Weddings Week 2011: at our anonymous roundtable, four seasoned bridesmaids tell all
Newly betrothed ladies who want to avoid the bridezilla path can learn a thing or two from these four seasoned bridesmaids: they’ve donned ill-fitting taffeta, nursed drunken guests and talked many a bride down from the ledge. We plied them with drinks and grilled them about their wedding experiences, from day one of the planning process until the morning-after farewell brunch
Kate, a 33-year-old grad student; Megan, a 26-year-old writer; Brook, a 33-year-old who works in marketing; Sam, a 25-year-old non-profit worker (All names have been changed)
Let’s start with the obvious: why are bridesmaid dresses notoriously ugly?
Sam: The hideousness begins with the fabric: all that sateen. It’s awful and unflattering—you would never wear that on any other occasion. And there’s this accepted norm that as a bridesmaid, you’re going to look like crap, and apparently that’s OK.
Kate: It’s because the bride wants to look better.
Brook: Which is so terrible!
Sam: Let me at least look passable, so if I’m single, I can at least try to get with a decent-looking guy. My worst dress ever was a horrible purple. It was like wearing a rotting Barney carcass. I had to order it from the States. When I went to the mother of the bride’s house to pick it up, she looked me up and down and goes, “If this doesn’t fit, you can’t be in the wedding.” Glad to see your priorities are in line.
Kate: For me, the worst one was a floor-length taffeta, but I’m lucky. I’ve been a bridesmaid nine times, and I’ve had mostly good dresses.
Megan: But has anyone actually worn one again?
Brook: I had one shortened and wore it again, but maybe that was ill advised. It’s pretty obvious when someone has recycled an old bridesmaid’s dress. After a few drinks, I’d probably call them on it.
Megan: My absolute worst was a peach brocade with a V waistline. It was tea length, with a crinoline. And we had dyed-to-match satin shoes. This was within the past 10 years—not 1981.
Brook: I had one with a train—I ended up putting a heel through it. It had tons of holes by the end of the night. Who picks bridesmaid dresses with a train?
Sam: You end up looking the way you wanted to look back at your high school prom, before you realized what a bad idea that was.
Brook: And then there are the alterations. I feel like it’s some kind of conspiracy in the bridal industry. You spend $400 on a dress that looks like a garbage bag on you, and then you have to pay another hundred to make it fit.
Is it OK to say yes to being a bridesmaid even if you’re not thrilled about the couple getting married? Does accepting the offer imply that you support the union?
Sam: I think you’re supporting the individual you represent.
Megan: I heard a story about a groomsman who walked in on the bride having sex with another groomsman at her engagement party. One of the bridesmaids got wind of it, approached the bride and said, “I hear you’re sleeping with one of the groomsmen. I’m not really comfortable being a part of this wedding.” And the bride basically said, “It’s all about me; you need to be there for me. If you can’t, then you’re kicked out.” So she kicked her out! And the wedding is still going ahead.
Brook: I had a bride confess that she was in love with someone else right after the ceremony. And he was at the wedding! Very Jerry Springer-ish. She was drunk, so we put her to bed. The next morning, she just pretended the whole thing never happened. They divorced five months later.
Kate: I was in a wedding where the bride got stoned before she walked down the aisle—smoked a doobie while she was getting her hair done. I walked in the room, and I’m like, “Did you just get high?” And she says, “Of course I just got high. I’d throw up otherwise.” I like to party and have fun as much as anyone, but I plan to be extremely lucid on my wedding day.
Brook: And not paranoid.
What are some of the more outlandish demands of the job?
Sam: I’ve been asked to look after an inappropriately drunk individual. I hid her in my room for a bit.
Brook: Yeah, I’ve been asked to take care of drunk people, too. A lot of the time, it’s the parents who are drunk. I get along with parents really well, so if I can make the bride’s day better by just helping out, I’m totally OK with that kind of request. At least until 11—then I’m off the clock.
Sam: I was in a wedding in Detroit. We were getting our hair done, and everyone wanted the bump. The bump?
Sam: You know, the Bumpit. It’s very Jersey Shore. A lot of back-combing, almost like a bouffant. And then our makeup was done by a woman who called herself the Glam Doctor, and she was a walking stereotype. She was like, “Girl, we gonna take you from Bambi to bam!” I ended up with fuchsia eyeliner and fake eyelashes going out to here. I couldn’t see all day because of all the glue that got in my eyes.
