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Tips for Being a Back-Up Bridesmaid

I’ve never been a bridesmaid before this past weekend. In fact, I realized pretty late in the process that my entire knowledge of most mainstream, traditional, Christian weddings (and most other things) is from movies.

This isn’t going to be a guide that will be particularly helpful for most people. In fact, if you find yourself feeling comforted by my advice, please have all my sympathy. This isn’t even the best account of being a bridesmaid on this site.

I was asked to be a bridesmaid several months into the wedding planning. The bride had already chosen her bridesmaids, but when one decided against flying from Germany to New York City for the wedding, I was asked to be a back-up. Everything had been decided already, I just needed to be a body in a dress in the photos.

I should clarify some things. Previously I had thought that bridesmaids were typically close friends and family members that your mother made you include. The bride and I had not known each other very long, and had really only hung out a handful of times outside of grad school. I was the only friend from her adult life. This ordinarily would, should, be fine. We’re fairly young, and many people my age have significantly closer relationships with friends from childhood or even college. Considering that I didn’t really make friends in grad school (because I’m angry and anxious, which makes for a terrible combination in meeting new people), her selecting me was a curveball. Apparently when you’re in panic mode, the girl you had the occasional coffee with and who sat sort of near in your Educational Policy class is a pretty solid alternative bridesmaid. I wish I was able to process this as complimentary or feel normal expected human emotions of flattery and goodwill. However, she asked me over dinner, a pitcher of beer into the meal, after months of not seeing each other, and so the only feeling I had through most of the bridesmaid experience was confusion.

A gif captioned "Just because you're drunk, it doesn't mean you can do what you want"
Or think you can be bridesmaid when you really shouldn’t be. (Via)

Upon accepting this bridesmaid role, I quickly learned several things:

  1. The dress had been chosen. A bright red mermaid dress with a train which was sure to be easy to move in.
  2. I would be walking with two groomsmen. Who were twins. Twin groomsmen.
  3. I was the only person who was not a friend from high school. I was the stranger outsider.
  4. The wedding was going to be Christmas-themed. In January.
  5. I am meticulously organized. The bride is a lot more lax and often scatterbrained. This would be a terrible match between myself and the bride.

Here are some tips I learned through the process that may help others in runaway train weddings.

There is no correct number of dress fittings.

Okay there probably is, but surely it isn’t five. Having to trek in the snow and ice from Harlem to Bay Ridge to hear about how you’ll need to special order another $100+ bra, or how you should really invest in Spanx is extremely soul crushing. Having to listen to other people criticize your body even in the smallest of ways is upsetting for anyone. It certainly doesn’t help when there are other women criticizing their own bodies around you. It’s terrible for everyone and their sense of self-worth.

This is especially true of a dress style that seems to work on exactly zero body types.

A picture of a red bridesmaid dress.
Thank you filters for making this look better than it felt.

Winter weddings are going to be rough.

I just mentioned having to trek through the ice and snow across the city for a dress fitting. It’s never great to be standing on a porch in the middle of Brooklyn on a day with a high of 15 degrees, waiting for the seamstress to get home so you can do your (hopefully) final fitting. It’s worse when your phone suddenly dies and your hand is somehow bleeding.

The day of the wedding, weather will also be unsurprisingly unpredictable. While we lucked out with unseasonably warm weather, it came with pouring rain most of the day, which led to a lot of panic and arguments. The bride very nearly insisted on outdoor photos on the Brooklyn Bridge, but had to be talked out of this due to sudden, brief, thunderstorms. Once the conversation starts turning to amassing combinations of winter/rain boots, garbage bags and umbrellas to take pictures, it’s time to regroup and reconsider your setting options.

It will also be too cold everywhere you go because you are wearing a strapless dress (okay, I added straps to mine) and when you accidentally lean against the wall, you will suddenly have flashbacks to the flagpole scene from A Christmas Story, and wonder if it’s possible for your shoulder to freeze to the wall.

Forfeit your personal life.

Okay, in an ideal world, this shouldn’t be the case. You might have to sacrifice a few days for the actual wedding and a few evenings for other events. Or, you could be told to keep your weekends open in December and early January in case of a rehearsal dinner. I’m not saying that I need lots of time to plan my social calendar because slots fill up quickly. I’m saying when I’m asked to keep holiday weeks open for maybe a rehearsal happening maybe Thursday, maybe Saturday, maybe the following Friday, maybe Tuesday after six, I start to get annoyed. Having to explain to my parents that I’m cutting out of Christmas vacation (which was really just time with my family watching Netflix) early to maybe have wedding related things, maybe not, made me feel like a terrible daughter for a wedding to which I probably should never have really committed, which is probably mostly my fault.

