She's had enough taffeta to last a lifetime.
Meet the author of "Bad Bridesmaid: Bachelorette Brawls and Taffeta Tantrums-Tales from the Front Lines."
Siri Agrell is a journalist. She gets paid to write for a living. But one friend thought she went too far when she wrote an article in a national newspaper about the role of bridesmaids in the modern-day wedding. And that same friend gave Agrell the boot from her bridal party. But Agrell lives to write about it. "Bad Bridesmaid" is a hilarious tale of weddings, bridesmaids and brides gone wild.
Read an Excerpt from "Bad Bridesmaid" below:
SEA FOAM BLUES
It's a bridesmaid's dress. Someone loved it intensely for one day. Then, tossed it . . . like a Christmas tree. So special, then bam-it's on the side of the road, tinsel still clinging to it, like a sex crime victim, underwear inside out, bound with electrical tape.
-Marla Singer, Fight Club
I didn't want to come out of the dressing room.
It was springtime and we were shopping for the bridesmaid dresses that I and three other girls would wear down the aisle in July. The outing had started out like any other weekend shopping trip with friends. It was a gorgeous, brisk but sunny Saturday morning and The Bride, another bridesmaid, and I strolled through a trendy shopping district laughing at people's outfits and chatting about where we would stop for lunch. The sidewalks were crammed with street vendors, hot dog salesmen, and women jumping the gun on summer, barelegged under their flirty skirts, despite the chilly breeze. Music blared from outdoor speakers and we ducked in and out of stores if something pretty caught our eye. We were not, however, the only female shoppers on the strip, and our bubble of bridal bliss would soon be burst. As we were planning our best friend's wedding, the city was abuzz with a different sort of major event planning. It was high school prom time, and the malls were teeming with teenage Lolitas, strutting around in size-zero jeans and taunting us with their tiny frames.
Psychologically, I wasn't ready to hunt for dresses alongside three hundred ninety-pound debutantes. I didn't want to hear them talk about how their minuscule asses looked fat or be forced to contemplate how many years had gone by since my own high school graduation, when I regrettably wore a dress I had made myself and hemmed with purple feathers.
Physically, I was equally unprepared for the task at hand. It was still cool enough outside to require socks, and I had wisely selected a dark pair that were sure to look fantastic when worn with my Hush Puppies and a strapless peach cocktail dress. It should also be noted that underwear has never been my thing, and I had convinced myself that going commando while dress shopping was an acceptable way to avoid having my pantyline pointed out by a stick-thin saleswoman who probably ironed her thong before putting it on. And so I found myself clad in a cheap, off-white gauzy number that I had managed to zip up over my pasty white back, my private areas fully visible through the translucent material, my socks and shoes doing little to heighten the outfit's already minimal appeal, wondering how I could avoid showing it to my friends.
The small curtained dressing room stall in which I stood did not even provide me with a mirror, let alone a window through which to escape, so I emerged with only a vague idea of the disaster that awaited me. Outside, I was confronted by my startlingly unglamorous reflection in the full-length mirror, the store's fluorescent lights making matters worse with their sickly strobe-light flickering. It would have been less painful for everyone involved had I just walked out buck naked. At least then I might have gotten a laugh.
As I had feared, the sheets of gauzy taffeta were not successful in creating an opaque layer, and the dress was as transparent as the look of disgust on the faces of my fellow shoppers. My body, in all its post-winter, pre-diet glory, was hidden by only a fine mist of poorly constructed fabric and the length of my two black tube socks. Across the store, a sixteen-year-old emerged from another dressing room wearing the exact same dress, with a pink slip underneath and high heels on her pedicured feet, her perfectly toned frame a cruel reminder of how my own body had looked before I was introduced to beer, Beaujolais, and brie. She was my polar opposite reflected back at me. And I swear I saw her smirk.
Putting up a Stink
How a woman looks in a bridesmaid dress can sometimes be secondary to how it makes her feel. Wedding attendants are asked to cheerfully contend with cheap material, unforgiving seams, and boning that threatens to puncture a lung if you exhale too deeply or turn sharply to your right.
Aynsley F., an eight-timer, was made to wear a formal suit constructed from fabric she suspected had been torn from a couch. "It was one of the ugliest dresses I'd ever seen in my life," she said. "It was taffeta but it looked like upholstery. It was a mauve skirt and a jacket and there was a ruffle over the butt."
