when asked to wear lace gloves -- it was the 80s, okay? -- remarked, "What is this, an f-ing Broadway production?" I would like it noted that when she married two years later, an actual Broadway star performed at her reception. Thankfully, we're still friends to this day.

In the interest of helping you become employee of the year, I propose you follow these simple guidelines:

Carefully evaluate the job offer: With great excitement (and likely, a few tears in her eyes), the bride asks you to be in her wedding party. Maybe you've known her since childhood. Maybe you introduced her to the groom. Maybe she's related to you. Whatever the connection, your first instinct is likely to be pure, unadulterated, "I'm-in-the-inner-circle" joy, because being asked to be a bridesmaid is an honor. (Keep saying this to yourself, by the way -- it will help). But before you get swept up in your new stature, think long and hard about whether you're right for the position, because accepting a spot at the altar is a significant and pricey undertaking. In fact, it may well be the first job offer in which you pay them: You'll likely be expected to shell out for a dress, shoes, shower gift, wedding gift, possible travel and hotel expenses, as well as share in celebratory costs, including the bachelorette party and bridal shower. Unlike Kim Kardashian, you will not be able to offset these expenses by selling ad space or securing pro-bono vendors.

Being open and honest about your limitations up front -- which may also include discussions about any plans to get pregnant, or a potential job transfer to Europe -- is far better than bowing out further down the aisle. (In which case, you will be blackballed from the company forever). It also gives your bride the opportunity to come up with solutions, like offering to pick up some of the tab, finding you a friend to stay with, or assuring you that she'll happily include a 36-week-pregnant attendant on her aisle.

Say yes to the dress: There will be a temptation on your part to equate the fact that you're paying for the dress with the freedom to comment on the dress. This is not so. As much as you'd like to believe that your exalted position puts you in management, the fact is, you're an underling and the bride calls the shots. She wears white; you and your colleagues blend (key word: BLEND) into a sea of sameness. Of course, if your dress is horribly ill-fitting -- i.e. your boobs are spilling out -- feel free to pipe up; but skip any commentary about the color, style, or shiny taffeta fabric, because, no matter how you phrase it, it will come out as an insult. I was once forced to wear a "winged" periwinkle, backless number that required a special bra that clasped in front, somewhere south of my belly button. After the wedding, I carried the offending ensemble home in a Hefty bag, which I promptly threw into the dumpster outside my apartment building. Did I hate wearing it? Sure. But honestly, I wore it for an hour at the altar tops; and a few drinks at the reception took the sting out of my humiliation.

Deflect the bride's tantrums: Think about this: Brides don't actually remember the good bridesmaids, but they'll share the details of the ones who acted out for the next 20 years. Nine times out of ten, the tantrums have nothing to do with you (at least they won't, if you follow these instructions). A good subordinate will help soothe the pre-matrimonial meltdowns, be a sounding board when things get overwhelming, and never take the bad behavior personally.

Express yourself--not: There's a big difference between saying "I'm allergic to Gardenias" and "I can't wear fuchsia because it's not in my color wheel." Ultimately, a good staffer is the one who solves the problems, not the one who creates them.

Get along with your coworkers: Bridesmaids have a habit of becoming oddly territorial over their queen bee. And then they complain to the bee about the other wasps in the nest. And that doesn't make you a honey in the eyes of the bride... it just stresses her out. Just as a teacher has a pet and a boss has a favorite employee, a bride has a close friend and, sometimes, it's not you. It doesn't help anyone when you bridesmaids all jostle for the position of who knows the bride best; when you sulk and scale back your involvement in the wedding plans as punishment; when you pretend to hide your jealousy with passive-aggressive remarks ("I'm sure that A-line skirt will hide the 10 pounds Jocelyn gained"); or when you make unkind statements followed by a disingenuous laugh that's supposed to mean "just kidding", note to self: The bride knows you're not.

Don't mess with production: The plans, no matter how faulty you find them, or how much you're itching to tinker with them, are heavily orchestrated and coordinate dozens of people, places, and times. Hours of effort have gone into their creation. So resist the urge to propose changes, as the bride might just spontaneously combust when you ask to be moved to Table 5, or request that the charter bus make an extra stop at your hotel.

Be willing to perform odd (really odd) jobs: There's no other way to say this: When the bride has to pee, someone has to help her hold the dress. If that someone is you, you will be bonded in sisterhood forever. Is the bride worried that her resentful, divorced mother might bail during the family photo session? Be the person who -- without being asked -- hands Mom a stiff drink, then sticks by her side and cajoles her through the awkward moment. My husband, though not a bridesmaid, performed this last task on numerous occasions and is, to this day, beloved for it.

Remember that this is an honor: Despite the fashion humiliation, the mass emails, the 12 months of myopic conversation, and the endless debates over Prosecco vs. Patron, you've been asked to be a bridesmaid because you're important to the bride. Keep this in mind as you watch her beam her way down the aisle. Like any good employee, you played a vital part in building the brand.

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