Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Wedding Crap: Bridesmaids

(See introduction and disclaimer to this series here, and other posts in the series here.)

What is the tradition? 

The bride selects her closest friends and/or relatives to stand next to her during the wedding ceremony. She selects dresses for them to wear; generally the exact same dress, though more recently has seen a trend towards different dresses in the same color, or the same dress in different colors. In the US, the bridesmaids are expected to pay for the required dresses, along with specified shoes, and having hair and makeup done by professionals the day of.

One of the bridesmaids is the maid of honor or matron of honor (depending on the attendant's marital status), and stands nearest to the bride during the ceremony and holds her bouquet for her. She's generally in charge of planning a bridal shower and bachelorette party, though all the bridesmaid often chip in to pay for these events.

The maid/matron of honor, along with the best man, likely also take the (actually necessary) role of legal witnesses, signing the marriage license.

What is the origin of the tradition?

This is believed to be derived from a Roman tradition of needing ten witnesses, either for witnessing the wedding and/or to distract evil spirits from the bride and groom. Under such belief, the bridesmaids not only dressed identical to each other, but also identical to the bride! Obviously, cause otherwise the evil spirits would know who was getting married. (So next time you're asked to put out a couple hundred dollars, just be glad you're not required to shell out thousands to match the bride's wedding gown.)

Why do people still follow it?

Part of it is a legitimate desire to honor your friends, along with the obligation to have as bridesmaids any friends who asked you to be theirs. Also, I think many might get a secret satisfaction out of the power they're allowed to have over minute details regarding their friends. But ultimately, this is one of those things that I think people continue to do simply because everyone else does it (but everyone else is doing it because you are).

Why is that crap? 

Well, first of all, I'm fairly sure most brides are no longer concerned about being attacked by evil spirits, so that rationale is out.

Even with the best of intentions, it just becomes so easy for your group of bridesmaids to become merely a show of how many friends you have. Yes, it's good that you have close friends who support you, but they have no more part of the actual ceremony to your spouse than the rest of the guests - who don't need to actually stand at the altar with you to show that support. Let your friends sit down and wear what they want. If someone was of particular help and support to you in planning the wedding or in forming your relationship, by all means, acknowledge them in the program. But forcing extraneous dress purchases is not a valid means of showing respect.

Also, can I just point out how stupid it is to distinguish whether the lead attendant is a maid or matron? The groom's attendants' marital status is never revealed, and the maid of honor's marital status also has no relevance to her role. She's not required to married (though perhaps she could provide more valuable wisdom and assistance to someone about to marry if she were), nor to be single (though that might make her bachelorette party planning more appropriate). So how does her marital status become so relevant as to be publicly announced?

What am I doing with this tradition?

We didn't have any attendants, or any showers or bachelor/ette parties. 

Since we each have one sibling, we asked our sisters to be our legal witnesses, and they came up during the ceremony to put their names on the license (surprisingly to me, the witnesses aren't required to sign Oregon marriage licenses, you just write their names on it). We didn't ask them to wear anything specific (though they ended up accidentally coordinating fairly well). 

Photo by Stephanie Kaloi

How did/will you handle this tradition?

I would love to have a lively debate and conversation in the comments! Please join in!

Dissenting opinions (from the post itself or other commenters) are welcome, but I reserve the right to delete any comments that personally attack me or any other commenter.


  1. I'm getting married in March and we decided against bridesmaids and groomsmen. It seem foolish to make people spend an ungodly amount of money to buy a dress that they will never wear again. For the most part, people were expecting the decision, but what really took me by surprise were the few people who seemed really bothered and upset by the decision. Very strange.

    1. People get so weird about weddings! I guess it probably has to do with a human need to have rituals, which are becoming less common/important in modern day society, etc., but it's really bizarre to witness. Fortunately I didn't get too much pushback (people expect me to be weird, I guess. :) ) but I've seen other brides follow traditions that are so unlike them, that they would never like in any other context.

  2. You're really making me realize that I just blindly followed most traditions because I was 22 when I got married and didn't really question them. I thought long and hard about marriage and whether or not it was something I wanted for my life/with my husband specifically, but not so much about the wedding traditions. Once I decided I really DID want to get married, the wedding was just a thing we had to do (my husband wasn't into the idea of eloping).
    I had SIX bridesmaids, which even at the time I thought was ridiculous. Four close friends and my two sisters as my dual maids of honor. If I could go back I wouldn't have had my sisters as part of the wedding party and just stuck with my friends. I let them all pick different dresses that were the same color because they all had vastly different body types and I wanted them all to be comfortable.

    1. Getting married at 29 and having had more years to witness other people doing these things and ponder them was definitely an advantage. :) And established enough in my own beliefs to not give a crap what other people thought of my decisions. Had I gotten married at 22 (straight out of a Christian college, which albeit liberal in institution/leadership, had a lot of conservative students and culture), I would have trended towards more traditional things.

      The not asking my father's permission was the one thing I know I established very young (sometime during college, I think, I actually did tell my parents that the correct answer if they were asked for my hand was "no"), but other things I've developed my stance on over the years more recently.

    2. I was adamant that our officiant not say the word "obey" in our vows. He gently fought me on it (he's my husband's best friend's dad and mostly wanted me to hear where he was coming from) but in the end we all agreed that "honor and respect" worked better for us as a couple.

    3. "Obey" in just your vows to your husband, or in both of your vows? I'm not sure I understand what his viewpoint would be if the former?! We're not in the 1950s anymore, for pete's sake.

    4. It would have been in both of our vows to each other, but I just still wasn't into it. Marriage is a mutual agreement - no one is "obeying" anyone here.


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