You've just got engaged and have organised a big girlie get together to celebrate. The drinks are flowing and you're all having a grand time singing along to The Weather Girls' It's Raining Men. All of a sudden you spot your best mate from primary school across the crowded dancefloor - the one you haven't spoken to since she stole your favourite My Little Pony - and hot foot it over to her for a good old catch up. Before you know it, you're both on your second Jägerbomb and you're asking her to be chief bridesmaid while agreeing wholeheartedly that her one-year-old son would most definitely make the perfect ring bearer. You wake up the next morning with a sore head and a sinking feeling you're about to have a very awkward conversation...
Unfortunately, situations like this are all too common as brides-to-be get addicted to the warm fuzzy feeling that comes with asking someone to play a special role in their big day. However, think carefully before asking people on a whim. Your attendants should be those you hold dearest and who will be aware that while they are there to have a good time, they also have a role to play. Whether that is attending the dress fittings, advising on dream venues, organising a fantastic hen do or simply knowing that, despite your half-hearted protests, you really do want to go and see the Chippendales on tour. And the role of a bridesmaid doesn't stop there - they have to be on top form on the day itself, too. Organising the photos, keeping your wine glass topped up, and helping your Aunt Edna onto the dancefloor are all part of the duties they should expect to undertake - not to mention getting you to the ceremony on time and looking your best.
It ultimately comes down to personal choice. But there are a few things to consider; how many bridesmaids do you want, what will your budget stretch to, who is going to be on hand for dress fittings and advice, who is your closest confidant and how well will the girls get on with each other. You may have an army of best friends and more female cousins than a netball team, however it might not be practical to have them all.
Choose wisely and ask yourself who couldn't you do without on the biggest day of your life - and there will be your answer. It's also important not to feel dictated to by tradition or what other people think. If you only want one bridesmaid but have two very special friends both worthy of the maid-of-honour title, then have two maid-of-honours and one bridesmaid - it's entirely up to you. And if you're not particularly close to your future husband's three elderly sisters, ask them politely if there's another role within the wedding they'd be happy to undertake, such as the handling the guest book, signing the register or handing out the order of service - you'll be surprised at how many people will be happy to take a back seat. Gemma Riley 29, from Merseyside agrees: "I wasn't particularly close to my husband-to-be's family and had only met his sisters a few times, so felt it wouldn't feel right to have them as part of my bridal party. I spoke to them both about it and they were happy to forego a formal role and were really great at organising his family for the photographs."
Unfortunately for some brides the ultimate decision comes down to financial constraints. While you may want a gaggle of bridesmaids, most wedding budgets just won't stretch to an array of dresses and accessories. However, it's perfectly common for brides to ask their attendants to help towards the cost of their gowns and/or accessories, and a compromise can often be reached if handled tactfully. Lucy Bull 24, from London, did just that: "My four sisters were no-brainers when it came to choosing my bridesmaids, however I really wanted my two best friends alongside me too, but just couldn't afford it. I arranged a special dinner with them both one evening and explained the situation, it turned out they were only to willing to pay for their dresses while I offered to pay for their shoes and accessories - it worked out really well and they were really happy to be asked."
It's all about you
Unfortunately noses are often put out of joint. It is sometimes the case where some friends feel your relationship is deeper than it is and react badly when you don't choose them. "I had a friend I had known since I was 11, but we had grown apart in the years leading up to my wedding and I felt it was more appropriate for her to do a reading instead of being a bridesmaid," says Billie Wright 34, from Birmingham. "However, it turned out she still viewed me as her best friend and reacted really badly. She initially told me she didn't want to attend the day, then went even further and ended our friendship entirely. It was really sad but it just made me realise she wasn't a great friend in the first place."
Let the fun commence
Once you've made your decision, it's time to enjoy the time with your maids. Arranging regular evenings out will bring you together as a group and will make the run up to your big day even more special - you can discuss favours, dresses and hair styles to your heart's content. It'll be a time you'll never forget, spent with your closest companions - bring on the Chippendales.
The name of the game
There are many names given to the different roles in a wedding party, but who does what?
Normally the closest person to the bride, perhaps a sister or best friend. If there is an odd number of bridesmaids the maid-of-honour often leads the attendants down the aisle and is passed the bride's bouquet at the altar.
Is the same as a maid-of-honour but relates to women who are married.
Not everyone opts to have a chief bridesmaid but it's a great way to bridge the gap between maid-of-honour and bridesmaid.
Your bridesmaids can be married or single and you can have as many as you like. Think about the people that are most special to you, not just friends you see out on the town.
Normally younger relatives or friends' children who walk in front of the older bridesmaids.
There are normally two readings for both a civil and religious ceremony which can be undertaken by whoever the couple choose. It's an important task and is often seen as a great responsibility.
Anyone can act as a witness. The role requires them to sign the wedding certificate to authenticate the marriage.