|Whoa, that's a large bridal party.|
Way back when (well, when Queen Victoria sat on the British Throne, actually), a couple’s wedding attendants weren’t necessarily relatives or friends of the betrothed couple. What they always were, though, was important.
Historically, a couple’s wedding attendants were asked to participate so as to act as a symbol of the power of the families of the marrying couple. Having more attendants showed more 1) strength in being able to command a person’s presence, 2) money in being able to dress and feed more people (yes, the bride’s family paid for all the bridesmaid’s dresses back then), and 3) power by knowing more people to invite to the event. It was one of the few times where more actually equaled more.
It didn’t matter if the attendants were personal friends or relatives of the bride or groom; in fact, it didn’t matter if they knew them at all. This is because the higher a person’s status, the more important the event and, by correlation, the marrying couple. Therefore, the highest level of the bride and groom’s acquaintances were usually invited to participate. In turn, those individuals from whom a family wished to disassociate themselves or, at the very least, hide their connection to, were excluded from the couple’s attendant lists.
*Note: they still had to know them somewhat; one couldn’t approach the Queen and ask her to walk before you down the aisle without being at least introduced…
Talk about a not-so-subtle way of showing who the couple and their families thought the crème de la crème!
Have you noticed that at no point so far I used the term “bridesmaid” or “groomsmen”? Not only did those terms not exist back then, but, when they finally did appear, were quite literal. A “maid” was actually the maid a bride used to help her get ready for her wedding. Usually, this was the household’s “ladies maid”, but because of the special day a “bride” was typically given her own maid for assistance. A “groomsman”, likewise, was the male servant who dressed the groom.
Why? Clothes back then were a tad more difficult to put on and off (no zippers, no elastic…). A well-dressed man or woman, therefore, literally might not be able to get dressed without some help.
As clothes became less difficult to wear and as the use of personal servants declined after World War I (the first due to the shortness of fabric and the latter due to casualties), the terms “bridesmaid” and “groomsmen” appeared (the latter appearing more in terms of the direction to who it was aimed than in the true sense of being a new word). This time, however, they were directed to different people, meaning non-servants.
Because maids were no longer the norm, brides began to ask friends and relatives to help her dress on her big day – essentially because, despite the changes in society, wedding dress designers insist on having their garments be virtually impossible to don single handedly, even today. Help was needed, but “help” in the form of in-house servants wasn’t around, so bride’s naturally turned to close acquaintances.
Close acquaintances? Yep! Attiring oneself in wedding gear means undressing, a quite personal thing. Therefore, most brides and grooms wanted someone they were comfortable undressing in front of to help with them dress for their weddings.
Over time, what started out as a symbol of power turned to one of basic need.
Today, the basic need still exists, but – true to modern-day form – brides and grooms have made that need fun! Most bridal parties consist of close family members and friends. Moreover, as society evolves, the traditional gender lines that dictated women on the bride’s side and men on the groom’s no longer apply.
Phew…we’ve gotten this far…I’ll let it sink in. Tune in next week to learn about traditional and modern-day attendant/bridesmaid/groomsmen duties. What they were and how they’ve changed just might surprise you!