To make matters worse, she was participating in an August wedding that took place in an old, unair-conditioned church in the heart of the Deep South. "It was a long Catholic wedding in Spanish and English—twice as long because they had to do it in both languages," Aynsley remembered.
The bridesmaids wore shoes that were so cheap they began to disintegrate at the first sign of sweat. By the end of the service, they'd each lost a dress size in perspiration, their Tammy Bakker mascara streaming down their cheeks, the ruffles on their butts sagging with the weight of absorbed water, and their former kitten heels compressed into flats. They had been reduced to a lineup of deflated, soaking-wet women who looked as though they had just worked an eight-hour secretarial shift inside a sauna.
It must be awful to stand through a summer wedding draped in the skin of an old couch, but imagine what it would be like to attend a wedding in a bridesmaid dress that has already been worn and drenched in sweat.
Twenty-eight-year-old Erica P. was in a wedding where the bridesmaids' dresses were hand-me-downs from the nuptials of one of The Bride's relatives. "The dress I had to wear had been previously worn by someone with the most horrific body odor," said the three-time attendant. The Bride promised she would have the dress dry-cleaned and told Erica not to worry, the only scents permeating her wedding day would be those of fresh flowers and her own desperation to finally tie the knot.
When the dress came back, Erica pulled it out of the plastic bag and got a noseful of BO. "It was too strong for even the cleaners to get out!" she said. Throughout the wedding, the bridesmaid trailed a cloud of stink around with her dress—down the aisle and back, into the reception, and even during the group and family photos, when she had to sit on the knee of one of the groomsmen, the armpit of her dress dangerously close to his nose.
"I had to apologize for the smell of this dress I'm wearing," she said. "And of course, how many of them do you think believed that the dress smelled BEFORE I put it on?"
Pretty Awful in Pink
A few women may have to wear secondhand bridesmaid dresses, but it is a rule of modern society that no one ever wears a bridesmaid dress twice, no matter how many times they are assured of its timelessness, comfort, and durability.
Every bride tries to convince her bridesmaids that their dresses will be stunning couture worthy of a future red carpet or black-tie ball. Because of this lie, women who swear by designer labels, fashion-forward thinking, and black, black, black suddenly find themselves decked out in cheap knockoff strapless numbers in a shade of putrid purple. Almost every woman has one of these dresses in her closet, tucked away in the section reserved for things that are never worn but were too expensive to throw out, like that designer poncho that seemed like such a good idea or the three-hundred-dollar skinny jeans that you were too fat to wear after a four-dollar McDonald's meal. And when it comes to their bridesmaid dresses—like a lot of painful experiences masquerading as important milestones—women tend to remember their first time.
"The Bride first let us know that she wanted us in pink by sending an e-mail," said Madeline J., by now a five-time bridesmaid. This kind of message is among the scariest things that can happen to a woman via computer, second only to the terrifying moment when you accidentally click on a pop-up window at work and find your monitor filled with multiplying images of hard-core pornography. Rather than let The Bride's demand spiral similarly out of control, Madeline and her fellow bridesmaids wrote her back, each crafting carefully worded responses that said they supported her decision but implied that they were worried about its color-coordinated consequences.
"Well, it's your wedding, but be aware that because of my skin tone, many shades of pink make me look like I'm not wearing anything," Madeline wrote in her own reply. "Not that I mind that particularly, but it is after all your day and the attention should be focused on you."
Psychological double-talk of this manner is the only acceptable weapon against a butt-ugly bridesmaid dress. Brides are known to respond to unfiltered opinion as if you've asked them to let the groom's ex-girlfriend jump out of a cake at his bachelor party. Words such as hideously ugly must be replaced with potentially inappropriate, and the term "I'd rather die than put that on my body" substituted with "Don't you think it might clash with your flowers?" This sort of dubious dishonesty is not usually perfected until the later stages of motherhood, when women must convince their children that they are being punished for their own good.
As it happened, this bride stuck by her choice, secure in the knowledge that it did not even come close to the color of a pale girl's skin. Madeline should have been so lucky.
