Southern Weddings Magazine

Happy Monday, y’all! I’m not the only etiquette guru in the SW hen house anymore, so I thought I’d let Kristin take a stab at this month’s sticky conundrum. Please enjoy! — Emily

Friends, navigating the unwritten “rules” of bridal party etiquette can leave you about as clean as a pig in slop, am I right? The questions seemingly never end, including who to include and where to draw the line — ESPECIALLY when it comes to family. We know that so many of you struggle with this, so we were more than happy to share a recent letter from Betsy, a northern reader marrying into a Southern family:

Hi ladies!

I am recently engaged to a groom raised in the South. I was not raised in the South, and we do not live there now. He has three sisters, all of whom I do not have a personal relationship with — unfortunately, we do not live anywhere near each other. I spent a long weekend with two of them a year ago, and the other I know better, but she wasn’t exactly jumping for joy at the news of our engagement.

If it really meant a lot to my groom for his sisters to be in the wedding, I wouldn’t be writing this email, but he is solely worried that it might cause tension in the family if they are not in the wedding party. I feel that because there are so many sisters it is unfair for him to pressure me to put them in my wedding party. I really don’t want to start off my relationship with my new sisters-in-law on the wrong foot, but I am struggling with the feeling of being forced to put them in the wedding over my own family and friends because of his “Southern tradition” ploy. Please help!

Betsy

Happy Everything Co.

Betsy, the good news is that I do not know of any particular Southern tradition that requires the bride and groom to include the others’ brothers and/or sisters in his or her half of the bridal party, though of course, it’s considered traditional throughout most of the country. I double checked our friend Emily Post to be sure, and she only says, “You aren’t required to ask siblings, though it certainly promotes family unity.” I would tend to agree with her there.

There’s also no etiquette rule that places a cap on the number of bridesmaids, or says that the groomsmen and bridal party have to be equal in number. (And as someone who had a bridal party the size of a professional football team, I can attest to a large party being the right decision for some!) So if your relationship with your future sisters-in-laws isn’t bad, I’d say go ahead and ask them (they might decline, after all!), but also ask the friends and family members you originally intended to ask. Honestly, these gals are going to be your family for a long time to come, so unless they’d truly make you miserable, I’d go ahead and ask them to participate. The good news is that this time together will allow you a chance to get to know them better!

Since it sounds like you haven’t had a lot of quality time with them, perhaps the other option is to approach them about participating in the wedding in a different role, if they would rather. Given the limited interactions, they might feel more comfortable being a reader or greeter? Whatever you decide, I’d encourage you to talk it over with your groom and make sure you’re both on board — you and he will be making lots of decisions over the next few years around when and how extended family will be incorporated into your new family, so this is a great place to start the conversation.

Belles, what do you think? I know that many of you past and current brides have faced similar situations with wedding parties and family. Any other ideas for how to handle including family members from your new family into your wedding day?

P.S. Have your own etiquette challenge? Feel free to email Emily!

kristin Written with love by Kristin
16 Comments
  1. avatar Alyssa reply

    I’m not a huge fan of the “family wedding party” additions, myself. Honestly, just because I have 2 brothers, I didn’t expect my fiance to automatically put them in his wedding party. I think the tradition is a bit archaic. We actually made the decision to NOT include any brothers/sisters in our wedding parties, as we’ve learned that family members are the biggest source of wedding drama and issues.

    Put people in your wedding that mean the MOST to you, the people who you treasure and love most. If one of those people happens to be your fiance’s siblings, great. Its your wedding, and you should include the people you want, not the people you feel obligated to include. You’ll be much happier in the long run :-)

  2. avatar Diane reply

    About family being in the wedding party. I just had this situation arise. We had only been engaged about a month, when my fiance’s mother asked about the rehearsal dinner (she is paying) and who would come. I didn’t say her daughter and sister-n-law because I hdan’t included them in the wedding party. She was hurt and thought it was not a good way to stat out. I have friends whom have been in my life for 15+ years and we wanted to keep the party small. So I asked his sister and her soon to be here baby to be an honoray bridesmaid and honoray ringbearer and the brother in law to walk in the mom. The result, no hurt feelings. :)

  3. avatar Lauren reply

    My cousin had a similar issue, though in her case, her groom didn’t feel he had a close enough relationship with her brothers to ask them to be groomsmen and the brothers were a bit surprised at how early in their relationship the engagement came. So, the groom didn’t ask them, which ended up hurting both her brothers and the bride’s parents, who wanted to see all their children at the altar when their baby girl said, “I do.” Ultimately, and after more than a few tears, the brothers were asked to be groomsmen, and they graciously accepted. I can say for certain that things would have gone much more smoothly if the groom had simply taken that opportunity to get to know his future brothers-in-law better and not hesitated in asking.
    The extra tuxes cost far less than the headaches!