Brook: One bride was such a control freak, she sent me a BlackBerry invitation to the first planning session for her shower. The bridesmaids are supposed to be in charge of the shower, but she didn’t trust us to do the planning on our own.
Sam: Oh, and it’s also the engagement party, the bridal shower, the stagette, the stag and doe. Do you think I’m made of money? And then you have to endure insults: I had a bride’s mother phone me to check up on how my diet was coming.
Brook: If I actually calculated how much money I’ve spent being a bridesmaid, total, I would say $30,000. Easily.
Megan: Each wedding is about $2,000 by the time you pay for the dress, shoes, makeup, hotel, flight, transportation.
Brook: Do you guys buy gifts on top of being a bridesmaid?
Megan: Yes, always.
Brook: If I throw a shower, I feel like that’s my gift to the couple. And if it’s a destination wedding, then definitely not.
Do-it-yourself weddings are a big trend right now, where the bridal party is expected to do everything from preparing food to arranging flowers. It sounds like a casual way to get married, but it also sounds like a lot of work.
Brook: I’ve had to do the flowers.
Kate: Me, too.
Megan: I had to make the entire rehearsal dinner, right before the rehearsal. So I’m all dressed up, standing in the kitchen, chopping everything up all afternoon. I thought that was really inappropriate.
What are the secrets to a fun stagette?
Kate: Booze, lots of booze, tons of booze.
Brook: And make sure the bride has a good time. If she’s not having a good time, no one else will.
Megan: Have you guys had to go buy all the penis paraphernalia?
Brook: The penis what?
Sam: You know, like the penis hat, penis straws, penis soap, even ice cubes.
Brook: No, but a few times, I’ve noticed a weird competition between what the bride is doing for her stagette and what the groom is doing for his stag. One bride ended up crying at the end of the night because we didn’t get her a stripper. She was hysterical.
Sam: Does she know how awkward male strippers can be?
Megan: They’re horrible.
Brook: Yeah, well, after this freak-out, the maid of honour finally let her know how crazy she was being. They didn’t speak again until the wedding, which was three months later, and then they never spoke again after that. I guess it happens. I would say I’m still close with about 50 per cent of the brides whose wedding parties I’ve been in.
Megan: I can’t say that being a bridesmaid has ever brought me closer to the bride.
Brook: I’m at the point where, when I get married, I’m just going to go to a beach and invite only 20 people.
What are the main differences between being a regular bridesmaid and being maid of honour?
Brook: There’s a bigger sense of responsibility, and pressure to plan everything. And when something goes wrong, everyone turns to the maid of honour. Like, you should have safety pins on you at all times. And then often you’re giving the speech, which can be really scary.
Sam: I’ve done food tasting, which I was totally up for. I’ve helped with invitations, which was tedious but, I admit, kinda cool.
Megan: You’re in charge of the shower or the stagette. And then you’re spending all the money because no one else wants to kick in.
Brook: I think maids of honour are held to a higher standard.
Sam: It’s definitely way more involved than being a best man. I feel like the maid of honour throws the engagement party, whereas the best man just shows up and makes fart jokes.
What makes for a really fun wedding?
Kate: Same as the stagette: booze.
Sam: Open bar. Hands down. Anything else is insulting.
Kate: I once went to a cash bar wedding on a boat. One of the bridesmaids took money out of her gift envelope to pay for it. She was going to give $200, so she took out $100.
Sam: I was recently in a wedding where one of the other bridesmaids got very drunk very early. She is a lovely, sweet girl, but she drank too much too fast. We were in high-necked, constraining dresses, and she insisted on unzipping hers to be more comfortable. I couldn’t convince her to zip it back up, so there she is, dress unzipped down to her ass, wearing a motorcycle jacket over it. Eventually she passed out in a corner. In fairness, it was the kind of dress you’re dying to take off when you’re drunk. You’re like, “Get it off, get it off.”
Brook: One of my friend’s bridesmaids puked all over her dress.
Megan: I saw a drunk bridesmaid barefoot and grinding with the father of the bride. I always stay sober at least until speeches. But after the speeches, anything goes.
Sam: How do you guys feel about the day-after brunch? I think it’s a bit of a chore. I don’t want to see people the next morning—I look a little rough.