Rehearsals may not happen, but they should.

If the bride says that you’ll be fine without a rehearsal, she is wrong. She is blinded by how much other work she still has left to do before the wedding, and she’s starting to hit that point where she doesn’t care and she just wants it to be over. Without a rehearsal, the wedding procession has last-minute changes because the Best Man decided to stand at the altar with the groom, not walk in with the Maid of Honor like he was instructed to do. The twin groomsmen will be split up and you’ll have to wing it. Yes, walking in a straight line down an aisle is way harder than it looks. At least the flower girl was able to handle her role like a pro.

Forfeit your sanity.

I’ve only recently become somewhat comfortable with playing around with makeup. It’s taken years of resistance and timidly trying out things. It’s only recently that I’ve gotten to the point where I can wear a bold red lipstick and feel somewhat comfortable in my skin. However, when a Staten Island-based, older white makeup artist lays out several suitcases at your feet and coos about her excitement over this “international” wedding you’re part of, all sorts of insecurities and neurosis start to surface. The casual racism is not very comforting. The foundation she will initially choose will be too dark, and you will have to go find your own to correct the situation. How do you strike the line of being assertive and protective over your sense of self, while not being rude and ungrateful to the bride who is paying for it all?

Later, when recapping the events, the feedback I heard was, “Well that must’ve been fun to get your hair and makeup done! You never get to do that!” I don’t because I don’t want to. Also, I don’t love when people tell me over and over about how dark my skin is (when compared to the pale white skin of another bridesmaid) and how this is a fun challenge for them because they never get to do international weddings like this.

There is not nearly enough available food during the day.

I grew up with people always trying to feed each other. Every five minutes, a relative or friend would ask if anyone wanted a snack or if anyone was hungry. On the day of the wedding, this becomes: fend-for-yourself-we-are-in-crisis-mode. Two cookies will not be enough for the whole day. At 8 p.m. you will start to feel faint, you will start resenting the photographer more than you already did, and you may need to lie down. You may have been amped that the seamstress had redid the top of the dress to create more support for you, but now you’ve essentially been in a corset for about 8 hours and you’re going to need to lie down. You can have some ravioli, but what you really need is to lie down. Seriously, just find a quiet corner and just lie down. No one is judging you. You’re a bridesmaid, they’re surprised you’ve made it this far.

A gif from Pirates of the Carribean captioned "You like pain?"A gif from Pirates of the Carribbean captioned "try wearing a corset."

(Gifs via tumblr)

What I’ve learned most from this experience is that I survived it. Among the fainting spells, the awkward first dance with the whole bridal party joining in to slow dance to “Can’t Take My Eyes off of You” (Note: it is difficult to slow dance with two men at the same time, do not attempt, just embrace the weird), the running through the rain, and my dress clasp breaking in the limo leaving me almost naked, I managed to survive. I had a great date who came armed with medicine and a sewing kit for my dress, and who helped coach me through the reception.

I’m still not sure if I had a good time. I do know that I wish the bride and groom all the happiness in the world. They are lovely people who deserve it. Weddings are often exceptionally hectic for couples, their families, and their friends. As long as they had a great time, it was successful. Next time, I may bow out of being a bridesmaid and just enjoy being a really fun guest.

By Karishma

Karishma is a twenty-something living in New York City and is trying her hardest to live out every cliche about Millennials. This involves eating her feelings, drowning in debt and mocking infomercials. She likes sociology so much that she has two degrees in it, and is still warding off her parents' questions about a real career.

3 replies on “Tips for Being a Back-Up Bridesmaid”

Oy, this post left me quaking in my boots … one of my best friends is getting married in a few months and I am a de facto bridesmaid. I’m not actually allowed to be in the wedding party because I’m not Korean (her parents’ rule), but her MOH and single bridesmaid live across the country so I’m in charge of planning the bachelorette party, helping with DIY decorations, going to dress fittings, and all that jazz. My friend is very type A and I am not at all, so I am so nervous that something is going to go wrong and will ruin our friendship.

I totally hear you with the negative body talk being a downer. My friend gets measured and weighed WEEKLY by her seamstress to “motivate” her to lose weight … and she hasn’t lost weight so that means once a week we leave the seamstress with her in tears. And her mother told her she has to lose weight or she’ll embarrass the family at the wedding! I feel so bad but my friend buys into it so other than just trying to be positive and giving her lots of compliments I don’t know what else to do!

tl;dr weddings are stressful! I’m glad you made it through intact!

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