Authors: Siri Agrell
Psychologically, I wasn’t ready to hunt for dresses alongside 300 ninety-pound debutantes. I didn’t want to hear them talk about how their minuscule asses looked fat or be forced to contemplate how many years had gone by since my own high school graduation, when I regrettably wore a dress I had made myself and hemmed with purple feathers.
Physically, I was equally unprepared for the task at hand. It was still cool enough outside to require socks, and I had wisely selected a dark pair that were sure to look fantastic when worn with my Hush Puppies and a strapless peach cocktail dress. It should also be noted that underwear has never been my thing, and I had convinced myself that going commando while dress shopping was an acceptable way to avoid having my pantyline pointed out by a stick-thin saleswoman who probably ironed her thong before putting it on. And so I found myself clad in a cheap, off-white gauzy number that I had managed to zip up over my pasty white back, my private areas fully visible through the translucent material, my socks and shoes doing little to heighten the outfit’s already minimal appeal, wondering how I could avoid showing it to my friends.
The small curtained dressing room stall in which I stood did not even provide me with a mirror, let alone a window through which to escape, so I emerged with only a vague idea of the disaster that awaited me. Outside, I was confronted by my startlingly unglam-orous reflection in the full-length mirror, the store’s fluorescent lights making matters worse with their sickly strobe-light flickering. It would have been less painful for everyone involved had I just walked out buck naked. At least then I might have gotten a laugh.
As I had feared, the sheets of gauzy organza were not successful in creating an opaque layer, and the dress was as transparent as the look of disgust on the faces of my fellow shoppers. My body, in all its post-winter, pre-diet glory, was hidden by only a fine mist of poorly assembled fabric and the length of my two black tube socks. Across the store, a sixteen-year-old emerged from another change room wearing the exact same dress, with a pink slip underneath and high heels on her pedicured feet, her perfectly toned frame a cruel reminder of how my own body had looked before I was introduced to beer, Beaujolais, and Brie. She was my polar opposite reflected back at me. And I swear I saw her smirk.
How a woman looks in a bridesmaid dress can sometimes be secondary to how it makes her feel. Wedding attendants are asked to cheerfully contend with cheap material, unforgiving seams, and boning that threatens to puncture a lung if you inhale too deeply or turn sharply to your right.
Aynsley F., an eight-timer, was made to wear a formal suit constructed from fabric she suspected had been torn from a couch. It was one of the ugliest dresses I’d ever seen in my life,” she said.
“It was taffeta but it looked like upholstery. It was a mauve skirt and a jacket and there was a ruffle over the butt.”
To make matters worse, she was participating in an August wedding that took place in an old, un-air-conditioned church in the heart of the Deep South. “It was a long Catholic wedding in Spanish and English—twice as long because they had to do it in both languages,” Aynsley remembered.
The bridesmaids wore shoes that were so cheap they began to disintegrate at the first sign of sweat. By the end of the service, they’d each lost a dress size in perspiration—their Tammy Bakker mascara streaming down their cheeks, the ruffles on their butts sagging with the weight of absorbed water, and their former kitten heels compressed into flats. They had been reduced to a lineup of deflated, soaking wet women who looked as though they had just worked an eight-hour secretarial shift inside a sauna.
It must be awful to stand through a summer wedding draped in the skin of an old couch, but imagine what it would be like to attend a wedding in a bridesmaid dress that has
been worn and drenched in sweat.
Twenty-eight-year-old Erica P. was in a wedding where the bridesmaids’ dresses were hand-me-downs from the nuptials of one of The Bride’s relatives. “The dress I had to wear had been previously worn by someone with the most horrific body odor,” said the three-time attendant. The Bride promised she would have the dress dry-cleaned and told Erica not to worry, the only scents permeating her wedding day would be those of fresh flowers and her own desperation to finally tie the knot.
When the dress came back, Erica pulled it out of the plastic bag and got a noseful of BO. “It was too strong for even the cleaners to
get out!” she said. Throughout the wedding, the bridesmaid trailed a cloud of stink around with her dress—down the aisle and back, into the reception, and even during the group and family photos, when she had to sit on the knee of one of the groomsmen, the armpit of her dress dangerously close to his nose.
