Help me not fail as a maid of honor.
November 13, 2009 12:57 PM   Subscribe

Help me not epically fail as my sister's maid of honor.

My younger sister is getting married! She asked me to be her maid of honor, which is sweet. (She'll be 28 at the time of the wedding, next October; I'm 3 years older.) I've been to a handful of weddings but am not married and have never been in a bridal party before. So my question is, what do I need to do as a maid of honor? I've never been into or great at 'girly' stuff, so I'm approaching this with some trepidation...

On one hand, I just don't know what a maid of honor is supposed to do, beyond planning a bachelorette party and helping keep the bride calm and happy on the day of the wedding. I'm prepared to help with wedding plans as requested, but is there something I'm supposed to be proactive about? Is the bachelorette party supposed to be a surprise? What the heck is a bridal shower?

My sister doesn't drink at all, though she doesn't mind other people drinking. The bachelorette party won't be dry, but she's probably not down for an out-all-night, penis-shaped-cakes type bash. We also live in different cities, as do all of the bridesmaids. It seems crazy to have people fly into my sister's town once for a bachelorette party and then again for the wedding -- or is that kind of expected? The wedding is 11 months away...when should I kick into maid-of-honor high gear?

Any and all tips appreciated. I think my biggest fear is that I just won't do something I'm supposed to do, or won't get excited about something I'm supposed to be excited about (shopping for wedding dresses? choosing flowers? sometimes I can't help but wonder if she should have picked somebody perkier for this job), and that I'll be forever remembered as basically a lame M.O.H.

Thank you.
posted by toomuchkatherine to Human Relations (19 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
The activities of the principal bridesmaid may be as many or as varied as she allows the bride to impose upon her. Her only required duty is to participate in the wedding ceremony. Typically, however, she is asked for help with the logistics of the wedding as an event, such as addressing invitations, and for her help as a friend, such as attending the bride as she shops for her wedding dress. Many brides expect a chief bridesmaid to arrange and pay for a bridal shower as well as the bachelorette party (US) or hen night (Australia and UK), although it is a social faux pas on the bride's part, since these parties are gifts rather than a right.

On the day of the wedding, her principal duty is to provide practical and emotional support. She might assist the bride with dressing and, if needed, help the bride manage her veil, a bouquet of flowers, a prayer book, or the train of her wedding dress during the day. In a double-ring wedding, the chief bridesmaid is often entrusted with the groom's wedding ring until it is needed during the ceremony. Many brides ask bridesmaids, if they are adults, to be legal witnesses who sign the marriage license after the ceremony. If there is a reception after the wedding, the maid of honor may be asked to offer a toast to the newlyweds.

Basically "be there" for the bride and help her in whichever way she needs you to. Kind of like a sister normally would. :)
posted by royalsong at 1:04 PM on November 13, 2009

I held my sister's dress over her head when she peed. I made a toast after saying I that I couldn't because I'd cry. I sang The Girl From Ipanema with the band. I made a bunch of hellish tulle circles surrounding some horrid jordan almonds. I wore a heinous purple dress with uglier patent leather shoes.

Basically, just do what needs to be done, and make sure you have fun, too. All will be well.
posted by Stewriffic at 1:09 PM on November 13, 2009 [3 favorites]

Make up an emergency kit for the wedding day: tissues, bobby pins, hairspray, spare stockings, tampons, panty liners, aspirin, tylenol, breath mints, chewing gum, toothpaste/brush, comb, hairbrush, mascara, sewing kit, etc. Basically, anything she might need as she gets ready for what is basically a big performance.

Call her regularly and talk to her about arrangements. Enthuse over the planned flowers, even if you could care less. Just give her somebody to talk to about it.

Plan the hen party for the night before. Maybe everybody could give her a lingerie shower by mail, or at the hen party.

Make her feel special and create some nice sisterly memories.
posted by theora55 at 1:14 PM on November 13, 2009 [2 favorites]

I'm going to address your last point first (your fear of "not getting excited about something you're 'supposed' to").

Your sister knows you -- she knows what you're like, what you dig and don't dig, and how you'll react in certain situations. You may not be all swoony about shopping for dresses, but if your sister is visibly excited about something and turns to you and says "isn't this awesome"? you wouldn't say "meh", and if she asks you your opinion, you wouldn't blow her off and say "shit, I don't know", right? Right. Because even if you don't care about what she's talking about, she's your sister, and you're going to support the fact that SHE cares. Trust that and you'll be fine.