"It was so pink. It was not even fuchsia. Not pale pink. It was fluorescent highlighter pink," she said, still awed by the dress's nuclear capabilities years after she wore it. "It was its own light source." The dress was also floor length, A-line, shiny satin, and multiplied six times, making the bridesmaids look like Dolly Parton's backup singers, circa 1982.
Just when you thought it couldn't get any more humiliating for these poor pink bridal attendants, Madeline delivered the kicker: "She made us skip into the wedding reception."
More than a wearable wedding accessory, the bridesmaid dress has developed into a modern tool of female ritual humiliation. One suspects that there is a global conspiracy afoot to persuade women to dress up like idiots and bound down an aisle—a way to turn us against each other so we can never unite toward the goal of total world domination.
Sometimes technology has a hand in this process, complicating—or completely crashing—a wedding program already fraught with peril. Two-time bridesmaid Grace L. was in a wedding where The Bride ordered her attendants' dresses from an Internet boutique. Most bridal parties will consider this option, clicking through page after page of calf-length strapless gowns modeled by girls who would never actually be caught dead in them in public. Online, a lot of outfits look nice, but then again, a lot of people who post dating profiles on the Internet seem normal until you get back to their apartment and find a collection of rubber bondage masks hanging on the mantel. The dress Grace and her fellow bridesmaids were to wear looked pretty good on the computer screen, a strapless, empire-waisted gown in a bold color that was just modern enough without being gaudy.
"It was hot pink, which I thought could have been pretty cool," Grace said.
When the dresses were delivered, the women realized that they'd been duped, as if their Russian mail order bride had turned up and told them she was only in it for the green card.
The outfits were as badly constructed as Scott Peterson's alibi, the seams framing every inch of their tummies and highlighting all their fleshy flaws. The top was not boned, so it hung dangerously loose, threatening to collapse at the faintest provocation. And instead of being one hot pink dress, the outfit was constructed from two layers of fabric: a white sliplike foundation topped by a see-through organza overlay in bright, blinding fuchsia. Like an out-of-control science project, the fusion of the two materials created a color that was not so much hot pink as discarded Bubblicious.
"We looked like wads of gum," Grace sighed.
Brown Bunnies and Shrimpy Eighties Prom Queens
Until the nineteenth century, it would have been unheard of for a bridesmaid to wear pink—bubble gum or otherwise. Before then, bridal attendants were dressed head to toe in white, designed as clones of the bride, to distract evil spirits or jealous ex-suitors.
When the threat of wedding-day abductions and evil curses subsided in the Western world, brides were no longer content to let their friends steal their thunder by wearing outfits similar to their own. White was phased out to satisfy brides' growing desire to be the center of attention, and bridesmaids were dressed instead in coordinated hues of pale blue, pink, lilac, or green, like a collection of animated Easter M&Ms.
Forgetting that the bridal attendant role had been created to save their pretty little asses from being kidnapped or cursed, brides soon started making other additions to ensure that their bridesmaids looked nowhere near as good as they did, beginning a trend that has lasted to this day.
If you think you've got it bad, consider the poor bridesmaids of 150 years ago, who had to wear bonnets, or the women photographed in Jules Schwerin's book Wedding Styles: The Ultimate Bride's Companion, who are clutching "fashionable shepherd's crooks" in their white-knuckled hands. The motive for this Little Bo Peep theme, one has to assume, was to make the dowdy bride look like an absolute fox by comparison.
Considering that our historical foremothers were dressed like formal shepherds, modern bridesmaids have little to complain about in the form of tiered skirts, sweetheart necklines, plunging backs, or high collars, but there is still something about bridesmaid dresses for everyone to hate.
"It was the tackiest red I'd ever seen in my life," Sally N. said of the dress chosen for her friend's wedding, a satin number with flounces. "It wasn't like a really pretty deep red or any sort of classic red. It was Mexican whore red. And no offense to whores in Mexico, but it looked like it belonged in a bordello."
Another bridesmaid wore a dress that was described to her as the color of shrimp. "I imagined shit-filled veins and spindly legs," said Pamela B. The dress was also so loose that when she first tried it on she could see straight down through the neckline and to her feet. Ninety dollars in alterations later, the pale pink material had been cinched around her frame, and Pamela said she felt like an eighties prom queen: "A shrimpy eighties prom queen."
