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Bridesmaids: Etiquette Q&A

From bridesmaid dress stress to coping with bridezilla, here are answers to all your burning questions.

Photo: Luna Photography

Agreeing to be a bridesmaid can mean facing a deluge of confusion about individual roles and organization, not to mention occasional pangs of worry and frustration. These Q&As will help iron out the wrinkles and prepare you to do your bridesmaid best.

Q. As a bridesmaid, what are my traditional duties? Will the bride tell me what she wants me to do?

A. Some brides send out a newsletter detailing all of the to-dos and other essential information. This way, everyone is privy to everyone else's duties, and no one will feel as though she's being directly targeted. Most people find it helpful to have their responsibilities explained, because, like you, they might be fully in the dark. Just ask the bride what she's thinking and suggest the newsletter idea -- offer to help her hash out who's doing what.

Q. I'm the maid of honor in my friend's wedding, and she has five other bridesmaids. Problem is, one of them is completely uncooperative. She refuses to pay for anything (bridal shower, bachelorette party, and bridesmaid dress). Her excuse is always that she is still in school and therefore has no money, which is understandable -- but she doesn't even help with things that require time alone. I feel that she should have said "no" when asked to be a bridesmaid. Please help!

A. Explain in a polite but firm manner that if she can't contribute her time in lieu of money that you and the other ladies will proceed with your bridesmaid duties without further efforts to consult her. Let her know that it will be obvious to others that she has not pitched in (i.e., the bridal shower invitations won't have her name on them). Or just focus on all of the nice things you and the other bridesmaids are going to do for your friend, rather than on this lone bridesmaid's shortcomings. You're absolutely right -- if someone agrees to be a bridesmaid, there is no excuse (short of significant distance or illness) for not participating fully. Unfortunately, it's not your place to ask the bride to cast out someone she cares about just because you and the other bridesmaids don't feel she's up to the task.

Q. I'm scared my sister won't ask me to be in the bridal party because I'm pregnant!

A. You can still be in the wedding party when you're pregnant! You can wear an empire-style dress: The waist hits right below the bustline and the dress falls from there, leaving lots of room for a pregnant tummy. Just talk to your sister and let her know your feelings on the matter -- she's probably most concerned about your well-being.

Q. My friend, the bride, has gone berserk! I have never encountered a more selfish person in my life. I just broke up with my boyfriend and my parents are getting a divorce, yet every time I see her, she complains that I don't pay any attention to her (and this after I addressed all her invitations, went dress shopping with her six times, and threw two separate bridal showers). I'm starting to think that I should just tell her I don't want to be in her wedding anymore.

A. It's funny how slipping a ring on someone's finger can turn her into a fierce, self-centered creature from another planet. Weddings are unlike any other event in our lives. There's so much emotion and expectation inherent in the marriage process that sometimes brides can't see beyond themselves. It sounds like this particular gal could use a little perspective. However, dropping out of someone's bridal party is a very bold statement, devastating to the bride, and sure to end the friendship. If you're not ready to give this friend up, you need to set her straight. If that doesn't work, she may not be worth having as a friend. If you want to keep her as a friend, be sensitive to her fragile emotional state and write the experience off. Once she returns from the honeymoon, she may be back to her old lovable self.

Q. How opinionated can I be about the bridesmaid dress selection process? I definitely don't want to step on any toes, but I do want to look my best.

A. There's no real etiquette on how much a bride should involve her bridesmaids in the choosing of dresses, but the more input she allows the better. It's important for attendents to like the bridesmaid dresses and to feel comfortable. She could round you guys up and try to collectively agree on a style and shade. Or each of you could talk to the bride separately, expressing your preferences. On the first dress shopping trip, the bride may want to take just her maid of honor along to scout things out. Then, when they narrow it down to a few styles, the rest of you can try on the dresses and give opinions.

Q. I'm a bridesmaid in my brother's wedding. Can I change into a more comfortable dress for the reception?

A. Do you want to change outfits so you can hang with your family at the reception and not feel bound to the bride's entourage (instead of your brother's)? If it's okay with your brother and his wife-to-be, then you're fine. But if not, respect their wishes and keep your bridesmaid dress on. It's kind of fun to be in a bridesmaid dress at the reception -- pretend you're a princess at a swank ballroom affair!

-- The Knot

See More: Basics for Bridesmaids