SO THE big day has finally arrived — you’re plucked, preened and painted to perfection, and ready to turn heads as you sweep up the aisle.
There’s just one hitch: it’s not you who’s getting hitched.
Being bridesmaid may be the ultimate sign of friendship. But, as the wedding season kicks off, it’s also a duty that many secretly dread.
One in 10 women now reject their best pal’s proposal to be part of the wedding party over money worries, according to a survey by international market research firm Harris Interactive.
Of the nine in 10 who say ‘I do’, some may suffer cold feet, says David Kavanagh of Avalon Relationship Consultants.
“Being asked to be bridesmaid should be considered an honour. It’s a symbol of close friendship between you and the bride, and means you’re someone she’s happy to immortalise in the wedding album.
“For a lot of women, however, that initial excitement can be tempered by the fact that they don’t have the time or money to dedicate to the role of bridesmaid.
“Basically, the bridesmaid’s job is to offer support and advice to her best friend as she prepares for her big day,” says Kavanagh.
“If the bride is feeling overwhelmed or finding things too stressful, it may also mean helping out on a more practical level such as negotiating with the florist.”
When my school friend Alice popped the question last year, I didn’t have to think twice before saying yes. ! As a first- time bridesmaid, I jumped at any post-Celtic Tiger opportunity to swill champagne, shop for dresses and get spray tanned with three of my closest girlfriends.
From the hen party spent painting Cork city red, to the four-day wedding celebrations at Lough Rynn Castle, I loved every moment as one of the Bridechilla’s wingwomen — apart from the hangover.
With three bridesmaids to share the workload, planning the hen party including abseiling, head boppers and booze, was a breeze.
Meanwhile, the laid-back bride let us choose our own dresses, shoes and hairstyle, and drool as she decided on her own.
And when it was all over I waltzed away with a stunning pearl bracelet as a ‘thank you’ from the happy couple.
Nearly three decades on, author Róisín Meaney, pictured right, still remembers her stint as a bridesmaid for all the wrong reasons.
“As the bride’s only sister, I didn’t have a hope of escaping the role of bridesmaid,” recalls Meaney, who was by her sister Treasa’s side when she tied the knot in 1985.
“So I gritted my teeth and got on with it. I wore a frilly dress made from a horrible shiny fabric that set my teeth on edge, in a shade of lavender that washed all the colour from my face.
“My feet hurt as I’d never worn high heels before,” she continues. “And my hair was stiff with whatever glue had been sprayed onto it.
“Thankfully, the wedding was quite low-key, so my only duty was to hold her bouquet while she signed the register.”
Bridesmaids get off lightly, reckons wedding planner Collette O’Leary.
“Apart from looking after the bride’s dress and redoing her lipstick, bridesmaids don’t do a whole lot.
“Nowadays their biggest role is organising the hen party.”
“The role of bridesmaid has definitely changed over the years,” she notes. “In the past year, six of my clients had their male best friend as chief ‘bridesmaid’, and they often do a lot more work than the girls.”
Keeping things moving smoothly on the big day is a key role of the bridesmaid. “On the morning of the wedding, I brief all the bridesmaids about being relaxed and in good humour, and most importantly, making sure that the bride doesn’t drink too much champagne.”
Rosanna Davison’s ‘bridesmaids’ Brendan Rogers and Dawn Fitzgerald won’t have to worry about the bride being anything less than picture-perfect.
The former Miss World is more likely to be found slugging a spinach smoothie than champers before exchanging vows with Wesley Quirke this summer.
“Between dress fittings, hair and make-up trials and organising the hen party, there’s a lot of time and effort involved,” says secondary school teacher Aoife*, 31, from Dublin, who acted as bridesmaid for her best friend two years ago.
“You also have to listen to her talking about it all the time. For me, organising the hen party was the most stressful part, because you start out with 50 people and suddenly, when everything’s booked, only 10 turn up.”
Ciara*, 30, a PR from Kildare, who was a member of a bridal party last year, says: “I think the bride and bridesmaid can have very different ideas of what’s expected of each another.
“I ended up doing a lot of the chores I would have thought were the responsibility of the bride and got absolutely no thanks for it.”
However Pippa Middleton felt about her role as sole bridesmaid for her famous sister Kate, her pert rear drew as much media attention as the bride, while carrying the train at Westminster Abbey during the royal wedding.