Bridesmaids who once admired the bride's ability to re-create the pages of Vogue in her own daily wardrobe may be surprised when she instructs them to dress as extras in Stephen King's Carrie or dancers in an ABBA reunion concert. But sadly, no number of bad reviews or desperate pleas from a bridesmaid are enough to shake loose the bride's grip on her chosen gown.
When Kate F., a thirty-one-year-old mother of two, was selected as a bridesmaid for her childhood friend, she told The Bride that the dress she had chosen was unflattering at best. "She didn't seem to really care that none of us were going to look good," said Kate. "She gracefully offered to pay for half of it, which was very kind. But she wanted us to have it that badly."
The dress in question also had an empire waist and flowed out from the bustline into a train at the back. From the chest down it was entirely formless, except for the puckering from the badly sewn seams, which created a rippled effect down the bridesmaids' sides. "My step-mother-in-law, who's a judge, was speechless," Kate said. "How hard is it to leave a judge speechless?" Adding to her distress, the dress was deep brown with a blue bow for trim. "At first I thought it made me look like a chocolate Easter bunny. But I didn't even look that good."
Sometimes, shopping for a bridesmaid dress provides the first indication that two women who have felt so close in every other aspect of their lives have diametrically opposed ideas about style. One woman's dream dress can be another's knee-length nightmare with spaghetti straps.
A few weeks after being named to a bridal party, successful fashion buyer Hilary M. received a phone call from her friend The Bride telling her the dresses had been found, and all she had to do was traipse on over to the store and pick hers up. As soon as she crossed over the threshold of the down-market clothing chain, Hilary knew she was in trouble.
"Already I was panicking," she said. "I looked at everything in the store and just knew I would never wear any of it."
Her own sporty-chic aesthetic was nowhere to be found among the racks of oh-so-over peasant blouses and shelves of bright pink shrugs. When she got to the counter, the saleswoman smiled supportively and handed her a two-piece dress constructed from iridescent green-blue taffeta, with a teeny-tiny tank and a full, billowy skirt.
"The top is basically just a square of fabric at the front with a tie across the back," Hilary said, shuddering at the memory. "It's backless, so you can't wear a bra. And anyone who knew me would know that they could not send me down an aisle without a bra."
She started to cry as soon as the aqua monstrosity hit her body, and dialed The Bride from her cell phone inside the dressing room while trying to hold the outfit over her double-D boobs with her free hand.
"I don't think I can wear this," she stammered through her tears, staring at her Little-Mermaid-turns-tricks reflection. Instead of asking her friend if she had lost her mind, or inquiring if the wedding was being filmed for an episode of Playboy's Bridesmaids Gone Wild: Vegas Style, Hilary grasped for the first logical excuse to reject the dress that crossed her mind.
The tattoo on her back would be visible in such a revealing gown, she reasoned, and guests might find it inappropriate. It should have been a foolproof rationale—visible tattoos are up there on most women's lists of Wedding Don'ts, along with chili dog appetizers and Guns N' Roses cover bands. Hilary had no idea what levels of inappropriateness The Bride could handle, but she was about to find out.
"She said, 'That's okay, we'll just cover it up with those stick-on jewel things,'" Hilary said, her voice still filled with disbelief. "That's where I drew the line. I'll walk down the aisle with my tits at my belly button, but you're not gluing any glitter to my back."
Project Run Away
Ready-to-wear gowns that don't stink—literally or figuratively—can be hard to find for any individual, let alone for groups of women whose bodies are as different as their income levels and natural hair colors. So instead of searching for matching dresses they can buy off the rack, many bridal parties find themselves perusing pattern books to select their gowns. And in the hopes of tailoring a design to suit their own figures, they will subject themselves to the grizzled gaze and surprisingly strong grip of dressmakers who wrap tape measures around their bodies like tourniquets and produce, several months later, a loose approximation of the dress they had in mind.
When Suzy F. and her fellow bridesmaids went for their fittings, the seamstress would break out the pins and start jabbing them with verbal abuse of her own design.
"The dresses look better on the skinny girls," she said to one.
"Did you know your hips are not symmetrical?" she told another. "You should avoid low-rise pants."
"Good thing the shawl will cover up those broad shoulders," she remarked to the third.
