weddings

'You don't actually want to choose your dress.' What I've learnt from being a bridesmaid 5 times.

By the end of this summer, I’ll have been a bridesmaid in five different weddings. Over the years I’ve rounded up tipsy hens with military precision, squeezed into ill-fitting frocks and ugly-cried at one too many father-of-the-bride speeches.

For someone whose view on the concept of marriage can be described as dubious at best, I consider this to be quite the achievement. Have I not launched into enough feminist rants in the company of my bride-to-be mates? Or am I just that good a friend?

From the hair and makeup ‘trials’ to the identikit dresses, bridesmaiding is a strange thing: a ritual from a bygone era updated by fervent WhatsApp group chats and hen dos in accessible destinations.

But for me, being a bridesmaid was a chance to really be there for my friends as they took this amazing, courageous step: you’re basically a half-cut cheerleader in chiffon. So for any prospective bridesmaids out there, these are the lessons I’ve learned from (kind of) walking down the aisle five times…

Mamamia Confessions: The worst request I received as a bridesmaid. Post continues after video. 

Being asked is probably the best bit.

It’s an unfortunate fact of our modern world that being asked to be a bridesmaid is the moment your friendship is validated, confirmed to the world that yes: you are the best, most supportive and fun friend ever.

You want to shout an emphatic “Yes!” to this question, not narrow your eyes and say you need time to consider your options. Sure, bridesmaiding is an inextricable feature of a patriarchal construct in which women are chattel handed from one man’s house to another and you might be undoing everything you stand for by perpetuating it. But why let your principles ruin a magical moment?

You don’t actually want the freedom to choose your own dress.

‘Helping’ the bride choose her dress is the fun bit. You get to nosy around expensive bridal stores, watching your mate try on fish tail dresses and tea dresses and A-line dresses until you’re merry on the free prosecco, tearfully bellowing “that’s the one!” to anything she puts on.

Then comes your dress. Look, I’ve happily worn it all: blue chiffon, pink chiffon, purple chiffon (seriously, can someone make a decent bridesmaid dress in a material that doesn’t make you look like Eton Mess?). But being told what to wear is just weird. Back when I was new to the world of bridesmaiding, I liked to complain about being given a prescribed outfit. “It’s weird,” I would rant to anyone who’d listen. “Imagine if you suddenly demanded all your friends turned up to your birthday party in matching outfits and specified makeup?”

How naive I was. Because then along came my sister, who let me choose the dress. Not only did she let me choose my dress, but the dress of the other bridesmaids. The colour, the fit, the style — everything. Trust me, that’s not a responsibility you want. Because it turns out, even when the bride says she’s on board with glitter-gold dresses and matching disco ball shoes, she actually wants a very specific shade of forest green.

Planning the hen do is a minefield.

I’ll just come out and say it: I’m now the queen of hen dos. I’ve been to more afternoon teas, cooking lessons, cocktail making seshes, nude drawing classes and gin-fuelled karaoke nights than I care to count.

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But the art of hen do planning (side note: why do we get clucking poultry while men get stag?) is something I’ve honed over many years. Because organising the party is a treacherous minefield in which one misstep could threaten the very foundation of your friendship. Because she might say she ‘has an issue with penis straws’. But you need to read between the lines to know that means she wants two penis straws stuck in her hair come midnight.

You’re the bride’s right-hand woman, her trusted confidant. You’re supposed to know when she says, “Absolutely no strippers”, what she’s really saying is: “I’d quite like at least one sweaty naked man gyrating in my immediate vicinity”. A girl secretly sad about not having a bloke named Kevin thrusting in her face is not something you want on your conscience, believe me.

You *can* say no to stuff.

Contrary to popular (or maybe just my) belief, fulfilling the role of bridesmaid doesn’t mean you have to become an opinion-less mute, bowing to the increasingly outlandish demands of a bridezilla.

At a recent wedding, my friend and co-bridesmaid said a gentle but firm “No, I don’t like this, please take it off” to a makeup artist who’d been a bit overzealous with the foundation. The makeup artist made some adjustments, the bride was happy, the world didn’t end. As a reformed people pleaser, I looked on in awe.

I guess I’d internalised a lot of sexism around weddings: part of me thought that the formality of the occasion meant you just had to go along with everything, no matter how unflattering the shoes or drag queen-y the makeup.

It’s better if you don’t trip up during your speech.

Speeches are the best, and the absolute worst. I used to rant, again to anyone who’d listen, about how unfair it was that only the men get to make speeches. So it was really cool to see my bride-to-be friends and their mums and female friends make beautiful, heartfelt, hilarious speeches in recent years.

That was until I was asked to make one myself. There’s nothing like having to stand up in front of 120 people to say something perfectly witty yet sentimental to make you yearn for the patriarchy. Simpler times.

My best advice is don’t drink too much before the speech. What you think looks like shedding one dainty tear while you get charmingly choked up is actually slurring your words beyond all comprehension while a mix of mascara and snot runs down your face.

Another word to the wise: try not to trip over on the mic cable half way through your speech and shout “fuck!” directly into the mic right beside your poor, long-suffering grandparents. Speaking from experience.

Listen: You’re Engaged! Now What? Post continues after audio. 

Being a bridesmaid changed my mind about weddings.

As much as I rail against some of the more outdated traditions of weddings, having a front-row seat to my best friends’ nuptials has shown me that getting married doesn’t have to be some archaic rite of passage. Through each of these occasions, I realised: I actually bloody love weddings.

All my friends put their own joyful, eccentric and individual twists on their big days. It meant the weddings were this gorgeous expression of the couple’s personality. Despite the age-old pomp and circumstance, the weird rituals and customs, these days most weddings are just a celebration of love. With added penis straws.

This article originally appeared on Medium and has been republished with full permission. For more from Clare Wiley, you can follow her on Twitter or check out her website.

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