Maid of Honor: Etiquette Q&A

You're head honcho, leader of the bridesmaid pack, and official right-hand-woman to the bride. But it's never as simple as that. Here, we address all maid-of-honor matters, from fronting cash to handling those feelings of frustration.
Bride and her maid of honor
Emily Steffen

Q. I'm pleased to be the maid of honor, but I'm stressed about paying for the shower and bachelorette party on top of the Italian satin gowns she wants us to wear! Am I on my own in terms of footing the bill?

A. The bridesmaids are definitely expected to chip in, and brides should make this explicitly clear, maybe by sending a cheery, cute email listing everyone's contact info and important events. Explain that expenses will be shared equally among the girls. Instruct them to save all receipts for decorations, gag gifts, shower invites, etc. (you do the same). As maid of honor, you'll be in charge of tallying totals and hashing out who owes what. Just think, once it's a given that everyone's paying, you'll be in a better position to enjoy the experience. If moola is an issue for all of you, commit to a budget and work from there. It's just a matter of getting everyone on the same page.

Q. My best friend is a guy, and frankly, he's the only person I want to stand up for me as my honor attendant. Is this outrageous? I can't very well put him in a bridesmaid dress. How do I handle this?

A. Call him your honor attendant, your man of honor, or best person. More and more brides and grooms are having close friends of the opposite sex stand up for them. The nitty gritty? He should wear whatever the groomsmen are wearing (no, he doesn't have to don a dress), and don't make him throw you an ultra-girly shower -- i.e., make sure his role makes him comfortable. Also let your photographer know that he should be photographed as one of your attendants in group wedding-party pictures, so he doesn't get shoved in with all the groom's guys.

Q: My future daughter-in-law has chosen her mother to be the matron of honor. Is this an acceptable choice?

A: Absolutely. The honor attendant is the woman the bride feels closest to, and many women have been heard to say that their best friend is their mom. What a lovely honor to give her on the wedding day. We've heard of grandmother honor attendants, too. Sometimes blood really is thicker than water.

Q. I'm the maid of honor in the wedding of my best friend from high school. The other bridesmaids are friends she made at college, etc. It's hard to coordinate with a group of women I don't know, and my friend is doing very little to bridge the gaps. For example, she keeps stressing how "weird" it is that I don't know any of her friends. I just told her I wanted to host the shower (in her hometown), and she said she didn't think that was a good idea since she and the other girls want to have it at their favorite restaurant (in the town where they live). I'm supposed to be leader of the bridesmaids, but I just end up feeling excluded. Should I throw in the towel altogether?

A. Since your friend is doing nothing to merge past and present, why not organize a casual pizza party or bagel brunch for the bridal team -- just for the sake of getting to know everyone? That will make planning the shower, fittings, and bachelorette party together a lot easier. However, if no one cooperates, it's time for a heart-to-heart with the bride. She needs to know that she's hurting your feelings. Perhaps she's just so caught up in wedding planning that she doesn't realize she and the other girls are being exclusive. If talking doesn't change things, it's up to you whether or not to bag you role.

Q. I want to honor both my sister and my best friend with the title of honor attendant. Will etiquette let me get away with having two?

A. There's absolutely no reason you can't have two maids/matrons of honor. These are the two women you feel closest to, and you want them by your side on your wedding day. Just be aware that they may squabble over honor attendant duties: who gets to hold the ring, the bouquet, stand right next to you, sign the license, etc. Just tell them what you specifically want each to do for you.

Q. I have to have two maids of honor -- my older sister, who's like a second mother to me, and my younger sister (we're basically twins - I'm 8 months older). Who is more honored when is comes to the ceremony? How are we going to pull this off?

A. It's up to you and your two honor attendants to decide who walks where and does what during the ceremony (adjust your train, hold your bouquet, hand you the groom's ring, etc.). This can be tricky, because there's lots of pride and jealousy involved. You and your sisters should probably sit down together and decide on responsibilities. That way you'll see what's important to everyone (maybe one sister couldn't care less about holding your bouquet, while the other is dying to do so). If you feel you need to come up with extra duties so that each sister will feel needed and special, do that. Maybe one can light a candle, read a poem, or participate in an ethnic or cultural ceremony ritual.

Q. I'd like my maid of honor to stand out from the others. How can I have her dress be different from the other two maids but in keeping with the conventions of the others?

A. There are lots of ways you can make your MOH stand out. If you decide that all three maids will wear the same dress, consider a matching scarf, jacket, or wrap for your honor attendant. Or perhaps she can wear a dress in the same color as the others but in a slightly different style -- maybe the maids' gowns have cap sleeves, and hers is strapless. Or put all the maids in the same style dress, with your honor attendant in a different but complementary shade of blue. Another option? Have her don a tiara or hold a slightly different bouquet.

Q. On the day of the wedding, how much do I really have to "attend" the bride? Are we talking every second?

A. That will depend on how high maintenance the bride is. She may want you to sleep over at the hotel with her, take her calls while she's in the shower, run out to get her cigarettes, and more. Plan on being there for her from the moment she wakes up to the moment she walks down the aisle. Some brides may just want moral support, help with buttons and honeyed words. Others may be more demanding. Either way, it's going to be a very exciting day for both of you. Try to get psyched.

Q: Is it customary for the maid of honor to give a speech at the reception? Should I be prepared just in case?

A: It's definitely a trend for the maid of honor to go head-to-head with her male counterpart in toasting the newlyweds. It's not mandatory, but it's a wonderful idea -- why should the best man speak while the maid of honor remains silent? If you want to make a toast, it's a good idea to prepare in advance. Think about your relationship to the bride, some of the highlights of your friendship, the first time she told you about her fiance, and consult romantic literary passages and favorite love songs for inspiration.

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