At her last appointment, Suzy found that her dress was cut just a little snug. The seamstress sighed before conceding that she could let the garment out at the sides, a concept she presented like an act of martyrdom. Made to feel personally responsible for the dress's lung-restricting dimensions, the bridesmaid took a deep breath and promised to lose weight. The dressmaker did not discourage her from fasting or apologize for making the dress one size too small, she simply nodded and barked, "Three to five pounds should do it."
With the bridesmaid's fate and cash deposit in her calloused, dye-stained hands, the dressmaker can say anything she wants, but pity the woman who insults the dress—or the needlework—in return.
Kirsty J. remembers arriving to be fitted for the dress she affectionately refers to as The Pink Sausage. "It had spaghetti straps like when you were a teenager and it was long and had slits up either side that basically went all the way up," she said. "I'm not Catholic, but I did not feel comfortable walking through a church in this thing."
While Kirsty managed to keep her dismay to herself, her best friend, a bridesmaid in the same wedding, let her true feelings slip. She had gone in for a fitting by herself and was soon on the receiving end of the seamstress's dissertation on the magic of marriage. On and on the woman talked as Kirsty's friend was being pinned into her dress, asking if she was excited and if she agreed that weddings were, like, the most romantic things ever.
Finally, the bridesmaid could take it no more.
"She said, 'You know, weddings aren't really everybody's idea of the ultimate fantasy, and I actually can't believe I have to walk down the aisle in this thing,'" Kirsty recounted. The occupants of the bridal boutique froze as if the curtain had finally dropped, the Wizard of Gauze visible for all to see, cranking up the hype on his fragile matrimonial kingdom. "Everyone turned around and just glared at her," Kirsty said. "She ran back into the dressing room and called me to come down and save her."
Having a bridesmaid dress custom-made is not necessarily torturous for every bridal party. It may be the sole opportunity for women to insert their own personality and flair, turning the dress-selection process into a competitive sport, an opportunity to outdo one another and even (uh-oh) the bride.
Why add to your wardrobe a boring dress you'll never wear again when you can add an outrageous, backless, bias-cut dress you'll never wear again?
Jenny T. was in a wedding where each of the fourteen bridesmaids was given four yards of green fabric and told to design her own dress along with the help of a seamstress of her choice. "It was a competition," she said. "It was unbelievable."
The Bride's rules stated that the dress had to be floor-length and use the shiniest side of the material, which was a glowing shade of seaweed no matter which way you turned it. The friends had attended a wedding the year before with a similar design edict, and one bridesmaid had reversed the fabric, producing a dress a shade lighter than everyone else's. "She wanted to be different," Jenny said. "Can you imagine? It just looked so stupid."
Jenny selected a pattern for a fitted dress with wide straps that sat just off the shoulder and dropped her fabric and design off with a reasonably priced dressmaker, whose name she had found in the phone book. Three of the other bridesmaids, meanwhile, took the opportunity to create the dresses of their dreams. They hired designers who charged them a thousand dollars each to create custom-made gowns, with the women sketching out their fantasies and demanding their own little slice of haute couture. On the day of the wedding, the bridesmaids gathered for the "big reveal," anxious to see who had created the ultimate in underling fashion.
Some had their dresses intricately beaded and one girl's was ruched from top to bottom, a dramatic pillar of sweeping lines. Two were outfitted with halter tops, one had a boat neck, and eight were strapless A-line dresses.
When each girl walked in wearing her customized concoction, the other women would scream and gush over how much they loved her dress. And when she went into the other room for a coffee or a pee, they would whisper to each other how hideous her outfit was and how much better they looked in their own.
"It was," Jenny said, "a total bitch fest."
Even if you don't hire Zac Posen to design your outfit, or have it customized with hand-glued Swarovski crystals, the average bridesmaid dress now costs between $200 and $300—roughly the equivalent of a month's rent in a small town or a week's worth of groceries in the big city. And that's before the cost of alterations.
Martha C. received her dress three days before her college friend's wedding—and three months after it was ordered—at a cost of $225. The bridal party had selected their dresses (a top with buttons up the back paired with a long skirt) on the Internet, requesting three versions in three different sizes. The other two bridesmaids were five-foot-nine and extremely slender, ordering a size zero and a size two, respectively, and Martha is just shy of five feet and wears a size twelve.
