Before you can celebrate finding the perfect bridesmaid dress, you have to choose who will wear them. In a perfect world, every childhood friend, college roommate and cousin would be by a bride's side when she says "I do." I made the decision to include all 14 of my best friends. And now that I've had the experience of standing up with some, bowing out of others and not being included in a few, I appreciate the challenges that most brides face when making this decision -- budget, the number of groomsmen, changing friendships and politics.
According to a study by TheKnot.com and WeddingChannel.com, the average bridal party consists of four to five bridesmaids. So how do you avoid hurting a friend who is not in your bridal party? Here are three tips for handling this touchy subject with grace (and without losing a relationship).
To help determine who these tips apply to, consider the following question: If you traded places and numbers weren't an issue, would you have expected to be in this bridal party?
1. Keep your explanation simple, if you are prompted to give one.
Wedding etiquette aside, it takes just as much moxie for a pal to ask as it does for you to break the news. So consider whether your friend was expecting a different outcome. Be careful not to over-explain or give her excuses as to why she isn't in the wedding. The more you address the issue, the more it becomes one. Be honest but sensitive to her feelings. Something like, "My fiancé and I want to keep our bridal party small, which unfortunately limits who I can involve" is much easier to hear than all of the reasons why she became the outlier. Throughout the planning process, remain mindful of her feelings and (hard as it may be!) avoid constantly talking about the wedding.
2. Don't let her find out from someone else (or worse, from social media).
If a conversation is warranted, take her out for coffee and let your friend know that although she isn't a bridesmaid, she is still an important part of your life and of your big day. (Keep reading for more on that point!) If you give her a heads up personally, it's likely she will be more understanding. The last thing you want is for her to see that you're celebrating your bridesmaids with a cute pic and equally witty hashtag. When you have this conversation, remember tip number one and plan what you're going to say accordingly.
3. Ask her to be involved in your wedding in another way.
Whether it's inviting her to the rehearsal dinner, asking if she will do a reading at the ceremony (which frankly I think is the greatest honor), or bringing her along on a cake tasting, she will appreciate that you made an effort to include her in your big day. But please tread lightly: Don't make her feel like she is a backstage bridesmaid who does all of the legwork without the title (or matching dress). To show your appreciation, ask that she wear one of your wedding colors, or give each a boutonniere that matches your bouquet. This is an easy, but impactful way to include all of the important ladies in your life without your procession feeling more like a parade.
Once you've had the conversation, try not to dwell on the situation. As long as you remember to be mindful of your friend's feelings -- and she is of yours! -- it will still feel like she's by your side.
Sonali is the co-founder of Brideside, an online retailer of designer bridesmaid dresses and accessories that revolutionizes the bridal boutique experience to make finding and buying beautiful bridesmaid dresses effortless and fun.