By Tessa Woolf
1) Cast Your Crew
The first rule when it comes to planning your wedding party? There are no rules, at least not for today’s brides and grooms. “The game has totally changed,” says Michelle Cousins of Michelle Leo Events. Long gone are the days of matchy-matchy bridesmaids and groomsmen in everything from numbers to fashion (more on that later); even attendant roles have changed. “I’ve had two brides include best men in their parties instead of maids of honor,” she notes. Cousins’ recent bride Sara Kolettis asked her best guy friend to be her “brosmaid” when she married Matthew Hansen at High Star Ranch last September. “A lot of people thought it was weird,” says Kolettis, “but I’m so glad I had him. He was the best bridesmaid and a ton of fun!”
Soirée Productions’ Kristin Spear has a no-fail formula for selecting your party: “pick people you love and who love you.” She says you needn’t feel obligated to ask family members or a friend whose wedding party you were previously a part of. “Asking someone out of obligation rather than love is the number-one issue I see begin to cause problems as the months unfold,” says Donna Urban of Donna Urban Events. If a wedding-party contender is the least bit flakey, critical, unsupportive, or just doesn’t play well with others, Urban suggests considering someone else to fill their fancy shoes.
Bottom line: “Rather than stick to tradition, stick to what is authentic to you as a couple,” advises Cousins. “There’s no right or wrong when it comes to the wedding party.”
Numbers Game You want two attendants, your fiancé wants five? No problem, says Spear. “You do not need even numbers. That’s a relic of the past.” Also A-OK: if you and your betrothed prefer to roll solo to the altar. “It’s perfectly fine if you choose not to have anyone standing up with you at all,” says Urban. “Some of the sweetest ceremonies I’ve seen are just the bride, groom, and pastor or officiant.”
Pop the Question You don’t have to be on bended knee, but presenting future members of your wedding party with a small gift when asking them to participate is a kind gesture. Even something as simple as a pretty letterpress “Will You Be My Bridesmaid?” card (find them at The Write Image in Salt Lake City) or a heartfelt note is a thoughtful way to ask. “There’s nothing better than a handwritten letter to present this special invitation,” says Urban.
2) Wedding Party 101
Being a bridesmaid or groomsman involves more than just showing up on the big day dressed to the nines. There are errands to run, parties to plan, drinks to pour, and support to give. “The planning process and the wedding day can be stressful, so it’s important that attendants are emotionally supportive for the bride and groom,” says Spear. Once guys and gals agree to be in the wedding party, they should ask the bride and groom, “What can I do for you?” And mean it.
Urban says the maid or matron of honor and the best man should communicate information to the rest of the wedding party, and on the big day they should “step up to the plate and take responsibility to ensure the couple is relaxed, fed, hydrated, and enjoying every minute.” They should also be prepared to play peacekeeper if need be: “sometimes running interference with a difficult family member or friend is going to be the first priority,” she says.
Money Matters “Being in a wedding is a lot of work and expense for attendants,” notes Spear. So who picks up the tab? Cousins says some brides and grooms opt to pitch in a certain dollar amount for things like wedding-party fashion but points out that part of being a bridesmaid or groomsman is the financial responsibility that comes with it. If attendants have financial limitations, Spear suggests they tell the bride and groom up front so that they can plan a solution together.
3) Big Night Out
If there’s one piece of advice planners all agree on, it’s this: don’t throw your bachelor or bachelorette party the night before the wedding. “Do it a few weeks in advance,” recommends Cousins. “You don’t want to be nursing a hangover or wake up exhausted, not feeling 100 percent the day of your wedding.”
Of course, the party doesn’t have to involve heavy drinking or hitting the hottest club in town. Spear is all for nontraditional local activities like river-rafting, fly-fishing, or even a trip to the gun range—“super fun for an outdoorsy group of adventurous ladies or dudes,” she says. Or, consider a weekend getaway. “It’s fun bonding time before the craziness of the wedding,” says Cousins.
Mondi Basmenji and Cory Black, who had a glam destination wedding at the St. Regis Deer Valley last September, both planned trips for their respective stag and hen nights. Basmenji spent the weekend with friends in New York getting glammed up, going out, and returning to the Gansevoort Hotel for late-night grilled cheese sandwiches. Black and his buddies rented a cabin near the Blue Ridge Mountains where they competed in a decathlon of events planned by the best man. Basmenji’s sister, Maryam, and her husband, Joshua David Wright, who also wed last year in June at La Caille, planned similar excursions with their crews. The girls spent the weekend in Nashville where they drank beer, line-danced at the honky-tonks, and “got really bad sunburns.” The guys headed to the Hamptons where they rented a beach house and enjoyed time to relax and “be free from wedding questions.”
However you choose to celebrate, consider the total dollar amount and the budgets of your fellow maids and men. “Keep in mind that not everyone can afford a weeklong trip to Vegas with bottle service every night,” says Spear. “If you want everyone to attend, you have to make it affordable.”
