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Authors: Siri Agrell

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“I just became mean because of her,” Elaine said, still obviously confused about the spell that came over her and her sister, who had also turned over an uncharacteristically freaky new leaf. “After that, I said she could call me if she needed something, but I’m not calling her.”

All was not forgiven, and when her invitation came, the envelope was addressed to “Ms Elaine Wilson and Guest”—conspicuously devoid of her boyfriend’s name.

“First of all, we’ve been dating for four years,” Elaine said. “Second of all, he designed your fucking invitations!”

There’s No “I” in Sweatshop

Wedding planning today is about more than passive-aggressive decision making and bottled-up rage—it requires the nimble fingers of a Keebler elf and the creativity of a Bush administration spin doctor.

In the lead-up to two different weddings in which she served as a bridesmaid, Rita S. found herself enrolled in a bridal craft boot camp, required to channel her creative energy into strictly supervised artistic assignments. One bride, a friend she’d met in France during a high school exchange program, was an artist who
wanted to customize her wedding by sending guests home with a handcrafted memento of her talents as a painter. Unfortunately, it was not actually her hands that would craft said keepsakes. More than 150 paperweight-size rocks were collected for the bridesmaids to paint with each guest’s name and a design of The Bride’s creation.

“They all had to be different—every single one,” Rita said.

In the week leading up to the wedding, the bridesmaids were corralled into The Bride’s backyard and outfitted with a pile of rocks and a small paintbrush. Each was given a list of names and specific instructions for design and color palettes. For hours on end, the women worked without so much as a cocktail to get their creative juices flowing. As the sun beat down on their outdoor workshop, they bent over heaps of stones that grew hot in their hands, the paint running off into their laps and passersby stopping to gawk at this twisted work-release program for female felons.

“Thirty-five-degree heat in her backyard with a little paintbrush,” Rita said ruefully. “There was liquor at the wedding but not at the rock painting, which was clearly when we needed it.”

After customizing a sackful of souvenir stones, Rita thought she had completed the most painstaking activity she would face as a bridesmaid. The next summer, however, in service to yet another bride, she found herself bent over an equally grueling task—this time involving the dexterous creation of bows and knots.

The Bride had chosen to save money by creating her own wedding invitations, and asked her bridesmaids over to help. Each invitation had two separate layers, and the sheets of delicate paper were to be tied together with thin silky ribbons. The Bride
wanted each invite tied in an identical manner (naturally), with the ribbon strung through punched holes, twisted and turned, and then tied with a decorative flourish.

“I was terrible at it,” said Rita. “It was incredibly torturous because we’re sitting there in this, like, sweatshop with pieces of ribbon everywhere. And it was billed as a fun night. ‘Come over for pizza and help me tie my invitations!’”

It took six women five hours to complete the job, and to this day Rita can’t look at a wedding invitation without a pang of sympathy for the poor people in the Hallmark factory.

Forced Labor of Love

Most bridesmaids will find themselves faced with at least one ridiculous, random, or tiresome task before their friend’s wedding. When Yvonne S., a Toronto-based creative director, was asked to be a bridesmaid for the third time, she suddenly found herself single-handedly responsible for the aesthetic vibe of her friend’s entire wedding. In her day job, Yvonne oversees the interior design of restaurants and nightclubs and creates the backdrops for award shows and other large-scale media events. The Bride (and her mother) believed that such creative talent should not go unexploited in their own wedding extravaganza, and they elected Yvonne as their BITCH (Bridesmaid In Total Ceremonial Hell). She was expected not only to create the wedding invitations but also to arrange the flowers and decorate the event space, accompanied by a crew of helpers conscripted into service like child soldiers in Sierra Leone, armed with glue guns instead of Kalashnikovs.

Thus, Yvonne’s “bridesmaid” tasks spanned literally the entire engagement period and encompassed every possible permutation
of research, planning, decision-making, arts and crafts, and other minor atrocities endured by the lucky ladies in this chapter.

“E-mails, books, meetings, dinners—I was out with them a million times,” she said. “Phone calls for days. It was crazy.”

