Authors: Siri Agrell
When Francine got to the store. The Bride was standing in front of a full-length mirror in a stunning raw silk strapless gown, fending off other brides with death stares and nervous energy. The dress was a sample from an as-yet-unreleased designer line, the bodice ruched and gathered dramatically at the waist and the flowing skirt bias cut and swept into a long, elegant train. It was everything The Bride had described in the frequent and detailed discussion of her dream dress.
“It is absolutely beautiful, and if you want my opinion on this, you have to buy this dress immediately,” Francine said, believing that she was performing her role to a tee.
It seemed like a no-brainer. Her friend was standing there in a one-of-a-kind creation that few people in the world had even seen. Because it was a sample and could not be ordered to measure, its normal price of seven thousand dollars had been reduced to just two thousand, and it was perfect for her price range and her body. What else should The Bride have said but, “Wrap it up. I’ll take it”?
This Bride, however, had another plan. She opened the door to the dressing room to point out a pile of other dresses she wanted to try on in front of her friend. It was almost 9:00 p.m., and the store was closing, but Francine sat patiently (Good Bridesmaid) and looked at each dress in turn. With all the dresses modeled, she once again offered her opinion that the first dress was definitely the way to go. Instead of agreeing and thanking her friend for the reassurance, The Bride burst into a fresh round of tears and started berating her bridesmaid in front of the store employees and other customers, screaming at her for being too opinionated.
“She flipped out and said I was pressuring her into making a decision she wasn’t ready to make,” said Francine, now firmly entrenched in the ranks of Bad Bridesmaids worldwide. With a pile of expensive white fabric at her feet and a boutique full of employees and engaged women looking on, The Bride launched into a fit of sobbing invective directed at her stunned attendant.
One might think a woman sporting a diamond ring and a full-length white silk gown would be all about making lifelong decisions. Hardly. Much to Francine’s shock and dismay, she was
loudly informed that the proper course of action would have been to avoid passing judgment on the initial dress and suggest instead that her friend try on a few more, commenting on how beautiful each of them looked and then gently steering her back to the original.
Such mind games should be covered in
magazine, and taught in Psych 101.
The women left without the dress, and on the way home The Bride told Francine that she had always imagined trying on wedding gowns while her friends and family sipped tea from delicate china cups and told her how lovely she looked, their eyes lighting up when she emerged in The Dress. Effectively, The Bride concluded, Francine had crushed her lifelong dress-buying dreams.
The next day, The Bride called to say she had bought the dress after all, that once she was away from her friend’s “pressure” she realized it was in fact the one for her. “She asked me to come to the first fitting,” Francine recalled. “1 wholeheartedly declined.”
Until the early twentieth century, wedding preparations were a relatively simple affair, with brides concentrating on their hope chests and whether conjugal bliss would prove all it was cracked up to be, while the menfolk tended to the pesky details such as who would be marrying whom and in exchange for how many chickens.
Like an out-of-control flesh-eating virus, the wedding world has since expanded into a billion-dollar industry that threatens to swallow us all, and new products, services, and standards emerge on an almost daily basis to further complicate the lives of blushing brides and their sweating servants.
Most women inflict unfair demands on their bridesmaids not because they are naturally cruel or unfeeling, but rather because they have been conditioned to believe that their wedding will reflect their personal worth and predict the happiness of their future marriage. It’s not the brides who are crazy, for the most part, but the expectations placed upon them.
One issue of
Martha Stewart Weddings,
for example, encourages brides to make their own origami boxes as wedding favors and to develop a “signature drink” for their wedding reception. The pages that follow further sing the praises of hiring a calligra-pher to pen the wedding invites or learning to write the cumbersome curlicues oneself.
