Details: Maid to Order

How to ensure a happy bridal party before, during and after you say “I do.”

WHEN DEANNA DODGE ASKED 10 women to be in her bridal party, she figured she’d covered her bases by including everyone from childhood friends to an old college roommate to family. But the bride-to-be, who was married last spring in Lexington, did leave one friend off the list, and paid for it.

“Our friendship is no longer because I didn’t ask her to be a bridesmaid,” she says of the former friend. Dodge says she didn’t ask this woman because she lived far away, was expecting a baby right before the wedding and, most importantly, would be difficult to work with. Needless to say, the friend, who was already planning on being Dodge’s matron of honor, did not take the news well.

With an event as emotionally charged as a wedding, conflicts between a bride and her bridesmaids are sure to crop up—even among the most balanced and composed bride and bridal party. “It’s rare that you don’t see tensions arise between a bride and her bridesmaids,” says etiquette consultant Jodi R. R. Smith, owner of Mannersmith Etiquette Consulting in Salem. And, as in Dodge’s case, clashes can arise as soon as you slip that diamond engagement ring on your hand.

Making the Cut

YOU GET ENGAGED … AND IMMEDIATELY want to rush out and share the good news with all of your girlfriends. Giving in to this urge is perfectly fine, as long as you don’t breathlessly tack on the request, “and I want you to be a bridesmaid!” after each and every phone call. In fact, Smith recommends brides wait at least a full two weeks after getting engaged to pick a bridal party.

“Choose very carefully,” says Smith. “Think about people you’ve been friends with for the long-term.” Smith also points out that there’s a guideline for how many bridesmaids a bride should have—approximately one bridesmaid for every 30 or 40 guests. And while the etiquette police aren’t going to break up your ceremony if your bridal party is too large, you probably don’t want 12 bridesmaids if you’re only planning on inviting 50 guests, she says.

If, after picking your bridesmaids, there are a few friends whom you would still like to honor and involve in your wedding, there are several ways to do this. Asking a friend to read at the ceremony, hand out programs or hold the rings shows that she is important to you—and she will probably be thrilled (and relieved) that she can wear her own dress and shoes.

This Is a Tough One… You’re Fired

YOU WERE JUST SO EXCITED ABOUT getting engaged you ignored the recommended two-week waiting period and asked your old childhood friend whom you haven’t seen in ages to be a bridesmaid. Once the wave of nostalgia subsides and you listen to her complain once again about how expensive (and ugly) her dress is, and about the costs of flying in for the wedding and preceding celebrations like your shower and bachelorette party, you realize exactly why you stopped hanging out with her. You’re thinking it would be much easier for you and your other bridesmaids if you could fire her from the bridal party—but you dread the awkward and potentially hurtful conversation.

Wedding planner Alexis Eliopoulos O’Mara, owner of Unique Weddings by Alexis in Boston, has experienced this sticky etiquette conundrum with some of her brides. Her advice, after going through it? “Try to make it as convenient as possible for the bridesmaid to back out,” she says. That can be easier said than done, but one way to tactfully dismiss a bridesmaid is to list a million reasons why your wedding is a huge inconvenience, such as the long distance she’ll need to travel for the shower, the added expenses and her hectic schedule. Who knows, she might even say it before you do. “Make it seem like, ‘I’m letting you off the hook,’ not, ‘I’m firing you,’” says Eliopoulos O’Mara.

Bridesmaids or Handmaidens?

WHILE PLANNING YOUR WEDDING MAY take up every spare thought in your day, it’s certain that your bridesmaids aren’t lying awake at night worrying about creating the ideal seating chart or finding the perfect shade of blue hydrangea for the centerpieces—or at least they shouldn’t be.

“Nowadays, being a bridesmaid is really more about the honor of being asked than the work of helping the bride,” says Smith. In other words, if you want your friendships to remain intact, don’t rely on your bridesmaids to help you plan every detail of your wedding—hire a professional wedding planner if you need assistance.

That doesn’t mean your best women just have to show up on the Big Day and look pretty. There are a few jobs that are acceptable for a bride to ask her maids to take care of, such as hosting a bridal shower (and a fun bachelorette party) and helping with any day-of tasks. “A bridesmaid’s life is not her own the day of the wedding,” says Smith. “The bridesmaids need to be there at the crack of dawn until the very end and help the bride with anything she wants or needs.”

But ultimately, your bridesmaids are there to show their support and friendship during this momentous and exciting time, just as you’ll do—or have done—for them.

Before her own nuptials, Dodge was a bridesmaid in a few weddings that she says were more like “full-time jobs”—the brides often e-mailed multipage “things to do” checklists to the bridesmaids. After acting as an errand girl for these brides, she resolved to take a different approach for her wedding—one that guaranteed she and her bridesmaids remained friends. “I was asking my bridesmaids to be in my wedding because of their friendship, not for an extra set of hands.”