10/06/2012 05:31 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2012

How to Pick Your Bridesmaids

It's arguably the most important question you'll ever ask. You've probably spent hours deliberating on the best way to phrase it, where to ask her and how to keep it a surprise until the big day. And while it's understandable to be a little nervous, you know she'll say yes; after all, she is your best friend. Those five words will change everything (insert record scratch here).

Hold up, five words?

Yes, five: "Will you be my bridesmaid?" What did you think I was talking about?

All kidding aside, once your man (or woman) pops the big question, you have quite the big ask of your own to posit to your nearest and dearest friends. And while you thankfully don't have to shell out big bucks on bling for your bridesmaids, there's almost as much meaning in who you choose for your bridal party as who you'll be holding hands with at the altar. And no, I'm not just talking about which of your college friends looks the best in a sweetheart neckline.

So how do you pick? It's a choice that has vexed brides-to-be for thousands of years. No literally, thousands. Did you know in Roman times bridesmaids were originally included in wedding ceremonies to confuse evil spirits as to which young lass was actually becoming a Mrs.? Apparently evil spirits were into haunting weddings big time. My theory is that they probably just love tulle as much as I do.

Anyway, back to the topic at hand. Let's start with the must-haves in your retinue: family. Whether you make your sister your maid of honor is really up to you, but unless little sister did something much worse than ruin your favorite Delia's top in seventh grade, stick her in the lineup. As a corollary, unless you're marrying a child of the Duggars and have 25 future-sisters-in-law to contend with, it's safe to assume that all of your fiancé's sisters should also automatically get the bid.

But once you move past the non-essentials, how do you whittle down your number? Obviously there are endless permutations: you can pick one friend from each stage of your life (high school, college, work, etc), you can limit it just to family members, you can even see if Beyonce is available just this once to add that certain pizzazz. But as someone who has been through this process and survived, I can offer this sage advice: Pick who will make you the happiest on your big day.

You want to be surrounded by people who understand you and who will make you the best version of yourself once you walk down that aisle. The best bridesmaids can help you wiggle into your dress, keep you from bursting into tears and apply expert lip gloss while still recording everything for posterity on their iPhones. If that means having nine or more bridesmaids (guilty as charged), then pop open an extra bottle of champagne and have a bigger dance party. Just don't make them wear turquoise taffeta.