As for the basics -- plenty of wedding-etiquette books exist that can tell you the basics ("do I do the bachelorette party/bridal shower/gifts for flower girls/whatever"), but talking with your sister about what she actually wants would be good too, because every bride is different (I was my best friend's maid of honor, but she had a VERY unorthodox approach to wedding planning and she didn't even TELL me I was her maid of honor until twelve hours before the actual wedding, so all I had to do was hang on to the ring during the ceremony and then hold her bouquet when she had to do something with her hands).

In the case of the shower, maybe talk to your mom first -- you ask "what's a bridal shower," and I didn't know how facetious you were being, so forgive me if this is all stuff you already know; the "bridal shower" is a sort of "just the girls" party thrown for the bride, often involving people giving presents for the new home. Sometimes these are surprise things, which is why maybe talkiing to your mom would be best ("your sister may coyly say a shower is "up to you..." while secretly hoping you do a surprise thing, so maybe taking your mom aside to ask about what the shower should be like would be best. Plus, your Mom may take over some of the details just out of excitement, so you're set!).

You'll be fine. There are some basics that you'd traditionally do, but other than that just pay attention to your sister, consult with her on some things, trust your instincts and have fun.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:17 PM on November 13, 2009

Prepare an awesome toast that makes everyone laugh and cry!
posted by Knowyournuts at 1:22 PM on November 13, 2009

As far as the bachelorette party goes, you could do something the day before the wedding so that the guests don't have to fly out twice.
Since it will be the day before the wedding and since your sis doesn't drink, I think a spa day would be perfect.
Everyone can get their nails done together or get massages or something and then have lunch and silly gift opening. NOTE: Don't let your sister get a facial the day before her wedding because sometimes skin reacts badly.
posted by rmless at 1:23 PM on November 13, 2009

For my best friends' wedding, which was on a Sunday, the other bridesmaids and I threw a bach party on Friday night. This meant that most people were already in town for the wedding, but that we didn't have to worry about being hungover for the wedding itself. If the wedding is the next evening instead of the next morning, this may be less of an issue.

We threw the bridal shower six months ahead of time, when most of us were getting together for New Years anyway. We basically just prepped a lot of food and games and surprised them with it. One fun game we played was to get a bunch of silly faux-gifts and have people go around opening them, with the option to steal someone else's gift if you wanted (there was much fighting over the bananaphone).

For the wedding itself - have a toast prepared. Perhaps some fun distracting activities for those moments when the bride's getting ready and then there's nothing to do and she starts thinking "oh god i'm getting married what if i trip what if i get the hiccups?" Luckily for us there was a dance off on T.V. Speaking of which, at the reception - be sure to help get people on the floor dancing. No one wants an empty dance floor at their wedding!
posted by shaun uh at 1:35 PM on November 13, 2009

Ask your sister. Some women expect a lot of their bridesmaids, and maid of honor in particular, while others don't. Some have very specific ideas of what they want, others have expectations that you're going to plan things for them. Your sister no doubt already knows you're not into girly stuff, so use that as a starting point--"The whole maid of honor role kind of confuses me--I'm super excited to be part of your wedding, but let's talk about what you want, what my role is, and how we can work together."

Regarding the bachelorette party, if it's going to be a fairly tame evening,* perhaps you could aim for two or three nights before the wedding. This is what my bridesmaids and I did (we went to a cool bar for a cocktail or two, went to a tapas restaurant for dinner, then went to one bridesmaid's apartment for cake and movies). I don't know if your sister will expect you to come out twice--once for her party, once for the wedding--it's certainly not unheard of, but you can ask her if a bachelorette evening the week of the wedding might be possible so that you can avoid multiple trips. You could also try to do a theme that suits the week of--a spa day, as rmless suggests, perhaps.

The bridal shower doesn't have to be planned by you or the bridesmaids, but it can be. Mine was planned by the mom of one of my bridesmaids. One of my bridesmaids lives in another state and wasn't able to attend. I didn't mind and no one thought it was odd. It may be that one of your fellow bridesmaids is really excited to plan a shower for your sister, in which case you don't need to worry.

Keep the channels of communication open: if your budget is tight, tell your sister now rather than 6 months from now when her bridal shower is coming up and she doesn't understand why suddenly you're saying you can't be there.