“I had to apologize for the smell of this dress I’m wearing,” she said. “And of course, how many of them do you think believed that the dress smelled BEFORE I put it on?”
A few women may have to wear secondhand bridesmaid dresses, but it is a rule of modern society that no one ever wears a bridesmaid dress twice, no matter how many times they are assured of its timelessness, comfort, and durability.
Every bride tries to convince her bridesmaids that their dresses will be stunning couture worthy of a future red carpet or black-tie ball. Because of this lie, women who swear by designer labels, fashion-forward thinking, and black, black, black suddenly find themselves decked out in cheap knockoff strapless numbers in a shade of putrid purple. Almost every woman has one of these dresses in her closet, tucked away in the section reserved for things that are never worn but were too expensive to throw out, like that designer poncho that seemed like such a good idea or the three-hundrcd-dollar skinny jeans that you were too fat to wear after a four-dollar McDonald’s meal. And when it comes to their bridesmaid dresses—like a lot of painful experiences masquerading as important milestones—women tend to remember their first time.
“The Bride first let us know that she wanted us in pink by sending an e-mail,” said Madeline J., by now a five-time bridesmaid.
This kind of message is among the scariest things that can happen to a woman via computer, second only to the terrifying moment when you accidentally click on a pop-up window at work and find your monitor filled with multiplying images of hard-core pornography. Rather than let the bride’s demand spiral similarly out of control, Madeline and her fellow bridesmaids wrote her back, each crafting carefully worded responses that said they supported her decision but implied that they were worried about its color-coordinated consequences.
“Well, it’s your wedding, but be aware that because of my skin tone, many shades of pink make me look like I’m not wearing anything,” Madeline wrote in her own reply. “Not that I mind that particularly, but it is after all
day and the attention should be focused on you.”
Psychological double-talk of this manner is the only acceptable weapon against a butt-ugly bridesmaid dress. Brides are known to respond to unfiltered opinion as if you’ve asked them to let the groom’s ex-girlfriend jump out of a cake at his bachelor party. Words such as
must be replaced with
and the phrase “I’d rather die than put that on my body” substituted with “Don’t you think it might clash with your flowers?” This sort of dubious dishonesty is not usually perfected until the later stages of motherhood, when women must convince their children that they are being punished for their own good.
As it happened, this bride stuck by her choice, secure in the knowledge that it did not even come close to the color of a pale girl’s skin. Madeline should have been so lucky.
pink. It was not even fuchsia. Not pale pink. It was fluorescent highlighter pink,” she said, still awed by the dress’snuclear
capabilities years after she wore it. “It was its own light source.” The dress was also floor-length, A-line, shiny satin and multiplied six times, making the bridesmaids look like Dolly Parton’s backup singers, circa 1982.
Just when you thought it couldn’t get any more humiliating for these poor pink bridal attendants, Madeline delivered the kicker: “She made us skip into the wedding reception.”
More than a wearable wedding accessory, the bridesmaid dress has developed into a modern tool of female ritual humiliation. One suspects that there is a global conspiracy afoot to persuade women to dress up like idiots and bound down an aisle—a way to turn us against each other so we can never unite toward the goal of total world domination.
Sometimes technology has a hand in this process, complicating—or completely crashing—a wedding program already fraught with peril. Two-time bridesmaid Grace L. was in a wedding where The Bride ordered her attendants’ dresses from an Internet boutique. Most bridal parties will consider this option, clicking through page after page of calf-length strapless gowns modeled by girls who would never actually be caught dead in them in public. Online, a lot of outfits look nice, but then again, a lot of people who post dating profiles on the Internet seem normal until you get back to their apartment and find a collection of rubber bondage masks hanging on the mantel. The dress Grace and her fellow bridesmaids were to wear looked pretty good on the computer screen, a strapless, empire-waisted gown in a bold color that was just modern enough without being gaudy.