4) Dress The Part
To match or not to match, that is the question when it comes to bridesmaid fashion. Many modern brides prefer the latter, but there’s no right or wrong answer. “For my own wedding, I wanted all my bridesmaids matching from head to toe,” says local designer Chantel Galloway of Chantel Lauren. “I made every girl the exact same skirt and dressed them in the same blouse and cowboy boots.” Cousins, on the other hand, encourages brides and maids to mix it up and ditch the matchy-matchy mentality. “I love when bridesmaids wear different styles or colors but are still complementary,” she says.
Style Her Pretty “Sequins, beading, and lace are no longer just for the bride,” notes Galloway. Cousins is a fan of flowing chiffon fabrics for bridesmaids, especially for spring and summer weddings, and is partial to longer dresses. But, she says the fashion should reflect the style of the event. “If your wedding is more casual, floor-length gowns for the wedding party might feel too formal.” She suggests Rent the Runway for affordable designer dress options: “There’s a huge variety of really nice gowns for maids, and because the dresses are for rent, your wedding party isn’t committing to purchasing an expensive gown they may never wear again.” Spear favors off-the-rack styles at department stores like Nordstrom for modern dresses that don’t scream “bridal party.”
Color Me Mine Take color cues from your wedding’s palette, theme, venue, or season. “Last fall I did a wedding where the bridesmaids all wore different-style dresses in bright colors of poppy, aubergine, sunshine yellow, cranberry, and green,” offers Urban.
For Blaire Hayes and David Isleib’s September 2011 vintage-inspired Salt Lake City nuptials, Hayes didn’t want to stick to a color palette, but she did want taupe for her bridesmaids. “I was inspired by ‘Over the Taupe’ OPI nail polish,” she says. The specific shade gave her out-of-town bridesmaids a color reference when shopping for their big-day frocks.
Skirt the Issue Urban and Galloway both love the look of a two-piece outfit. “Skirts are easy and more cost-effective,” says Galloway. Her most popular bridesmaid designs are her sequin maxi and sequin pencil skirts. She says the sparkling styles result in a radiant-looking bridal party and “photograph really well.”
5) Suit Up
Much like the gals, the guys don’t have to be dressed like carbon copies. But, Lauren Watkins with Utah’s Urbana Custom Clothier says it’s important to have some balance. She recommends the groom wear a full three-piece suit—jacket, vest, and trousers—while the groomsmen wear two pieces. If vests aren’t your thing, she suggests a suit for the groom and slacks with a well-fitted shirt for groomsmen. “If you want color variation, have the groom wear a darker shade than the rest of the groomsmen but with enough contrast so that it looks purposeful,” suggests Watkins.
She likes black and charcoal suits for formal events and adds, “I haven’t seen a guy who doesn’t look good in navy.” Lighter shades like gray and beige are generally more appropriate for spring and summer weddings, but Watkins says you can make them work for colder months by pairing them with sweaters or wool ties.
Extra, Extra! Mix things up and incorporate your colors in playful but subtle ways. Watkins suggests embroidering the edges of pocket squares with a pop of color, selecting ties in a pattern or texture, and wearing bold socks or colored shoe laces.
6) With Thanks
As a final token of appreciation for your wedding party’s support, surprise them with a thoughtful thank-you gift. “The best gifts are personal,” says Spear. One of her grooms gifted all of his guys a jersey from their favorite football team. A gift that doubles as something to wear for the wedding (and beyond) is always a good idea, says Urban. “Shoes, jewelry, handbags, bowties, or ties are a fun and thoughtful expression.”
An idea we love: Have local jeweler Katie Waltman create custom, coordinated pieces for your bridal party. Or, throw a pre-wedding bash at her Provo boutique and invite your maids to design their own necklaces, earrings, or bracelets from a selection of colorful stones and sparkling beads. For the guys, we dig QP Collections’ locally made ties and leather dopp kits. “We offer monogrammed initials on the back of each tie for wedding parties,” says owner and designer Quinn Peterson. “They make great customized gifts.”
Gateway Bridal’s Barbie Berg shares tips and trends for dressing your gals:
Go With The Flow
“Chiffon and light tulle are big this year,” notes Berg. She loves Jenny Yoo’s collection of bridesmaid dresses. One of her favorite styles is the Annabelle: extra panels on the dress tie in 10-plus ways, allowing each girl to create a unique look. For something casual, she suggests frocks by Mikarose—“perfect for a dress that all your girls are sure to wear again.”
Blush pink, gray, mint, and neutrals are all trendy bridesmaid shades this year, but Berg is also getting requests for navy. “It’s traditionally a winter color, but a lot of brides are incorporating navy in their spring and summer weddings.”
Berg says most dress companies use European size charts, which run smaller than American sizes (sometimes as much as two sizes smaller). “Having correct measurements taken when ordering a dress is a must to ensure you get the correct size. And, I can’t stress enough the importance of a good bra.”
The early bridesmaid gets the dress. “Ideally, order dresses for your ’maids 12 to 15 weeks before the wedding,” recommends Berg.