Whether you are the bride or one of the bridesmaids in an upcoming marriage ceremony, you have probably given a certain amount of thought to the role that bridal attendants play. Even though a bridesmaid no longer serves exactly the same purpose that she did in the precursors to today's western weddings, she is nevertheless more than just a pretty face. Given the tasks overworked brides have asked for assistance with, it is almost certain that a number of weddings throughout the years will not have turned out as flawlessly as they have if not for the bridesmaid.
While in modern times a bridesmaid is expected to assist with anything the bride requests or needs, apparently her duties were of a more serious, if not at least supernatural, nature in earlier days. A custom once existed where maidens dressed similarly to the bride would accompany her as her protectors on her way to the groom's village. This would deflect spurned suitors from kidnapping the bride or from stealing her dowry. Roman law once required witnesses to come to weddings in order to confuse evil spirits as to the identity of the bride and groom. This meant that female wedding attendants came to a marriage ceremony in garments akin to the bride's, while male wedding attendants--the forebears of ushers--wore attire that resembled the groom's own clothing. This supposedly threw off bad luck that could be directed towards an easily identifiable bride and groom.
The bridesmaid, in contemporary times, assists the bride with anything the latter needs relating to her wedding day. Duties can span the range of booking appointments for the bride and groom, to mailing out invitations and reminders to attendees of the big day. Essentially, the presence of the bridesmaid ensures that the bride has someone to lean on during one of the most important--and potentially stressful--events in her life. This is why there is usually more than one bridesmaid and why the women chosen to fill the position typically have a close bond with the bride.
The "Maid of Honor" is the chief bridesmaid. She is the one the bride designates to see to the most important tasks, such as the aforementioned bookings and reminders. If she is married, she is called the "Matron of Honor." Apparently, such a marker that distinguishes between being married as compared to not stems from the tradition of choosing bridesmaids among unwed young women of marriageable age. Thus "Junior Bridesmaids" in recent times are girls whose participation the bride wishes for in the wedding party despite the fact they are too young to get married. The expression "Always a bridesmaid, never a bride," has its origins in this practice. If a woman never got around to marrying, it was believed that the evil spirits out to harm the bride had successfully cursed her, the bridesmaid, instead.
To have an insider peek into the wedding of a dear friend or relative is enough of a reward for some bridesmaids. On the more material side of the scale for those so inclined, to have all the expenses that come with the position paid for can also be a perk. After all, unlike in olden times, bridesmaids no longer have to don apparel virtually identical to the bride's. Instead, a bridesmaid usually gets to wear a vividly colored new dress along with shoes to match, and she gets her hair and makeup styled fashionably on the day of the wedding as well. As an expression of gratitude, the bride might also give a special goody bag to her bridesmaids, the contents of which may be luxurious products that beauty lovers, or at least women, would certainly appreciate.
Being a bridesmaid can take up much of a woman's time, energy and patience, the exact degrees of which are partially dependent on the personality of the bride she is assisting. If the bride is on a tight budget and is not paying for any of her attendants' expenses, the bridesmaid can also expect to foot a bill of an uncertain amount until the entire wedding has passed. It can happen that a bridesmaid takes on more responsibilities than she can handle in all the excitement, only to discover soon enough that her schedule and prior commitments do not allow much more room for new activities. In this case, regardless of how tactfully she informs the bride of her plight, she should get ready for, perhaps, some momentary tension. Although not every woman turns into a so-called "bridezilla" when she is about to get married, the fact that a wedding is usually a vital event in a woman's life can trigger perfectionist tendencies. Friends and family can expect to notice this, even though these traits are not a normal part of the bride's makeup. As bridesmaids communicate with the bride on a regular basis, they will have to help her through trying times, if indeed she gets overwhelmed.