Upstaging the bride on the most important day of her life is never a good idea, even when it’s totally innocent.
More than a third of brides are no longer friends with at least one of their bridesmaids, and more than 70% confess to fighting with them at some point during the wedding planning, one survey by www.vouchercodespro.co.uk found last month.
“TV shows like Bridezilla have almost given brides permission to behave badly ahead of their big day,” says relationship therapist David Kavanagh.
“It’s a good idea to set yourself a limit on what you’re willing to tolerate from the bride — for instance, you might be willing to tolerate a tantrum or two because she’s stressed out.
“But if you wouldn’t accept certain behaviour in normal circumstances, you shouldn’t accept it in the run-up to the wedding either.”
As the 2011 hit comedy movie Bridesmaids shows, however, brides aren’t the only ones who sometimes behave badly.
“I’ve only ever had one Bridesmaidzilla,” says Collette O’Leary of ElegantEvents.ie. “It was real jealous sister syndrome. She was refusing to wear the dress because she said it made her look fat, and had the bride in tears.
“So I just took her into the bathroom and told her to cop on.”
“Jealously is completely normal,” adds relationship therapist David Kavanagh.
“But the bridesmaid can have all sorts of other feelings about her best friend getting married.
“Maybe she’s frustrated because she doesn’t approve of the groom or is sad because she thinks they won’t be as close anymore.
“Either way, by the time the big day arrives, the bridesmaid’s job is to support her friend as she embarks on married life.”
Generally, all the bridesmaids are great, says Collette O’Leary.
“But my attitude towards those who complain about their dress or hair is: ‘Suck it up’.
“In the States, if you’re asked to be bridesmaid, you pay for everything from your dress to the shoes and make-up.”
Turning down the part will never be easy but it may be the best decision for everyone, suggests David Kavanagh.
“Saying no to a bride is difficult, and you might not get an invite to the wedding afterwards, but it’s better to be up-front. If you think you won’t have time or energy to dedicate to the role, then it’s better to say no from the outset than let the bride down later.”
Mature student Maria* (27) from Meath braved turning down her own sister 12 years ago.
“The main reason I said no to being my sister’s bridesmaid was that I was a really awkward teenager,” she explains.
“I was terrified at the thought of tripping in my heels on the way down the aisle, and ending up with my knickers on display.
“Deep down, I think my sister — who’s 10 years older than me — knew I’d say no, and only asked out of obligation.
“In fact, she probably would’ve been more annoyed if I had said yes.!”
As engaged couples try not to blow the €22,500 average wedding budget, 43% of brides-to-be told website WeddingDates.ie they would have only one or two bridesmaids.
So those who make the cut should be smiling from ear to ear in the wedding snaps, insists Collette O’Leary.
“In the current climate, more and more brides are having just one bridesmaid, so it’s a great honour to be asked.
“Although you see fewer on the altar now, I don’t think bridesmaids will ever become extinct.
“As girls, we love our best friends. It’s only natural to want to share the excitement of your big day with them,” she says.
Despite the fact that her latest novel is called After the Wedding, retired bridesmaid Róisín Meaney hopes she’ll never have to dust down her purple frock again.
“For years I lived in terror that my sister would get a divorce and I’d have to do it again,” she jokes.
As for me, I’m happy to give my pink bridesmaid dress at least one more outing before even contemplating a white one.
So you’ve accepted your role as bridesmaid — how do you make sure you do a good job?
Donning the dreaded pastel dress may be considered one of womankind’s most dubious honours, but remember that when your best friend asks you to play such an important part in her big day, there’s only one response: ‘I do!’.
Unlike the movie 27 Dresses, in which serial bridesmaid Katherine Heigl insists, “you can shorten it and wear it again“, statistics show that 80% of bridesmaids never wear their dress again, so why get worked up about it?
As bridesmaid, you’re practically guaranteed to bag the prestigious ‘plus one’ invite. Unless you want to spend the whole day babysitting your date, though, it’s best to go it alone on the ultimate girls’ day out.
Arguing with the other bridesmaids, getting drunk at the reception and posting wedding snaps on Facebook are among the biggest bridesmaid blunders, according to a recent survey, so you know what (not) to do.
After months of wedding hoopla about dresses, flowers and hairstyles, all that’s left to do on the big day is smile, even if your shoes are killing you. Remember, the wedding is about the bride — from start to finish.