"The Western bridesmaid tradition is thought to have originated from Roman Law, which required ten witnesses at a wedding in order to outsmart evil spirits (believed to attend marriage ceremonies) by dressing in identical clothing to the bride and groom, so that the evil spirits would not know who was getting married. Even as late as 19th century England, there was a belief that ill-wishers could administer curses and taint the wedding. In Victorian wedding photographs, for example, the bride and groom are frequently dressed in the same fashion as other members of the bridal party.
Other people cite the Biblical story of Jacob, and his two wives Leah and Rachel, who both literally came with their own maids as detailed in the Book of Genesis (29:24, 46:18) as the origin of bridesmaids. These women were handmaidens (servants or slaves) instead of social peers."
"The required duties of bridesmaids are very limited. They are required to attend the wedding ceremony and to assist the bride on the day of the wedding. Bridesmaids in Europe and North America are often asked to assist the bride with planning the wedding and a wedding reception. In modern times, a bridesmaid is also typically asked to play a role in planning wedding-related events, such as a bridal shower or bachelorette party, if there are any. These, however, are optional activities; according to etiquette expert Judith Martin, 'Contrary to rumor, bridesmaids are not obliged to entertain in honor of the bride, nor to wear dresses they cannot afford.'"
Bridal parties according to The Knot (well, I gave up looking after finding those for the Maid of Honor, since that site likes to focus more on all the wonderful things you can buy--as a bride, bridesmaid, mother of the bride, you name it! well, unless you're a groom, because men clearly don't care):
I like the Wikipedia version better. Especially the bit about not expecting anyone to throw a party for me or wear a dress they can't afford. Also the tricking the evil spirits bit, though my plans will not result in any of my bridal party looking anything like me. Here are my expectations for my Bridal Squad*:
- Be my friends (done!) Includes all that "support the bride" stuff, but it's stuff I know they'll do anyway because that's what makes them my friends in the first place. And I'll do the same for them when they get married, whether I'm in their wedding party or not.
- Get a dress that you love within the palette (green-yellow-orange earthy tones, with a possible hint of deep burgundy thrown in).
- Come to the shower if you can.
I think that's it. Really I just want to celebrate and honor these connections as part of my wedding, and to have my best friends by my side if I get anxious or overwhelmed or otherwise emotional. Isn't that what this is supposed to all be about? Well, that and fooling some evil spirits.
* Still in the market for a phrase I really like. I don't like "bridesmaids."