At one point early on in the planning, the Mother of the Bride summoned Yvonne to a meeting to show her sixteen amber vases she had bought at Costco, having made an executive decision before actually asking Yvonne, “Can we work with this?”

The glass cylinders were the centerpiece of the whole show, and the MOB wanted Yvonne to construct a theme, color scheme, and flower installation centered around their presence. The bridesmaid had no idea how she would build a wedding around maple-syrup-colored containers, no matter how “exquisite” they were said to be.

“I felt like she was going to bite my head off if I said it wasn’t okay, so I just went with ‘yes,’” Yvonne said.

For the next few months, she searched high and low to find amber-hued ribbon to use as a runner on the tables at the reception. Eventually she gave up and settled on a pure white theme, with the amber vase anchors as a splash of color. This was not the end of her creative challenges. The family of the bride regularly entertained in their home, and at one point, they invited Yvonne over and ushered her into the basement, where she found stacks of leftover dried flower arrangements, more vases, and seasonal decor.

“They said, ‘You can use this, can’t you?” she aped.

The creative director suddenly found herself charged with incorporating into a summer wedding millions of silver twigs with fake berries—the stuff of sitcom Christmas specials and
Pottery Barn clearance sales. She picked through the family’s vase collection, discarding anything too brightly colored or ornate, better suited to an old folks’ home, or seemingly once used as a bong by The Bride’s younger brother.

The flowers themselves were another problem. Yvonne’s arrangements were completely white, except for a single blue hydrangea in each one, meant to pick up on the blue tuxedo shirts the groomsmen had selected to add a dash of hipster irony to their attire. When Yvonne went to the reception hall for one last check on her creation, the blue blooms had already wilted in the summer heat, limp brown smudges in the otherwise pristine white room. Decked out in her bridesmaid dress, Yvonne ran around the event hall pulling hydrangeas from each bouquet like a deranged florist, doing her best not to destroy their arrangement or draw too much attention to her actions.

“I was trying to do it in a somewhat discreet way,” she said.

“Crushing them up as small as I could in my hands so no one would see what I was doing and be like, ‘Why is she stealing the flowers out of the arrangements before the ceremony?”

Unfortunately, it’s tough to be discreet in head-to-toe tulle.

Completely Teed Off

Most bridesmaids do their best to obey the commands of their Bridal Leader and accommodate last-minute disasters involving flowers or fashion, while silently counting down the days until it will all be over. Still, listening to nonstop wedding talk for a year of your life can take its toll on even the most dedicated bridesmaid.

This was sort of how I was feeling when I saw a tank top for sale on Going Bridal, a Web site that pokes fun at the over-the
top demands of modern brides. I thought it was hilarious and adequately apropos of the last few months of my life. The site sells cards that read, “Thank you for the completely inadequate wedding present” and Greedy Bride T-shirts that show a woman in an elaborate gown and veil clutching a large wad of cash in one manicured fist. The shirt I picked out was white, with a photo of a bride framed by a red circle and slashed through with a single diagonal line. Beneath the image are the words
PLEASE SHUT UP ABOUT YOUR FUCKING WEDDING.

When my article about being a Bad Bridesmaid was published, it ran with a close-up photograph of my chest clad in the shirt, with a bouquet of flowers in my hands strategically arranged so that a single petal blocked the obscene word from view.

I have since realized that donning such a garment around a prospective bride is a form of bridesmaid hara-kiri, like wearing a shirt that says,
THAT MAKES YOUR ASS LOOK BIG
while working retail, or busting out your
HIGH MAINTENANCE
tee on a first date. It just won’t go over well.

The founder of Going Bridal is not the only person who has been inspired to create a 100-percent-cotton-blend protest to pre-wedding obligations. Olivia T. was thirty years old when a woman she had known since childhood asked her to be in her wedding party. They’d met when they were eight and had been close growing up, but twenty-two years later they saw each other only about once a year. Soon after her friend’s engagement, though, Olivia and five other bridesmaids were meeting on a monthly basis to discuss every element of the wedding, shop for dresses, and receive updates on the
Farmers’ Almanac—
projected weather forecast for the wedding day.

