Do Brides Expect Too Much From Their Bridesmaids?

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  • Brides, listen up: we love you, we’re honoured to stand by you on your special day, but we need to have a serious chat about the tantrums and the dodgy dresses. Marie Claire's Entertainment Editor Martha Hayes explains...

    ‘Elbowing my way through the crowded stalls of The National Wedding Show at London’s Olympia, flyer after flyer is forced into my hand.

    I don’t make eye contact; I don’t need hideous tiaras, singing waiters, teeth whitening or tattoo cover-ups. And I certainly do not want one of those digital storybook wedding albums. In fact, I’m not even getting married. But I am being a dutiful bridesmaid.

    I couldn’t be happier for my best friend, Liz. I was moved to tears when she called me on New Year’s Eve to tell me he had popped the question. I’m honoured to be one of her bridesmaids, and I can’t wait to be by her side. But the wedding’s more than a year off, and already we’ve graduated from pointing and sniggering at bridal magazines together to poring over Pinterest and actually attending a national exhibition. She now spends Saturday mornings visiting potential venues (in Essex, of all places; six months ago she would never have gone to Essex), when, before, the pair of us would nurse gin hangovers. Just where will it end? Will I even recognise her in 12 months’ time?

    Most of the women in my life – unlike me – are now married, and when you’ve worn dodgy pink sash/tiara combos, witnessed tantrums and squeezed into corsets as many times as I have, concerns like these aren’t unfounded. Being a bridesmaid is a brutal business. It’s expensive, it causes arguments, and you’ll most likely hate what you’re wearing.
    And that’s just the hen do.

    My bridesmaid career didn’t get off to the best start. I’d just turned 16, it was my cousin’s wedding in Cardiff, and on the four-hour drive that morning I had my very first hangover. There was a bucket on my lap for the entire journey; my mum didn’t speak to me for the rest of the day.

    At 22, I was a bridesmaid with my sister for our other sister’s wedding and I had my first experience of a bridal boutique (and that’s a polite word for it). Owner ‘Anne-Marie’ convinced us that we were all at least one dress size bigger than we actually were. Imagine being a natural size eight and being told, ‘Don’t go eating any pies,’ before your sister’s wedding. We had to pay to have the subsequent adjustments to our sleeveless maroon silk gowns. I still can’t decide whether our nemesis was a bitter jilted bride or a really shrewd businesswoman. 

    But at least I got a say in that dress. At another friend’s recent wedding, all five bridesmaids had to wear identical green lace dresses. Really? Is that still a thing? Because it’s not fair on any age, body type or skin tone. Oh yeah, and one of the bridesmaids was a ten-year-old.

    Then there are the accessories, which usually come out of your own pocket (if the dress hasn’t already). I’m not talking about jewellery or crippling diamanté sandals (because I’ve had to wear them twice – thank you, darling sisters), but extras such as professional hair and make-up. If all the other bridesmaids are up for it, it can feel pretty lonely saying no. I once had a spray tan because all the other ’maids did. I had never fake-tanned before, went from porcelain to an Oompa-Loompa orange and looked nothing like myself.

    I don’t mean to sound unsisterly; I love my girlfriends and want to be a supportive sidekick. I just hate that brides-to-be seem to undergo a severe personality change in the process. And that being a bridesmaid means you have to start taking an unhealthy interest in your appearance, pretend to enjoy hanging around in a gaggle of girls, abide by strict Excel spreadsheet itineraries, and do ‘activities’ so cringeworthy there was once a time you couldn’t have been paid to do them. You’re definitely doing the paying this time – it’ll be in the hundreds and you’re probably covering the bride’s costs, too.

    And then there is the hen, the dreaded hen. I’ve organised (or participated in) everything from a week-long holiday in France (the bride said she would ‘cry’ if we stayed in London) to making fascinators over afternoon tea, which is even more boring than it sounds. Even the hen-do-we’re-not-calling-a-hen-do in a spa made me uneasy. Who wants to lounge about in a Jacuzzi with people they hardly know? Another hen, at a racecourse, was followed up by an email from one of my friend’s friends suggesting a ‘hen-do reunion’. Er…

    Brides can be ruthless. When it all starts fairly innocently (at, say, a wedding exhibition), it’s disheartening to see it become such a competitive charade. I blame bitchy reality shows such as Four Weddings, and Facebook one-upmanship. The more weddings we’re exposed to, the higher the stakes, the bigger the ‘fairy tale’ it becomes and the more impossible it is to achieve – at least without ruffling a few feathers (mine). 

    Which is why I particularly dislike those storybook wedding albums. That bit in the morning where the bridesmaids lark around drinking champagne, and help the bride into her enormous meringue? Not even serious caners want a glass of fizz at 8am, and I can recall my sister actually barking the photographer out of her bedroom she was so stressed. In the album, it has been turned into a pretty, but entirely fictional account of the actual day.

    Who knows what I’ll be like about my own wedding? Maybe I’ll be the biggest bridezilla of them all. But I hope I’ve learned what not to do. And I hope Liz is reading this. I love you, and I want to support you on the biggest day of your
    life. Just don’t push it, OK?

    What every bride really needs to know:


    Make hen-do demands
    We’ll be much happier to give you the send-off-into-married-life you deserve if you give us the freedom to organise it. That said, a monetary contribution wouldn’t go amiss. Who do you think we are, Kim Kardashian?

    Give us babysitting duties
    We’ll do most things you ask of us. But keeping your divorced parents apart and humouring the groom’s mad aunt is a bit much. Even for us.

    Forget to throw the bouquet
    Drunkenly scrabbling on the floor for the bridal flowers (and the promise that we might be next) is the one tradition we actually like. It makes us feel like we’re in a movie. Please don’t take that away.


    Let bridesmaids have a say in their dress

    We’re the ones who have to wear it. If you’ve never seen me in Cadbury purple before, there’s a good reason. The same goes for my hair accessories. I don’t want to match your seven-year-old niece.

    Try to relax
    We know you want it all to be absolutely perfect, but walking everyone 100 metres in heels for a picture by a lake won’t make the day any better. It will just make people cold and grouchy.

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