If you’ve ever been asked to be in a wedding, attended a wedding, seen any weddings on TV, in movies, or basically seen a photo of any wedding party, you’ve likely noticed that it’s not uncommon for all the bridesmaids to be dressed in identical dresses. While the cliché says that bridesmaids dresses are, by definition, terrible, that’s not always the case. But bridesmaids have, for centuries, all donned the same frock to stand by their friend or family member’s side on one of her most special days.
Recently, bridesmaid dress choices have trended in the opposite direction, with brides and bridesmaids mixing and matching colors and styles to create the visually-perfect bridal party of their dreams. Where did that original tradition come from, anyway? And why do some brides continue to choose identical dresses for their bridesmaids to this day? From evil spirits to protection, and royal weddings to cohesiveness, there are many reasons why bridesmaids all dress the same, past and present.
Because of royal weddings and funerals
Part of the reason, but not the only reason, that bridesmaids often wear identical dresses, comes from royal weddings in the U.K. In an interview with The Independent, Lou Taylor, a professor of dress and textile history at the University of Brighton said that the reason that brides in the West often dress their ‘maids in the same dresses is because of Queen Victoria’s wedding ceremony in 1841, when attendants wore white dresses that looked similar to Queen Victoria’s white gown.
Royal weddings, like royal funerals, are meticulously-staged affairs and have a lot to do with showcasing public support for the royal family. According to The Independent, Lord Chamberlain dictated what those participating in the ceremony of royal funerals would wear so specifically that he included specific fabrics. This specificity seems to have carried over when Queen Victoria chose to have all of her attendants don white, off-the-shoulder gowns with flowers tucked in their hair behind their right ears. Nowadays, in the United States, usually only the bride wears white, but the tradition of the bride’s best gals wearing the same dress stuck around.
To ward off evil spirits
Wait, really? Evil spirits? Yes. In an interview with Brides, Hanne Bank, the author of Virgin, the Untouched History, said that, originally, bridesmaids and bridal attendants were asked to dressed identically to the bride as a way to protect the couple from evil spirits that wanted to hurt or harm the bride. The idea was that the spirits would get confused and not be sure which was the bride, which would lead them to simply leave her alone and allow the couple to be married. Evil spirits were a concern for many couples.
As The Knot reported, the tradition of a groom carrying his bride over the threshold was also to protect her from evil spirits lurking below. And as Martha Stewart Weddings (via CNN) noted, evil spirits were thought to be extremely envious of the bride’s happiness on her big day. Eventually, the attempt to confuse spirits was codified into law. As Reader’s Digest reported (via MSN), in Ancient Rome, there was a legal requirement related to weddings, which mandated that each wedding have ten attendants or witnesses present, each dressed in the exact same color. This mandate served the same purpose: to make sure that any potential wrongdoers or evil spirits would be unable to interfere with the wedding, keeping the bride safe.
According to Racked, bridesmaids wore the same dress as the bride up until about 1880. You didn’t know your job as a bridesmaid was that important, did you?
To keep kidnappers away
According to Racked, one of the more traditional reasons for bridesmaids being dressed in all the same thing as the bride was to discourage kidnappers that might want to steal the bride away from her own wedding ceremony. These kidnappers could be a whole wide variety of people: ex-lovers, current lovers, disgruntled family members, familial enemies, the list goes on and on. Apparently, kidnapping was something about which engaged couples were extremely concerned. As Reader’s Digest (via MSN) reported, the bride stands on the left side so that the groom’s sword-fighting hand is free to fight intruders off and the best man is the best to have on your side in a sword fight.
Additionally, according to Reader’s Digest (via MSN), in ancient Rome and China, brides had to travel great distances to their future husbands’ hometown, leaving them and those traveling with them somewhat exposed on the road. Bandits and kidnappers were a common fear, but if all the women were dressed alike, kidnappers would have a much more difficult time discerning which was the true bride.
Aren’t you glad that couples don’t have to worry as much about that anymore? Me too.
To exert the royal family’s power
In an interview with The Independent, Taylor said that one of the reasons that identically dressed bridesmaids have been a feature in royal weddings since that of Queen Victoria in 1841 is because during each royal wedding, there’s typically a procession through the streets of the city (like London), which allow the family to show off their wealth and power. Having everyone dressed the same made for a better looking procession. Though the vast majority of wedding celebrations no longer include a large, well-attended procession through the streets, the tradition of matching — or at least coordinating — bridesmaids has remained.
To make sure they didn’t try to outdo the bride or each other
This reason for all bridesmaids traditionally dressing alike is, in all likelihood, one of the reasons still cited to this day. In an interview with The Independent, Taylor said that one of the reasons that Queen Victoria probably chose to have all of her bridesmaids dress identically to one another (and in the same color as her too), right on down to the artificial roses stuck behind their ears, was because then there was no way that bridesmaids could make choices that would overshadow either the bride or each other. The fabric, cut, color, style, even the jewelry and shoes, in some cases, were entirely regulated so the bride would be guaranteed to shine the brightest.
