Today, if I say the word bridesmaid, you know I'm talking about a friend of the bride who is part of the wedding party. Of them, one friend is asked to be the main bridesmaid known as the maid of honor if unmarried or matron of honor if she is married. Bridesmaids today are often a mixture of married and unmarried friends, but it wasn’t always this way because, traditionally, bridesmaids were selected from young unmarried women who were of marriageable age.
Modern day maid of honor responsibilities include things like planning the bridal shower, dress shopping with the bride, and coordinating the bridesmaids. During the ceremony she makes sure the bride’s train is straightened, holds the bridal bouquet, and things like that. In similar fashion, in 1700s the maid of honor helped the bride remove her gloves and held them during the ceremony, and instead of a bouquet she might have been asked to hold the dow-purse which symbolized the groom’s dowry to his wife. It was represented by coins placed on the service book. By the eighteenth century this was no longer part of the ceremony, except in parts of northern England where the practice continued into the nineteenth century.
|The matron of honor joined the right hands of the bride and groom.|
In ancient Roman weddings, the matron of honor had to be the model of moral excellence with a reputation for fidelity and obedience. She couldn’t be married more than once and had to have a living husband at the time of the wedding. Her part in the ceremony was to join the right hands of the bride and groom for the first time.
Unique Bridesmaids Roles
The maid of honor role isn’t the only one that has evolved over time. In medieval times, the bridesmaids dipped plum buns in spiced ale and made the bride eat it to restore "the energies." Of course, those responsibilities change from one culture and time to another, but a few more unique duties worth mentioning include things like leading the bridegroom to the church (while the groomsmen did the same with the bride).
In Victorian times, bridesmaids were expected to make party favors using materials like ribbons and flowers. These would be pinned onto guests’ sleeves or shoulders as they left the ceremony. And when it came to bridesmaid dresses, the wedding custom of this era had everyone dressed in white, including the bridesmaids who were to be younger than the bride. They not only wore white dresses but short white veils, while the bride's veil and train were more elaborate. By the twentieth century this tradition fell out of favor and only the bride wore white.
|A wedding from middle 1800s|
Protection from Evil Spirits
When looking at the history of wedding traditions, there’s often a “good luck” element or some sort of protection from evil spirits superstition, and when it comes to the bridesmaid tradition it’s no different. In this case, the beliefs are tied to the bridesmaid herself, for the superstition held that if the bridesmaid stumbled as she walked the aisle to the altar, that she would never marry. In Victorian times, the bridesmaids carried bunches of garlic, herbs and grains to drive the evil spirits away.
Today we have a saying, “Always a bridesmaid, but never a bride.” In the sixteenth century being a bridesmaid was considered a good way to find a husband. I think some people still believe that today, but back then if a person walked the aisle as a bridesmaid three times without getting married, it was believed evil spirits had cursed her. The antidote to this curse was to be a bridesmaid four more times to hit the lucky number seven.