NEW YORK -- I was hair-done, sash-tied ready in my chocolate brown bridesmaid dress. The bride had slipped into her exquisitely tailored gown and was putting on her shoes. The other members of the wedding party were waiting, and we were heading out the door when she suddenly looked stricken: She really had to use the bathroom.
So I did what any good friend would do: I squashed in next to the toilet, lifted up miles of tulle from her dress and held it high while she did the business.
Welcome to the life of a bridesmaid.
Glamorous, exciting, occasionally tedious. Believe me, after standing up in 14 weddings -- the 15th is this summer -- I'm practically a professional. I started as a flower girl and worked my way up the chain, and I have a big family and apparently a lot of friends.
The thing about being a bridesmaid is you wear a lot of hats. You're a social secretary, personal assistant, therapist-on-call, occasional seamstress and sometimes the party police. You're expected to perform these tasks with grace and finesse, which can be exhausting, but also rewarding as long as you remember: It's not your wedding.
For the wedding party novice, there's a lot to know. For example: You'll be starving to death if you don't eat before the wedding; the rehearsal doesn't actually mean things will run smoothly the day of; and uncomfortable shoes are a serious no-no.
Oh, and by the way, you'll never wear that dress again, but you have to tell the bride you will or she'll feel bad. (I have seven gathering dust in my closet right now.) And you may not get along with some of the other bridesmaids, but you have to be nice to them because it's your friend's big day -- and you're lucky enough to be part of it.
Things often get hectic or go wrong, and you have to be prepared, because the last thing the poor bride needs is added stress.
Here's a list of do's and don'ts for bridesmaids, thanks also to wedding experts Bee Kim, who writes the blog Wedding Bee, and Rebecca Dolgin, executive editor of print for The Knot Inc., which puts out wedding publications and a Website.
* Do: Be prepared. Pack a little emergency kit with things the bride may need, says Kim. Like a stain stick for a dress mishap, some extra cash, safety pins and lip gloss. Get a schedule of the day's events, and contacts for vendors and the wedding party in case anything needs a last-minute fix. "The bride shouldn't have to coordinate those things on the day of," says Kim.
* Do: Be specific when offering to help the bride with pre-wedding chores. "You don't want to just say 'What can I help you with?' It incites stress because then she's got to figure it out. Ask if you can stuff envelopes. Or if you can go dress shopping with her after work one day," Dolgin says.
* Do: Be honest. You're allowed to tell the bride that you don't like the bridesmaid dress. And you're allowed to alert her to bridezilla behavior. "You don't have to cut your hair if the bossy bride asks you to," Dolgin says.
* Do: Walk slowly, know your role, and smile, smile, smile. "People get nervous, but you have to take it easy and let people look at you down the aisle," Kim says. "The photographer needs a photo." If you're the maid of honor, be ready to fluff the bride's dress and hold her flowers.
* Do: Get on the dance floor. "The wedding party can really set the tone for the event, and should help get people involved," says Kim. Dolgin agrees. "The bride really is counting on you to make sure people have a good time," she said. Direct guests to the bar or the bathroom. And stand up for the bouquet toss.
* Don't: Badmouth the bride. No saying she's so bossy, no gossiping about how you hate the color of the dress. "It's especially tricky on emails -- you can hit 'reply to all' and end up sending the message to her," Dolgin says. "The bride is planning a huge event and she's under a lot of stress, so be sensitive to her feelings."
* Don't: Expect everything to be free, or, alternatively, agree to pay when you can't. "Bridesmaid showers, bachelorette parties, these things can really cost a lot of money," says Kim. "You have to be prepared to pay. And if you can't, you have to be upfront about it." It's perfectly OK to opt out of some festivities if you can't foot the bill. Also, don't expect the bride to pay for your hair and makeup on the day of the wedding.
* Don't: Get trashed at the reception. As a member of the wedding party you are essentially an extension of the bride. "You're kind of on stage, playing a role, and it's important to be respectful," Kim says.
* Don't: Take on too much. Tasks will come up that you must delegate to your fellow maids, even if you are the maid of honor. One woman deals with lunch while everyone's getting ready, and another runs errands to fix a broken button and get safety pins. If you do it all yourself, you'll get resentful watching everyone else have fun.
* Don't: Wait until the day of the wedding to tell the bride her dress is too tight, or her hairdo is ugly. "She needs to know, but telling her on her wedding day is going to send her into a panic," Dolgin said. "Let it go if you haven't spoken up." Speak up in the weeks and months before the wedding if you notice the dress is too tight or her panty line is showing. She'll thank you for it.