“It was hot pink, which I thought could have been pretty cool,” Grace said.
When the dresses were delivered, the women realized that they’d been duped, as if their Russian mail-order bride had turned up and told them she was only in it for the green card.
The outfits were as badly constructed as Scott Peterson’s alibi, the seams framing every inch of their tummies and highlighting all their fleshy flaws. The top was not boned, so it hung dangerously loose, threatening to collapse at the faintest provocation. And instead of being one hot pink dress, the outfit was constructed from two layers of fabric: a white sliplike foundation topped by a see-through organza overlay in bright, blinding fuchsia. Like an out-of-control science project, the fusion of the two materials created a color that was not so much hot pink as discarded Bubblicious.
“We looked like wads of gum,” Grace sighed.
Until the nineteenth century, it would have been unheard of for a bridesmaid to wear pink—bubblegum or otherwise. Before then, bridal attendants were dressed head to toe in white, designed as clones of the bride, to distract evil spirits or jealous ex-suitors.
When the threat of wedding-day abductions and evil curses subsided in the Western world, brides were no longer content to let their friends steal their thunder by wearing outfits similar to their own. White was phased out to satisfy brides’ growing desire to be the center of attention, and bridesmaids were dressed instead in coordinated hues of pale blue, pink, lilac, or green, like a collection of animated Easter M&Ms.
Forgetting that the bridal attendant role had been created to save their pretty little asses from being kidnapped or cursed,
brides soon started making other additions to ensure that their bridesmaids looked nowhere near as good as they did, beginning a trend that has lasted to this day.
If you think you’ve got it bad, consider the poor bridesmaids of 150 years ago, who had to wear bonnets, or the women photographed in Jules Shwerin’s book
In Wedding Styles: The Ultimate Bride’s Companion,
who are clutching “fashionable shepherds crooks” in their white-knuckled hands. The motive for this Little Bo-Peep theme, one has to assume, was to make the dowdy bride look like an absolute fox by comparison.
Considering that our historical foremothers were dressed like formal shepherds, modern bridesmaids have little to complain about in the form of tiered skirts, sweetheart necklines, plunging backs, or high collars, but there is still something about bridesmaid dresses for everyone to hate.
“It was the tackiest red I’d ever seen in my life,” Sally N. said of the dress chosen for her friend’s wedding, a satin number with flounces. “It wasn’t like a really pretty deep red or any sort of classic red. It was Mexican whore red. And no offense to whores in Mexico, but it looked like it belonged in a bordello.”
Another bridesmaid wore a dress that was described to her as the color of shrimp. “I imagined shit-filled veins and spindly legs,” said Pamela B. The dress was also so loose that when she first tried it on she could see straight down through the neckline to her feet. Ninety dollars in alterations later, the pale pink material had been cinched around her frame, and Pamela said she felt like an eighties prom queen: “a shrimpy eighties prom queen.”
Bridesmaids who once admired the bride’s ability to recreate the pages of
in her own daily wardrobe may be surprised
when she instructs them to dress as extras in Stephen King’s
or dancers in an ABBA reunion concert. But sadly, no number of bad reviews or desperate pleas from a bridesmaid is enough to shake loose the brides grip on her chosen gown.
When Kate F., a thirty-one-year-old mother of two, was selected as a bridesmaid for her childhood friend, she told The Bride that the dress she had chosen was unflattering at best. “She didn’t seem to really care that none of us were going to look good,” said Kate. “She gracefully offered to pay for half of it, which was very kind. But she wanted us to have it that badly.”
The dress in question also had an empire waist and flowed out from the bustline into a train at the back. From the chest down it was entirely formless, except for the puckering from the badly sewn seams, which created a rippled effect down the bridesmaids’ sides. “My stepmother-in-law, who’s a judge, was speechless,” Kate said. “How hard is it to leave a judge speechless?” Adding insult to injury, the dress was deep brown with a blue bow for trim. “At first I thought it made me look like a chocolate Easter bunny. But I didn’t even look that good.”