While bridesmaids wearing white is trendy in 2017, for the most part, you’ll only see the bride wearing white on her wedding day. So when did that change? When did brides stop dressing their ‘maids in white, and why? According to Jen Doll, the author of Save the Date: The Occasional Mortifications of a Serial Wedding Guest (via Mental Floss), the practice of all-white weddings had mostly come to an end by the time the 20th century dawned. The wedding began to focus more on the bride, so she wanted to choose a gorgeous gown that would help her stand out and wear it in a color that no one else would be wearing to ensure she would.
It minimizes dress envy and keeps the peace
If all of your bridesmaids are dressed in the exact same thing, you don’t have to worry — and neither do they — about conflicts arising from the process of having them choose their own dresses. “[H]aving the bridesmaids in the same dress minimizes the additional decisions for the bride as well as what I call ‘dress envy,'” Tasheea Nicholson, a wedding and special events planner told me.
Too many options, opinions, and details can make picking out bridesmaids dresses more than a little bit heated. “At times, selecting different looks can cause friction among the ladies when one bridesmaid has the neckline another bridesmaid wants or another has the dress length another prefers,” said Shalyce Tyson, a wedding planner and the owner of Sensational Soirees. “Too many opinions can lead to many headaches, so uniformity generally keeps the peace.”
If one bridesmaid ends up in something gorgeous and another is wearing a style she doesn’t necessary love for whatever reason, that can result in a little bit of under-the-surface tension, which is something that no one wants on their wedding day. With each woman in the same dress, there’s no need to worry about that.
It looks better in photos
While what the bridesmaids will look like in your wedding photos may or may not be at the forefront of your mind when you’re deciding what they’ll wear on your wedding day, one of the reasons that some brides continue to choose identical dresses for their best girls is because ensuring that there’s a relatively uniform “backdrop” for the wedding gown will look the best in photos.
“Of course, anything that takes the focus away from the bride in wedding photography is a bad idea. The method is to pick a favorite a color, or something that matches the overall theme at the reception,” said Jimmy Chan, a wedding photographer for Pixelicious in Montreal. “By toning down the colors, or at least keeping them within the same hue, we will focus more on their faces and expressions. In the end, isn’t that what’s most important? The people and not the dresses?”
Wedding planning is stressful and deciding what everyone else is going to wear takes time and focus away from deciding what you’re going to wear. While, of course, you want your ladies dressed in something lovely, going back and forth and trying to figure out if all the looks they’ve selected will all look beautiful when they’re standing side by side can be a lot of extra work. Picking out one dress is, frankly, easier.
“It’s a fine balancing act to make sure all the key players are happy, while still ensuring the end result matches the vision you had for the big day,” said Lindsey Bennet, the lead designer at online dress store Azazie. “A big pro of having bridesmaids wear the same thing is that it simplifies the planning process. Especially if you are bringing together bridesmaids from different locations, it can be very difficult to envision the outlook of the full bridal party in different dresses without seeing them all in person, side by side. Wearing the same dress ensures a unified look, with reduced logistics.”
Not all bridesmaids can be trusted to pick a dress the bride likes
According to Jenifer Gay, a wedding planner and the owner of Blue Flamingo Weddings, some brides opt for a uniform style because they think “some of my bridesmaids have really bad taste and I don’t trust them to pick a dress I like or that is appropriate.”
You can be great friends with someone and just have wildly different styles. Picking something and having all of your bridesmaids order that specific dress will save you the worry that you’ll be upset with one of your friends’ choices or have to have a difficult conversation about a dress that you’re not happy with.
Because that’s what the bride’s fiancé/mother/future mother-in-law says you’re supposed to do
The tradition of it all can be difficult to shake, especially if your mother, future mother-in-law, fiancé, or other family member is quite insistent that bridesmaids are supposed to all be dressed in the same thing.
“My own husband told me this when I suggested letting each bridesmaid choose the dress they like on them,” Gay said. “He said it would be weird.” Rather than starting a whole big fight over something that’s probably ultimately not the most important detail in the entire wedding, some brides agree with family members (or future family members) who say that it’s what they really want.
Some brides, themselves, also feel the pull of tradition when deciding what to have their bridesmaids wear and insist that they all wear the same dress. “[An] entire bridal party in the same dress is the norm and what we expect,” said Anne Churchill, a wedding and events planner and the owner of AnnaBelle Events and Jubilee Planning Studio. “It works, so why reinvent the wheel when the couple already has another 100 items on their to-do list.” Whether family members are insistent that the tradition matters or the bride feels that way herself, identically dressed bridesmaids are still traditional in many U.S. weddings.
To match or not to match?
From protection from family members, potential kidnappers, and evil spirits, to aesthetics, tradition, and simplicity, there are many, many reasons why brides opt to choose one dress for their bridesmaids to wear. While, of course, lately there’s been a trend to mix that up a bit, and there are even ways to make sure your bridesmaids wear the same dress but still don’t match exactly, it’s not likely that the tradition of matching dresses for bridesmaids is going away for good anytime soon.