In the days and months after your engagement your nearest and dearest friends are going to start looking at you with anticipation in their eyes. What are they waiting to find out? It’s definitely not your venue selection or who will be catering the reception. Their hungry eyes are waiting to see if they have made the cut for your bridal party, or the ultimate honour of best man / maid of honour.
While you deliberate on your big decisions those looks will persist, and some might even be so bold as to ask the question; “So, who is going to be your maid of honour?” What we don’t often get asked is “why a maid of honour?”
Before you choose your special few, let’s take a moment to reflect on the rich history of marriage celebrations and revel in the realisation that weddings are, at their core, beautifully bonkers. There are a huge range of legends, myths, and superstitions shaping our modern day wedding ceremonies, many of which come from Ancient Rome. The Romans were a suspicious and paranoid lot who believed a bride and groom needed ten maids and ten men to stand by them and protect them from evil spirits. The bridal parties dressed identically in order to confuse the devilish forces and prevent them from targeting the love birds.
Other origin stories say that the parties weren’t there to chase the bad vibes away; they were there to protect the couple from dangerous dowry thieves and bride-nappers. Who might try to kidnap the bride? According to legend the tradition comes from cultures where “marriage by capture” was common. The groom’s men formed a little army to ride in and snatch up the bride from a neighbouring community or disapproving family. They had to fight off anyone that got in the way of the kidnapping and stand guard to prevent her family from trying to bride-nap her back.
If a family knew that a particular girl was going to be targeted by captors they would have her maids and servants dress identically to her. They hoped that this would confuse the little army of kidnappers and maybe they would even pinch the wrong girl.
The best man was chosen based on his skill with a sword and his fighting prowess and presumably the maid of honour was a high ranking servant, who hopefully could pass as the bride.
An amazing mix of culture, tradition, fashion and maybe even blood-soaked battle have created the roles and responsibilities our much-loved best men and maids of honour have today. Whether it be it wielding their swords to protect your life and dowry, or simply popping that champagne by your side, it’s a gesture that remains just as relevant today in recognising how special these people are to you. Let’s hope it’s just for the latter.
Photo: Jon Gazzignato