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My Problem With Having A Bridesmaid

“Would you like to be my bridesmaid?” are words every bride expects to hear a resounding "YES" to. Most of us will support our friends no matter what, but – in my mind, at least – being asked to be a bridesmaid can feel archaic. Plus, while your voice is saying how excited you are, your internal monologue has probably already started saying: “Please not maroon, please not maroon, please not maroon."

Being a bridesmaid is still considered a girlish endeavour – it’s an excuse for grown women to put on floofy princess dresses, wear pretty shoes, and have their hair done. Yet, tottering around the cobbled courtyard of an 18th century stately home while holding flowers for the bride seems out of the comfort zone for many twenty-somethings today.

I’m not sure why people haven’t risen up yet and said: “Hang on, what on earth is going on?”

According to a survey conducted by bridal accessories company Weddington Way this year, the average bridesmaid can expect to pay $1500 per wedding in the US (that's around £1000), which includes clothing, wedding related events, travel and accommodation. While I still want to support my friends on the biggest day of their lives, I just don’t want to spend my (non-existent) savings or wear a matching merlot dress along the way.

For me, the idea of a traditional wedding is the epitome of gender segregation

It goes far beyond being just concerned about money or time too. For me, the idea of a traditional wedding is the epitome of gender segregation. Historically, it’s been the moment when a bride is handed over to her husband; she leaves the safe, comforting nest of her female friends behind and transitions into becoming the matriarch of her new family.

Sure, now things are different; in the UK and US at least, same-sex marriage is legal, and it's likely that your best friend, whether you're a man or a woman, could be of the opposite gender. So why are weddings still structured around gendered roles? Some of us wonder how to ask our male friends to be our bridesmaids, or invite our favourite male cousin to the hen party. Gender segregation is alive and kicking on a day that’s meant to be celebratory, and for me it feels outdated.

It turns out I’m not alone. Olivia, a 25-year-old from London thinks that “the notion of a bridesmaid is archaic and ridiculous." She asks: "What do I do if I have male friends?”

For Katherine*, the tradition of having bridesmaids and not "bridespeople" meant she ended up without the people she cared about by her side when she got married last year. “I didn’t think not having bridesmaids was a ‘thing’. My three best and oldest friends are male. And, although I have close female friends, they’re not the people whose shoulders I usually cry on, so I had to go through my very terrifying and emotionally stressful wedding day without the people I needed around me.”

“I feel the term bridesmaid is laden with meaning”, says Annie. “It’s exactly the reason why I didn’t want to have bridesmaids at my wedding. It makes my group of super-strong female and male friends sound weak. Rather than teachers, civil servants, journalists, and doctors, my friends have become a clump of women with their hair done up all nicely, wearing frilly dresses. My friends and I are the furthest thing from meek or maid-like you could imagine.”
Instead, Annie joking referred to her “bridesmaids” as “supporters” – which included her best female friend Louise, her brother Dan, and her oldest friend Lilly. “They were 'allowed' to wear whatever they liked and we didn’t have a colour scheme, because, frankly, I’d rather have a laid back wedding with all of us having an ace time than people terrified to eat in case they spill wine on themselves.”

Although I like the idea of tradition as much as the next person, I’m not such a fan of traditions that continue to box women into people who coo over flowers and dresses, and as in the film Bridesmaids, get super competitive over wedding organisation. Yet, for many women I speak to, bridesmaids still play a special part in weddings, and it’s a tradition they would be unhappy to lose.

For Kate, being a bridesmaid was important because it meant being there for one of her closest friends on an important day in her life. “It turned out she did need the emotional support, and it was nice to give it and feel involved. Being a bridesmaid for my friend made me feel an important part of her future as well, in a way that simply being a witness for my brother's wedding did not. I chose to have bridesmaids at my wedding for the same reason, I guess. I wanted them to feel included in my future, but I also wanted to recognise their contribution to helping me (indeed, us) get to this stage.”

Choosing who will be your bridesmaids can cause added stress at a wedding, but for Elena, it was important to ask the right people for a support network. “I am pro-bridesmaids if you need a support network but I don't think you should ever be bullied into having someone because you were one at theirs or you've known them forever," she says. "One of my bridesmaids stayed with me at my mum's the night before the wedding and I wouldn't have had it any other way."
Elena explains that she was very liberal with her wedding, and wanted everyone to feel comfortable during the day. “I didn't want anyone wearing anything that was uncomfortable or having to do something they didn't want. I agreed on a colour with the girls and then my mum and I found a dress pattern which could be modified to look good on all of them. They approved the dresses and my mum made them."

Having bridesmaids needn’t be totally resigned to a thing of the past; for some people it clearly provides an important support network, and it’s still an excuse to party when you need to step away from wedding-stress. But, perhaps like other aspects of traditional weddings, the notion of an all-girl, lavender frock-wearing posse could be consigned to the dustbin of history.

Instead, how about a gender-unimportant friendship group who will, as all good friends do, come together as your big day? Weddings have become gargantuan money spinners – but we should remember the important things: love, friendship and family – no matter what the gender.