Bridesmaid 101: The Evolution of the Wedding Party

Bridesmaids have been getting a bum rap recently. A modern bridesmaid wears many hats. Party planner, counsellor, keeper of secrets… Let’s be honest, they’re basically a one-woman version of the Queer Eye team, and for that, I fucking salute them!

But when did these close friends go from ladies who turn up to the church on the day in a nice dress (exactly what our mother’s bridesmaids would have done) to pre-wedding slave friends? Emotional punching bags that organise everything from strippers to destination getaways, people who by some people’s measures are expected to go into debt to pay for a dress and talk you off a ledge when the napkins that you ordered are delivered without the lacy imprint?

I am hoping you aren’t that kind of bride (of course you aren’t, you’re a Rock n Roll bride!), but the evolution of the bridesmaid has been swift, and I think rather brutal.

In ye olden times, a large group of bridesmaids provided an opportunity for showing off the bride’s families social status and wealth – the more you had, the higher up the ladder you were. The bridesmaid tradition originated from Roman law, which required ten witnesses at a wedding to outsmart evil spirits believed to attend marriage ceremonies (otherwise known as your future mother-in-law! Boom-tish! Sorry). The bridesmaids and ushers dressed in identical clothing to the bride and groom, so that the evil spirits wouldn’t know who was getting married. So, it has a bit of history.

Many of our modern wedding rituals are based on traditions, superstitions and social oddities. When you break them down, they are fairly naff. Unless you’re part of the Kardashian clan (and even that’s a stretch), you’re probably not focused on the symbolism and social hierarchy of the bridal party and the only evil spirit that may mar your day is tequila.

Today, the number of bridesmaids in a wedding party can be dependent on many variables, including the bride asking all twelve of her best friends because she doesn’t want to hurt their feelings, the bride fuelled by four champagnes over-enthusiastically offering a friend a place on Team Bridesmaid and then regretting it the next day, and one of my favourites, when the number of bridesmaids hinges on how many close friends the groom has so the bridal party doesn’t look unbalanced! Which brings me to why ladies seem to be under a hell of a lot more pressure than the blokes.

The gender imbalance of wedding planning is most apparent to me when it comes to bridesmaids and groomsmen. Bridesmaids are lumped with a lot more shit to handle with weddings than guys. The press and mainstream wedding media are great at coming up with new ways add to this pressure. Extravagant instagrammable pre-wedding holidays, week-long hen events, bridal showers and rehearsals that are beyond any party I have ever been to are being normalised to the point where it feels like hardcore pressure is being placed on brides and bridesmaids to organise a series of pre-wedding extravaganzas that a lot of people can’t afford (both with time and money).

Literally, all the guys are expected to do is plan a stag party, go to a suit fitting (which from my experience is often organised by the bride anyway!) and make sure they set the alarm on the morning of the wedding. Diversity and inclusion, challenging these old school gendered clichés is something I am very passionate about and working to change these assumptions that a wedding is a ladies ‘Champions League Final,’ and men just show up. It’s bullshit, and we know it.

When you break down the traditional ‘tasks’ of a bridesmaid here are some of the things you may ask them to do:

• Help organise pre-wedding events like hen celebrations, bridal shower, etc
• Accompany you in your search for a dress, pantsuit, tutu
• Buy a dress/outfit for the day (depending on where you live, they may be required to pay for said outfit)
• Possibly give a speech at the wedding and/or rehearsal dinner
• Be there for you; their friend

When it comes down to it, the philosophy that I share on the Bridechilla Podcast and books is you do you, my friend, however and whatever you would like your friends to participate in the planning and celebration of your wedding, I beg of you, just make sure you communicate. Keep the dialogue open. Chat it out. BE HONEST. If you don’t tell them what you need, they may not know how they can help you.

I implore you to start a conversation early with your bridesmaids (and extended bridal party) about your expectations, needs and wants for their role in your wedding and the events surrounding it. The same goes for encouraging communication within your bridal party. Perhaps some members of the bridal party are super keen on party planning, and others are better with logistics. If they know what everyone’s good at (what they are able to take on) and ways that they are keen to contribute, it can make it much easier when it comes to crunch time.

Having been a bridesmaid on a number of occasions and heard hundreds if not thousands of real-life bridal party wins and sagas, I can say that the most important ‘task’ that a bridesmaid can do is you through the planning process and make sure that you come out the other side stronger, being able to laugh off any drama and hopefully have a couple of good dinner party stories to tell!

So, ditch the wedstress. Ditch the drama and quest for perfection (which, remember, doesn’t actually exist) and focus on what matters the most. Making memories, having a fucking great time and supporting each other because, in the end, that’s far more important than hen weekend’s schedule, matching shoes and fighting over who knows the bride better.

ABOUT ALEISHA

Aleisha McCormack is the founder of Bridechilla, the hit, bullshit-free wedding planning podcast, blog and series of wedding planning guides including The Maidchilla Manual- the ideal gift for your Bridesmaids to get them into the Maidchilla mindset. It’s optimistic, ballsy and shares how to be a bad-arse Bridesmaid, ditch the drama and get shit done.

This article was original featured in issue 18 of Rock n Roll Bride magazine, which has now sold out. Issue 36 is currently on sale, or you can subscribe here.

Suppliers