Etiquette: Bridal Party

Q&A with Anna Post, co-author of Emily Post's Etiquette
Courtesy of Anna Post

Q: How many attendants should we have, and do we have to have an equal number of bridesmaids and groomsmen?

A: There is no required number of wedding attendants. The average is four to six bridesmaids and a similar number of groomsmen or ushers, but the choice is really yours. There doesn’t have to be an equal number of bridesmaids and groomsmen. If you are worried about pairing up for the recessional, bridesmaids can walk with bridesmaids, groomsmen with groomsmen, or if there is one less bridesmaid, the maid of honor can lead the attendants’ recessional and the others can pair up and follow her.

Before you ask anyone to be an attendant, consider a few practicalities. If you are planning a small, intimate gathering, you won’t want attendants to outnumber guests. The same is true if the ceremony site itself is small—you may only have room for one or two attendants. A large wedding in a grand church may accommodate a small phalanx of attendants. That said, Prince William of England and the Duchess of Cambridge had just a maid of honor, a best man, and several flower girls and pages.

Budget may also be a consideration: The more attendants you have, the larger your expenses. The couple (or their family) is responsible for bouquets, boutonnieres, and wedding-party gifts, as well as their attendants’ lodging, if needed. The number of members of the bridal party will also affect the budget of the rehearsal dinner and reception, as you are responsible for feeding and entertaining not only your attendants, but their spouses or significant others as well.


Q: I just started planning my wedding. When should I ask my attendants to be part of my wedding ceremony?

A: Most couples ask their candidates soon after they set the date for the wedding. It’s always nice to ask in person, but don’t delay contacting someone who lives far away. A call is best, as it’s more personal, but by all means text or email your invitation if you think that’s the easiest or best way to get in touch. Your friend may accept immediately, but don’t push for an instant reply. Even your closest friend may need a day or two to consider.

Don’t be offended or expect a detailed explanation if your invitation is turned down. Yes, it’s a great honor to be asked to be an attendant, but people have other obligations and accepting may not be possible. A “no” is often based on important family, job, or financial concerns. It’s okay to express your disappointment, but don’t jeopardize your friendship: Assume your friend is doing what he or she thinks is best for everyone.


Q: Help! I have more friends than I can invite to be attendants. What do I tell the ones who aren’t part of the wedding party?

A: Choosing siblings over friends needs no explanation. As to the rest, don’t explain if you aren’t asked—it only serves to highlight whom you didn’t choose. If it does come up, you can say something like, “Jim and I agreed to have only x attendants each. I hope you understand.”

There are other ways to make friends who aren’t in the wedding party feel as if they are part of the wedding. The most time honored is to ask one or two to give a reading or perform a musical solo. You could also ask them to help with small wedding jobs such as stuffing the invitation envelopes or putting together the favors. 

Anna Post is co-author of Emily Post’s Etiquette, 18th Edition and an advisor on the new line of Emily Post wedding photo books available at

Categories: Planning