History of the bridesmaid

Following along from my recent post pertaining to the Best Man origin story which outlined the historic significance of having a best man at your wedding, I thought I might do a bit of research behind the history of the bridesmaid, and what they used to do in a historic context. Everything that we do at a wedding has been handed down over many generations as traditional events that happen on a wedding day, and the bridal party is no exception. In modern weddings, much like the best man’s role in helping the groom arrive on time at a wedding, the bridal party is in attendance for the same reasons, to help the bride to be prepare for her wedding day. In modern society it’s most common for the bridal party to help out in wedding planning than that of the men, but that’s only because women typically know much much more in regards to what works at a wedding and what doesn’t. On the day itself, the bridesmaids are there to calm nerves, help the bride get dressed and have a ball all day.

History of the bridesmaid

Bridesmaids run right back to ancient Roman times when Roman law required 10 witnesses to be present at a wedding. These 10 witnesses were usually friends of the bride and groom and hence the ‘bridal party’ was born. Bridesmaids and grooms men had to dress just like the bride and groom to confuse vengeful spirits (or real-life jealous suitors) who might try to harm the couple. In fact, much of what the ancient Romans did are seen today as many of the marriage traditions we partake in today. Exchanging of rings, having a wedding party (reception) after, and a written contract sealed with a kiss are all customs we are used to seeing in modern weddings, but are all accredited to what the ancient Romans did also. The Roman matron of honour was supposed to be an upstanding role model for the new bride, they were supposed to be a moral role model, known for fidelity and obedience. (She had to have been married no more than once, and to have a living husband.)

Another origin story for the history of the bridesmaid is Biblical: When Jacob married Leah and Rachel in Genesis 29, each brought her own “maid”, but they were personal servants rather than your typical bouquet-holding bridesmaids. When considering times after the Romans, bridesmaids became less common due to the nature of society, including kidnapping of brides and overall sexist mentality not affording much freedom for the bride. However, bridesmaids and maids of honour became more common when weddings were planned. For several days before the marriage, a senior maid attended to the bride-to-be. This maid or matron of honour, as we know her today, ensured that the bridal wreath was made and helped the bride get dressed. All bridesmaids (which all had to be younger than the bride by the way) helped the bride decorate for the wedding feast. The matron of honour would also be in charge of the dow purse, holding the dowry to give to the groom in exchange for marrying her. In modern weddings this is demonstrated by holding the bridal bouquet during the wedding ceremony. Also a fun fact is that it was quite common for less well off families to hold a bit of a ‘hen’s night’ for the bridesmaids and well wishers in order to collect gifts given to the bride, which in turn would be given to the groom as a dowry.

There are a lot of superstitions regarding bridesmaids, for instance, if a bridesmaid stumbled on the way to the altar, the superstition was that she would never marry, which is kind of sad isn’t it? A more famous superstition is of course being the bridesmaid that catches a bouquet is the next to be married, however did you know that in the 16th century, if you had served as bridesmaid three times without getting married yourself, it was believed that evil spirits had cursed you. To break the curse, you’d have to be a bridesmaid four more times, for a total of seven rounds on the wedding circuit, hence the lucky number 7. History can be interesting can’t it?!

While the history of the bridesmaid doesn’t really resonate with the modern romantic vision of marriage, I thought this little research of mine has given you a little bit of insight into why and how we do these things at weddings. 🙂