That ought to be enough to keep a bride and her maids busy for the duration of the engagement, but the magazine has a few more tricks up its cashmere sleeve. There is a recipe for homemade meringue kisses, and for the seaman’s bride, Martha provides four variations of knots to use when hand-tying your own napkin rings. One page shows how to make egg hors d’oeuvres and arrange them in hand-woven basket centerpieces. Another features homemade ribbon boutonnieres, table runners crafted from wrapping paper, and clever save-the-date cards, where the numbers are individually cut out and attached to a ribbon so they tumble to the floor like confetti when the envelope is opened. There are also five pages on how to select your china, and a guide for constructing bouquets entirely out of tissue paper. Amazingly, the magazine stops short of having wedding parties swear blood oaths or carve the happy couple’s likenesses from stone using only their fingernails and a melon-baller—but maybe they are saving that for the next issue.
For those who do not have a degree in home economics and an up-to-date Xanax prescription, these do-it-yourself projects can give a girl that Bad Bridesmaid feeling, even if it’s obvious the bride is simply trying to save money or add a personal touch to her nuptials.
No sooner had Jasmine P. been selected as one of five bridesmaids in a university friend’s wedding than she began receiving weekly e-mails containing The Brides “expectations” for their “services” over the months to come. The group was referred to as The Bride’s “ambassadors” and they were expected to reflect that title with every ounce of their will and every penny in their wallets.
One e-mail was a six-page list of jobs The Bride needed done before, during, and after the wedding, such as taking her dress to the cleaner’s after the ceremony and addressing her thank-you notes while she honeymooned. Subsequent e-mails contained a briefing about “the image” of the wedding, and noted that every detail—along with the bridesmaid who did or did not make it happen—would send a clear message to the guests as to the event’s success. The vein throbbing in The Bride’s forehead would not distract her assembled loved ones, she seemed to believe, but the wedding would be ruined if the seating plan was not immediately spell-checked.
Jasmine said she felt like she was being tested to see how far she would go in the name of friendship and to prove herself worthy of the wedding walk, like a reality show contestant eating pig testicles to earn one more minute of screen time or a shot at dating Flavor Flav.
The Bride would call Jasmine and her cohorts and instruct them to drop everything and rush to help her register, or demand
they cancel their weekend plans at the last minute to look over her engagement photos—issuing a stream of orders that were as unrelenting as they were unreasonable.
“In any other situation, there’s no way,” said Jasmine. “But suddenly she has license because she’s getting married.”
Cassidy B. was asked to fill in for a bridesmaid who’d had the nerve to get pregnant during the engagement period and could not fulfill her duties, creating the need for a bridesmaid ringer. The Bride was a cousin by marriage, and Cassidy hardly knew her, but she still wound up taking orders from various members of The Bride’s family, including her domineering mother.
“She gave me a list,” the three-time bridesmaid said. “Go out and get this shower invitation, and this is what the invitation should say. Go and order these chairs from this person. Pick them up here and take them over there.”
For four months, Cassidy obeyed commands, couriered furniture and family, and generally acted as a go-between and gofer, financing her tasks personally and cursing her bad luck.
“I spent about seven hundred dollars just doing errands,” she said.
And, as Martha might say, that’s not a good thing.
Spending the early months of wedding prep attached at the hip to your former friend turned professional bride is tricky enough, but taking orders from your own flesh and blood can be doubly hard to bear. When Holly J. was a bridesmaid in her early twenties—in the years before e-mail (BE 1995)—she received a letter from her sister The Bride a week before the wedding, expressing
disappointment that Holly had not been more helpful in the months that had passed since the engagement.
Holly was still in her last year of university, a virgin attendant who had not yet developed a keen interest in garter belts or garden parties, but even so had been named the Maid of Honor, a role that puts the “horrific” in
Today the MOH is the bride’s second-in-command, and as such is expected to be only slightly less obsessed with the wedding than if it were her own. To put the icing on the proverbial wedding cake, Holly’s sister is a hyperorganized Type-A personality who had a two-year engagement and a penchant for color-coding each task.
“It was just spreadsheet after spreadsheet,” Holly said. “We got maybe three a week, and there were constant updates.”
