Duck, Duck, Attendant!

The Wedding Guru Judy Lewis fields this week’s wedding questions. Today: Should choosing your attendants be highly selective… or a way to return the favor?

For some, choosing wedding attendants is easy — especially when there’s an even number of close friends and family! For others with big families and tons of pals, this task might require a little guidance from the Guru… Read on.

A Valley bride asks:My husband-to-be and I are fortunate to have many close friends; since we’ve both been attendants at several weddings, we’d like to return the honor. But… he and I come from large families. I have three sisters and he has four brothers. What’s the right number of bridesmaids and groomsmen? I don’t want to make the wedding party look ridiculous… but I also don’t want to leave anyone out!

Dear Valley bride: Etiquette gurus agree that the number of bridesmaids and groomsmen is entirely up to the bridal couple. Traditional formulas suggest one bridesmaid for every 35 to 50 guests; others mandate that, for a formal wedding of more than 200 guests, anywhere between six and 10 bridesmaids and six to 10 groomsmen is appropriate. (And for an extremely formal wedding, twelve bridesmaids and an equal number of groomsmen will suit.) In most cases, anywhere from one to six bridesmaids and an equal number of groomsmen is appropriate. (Keep in mind that attendants are considered unnecessary for a second wedding or an older bride; then again, it’s up to you.)

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Still stuck? Thinking in numbers might help: the larger the number of bridesmaids, the more of a chunk it will take from your budget. Some of those expenses include flowers, gifts, additional guests at the rehearsal dinner, and more time for the photographer to take photos of everyone. The attendants will need to rent or buy clothing for the event, too. Remember to take into consideration the size of the venue for your ceremony. (For example, if the altar is small, then you’ll probably want to limit the number of attendants.)

Keep it manageable! Not only will a larger bridal party require more coordination, but the dynamics between attendants might need some attention. Everyone needs to work together harmoniously, so make sure that there are no hard feelings between them that may prevent them from doing so.

Joan Howe of Rhinebeck’s First Impressions Event Planners has overseen destination weddings for more than 25 years as a travel agent. Transitioning to event planning came natural! Howe agrees that the bridal couple can — and should — appoint whomever they’d like as their attendant party. Though, she points out that “any more than six bridesmaids and groomsmen becomes unwieldy and tough to deal with.” On whether the couple should give precedence to family or friends, Howe says that, in her opinion, family comes first. Nevertheless, it’s also important to determine how connected they are to the couple now. “There’s really no such thing as ‘payback’ when it comes to selecting attendants,” she adds. “Just because the bride or groom was in someone’s wedding party, doesn’t mean they need to return the favor!” Howe emphasizes that being an attendant is an honor, so the selection process should be a happy, pleasant one — and certainly not a free for all.

If you’re concerned about honoring those who have honored you, keep in mind that there are lots of ways you can do that (other than making them attendants). Readings or songs at your ceremony, a toast at the reception, or helping with planning tasks are all ways you can show your appreciation.

Readers, have you ever had an attendant dilemma? Who did you choose (and how many) — and why? Let me know in the comments box below.

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To submit your own question to the Wedding Guru, email Judy at

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