  4. avatar Lerissa reply

    Yes! This is the best answer!

    Family is forever you don’t want to shake that bond or else you will spend the rest of your life together regretting it. I would take the heeded warning from the fiancé especially since it seems that effort have been made to create that family bond.

  5. avatar Jewel reply

    My fiance has two sisters. I asked one of them to be a bridesmaid simply because I know her better. We were good friends in high school, and she actually set my fiance and I up. After her brother and I started dating, things between us got a little rocky, but they have improved little by little over the years. I saw asking her to be a bridesmaid as a way of extending an olive branch between us, in hopes that we can better our relationship, seeing as how we’re going to (finally) be family now! I didn’t ask his other sister to be a bridesmaid. I’d only met her once, and she lived apart from the the family for about 8 out of the past 10 years. And as far as I can tell, there’s no hard feelings on her side about not being a maid. She has two really young daughters and definitely seems like the type who would feel more comfortable tending to them during the wedding events.

  6. avatar Shelby reply

    This is a tough one. I firmly believe that your bridesmaids should be the people you want to surround your self with (not only on your wedding day, but also during the wedding planning!). However, I do think family is extremely important because her fiance wouldn’t be who he is without his sisters in his life. I think the best thing is to find a balance. She could find a meaningful way to include the girls in her wedding, whether its doing a reading together or saying a sweet speech about their brother growing up. They don’t necessarily need to be her maids! The important thing is to let the girls know how important they are to her and her fiance, and how excited she is to have them be a part of their wedding.

  7. avatar Whitney reply

    My groom has 2 older sisters. They’re most definitely not numbered among my bridesmaids – can you imagine taking them on your bachelorette or having them at a lingerie shower? If not, you aren’t close enough for them to be your bridesmaids, I think. Ask them to be honorary bridesmaids, maybe – not sure what your colors are, but ask them to wear a dress in a neutral, easy to find color, and give them monogrammed pashminas in the same color as the bridesmaids and small bouquets. I am asking my future sisters-in-law to be greeters. I felt like that placed them front and center enough so folks would know I’m still happy to have them in the family.

    You just have to find a way to include them that makes everyone comfortable. I am sure they don’t *want* to be your bridesmaids, because they know what a pain it is to be a bridesmaid – so much that you should only do it for a good friend! – and they probably don’t think you’re closer friends than you believe. You just need to give them a way to feel like they weren’t slighted. It would be better to be proactive about figuring it out and calling to ask, so that they feel it was “part of the plan” and not just something you did to throw them a bone.

  8. avatar Cameron Smith reply

    I have three brothers and my fiance only has one sister. Needless to say, it was a little unfair for him ;) We met and currently live in Colorado, so Jordan (fiance) hasn’t had the time to get to know my brothers very well at all.
    Having been raised in the South, and getting married in the South, it wasn’t odd for me to think to include my siblings and his sibling in our wedding party. How I approached it was, it was important for me to have my brothers stand beside us, as it was important for him to have his sister a part of the wedding. Yes, my brothers are groomsmen, but not because they are best buds with my fiance…but because they are my brothers and it means something to me. I also have friends that I have known for 20+ years now, and they are standing beside me along with my future sister-in-law…whom I will know for another 20+ in the future :)
    You could always give them another part in the wedding such as reading scripture, or a literature passage that means a lot to you. I’m honoring one of my girls that way, and Jordan is having one of his guys sing in our wedding. Still honored, but don’t have to be in the wedding.
    Sisters and brothers may decline, but it’s always polite to ask….and may help the new relationship with the extended families start off on the right foot :)

  9. avatar Cameron Smith reply

    Oh also, both our siblings declined the bachelor/bachelorette festivities… so they were honored, but really only wanted to be included in the actual wedding!