As MOH, she had been assigned the color code blue, and her duties were highlighted accordingly; those of the best man were in orange, and so on. Unfortunately, being in receipt of three dozen PowerPoint presentations did not fundamentally alter Holly’s brain chemistry such that she was actually
to execute all of her Code Blue ball-breaking duties. The Bride wanted a series of showers: a “Jack and Jill” party, where friends of both the bride and groom would gather to contribute money to the wedding; an engagement party; and a bachelorette. Holly did not know the protocol for any of these events, nor did she have the cash to finance them. Her sister also wanted the same people invited to each party, a gift-giving bonanza Holly was unwilling to inflict on friends or strangers.
The peculiar lunacy of brides is much like that of sheltered big-name celebrities—everyone knows they’re bonkers, but no one is supposed to point it out. “Yes, you look much thinner in that,
Ms Alley.” “Of course you should get another round of Botox, Ms Kidman.” “I think you two are perfect for each other, Miss Holmes.” The built-in sympathy of siblings explains why so many movie stars hire their sisters as publicists: a family member is much less likely to max out on your madness or out you to the tabloids.
But Holly was not prepared to take orders from anyone, especially her big sis. “I said, ‘No, I’m not going to throw you another shower,” she recounted. “You’ve already had five, and that’s enough.”
Speaking the words
into the ear of a bride is much like blowing a high-pitched dog whistle in a room full of senior citizens—it just doesn’t register. The letter The Bride sent Holly the week before the wedding made no reference to her own over-the-top expectations, but said that she and her fiance were very disappointed that Holly hadn’t done more to accommodate them and that she was being punished accordingly.
“They said, ‘We don’t want you to be a part of our day, and we feel it’s best that you just attend the wedding and not be a part of the wedding party,’” Holly remembered. “If they had ripped out my heart and stomped on it, I wouldn’t have felt as bad as I did when I read this thing.”
Fortunately for Holly, the two women reconciled before the wedding day, and now that she is getting married herself, she claims to have found a new appreciation for the MOH role. Let’s just say her sister’s color-coded spreadsheets are looking pretty handy right about now.
Elaine W., on the other hand, said she was thrilled from the start to have been asked to stand up in her younger sister Melanie’s wedding. Elaine was a three-timer and a self-professed lover of all
things wedding, but toward the end of the year-long engagement period, the two women were barely on speaking terms.
It began innocently enough, with shopping trips to find the dress and phone calls for advice on everything from flowers to ribbon and how to design the place cards. And then Elaine’s boyfriend, Chris, volunteered to get into the mix, designing and producing the couple’s wedding invitations. It was then that family relations began to unravel.
Though Chris worked diligently in the evenings and over weekends, it wasn’t enough to sate the eager Bride. She’d originally said she needed the invites by early July, to mail out for the late-September wedding, yet by the beginning of June she was already harassing her sister about why they weren’t finished.
“They were saving tons of cash, because if they had bought these it would have cost a thousand dollars at least,” Elaine said. “But she started being rude to him over e-mail.”
At the end of June, Melanie came to Elaine’s apartment for a day of wedding-related shopping. She was an hour early, and her sister was not ready; her hair was a mess and she was still wearing her pajamas. “She looks at me and says, ‘Nice hair,’ and basically lectures me for being late,” Elaine said, having missed the all-important “Shopping Begins an Hour Earlier than Scheduled” chapter in
Being a Bridesmaid for Dummies.
When The Bride moved on from her sister and started pestering Chris about the invitations, Elaine could take it no more.
“I just freaked. I looked at her and said, ‘You are so unappreciative. You’re a goddamn bridezilla,’” she remembered. “Now that’s obviously the biggest insult you can give a woman getting married. And the look on her face was pure hurt.”
Elaine felt awful about what she had said, and called her sister into her bedroom to apologize. Before she could say “I’m sorry” and admit she should have been more sympathetic to her sister’s stress, Melanie started screaming and flinging her Maid of Honor around by the arm. The women fought like professional wrestlers and trash-talked each other with vocabulary usually reserved for Tourette’s patients. Eventually, the beleaguered Chris had to come in and separate them.