When the order showed up on the manufacturer's end, the numbered sizes appeared as 0 2 1 2, and the company believed the group had accidentally ordered four dresses instead of three. Confused, an employee called The Bride's mother and asked how many dresses they wanted. When the MOB answered "three," they arbitrarily sent a zero and two size twos.
"So I had roughly forty-eight hours to figure out how to get my size twelve ass into that dress," Martha said.
In a panic, she searched frantically for fabric that was similar to the dress. She then went to a seamstress, who agreed to insert new panels, transforming a size two into a size twelve overnight. Unfortunately, the seamstress overcompensated a little in her rush to the finish line. When Martha got dressed on the day of the wedding, the ensemble was far too big. The buttons kept slipping out of the holes, and the back of her dress would open up to reveal that the skirt was pulled up to her chest.
"Every time the waitress would serve a course of the meal, she would put the plate down with one hand and do up my buttons with the other," said Martha. "The dress ended up costing me $430."
To avoid this last-minute expense, some women adopt a do-it-yourself attitude toward alterations. Allison P. was named Maid of Honor for her best friend when they were both still in college, and The Bride found inexpensive dresses for her wedding party so they wouldn't have to dip into their student loans to pay for them. The Bride had fallen in love with a lilac-colored dress with a simple boxy cut and straps that criss-crossed down the back, dotted with tiny rosettes. Allison did not hate the dress, but when she held it up to her body, she saw that it was cut for a woman half her height.
"It's made for a much shorter person," said the five-foot-ten and curvy bridesmaid. "The hem on me hit probably mid-calf."
The spaghetti straps and open back also meant that a bra was out of the question despite Allison's ample chest. The dress was bought against her reservations, and The Bride tried to comfort her buxom friend by telling her she could make any alterations she wanted, as long as the rosettes—and her breasts—remained firmly in place.
Allison set about turning the ill-fitting dress into something slightly less revealing but somehow even more absurd. "The dress came with this chiffon shawl wrap thing," she said. "So while everyone else had their wrap nicely draped over their arms, I basically took mine and built it into the dress." First, she bunched the shawl around the straps so her bra would be covered, then wove it through the criss-crossed panels between her shoulder blades to render the back of the dress opaque. "But [The Bride] didn't want me to cut the shawl, so there was this sort of tail hanging out of the bottom," Allison went on, "so I ended up with this chiffon criss-crossed braided mess at the back of the dress, a chiffon tail, and these cappy chiffon sleeves. It looked ridiculous."
Still, Allison probably didn't stick out as much as she thought. Consider the fate of another bridesmaid in the same wedding, who could not afford to alter a dress that was equally ill suited for her tiny frame. In the wedding photos, Allison's dress just barely scrapes her knees, her improvised straps creating billowing shoulder pads, while the other girl, a tiny thing, drowns inside a dress that is at least four sizes too big, the straps falling off her shoulders and two feet of extra material pooled at her feet.
Allison's design looked almost sophisticated by comparison.
Bridesmaids may wear the dress down the aisle, but it is the garment that carries the ultimate power. Without their matching outfits, wedding attendants are nothing more than a bunch of pissed-off and pissed-drunk women who get to sit at the head table and see their names printed on the program.
Gemma H., a five-timer, had ordered her bridesmaid dress months in advance of her friend's wedding and well before the other six women who were acting as bridal attendants. The group had picked out their look online—further victims of an Internet shopping phenomenon that creates more confusion and regret than accidentally hitting Reply All after typing something dirty about your boss.
The gown was a pastel green two-piece with an A-line skirt and spaghetti straps, to be delivered to a store in The Bride's hometown, about a forty-five-minute drive from where Gemma lived. Hers happened to arrive first, a month or so before the wedding, and The Bride offered to pick it up herself and give it to Gemma the next time they met.
The handoff, however, proved more difficult than they had anticipated. The two women would pick a day when they were both available, but The Bride would cancel at the last minute with a forgotten-appointment or emergency excuse.
"Every time I called her to go get it she ended up backing out," Gemma remembered. "And there were a couple of times when I made a real effort to get the dress."
