Today when you choose a bridesmaid you are probably looking for someone who is a good friend, someone who will throw you an awesome bachelorette party, or someone who will give you the straight dope when you go wedding dress shopping.
However, if you’d lived hundreds of years ago, choosing the right bridesmaids could mean life or death. At the very least, your immortal soul was on the line.
Much of the tradition we have surrounding bridesmaids comes from early Roman Law which required weddings to have ten witnesses. These witnesses would dress in clothes identical to the bride and groom in order to confuse evil spirits who were believed to be present at wedding ceremonies.
Surrounding yourself with a party of dopplegangers also came in handy as recently as late 19th century England where those not supportive of the marriage union could curse the couple and doom their future life together. Making it more difficult to figure out who the actual bride and groom were by insisting everyone dress the same offered protection against such curses.
Bridesmaids also served as protection for brides as they traveled from their village to the village of their new husband. Dumped boyfriends out for revenge or robbers eager to get their hooks in the bride’s dowry had to get past the security detail of bridesmaids first.
Protecting the bride’s life and being a decoy for curses and evil spirits weren’t the only risks bridesmaids of yore took on. If one was selected to be a bridesmaid three times, she faced the danger of never getting married. Her only hope was catching the bridal bouquet–which was traditionally thrown to only the bridesmaids–and being the next to marry. If she didn’t catch the bouquet and was a bridesmaid three times, superstition held she would have to take on the duties of bridesmaid four more times before she would have hope of shaking off her old-maid status.
Thankfully, today the risk of being a bridesmaid is much lower and undoubtedly more fun. Even though your bridesmaids won’t need to save you from nefarious highwaymen, it never hurts to have a friend with a solid round-house kick in your corner.