Brook: I don’t go. I’ve done enough. I’m sleeping. It’s all family and out-of-towners, anyway. I just want to be in bed.
What other wedding traditions need to be nixed?
Megan: I am a big advocate of allowing the bridesmaids’ dates to sit with them. I hate the head table. There’s nothing worse than when your boyfriend comes and doesn’t know anyone, and you’re waving across the room for six hours.
Sam: Yeah, your date is always sitting beside Great Aunt Lisa, or at the kids’ table at the back.
Megan: And there’s nothing tackier than the garter toss. Or smooshing cake icing all over the face.
Sam: I think we’ve gone overboard with photography. How many hours do I have to sit there and smile? Now they’re going to bus us over to the old willow tree, and we’ll sit there so happily, as if we just happened upon it. Barf.
Brook: Have you done the one where you jump? Like, “Hurray! We’re having fun!”
Sam: Yeah, and I broke my strappy silver sandal.
Kate: I once had to do that Friends thing with umbrellas.
Is it true that bridesmaids get a lot of action?
Kate: Not for me, but I’ve had the same boyfriend for a long time.
Sam: You’ve seen the dresses! Those things are hard to get out of.
Brook: I’ve been a bridesmaid 13 times, so if I hadn’t gotten any, that would be pretty sad. I’d say I’m sitting at maybe a 35 or 40 per cent success rate.
Megan: You definitely always get hit on by the DJ or the bartender—someone creepy who thinks the stereotype is true, that bridesmaids are easy.
Sam: The stereotype is that all bridesmaids are kind of desperate, like, “Oh, I wish it was me up there.” But you know what? I love my savings account—it’s still full. I’m supposed to feel envious, but I don’t. The more weddings I go to, the more I’m just sitting there calculating costs and thinking about how I would do things differently. That’s what weddings have become. It’s more of a pageantry thing as opposed to a celebration.
Tell me about conflicts with either fellow bridesmaids or mothers of the bride.
Sam: I know a mother who insisted on selecting the bridesmaids.
Brook: Moms want to live vicariously through their daughters’ weddings.
Sam: It’s because they got married in the ’50s, and it sucked and wasn’t fun. They want a do-over.
Kate: And a lot of the parents use it as a business opportunity to invite their friends and their accountant and their real estate agent…
Megan: At one wedding, the mother of the bride decided that someone else was more worthy of my hotel room and had me sleep on a mat on the floor of someone else’s room. I’ve been friends with the bride since the beginning of time, and the mother has always had an issue with me. It was her opportunity to shove it in my face.
What’s the best or worst bridesmaid gift you’ve received?
Sam: I was in a wedding in the Scottish countryside, and we each got a pair of Hunter wellies, which was awesome. And practical.
Brook: A bride once gave me a painting as a thank you for being the maid of honour, which was pretty special.
Kate: This Tiffany necklace that I’m wearing is a bridesmaid’s gift. And the worst gift would be no gift. Oh, or a Bible. I once got a Bible with my name written in gold on the front. And I’m not a religious person.
What advice would you give brides who are hoping to make the bridesmaid experience more pleasant?
Sam: While we were all getting our hair done, one bride stopped and spoke a little about each bridesmaid, shared a few memories and explained what that person brought to her life. It was genuine and very appreciated.
Kate: People handle stress differently. For some people, getting married is insanely stressful, while others are really calm. I was not a stressed-out bride, but a lot of people are, and they’ll often use this idea of unconditional friendship to take out all their stress on the bridesmaids.
Sam: I hate when a bride acts like she cares about your opinion when she doesn’t. If you don’t want your bridesmaids to speak up, don’t ask for their opinion. Don’t give them a false sense of inclusion or power if you’re going to shoehorn them into the ugly aubergine sateen no matter what.
Sam: Kate, having gone through your own wedding, are you more tolerant of brides?
Kate: I learned much more about planning a wedding by being a bridesmaid so many times before I got married. Insane people, freak-outs, losing their temper over the tiniest little things. I knew I didn’t want my wedding to be like that.
OK, we’ve been dishing about bridezillas a lot. But have you ever been in a really moving, wonderful wedding?
Brook: I think of all the weddings I’ve been in, I’ve really only felt the love at two.
Megan: For me, it’s all about the dad. If the dad’s crying, I’m crying.
For more information on how to make a wedding perfect, see our Weddings Week 2011 coverage