Wedding party etiquette: what you should know about being a bridesmaid

"Will you be my bridesmaid?" If your friend got engaged over the holidays, she could soon be popping the question to you. Photo by Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images

The social codes of being a bridesmaid can be confusing.

To help you navigate the often murky waters, we consulted an etiquette expert who offered her take on some commonly asked questions.

1. Do I have to say yes?

No, you are not obligated to accept if asked to be a bridesmaid. While it’s a big honour, it’s also a big ask and brides-to-be should be mindful of that.

WATCH: How some brides pop the question to their bridesmaids

Even if you want to accept, etiquette expert Elaine Swann cautions against rushing into the decision.

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“I really try to tell girls to not get caught up in the moment and say yes right there.”

Before you commit to the potentially pricey and time-consuming task, there are a couple things that should first be considered: most importantly, the money and time it will cost you.

Ideally, the bride should give you as much information about that as possible right off the bat. You should definitely ask if she doesn’t.

Will you be expected to pay for your own dress and accessories? What about wedding day hair and makeup? These are important things to know.

WATCH: Etiquette expert Nancy Kosik offers some advice for how to ask those questions

Once you learn the bride’s expectations, check your calendar and budget and be honest about whether you can fulfill the commitment.

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Nearly 40 per cent of Canadians who have been in a wedding party say they felt pressured to spend more than they could afford, according to a 2015 TD survey.

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Half of those surveyed said they either spent or planned to spend up to $599; a quarter said they actually spent more than that.

Groomsmen considered the bachelor party or gift to be the priciest part of being in a wedding party; bridesmaids were more likely to think it’s attire.

Trust your gut if you worry it may be too much for you to handle. It’s better to speak now than leave the bride hanging later.

2. Who pays for what?

“Some of the questions I tend to get are, number one: ‘As a bridesmaid, what am I supposed to pay for?’ That’s the biggest question.”

It’s a great starting point if the bride can pay for dresses, Swann said. If she wants a specific look for hair and makeup, it would be nice if she could also cover the cost of that.

If that’s not within the bride’s budget, perhaps accessories and shoes are.

The couple should cover more of the wedding party’s costs if it’s a destination wedding, according to Swann.

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“If the bride and groom are having a destination wedding and they’re asking people to be in their wedding, in my opinion, I believe they should foot the bill for their transportation or lodging, if not both.”

Or at the very least, cover the bridesmaids’ outfits.

Because of those added costs, Edmonton-based wedding planner Jennifer Bergman has noticed a trend of destination weddings either not having a wedding party, or having a smaller one.

WATCH: Travel expert Ann Layton looks at a less traditional approach to tying the knot – destination weddings

3. Events and gift-giving

The other big question Swann receives is: “What do I have to attend, and do I have to attend every event?”

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There may be an engagement party, bridal shower, and bachelorette party — but Swann says you don’t have to attend them all.

Be up front with the bride about which events you’ll be able to make.

And if you don’t attend a party, you don’t have to feel compelled to give a gift.

Swann does, however, recommend always showing up with something in your hand.

“If you’re a starving student – then it’s greeting cards, greeting cards, greeting cards to every event,” she said with a laugh.

For those who plan on attending most or all of the events, and want to bring a gift to each one, she recommends purchasing a gift in the $25 range.

A simple and inexpensive DIY gift option could be just to frame a cute photo of the bride and groom.

4. How to deal with a ‘Bridezilla’

Some brides will handle the stress of planning a wedding better than others.

If you find yourself with a Bridezilla on your hands, try to be gentle. Get together with the other bridesmaids, Swann suggests, and see who can help take some tasks off her plate.

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Then go to the bride and offer specific things you can do to ease her workload.

“This is one of the biggest parties she will ever plan,” she points out.

Hopefully your friend’s journey to the altar isn’t too tumultuous for you, and you can both enjoy the fruits of your labour when the wedding day finally arrives.

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