*A friend of mine had a bachelor party where he got so drunk he blacked out on an escalator and ended up with stripes on his face for a few weeks afterward. It was very fortunate this happened a month before the wedding and not the week of.
posted by Meg_Murry at 1:36 PM on November 13, 2009

Sorry, forgot that your sis doesn't drink - makes the hangover thing less relevant. But yes, do it the same weekend as the wedding, if you can. Just make sure to find out when things like the rehearsal dinner are planned (if they are planned) so you can schedule around it.
posted by shaun uh at 1:36 PM on November 13, 2009

What everyone else said, and also this: between now and next October, communicate to your sister as often as possible and in as many ways as possible that you are desperately excited and happy for her, and be willing to take charge of things even if she doesn't ask you to. I got married this past August, and the most important thing our wedding party did for us was to take charge (especially in the last week)-- calling vendors, coordinating drivers, etc. You may not end up doing any of those things, but make sure that your sister feels overwhelmed with help and support and that she can ask you to assist at any time. When we were planning, a lot of people said 'Let me know if I can help,' which didn't make us feel like we had any less on our plates; but when members of our bridal party formed a small coordinating army all unto themselves, and were calling strangers for RSVPs and offering to pick up an orchid in the suburbs and taking my then-fiancee out for coffee when she was trying to hand-fold all of the Orders of Service herself... that is when we felt taken care of. Whatever form that takes with your relationship with your sister, and what specifically she has planned for her wedding, is how to be her maid of honor.
posted by shakespeherian at 1:50 PM on November 13, 2009

Make up an emergency kit for the wedding day: tissues, bobby pins, hairspray, spare stockings, tampons, panty liners, aspirin, tylenol, breath mints, chewing gum, toothpaste/brush, comb, hairbrush, mascara, sewing kit, etc. Basically, anything she might need as she gets ready for what is basically a big performance.

Good idea, and add to it those bandaids made specially for covering blisters. It's doubtful your sister's shoes, or those of the other bridesmaids, will be broken in.

And yeah, have a toast ready, and just ask your sister what she needs. Check with the other bridesmaids to find out when they'll be getting to town for the wedding, and plan the girls' party around that. (But ask, first, if your sister would rather have friends of both genders included. She very well might.)

Then just be there with her for the big day! You'll be fine.
posted by torticat at 2:15 PM on November 13, 2009 [1 favorite]

I think the most important role you can do is being a "chief of staff" for her. Get to know all of the bridesmaids, get their phone numbers and emails. Set yourself as the point of contact for information that needs to go out. Your sister has enough things to worry about, without fielding 5 separate phone calls about hairdos. Also helpful, would be if you got to know the best man, and groomsmen and ushers. Even in the most gender equitable of couples, in my experience, the dudes are clueless. Be her cat herder, and let more girly stuff inclined friends do the girly stuff.

I think bridal showers are honestly, a bit out dated. If the bride does want to have one, it's basically a ladies luncheon or brunch with a focus on family. Invite all your old great aunties, and meet all the women of the groom's family. Usually there are games to play so everyone gets to know each other and talking. Ask the older women in your family for suggestions, and there are lists online. These are typically held in a home, whichever is the most suitable, bridesmaid's or other relative.

I think it's a bit odd to have gifts given at the bridal shower, and then a few weeks later at the wedding, but thats a thing. I think it would be more appropriate for "welcome to the family" type gifts, like a box of recipes or photo albums, address book, etc, than something from the registry. Take all the bows and ribbons from the gifts and attach them to a paper plate. This is a hat for the bride to wear for the rest of the party, and to use as a bouquet at the wedding rehearsal. Its weird, I know. But bridal showers are all for the women in your and the groom's family, and family traditions like that. Bachelorette parties are for her to have fun with friends, and people closer to her age.

Bachelorette parties, logistically, are pretty impossible to be a surprise. Maybe the places you're going to will be a surprise, but she will probably have to know the time and date, unless you know every person to invite. It's usually a day before, or the night before the wedding, so all her friends are in town.

But 11 months away, geeze, you've got a lot of time to work with her and figure out what she wants from you. You don't have to be gaga over flowers, but people skills and administrative skills, will help out a lot. Your sister probably already knows that you might be a bit of a downer when it comes to selecting the right shade of purple or whatever, so maybe you could just tell her that from the start? She makes the decisions and you implement them. Cheerfully.

Also, I think the perfect motto for anyone involved in planing weddings is to keep in mind that this day isn't about the bride, or the groom. It's about throwing an awesome party for all your friends and family. If you do it right, it's probably the party of a lifetime, hopefully only to be topped by their 50th anniversary.
posted by fontophilic at 2:47 PM on November 13, 2009

nthing ask your sister. My sister was my maid of honor and I asked her to be my maid of honor knowing full well that she wasn't going to offer to do any frou-frou crap at all. I had enough anxiety about planning my wedding without having a bunch of "help" in the form of planning additional parties I didn't want. I think really all she did was show up for the wedding and give a brief, very sweet toast at the reception. And that was just about perfect.
posted by crinklebat at 6:13 PM on November 13, 2009

I was my sister's maid of honor, and here is what I did:

- For the bridal shower, I set up a luncheon with one of the bridesmaids. The place was small and intimate, with a private room upstairs. Each guest got a sheet with custom puzzles (crosswords, logic puzzles, word searches, etc.) related to the bride, the groom, and the wedding; this was a good ice-breaker, since people from different 'groups' had to consult with each other for answers. When the guests signed their names in the guestbook, they also provided nouns/verbs/etc., which I put in a Mad Lib for my sister to read.