There were now just three weeks until the wedding, and Gemma was scheduled to leave her East Coast home for a two-week vacation in California. When she got home, there would be only days until the wedding, and The Bride would be too busy to deliver the dress. Gemma offered two choices: The Bride could be available to hand it off on a specific date, or she could FedEx it to Gemma's home and the bridesmaid would absorb the cost. The Bride agreed to courier the dress, but instead of shelling out the ten dollars to send it overnight, she bundled it up and sent it regular mail. The package was headed just one town over, she reasoned, so she also waived insurance for her special delivery.
Unfortunately, when The Bride was addressing the package, she accidentally wrote the wrong zip code.
"The dress never arrived," Gemma said.
She returned from vacation, but the package had not turned up. Every day she would run to the mailbox, getting more and more worried that it wouldn't show up for the big day. The Bride began calling the postal service on a daily basis, begging them to find the dress and even offering a reward for information on its whereabouts.
One day, Gemma's husband asked the postman if he had seen a package with their names on it kicking around the mail room.
"He said, 'Oh gosh, are you guys the bridesmaid dress house?'" Gemma recalled. "She had everyone looking for it."
Five of the other bridesmaids had picked up their dresses by now, and the sixth, who lived in Seattle, had received hers in the mail two days after it was sent from the East Coast bride. Gemma held out hope until the last moment, thinking she could still get the outfit altered on the day of, if necessary, but ultimately resigned herself to the fact that if she had nothing to wear, she had no claim to be in the party.
"The day before, I said, 'Well, I guess I'm not in the wedding,' and [The Bride] said, 'No, I guess not,'" Gemma remembered.
The Bride felt bad about the mix-up, but Gemma said she was not as apologetic or upset as she could have been. "She said to me, 'If this is going to be the worst thing that's going to happen at my wedding, that's not so bad.' I was like, 'Oh, thanks.'"
After the wedding, Gemma kept checking the mail hoping that the wayward gown would arrive and she could donate it to charity, claiming the $150 price as a tax write-off. It never did.
"I truly believe that some twelfth-grader in Ohio wore my bridesmaid dress to her prom," she said.
Tina M. was also expecting a delivery when she was asked to stand up as a bridesmaid for a lifelong friend. The twenty-four-year-old was newly married and ready for her first child. "I explained to her that I was trying to get pregnant and that the timing wouldn't be right as far as sizing the dress," she said.
The Bride assured Tina that it would be no problem, invoking her sister-in-law who had just been a bridesmaid while she was nine months pregnant. When the time came, Tina explained to the saleswoman that she needed to order a much larger size than would fit her current measurements.
Instead of saying congratulations and suggesting a good maternity bra to match the dress, the saleswoman did her best impersonation of the scene in Pretty Woman where Julia Roberts is expelled from a Rodeo Drive boutique. Store policy prevented women from ordering anything more than two sizes too big, the saleswoman explained haughtily, an arbitrary and nonsensical rule that she refused to bend for the sake of a baby.
"So I measured at a size ten and plunked down ninety dollars for a size twelve bridesmaid dress that was made of the unforgiving fabric of chiffon over satin," Tina said. "I remember thinking, 'I can't wait to see how this is going to turn out."
In June, Tina was five months pregnant and went for her last fitting at the bridal boutique. Her stomach was swollen with child, the elastic waistband on her pants as tight as the saleswoman's ass. She pulled the dress over her head, knowing deep down that the zipper would not close. The snobbish saleswoman stood there for several minutes, her hand on her chin, and for a moment Tina was convinced that she was going to tell her that she would have to lose the baby. In the end, the woman coldly and unapologetically informed her that there was nothing to be done, because they had built in only half an inch of extra material even though they had known she was pregnant.
"I had two more weeks of growth to go before the wedding," said Tina. "I stood there looking at the dress hanging on my bloated body, thinking, 'Oh, I'm so screwed.'"
The store said it was too late to order another dress, and Tina was forced to call The Bride and explain that she literally had nothing to wear. The Bride did not take the news well, nor did she take out her frustrations on the store and its size-ist attitude. "She told me that she'd had a list of the bridesmaids and ushers professionally printed that were to be placed on all the plates on the tables of the wedding guests," she said. "And now they couldn't be used, and that it was a waste of money."
Tina, of course, still had to pay for her dress.