For more than a year, Olivia attended parties once a month, arriving at each with a strictly assigned gift: for the lingerie shower ($50), the Home Depot shower ($75), and even a wine shower ($40), where the guests dozed while the engaged couple read out the name of each bottle, the year it was produced, and who it was from.

“It was like, ‘Masi, 1999, Mike and Kathy Smith; Penfolds Estate, 2001, Debby and Matthew Reynolds; Twin Fin, 2006, Hank and Betty Jackson,’” Olivia said. “And then they’d grab the next bottle of wine. It was brutal.”

In between the regularly scheduled events, the bridesmaids also had to meet to go over flower arrangements, bouquets, finger foods, and who would officiate the ceremony. For an unknown reason, these details could not be discussed via e-mail or on the phone—which would at least have allowed the bridesmaids to roll their eyes or watch TV while being gradually bored to death. No, this bride wanted her planning intimate and interactive. At one meeting, the women gathered for a two-hour powwow over whether the necklines on their bridesmaid dresses should sit just below the collarbone or just above. Each bridesmaid had to take turns sharing her opinion as The Bride took notes and the relative merits of conservatism and décolletage were discussed.

“I remember thinking it was the stupidest conversation I’d ever been a part of in my whole life,” Olivia said.

By the time the engagement period was over, she and the other bridesmaids had spent thousands of dollars on gifts, lunches, lattes, and decorations, and most of them had given up entirely on being helpful or cooperative. They were sick of The Bride, the groom, and each other, having spent more time boring one
another to tears than the cast of
Everybody Loves Raymond.

At the wedding reception, Olivia said the bridesmaids were itching for escape, eager to be finished with the year-long endeavor. Little did they know that they would soon have a lasting memento of their 365-day sacrifice. In front of three hundred wedding guests at the formal black-tie function, a groomsman took the microphone and made a toast to the bridesmaids. He paid tribute to how well they had all gotten to know one another, a product, he noted, of twelve months of forced get-togethers and mandated social interaction. And to illustrate his point, he presented each bridesmaid with a T-shirt that read, I
SURVIVED THE LINDA-STEVE WEDDING TOUR.

The T-shirts were modeled after the concert tees sold at every live rock show from the Rolling Stones to the Pussycat Dolls. On the front, photos of the bride and groom grinned out at the guests like deranged teen idols, and on the back were listed the dates, venues, and themes of every wedding-related meeting, shower, and engagement bash the bridesmaids had been forced to attend.

Across the rundown of events were stamped the words
SOLD OUT
in bright red letters. The neckline sat just above the collarbone, as discussed.

Sea Foam Blues

It’s a bridesmaid’s dress. Someone loved it intensely for one day. Then, tossed it … like a Christmas tree. So special, then
bam
—it’s on the side of the road, tinsel still clinging to it, like a sex crime victim, underwear inside out, bound with electrical tape.

Maria Singer,
Fight Club

I
didn’t want to come out of the change room.

It was springtime and we were shopping for the bridesmaid dresses that I and three other girls would wear down the aisle in July. The outing had started out like any other weekend shopping trip with friends. It was a gorgeous, brisk but sunny Saturday morning, and The Bride, another bridesmaid, and I strolled through a trendy shopping district laughing at people’s outfits and chatting about where we would stop for lunch. The sidewalks
were crammed with street vendors, hotdog salesmen, and women jumping the gun on summer, barelegged under their flirty skirts, despite the chilly breeze. Music blared from outdoor speakers and we ducked in and out of stores if something pretty caught our eye. We were not, however, the only female shoppers on the strip, and our bubble of bridal bliss would soon be burst. As we were planning our best friend’s wedding, the city was abuzz with a different sort of major event planning. It was high school prom time, and the malls were teeming with teenage Lolitas, strutting around in size-zero jeans and taunting us with their tiny frames.

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