Welcome to wedding season, when love is in the air for some of us and confusion abounds for everyone else. How much should you spend on a present if you’ve traveled for the wedding? Should you give cash or buy from the registry? Does any bachelorette want a penis straw?
We asked the experts – four newlywed women – to walk us through how they felt at each step of the wedding planning process and offer advice.  First up, we deal with a process that’s infamous for chaos: the care and feeding of bridesmaids. Let’s meet our brides:
  • Caitlin (29) had no bridesmaids, just a maid of honor, but several guests ended up as de facto bridesmaids on the big day, since they had an intimate 15-person affair in New York City with an after-party at their apartment.
  • Bethany (23) had six bridesmaids: Her sister, sister-in-law to be, and four friends. The couple had 80 guests in in a ceremony at a Quaker meeting in Pennsylvania and the reception was in her parents’ side yard in New Jersey.
  • Kellie (24) hurt some feelings when she chose her seven bridesmaids, but decided on her sister and cousin as co-maids of honor, and friends from different friend groups. They had a Catholic ceremony and hotel reception with 145 guests in Georgia.
  • Janet (26) had three bridesmaids: her sister, sister-in-law and a bestie. They helped her through two ceremonies – one in  Australia and another in New York State.
Read on for advice from real brides on what their bridesmaids could have done better, where they killed it, and what our brides wish they had done differently:

real brides told us how to be a great bridesmaid


Real Bride Tip #1: It should go without saying, but do exactly as your bride asks.

“One of my bridesmaids bought her dress in the totally wrong shade of purple because she didn’t like the shade that I had picked. She didn’t show me the dress until the day of the wedding so I had no idea and it looked pretty silly in photos.” –Bethany

“My number one concern on my wedding day and the weeks up until it were keeping my mother out of my hair and thus my stress level down. My husband and I wanted a low-key wedding (we got married at City Hall, took photos in a park, then had lunch at a favorite restaurant) and my mom wanted one of those “MY BABY IS GETTING MARRIED!!!” kind of things. She wanted to rent a hall, have a steak dinner, that kind of thing … not my style at all.

I asked my maid of honor to play interference as best she could whenever my mom was annoying me, especially on my wedding day — and she did. She sat at my mother’s side during the entire wedding lunch and chatted with her so Mom didn’t pester me.” –Caitlin 

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real brides told us how to be a great bridesmaid


Real Bride Tip #2: Brides – be sure to ask clearly for what you want.

“I was totally disorganized and did not give them duties. My sister (my maid of honor) probably did the most work. My wedding was pretty low-key and we didn’t really have a ton of tasks. A few of us woke up early on the day before the wedding and picked wildflowers in a field by my house for all the bouquets (along with my mom) so that was fun. That afternoon we made all the flower arrangements with our pickings.” –Bethany

I tried to be an easy bride. I didn’t require my bridesmaids to get their hair done, though all but one chose to. No one got their makeup done professionally, including myself. I wanted general uniformity, but also didn’t want everyone to look identical, so I allowed for a lot of flexibility.”–Kellie

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real brides told us how to be a good bridesmaid


Real Bride Tip #3: Show up to wedding events and participate when you’re there.

“I was very surprised when bridesmaids from Colorado, New Jersey, and New York flew into Atlanta for my shower – when I had already had a first bachelorette party in New York! I loved having all my bridesmaids together before the wedding day. I also appreciated how well my bridesmaids got along, even though they came from several circles of my life. On the flip side, I was disappointed at times with my local bridesmaids’ attendance at bridal showers. One of my local bridesmaids didn’t come to any showers except the bachelorette party —  not even the one thrown by the bridal party, though it is my understanding she still contributed monetarily. She thought that giving a week’s notice and contributing financially was all that mattered: I had to explain to her that I actually wanted her to be there, and that she would see what I meant when it was her turn. It was very disappointing when we were so excited about our engagement and wanted to share it, and so many of our friends didn’t bother to show up, or even RSVP.” –Kellie

“My maid of honor hugely disappointed me when it came to planning our wedding. When we went to Party City to buy supplies for the party we threw at our apartment, she spent the whole time on her cellphone talking to someone else. She blew me off when we were supposed to try out makeup and hair looks. My boss at the time threw me a bridal shower and my maid of honor was supposed to help out; two days before, my boss told me that my maid of honor kept blowing her off for grocery shopping trips and planning and that it was easier just to do it all herself. Then she left halfway through the party my husband and I threw at our apartment to go hang out with her girlfriend. That REALLY hurt my feelings. As a result of all this (and other stuff that came afterwards), we are not friends anymore.” –Caitlin

real brides told us how to be a good bridesmaid


Real Bride Tip #4: Plan in advance. It’ll save you from awkward situations and ease the bride’s mind. 

“They let the terrible U.S. hairdressers ruin both theirs’ and my hair. They also should have insisted I go through a car wash/loofah gauntlet after the second, ill-advised spray tan. I looked like Rachel Dolezal.” –Janet 

“There were some disagreements about money. At my bachelorette party dinner, different people ordered different things, and people had different ideas about the best way to split the bill, which got awkward. Then the next day they had to square up on the rest of the expenses, which was a complicated and awkward discussion with receipts and calculations that I had to witness. I understood that it was best to do it right away and with everyone present (especially with three of them living out of state), but I wish I hadn’t been there.”–Kellie 

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real brides told us how to be a great bridesmaid


Real Bride Tip #5: Going above and beyond never hurts!

“I handed my maid of honor my cell phone and asked her to take pictures all day for me (we had a photographer but I wanted some of my own) and she did; she also posted them on Instagram and Facebook through my phone, so I really appreciated that! My maid of honor was also excellent at keeping me calm on my wedding day — which was totally necessary because my landlord came by the morning of my wedding asking for the rent in cash (UGHHH) and then my dad fainted at City Hall. She played interference as needed and took a good deal of stress off me.” – Caitlin

“I wanted my bridesmaids to throw me a shower and a bachelorette party, which they did. My maid and matron of honor helped me with wedding favors because they offered. My maid of honor made me a bridalemergency kit, which was unexpected but very thoughtful. They told me when I was slouching, because I had asked them to. – Kellie


real brides told us how to be a great bridesmaid


Real Bride Tip #6: This is your bride’s wedding, not just wedding. Keep your friend’s taste in mind. 

“My bridesmaids got me penis straws and created that married couple quiz where they had asked my hubby a set of questions and I had to guess their answers. Nice, but not my scene. In the U.S. I got a book of recipes from everyone at the shower, which I couldn’t have hated more than a visit to Ted Nugent’s ranch), but half of them were “things hubby loves” (eg meatloaf even though I am veggie) or “secret cookie recipes” that turn out to be 1:1:1 butter:sugar:flour. Sweet idea, but not very me.” –Janet

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