- For the bachelorette party, I took my sister and some of the bridesmaids to a spa resort, and we later headed to my apartment for an evening of pizza and horrible romantic movies.

- Like the other bridesmaids, I made arrangements for my dress, hair, and makeup.

- I stayed with my sister on the night before the wedding, offered general emotional support, and gave a toast.

Congratulations to your sister, and good luck!
posted by jennyesq at 6:41 PM on November 13, 2009 [1 favorite]

Does she have a wedding planner? They may be able to give you some advice too. If she doesn't, think of some of the things a wedding planner might do that are more personnal, and maybe start there. For example, will there be a snack or fruit or champagne at the bridal suite for when the couple leaves the party? Is the bride happy with the hair salon or does she need another choice? Is the mother-in-law driving her crazy, and could you take some of the heat off her?

Apart from the emotional stuff, which is the main thing and what she'll cherish the most, I think you should think of yourself as something between a personal assistant and a wedding planner.

Oh, and the emergency kit, definitely! Also, I'd make a men's version of it for the groom's party and leave it with his best man or his mother.
posted by Opal at 7:17 PM on November 13, 2009

As my best friends MOH, I:
- started worrying I was neglecting my duties around 6 months before the wedding
- flew across the country for her bachelorette (the wedding was here, her hometown)
- organized a lot of the invitiations and RSVPs (after pressuring her to get on with the invite list already!)
- went with her to food and cake testings (normally the groom would do this, but he was out of town, she wasn't. If she hadn't flown in, I would've gone with her mom instead)
- spent a lot of time running around looking at dresses and bridesmaid dresses
- hung out with her for all the family functions once everyone was in town (as a buffer zone between her family and the inlaws)
- moral support when certain relatives started getting demanding and obnoxious
- made sure everyone showed up for the rehersal on time
- found an emergency bra when we had a dress disaster
- served as the witness during the ceremony
- made a speech/toast during the reception
- drank a lot after the speech :)
- kept tabs of who gave what at the gift opening the next day (and at the shower)

I had wonderful bridesmaids who organized the bachelorette and most of her shower, thank goodness. Her mom arranged all our hair and makeup, which was nice.

Overall, I was really glad when the whole thing was over, but i'd do it again in a heartbeat (but she better not be having another wedding anytime soon, of course!)
posted by cgg at 8:40 PM on November 13, 2009

Response by poster: Thank you so much, everybody.

Believe it or not, I wasn't being facetious when I asked what a bridal shower is. My parents threw their own wedding reception at home. My mom did the cooking. No engagement ring, none of that. We just don't come from fancy people. (My sister aspires to be fancier, though, and I intend to help.)

Yes, asking her what she wants is probably the ticket. And with 11 months before the wedding...she and her fiance have just bought a house and will move in over Xmas. Once that dust settles, she and I will get organized and yeah, like you've all said, everything will be all right.

And I'm totally going to have blister tape on hand at the ceremony. :)
posted by toomuchkatherine at 1:28 PM on November 17, 2009

Believe it or not, I wasn't being facetious when I asked what a bridal shower is.

No worries, I didn't want to assume and have you get offended ("that was a JOKE, duh").

But more about the bridal shower -- yeah, the traditional idea of a shower is a very, very girly "let's help the bride get ready for her new life" kinds of thing, with people giving smaller housewares types of gifts -- some nice kitchen linens, things like that -- and maybe one or two "naughty" gifts like someone giving a nice negligee or something. (At my sister-in-law's shower, I gave her a coffeemaker.) Usually there's some little nibbly kind of food. Sometimes people play some very silly games, like "let's see if we can make a wedding dress out of toilet paper", but some brides hate them (this is the kind of thing I'd check with your mom or sister about, because something tells me your sister may not want to do this). Sometimes men are invited, but traditionally they're "just the girls" kind of things.

My best friend didn't want a shower because she and her husband had been living together for a year and a half before the wedding, and they already had so much junk that Sue joked that she wanted to have a "bridal tag sale" instead.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:39 PM on November 17, 2009

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