  10. avatar Alice reply

    This was a very big issue for my side of the family when planning our wedding. My husband had never met my brother until the day of the rehearsal. My brother lives several states away, I see him only about every other year, and we are honestly not that close. When my husband and brother did have the opportunity to meet (before we got engaged), my brother declined. This upset both my husband and I very much, so when the time came for my husband to pick his groomsmen, it was almost a no-brainer that my brother would not be asked, but instead, we were going to ask him to read scripture during the ceremony. This was NOT acceptable to my mother; she wanted him in the actual wedding party. Mom and I shed countless tears before finally we gave in to the peer pressure and asked him to be a groomsman (and this was months after my husband asked his other guys). My brother happily said Yes, they met at the rehearsal, and our wedding day went off without a hitch. Looking back, it really did not make a difference in the grand scheme of things…we were getting married, regardless of who our bridesmaid and groomsmen were, and we just wanted our families to be happy. To be truthful, I will always remember what a headache the wedding etiquette was for our family, and since they held the purse strings, they do get a say in the decisions. Keep in mind a wedding is not just about the uniting of two people, but the uniting of two families lasting the rest of your lives. Ask yourself if wedding party is a fight worth fighting over, or if a simple arrangement on your part can mean another’s happiness.

  11. avatar Lauren reply

    I am getting married in a little less than a month. Out of tradition, I made my sister my maid of honor. She is younger (thankfully just turned 21) and originally we weren’t super close but the wedding has definitely brought us closer together…she really took things seriously and stepped up to the plate!
    My mom really wanted my brother to be a groomsmen, so my fiancé agreed. However, that made my fiancé then also feel obligated to ask his brother to not only be in the bridal party, but to be the best man. His brother is 15 years older and they are not very close as his brother is a bit immature despite the age gap. His brother did not really step up to the plate at all and is basically only walking down the aisle the day of the wedding. But, the rest of the groomsmen including my brother are people my fiancé feels close too.
    So basically, including family can work out better than expected, worse than expected whatever. But honestly it is just a day and I think it’s worth it to keep the family happy. As long as no one’s going to wreck havoc at the shower, bachelorette or on the wedding day throw ‘em in there. Don’t be offended if they skip stuff like showers or bachelor/bachelorettes (being quiet and unseen is better than starting a fight or attending and being a downer). At the end of the day, you and your hubby is what’s important!

  12. avatar Lauren @ Chocolate, Cheese and Wine reply

    I think that if you don’t have a close relationship with his sisters, then you don’t need to include them in the wedding party, but it would be nice to try to include them in the wedding, somehow.

  13. avatar Lauren reply

    We included our 3 siblings in the wedding party – my sister and his sister as bridesmaids, his brother as a groomsman. It worked out perfectly, for a total wedding party of 14 – which is a little large, but very Southern :) We’re both very close with our families, so it was wonderful to be able to include them.

  14. avatar Kori reply

    You are not only marrying the man but his family! I was thrilled years ago when my brother’s fiance asked me to be a bridesmaid even though we weren’t that close yet. And when I got married this past year she was in my bridal party! I think of her as my sister now! And of course I included my husband’s sister and my brother was a groomsman as well as his brother. We talked about it when making our decisions and felt like family was most important. Betsy’s case is a little more difficult, but if it’s going to help the relationship why not? I agree that even including them in some way such as reading scripture is very meaningful to both sides.

  15. avatar Abby reply

    I was in this situation with my brother and sister-in-law from the non-bride side of things. My sister-in-law was struggling with her bridal party and at one point was thinking about not even including her OWN sister as a bridesmaid. Because of this, I told them that if she wasn’t including her sister, they didn’t have to worry about asking me as well. I didn’t realize when I said this how hurtful it turned out being. She ended up having 6 maids (including her sister), but did not ask me – to be frank, I felt very left out.

    At the wedding, they found the sweetest way to include me! I was asked to be a witness, so I got to stand up there next to my brother while they were doing their vows. I will say… it was not pretty at the time, but in the end was really special.

  16. avatar Mechelle reply

    When you leave siblings out, you risk hurting their feelings as well as your new in-laws feelings. When we found out our only daughter would not be asked to be in our only son’s wedding we were all hurt, confused, and saddened. So, yes, you don’t ‘have’ to include anyone, but, trust me, if you care about your new family at all, then don’t start out this way.

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