Playing the Master Card
It's easy to blame Bad Bridesmaid experiences on dressmakers and store clerks, but just imagine the number of dysfunctional bridal parties they have had to deal with in their time. Deborah McCoy, a wedding planner who owns her own bridal store in Boca Raton, Florida, said she nearly stopped stocking bridesmaid dresses because of the drama it entailed, and changed the policy in her boutique to contend with imploding wedding parties.
Originally, when brides ordered their attendants' gowns, McCoy asked for a 50 percent deposit up front and the rest of the cost when the dresses came in. She discovered, though, that bridesmaids frequently went bye-bye before the dresses were even sewn, with a bride throwing her friend out of the wedding or the attendant storming off in disgust.
"I'd be stuck with the dresses," McCoy explained. "So I said, 'I want all of it up front.' That's how bad it got."
A bridesmaid dress designer named Sadie T. witnessed a Surreal Life–quality bridal party meltdown when a bride changed her mind about the gowns at the last minute. The woman had come in to the store weeks earlier with three of her five bridesmaids, and they had all happily settled on the idea of selecting individual styles in the same color and fabric.
"The girls were going to end up in a dress that they were comfortable in, in a color that they looked good in, and they were so excited," Sadie said.
She should have known it would never be that easy. On the day of the group's first consultation, The Bride swept in with all five bridesmaids in tow, and while they selected the style of their individual dresses, she was busy putting a kink in their plans. She sidled over to a rack of last season's styles and zeroed in on a strapless gold brocade number from the store's Fall/Winter collection that screamed of fabric-induced heatstroke. "It's beautiful, but the wedding is in the middle of August," Sadie said. "The dresses are made from heavy, heavy synthetic brocade and are lined in acetate. I don't care if it's strapless, you would die in that dress in the summer."
By that point, unfortunately, The Bride had abandoned reason along with the promise that her attendants would be comfortable. She pulled the dress off the rack and instructed one of the bridesmaids to try it on. To show that they were willing to be good sports, all of the women tried on the dress, hoping to demonstrate how bad it looked and how much each of them truly hated it. The gold hue did not complement anyone's coloring, and the conservative cut made them look like a woman's choir about to perform at an abstinence convention.
"A couple of them were kind of okay with the shape but none of them liked the fabric," Sadie said. "But the bride just made the executive decision, 'You're all going to wear this dress.'"
With those seven little words, the store descended into chaos. The girls asked The Bride why she had abandoned their original plan, begged her to reconsider, and even threw down a trump card when they felt they were cornered, pointing out that she would now have to change the color of their bouquets, which had already been ordered.
Unmoved, The Bride told them her decision was final, and that her bridesmaids would wear brocade. It was then that things turned ugly. The bridesmaids started screaming profanities at their friend as she yelled over and over, "It's my day! It's my day!" The wedding attendants called her selfish and The Bride told them if they were really her friends they would do as she said. Throughout it all, the Father of the Bride sat in a corner at the back of the store, smiling serenely. He did not intervene or offer an opinion, chastise his daughter, or apologize for the ruckus.
"He just crossed his hands, like, 'Whatever my baby wants, my baby gets,'" Sadie recalled with dismay.
With no chance of a third-party intervention, the bridal party broke off into groups to plan their next move. Two of the bridesmaids consoled The Bride, smoothing her hair and telling her that everything would work out fine. The other three gathered in a huddle at the front of the store, the defensive line planning their last, desperate Hail Mary pass.
It was clear no one was going to back down and, like Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie, each would forever blame the other for the demise of their relationship.
Finally, the disgruntled bridesmaids asked The Bride flat out to make a decision between them and the dresses. Her response came without a pause: "If you were really my friends, you wouldn't make me choose."
"They said, 'Okay, that's all we need to hear. Find yourself three more fucking bridesmaids,'" Sadie remembered. "And they left. They stormed out."
By this point the other two bridesmaids were sobbing, The Bride was pale, and Sadie held her breath to see what would happen next. She expected The Bride to run after her friends or at least apologize to her for creating such a disturbance in the store. Instead, to everyone's surprise, The Bride reached into her purse.
"She took out her Visa," Sadie said, "slammed it down on the counter, paid for two gold brocade strapless dresses, and walked out."
Whatever baby wants, baby gets.