Ask a woman about her experiences as a bridesmaid. Go ahead, I’ll wait.
You likely heard a mixed bag of responses, coos of how wonderful the experience was, barely contained eye rolls, tales of wardrobe malfunctions, tactful dodging when pressed on how many times they really wore that navy blue taffeta dress again, enthusiastic reviews of the open bar and lack of bachelorette parties. I’ve been a bridesmaid numerous times at this point in my life (almost always wearing purple) and my experiences have all been positive (‘cause my friends are awesome). But, the whole thing is filled with tons of expectations, rules, regulations, and rampant emotions.
So, from whence did this whole tradition spring? Why do we surround ourselves with ladies wearing matching pearl sets and silk? Why the sudden urge to decorate (in a very heteronormative way) everything bridal with everything phallic as if most modern brides are not acquainted with their intended’s favorite appendage?
It all comes back to making sure those pesky evil spirits do not ruin your special day. The penis decor thing, well, it’s a pretty much a pagan holdover in celebrating fertility. Which makes me want to yell Oprah-style, “You get a penis hat! And, you get a penis hat! We all get penis hats in a not very subtle tradition of celebrating marriage as a direct connection to your fertile years!”
Ancient Romans considered marriage a monogamous institution and marriages by law could only include two people, a departure from fairly common polygyny of most ancient cultures. The word “matrimony” actually comes from the Latin word “matrimonium,” of the mother, as Romans considered marriage a way to legitimize children born of that specific union which generally is tied to the priority of inheritance. But, back to identically dressed attendants…Roman law required at least ten witnesses to legalize marriages, participants usually dressed exactly like the bride and groom, in order to outsmart before mentioned evil spirits as they would not know who was actually tying the toga that day.
In looking at pre-monogamy focused civilizations, the Bible also mentions handmaidens of attendance at the wedding of Jacob to his two wives, Leah and Rachel, each bringing a servant lady along with them for emotional support/holding the primitive purse. Please note that Leah and Rachel brought handmaidens, usually servants or slaves, not friends, relatives, or social peers. Maids in attendance at weddings seem to have been destined from the beginning to tote that bouquet and lift that cocktail table all in an act of servitude to the bride.
Similarly bedecked ladies in attendance to the bride has continued, well, since then with the idea of evil spirits or curses at weddings carrying on to the late 19th century. During this time, couples of means also took their attendant parties along with them on the after wedding vacation in a whirlwind bridal tour. The friends who witness your deflowering together stay together?
Veils have been a part of weddings from Roman times for this very reason, apparently providing comfort that if the evil spirits could not see you clearly then you were safe. (Toddlers and ostriches would approve of this concept.) I’m also going to bet that some crafty bride realized this idea, put her own veils down for anti-enchantment defense, and left Clumsy Clementine barefaced for the malicious spirits’ snack time. Prior to the last century, if you were the barefaced maid, you were the superfluous, disposable maid.
During the 20th century, maids’ veils began to shorten while the bridal veil remained long as the ideas of trickery and evil spirits also began to wane. The concept of “Maid of Honor” began to gain prominence in selecting an extra special cathedral train-plumper, stemming from the British tradition of queens’ attendants called maids of honor. Junior bridesmaids, girls not of marriageable age, began to pop up in wedding parties. And, in a nod to the changing social times, multigendered parties have also become more common in the 21st century.
The expectation of a bridesmaid varies greatly in modern western culture. Traditionally, the bridesmaids have planned the wedding shower, bachelorette party, aided with planning, purchased overpriced non-transferable to other occasion dresses, and assisted the day of the wedding on various tasks as assigned by likely at that point deranged bride. But, traditions have also started to evolve over time. In modern etiquette, Judith Martin writes, “Contrary to rumor, bridesmaids are not obliged to entertain in honor of the bride, nor to wear dresses they cannot afford.” I also especially appreciate The Bridal Brigade posting on A Practical Wedding, talking about asking for assistance from multiple people as they will all likely want to help and comprising your wedding party out of your good relations no matter their standing, identity, or affiliation.
I know there is a key group of people who I would like to be around me when Pastry and I declare our intentions to share taxes, insurance, property, and romance. But, I haven’t quite worked out how to make their involvement meaningful yet not overwhelming as of yet. All I do know if that this whole below trend has yet to include a giant, prehistoric sloth yet. And, said party of attendants will get to come as they want (well, okay, within a predetermined color scheme) because I’m pretty sure I can withstand the evil spirits of trickery on my own. If not, I’ll just refuse to take my veil off…ever. Or, invite someone named Clementine.