This Is Why You Have a Maid of Honor

Playing favorites since the 19th century

Updated 01/25/18

Melissa Marshall

In Catalyst Wedding Co. editor Liz Susong’s weekly column devoted to the feminist bride, she dives headfirst into the crazy history behind common wedding traditions we may take for granted. Liz investigates here.

If it were possible to be a professional maid of honor, I would apply in a heartbeat. And I’d probably make good money, too, because who wouldn’t want a top notch MOH who’s really got your back? Someone to plan a tropical bachelorette weekend away, to host a shower with all the miniature brunch foods you could ever dream of, and to chase you around on your wedding with lipstick, deodorant, and snacks? My sister did that for me for free, and I would do that for you for a hefty markup.

Cuz if you’re not properly compensating someone for their event coordination skills, emotional support services, and significant time commitment, then you’re probably deep into some serious mind games with your best friends. How many women have vied for the position of maid of honor, only to be awarded the role and instantly resent the job they signed up for? How immediate is the mental shift from “yes, I’m her favorite!” to “wait, I have to do what, now?” See, that’s why I picked my sister. Because no matter how annoying I was, she’s blood dammit.

Playing favorites in order to manipulate your friends into working for free dates back to the Middle Ages, “when two witnesses were required to swear that both parties were marrying of their own free will,” explains wedding historian Susan Waggoner. “From this came the practice of favoring one bridesmaid above all others...To be chosen was an honor and proof of the bride’s favor as well as her trust.” But this special honor also came with “special duties,” such as spending hours sewing your friend’s trousseau, all the while knowing that she was about to shack up with her new hubby and your friendship would never be the same.

By the 19th century, the role had shifted. The maid of honor’s duties included “acting as helper and confidante to the bride throughout the long months of engagement and planning, assisting her in the complicated matter of dressing and undressing on the wedding day, and stowing away the wedding gown after the bride changed into the outfit she would wear to depart for her honeymoon.” Waggoner claims that the role is less demanding today (clearly she has not been to the weekend-long bachelorette parties that I have).

A friend of mine once made a hilarious bridesmaid resume, listing the skills she gained in five separate weddings. As the maid of honor in a 2009 wedding, she writes “I developed the necessary patience and skills to craft all familial corsages and decorative table centerpieces while revising (okay, writing) the sister’s speech. I spontaneously reduced wedding cost through last-minute DJ’ing, makeup application, cutting wedding cake, and distributing it to 100 people.” In the next bullet point, under “Reason for leaving friend position,” she writes, “ I ceased communication with friend not too long after the wedding because she moved out of state and had a baby, and I became a feminist and kept pursuing advanced education.”

St. Louis wedding planner Cindy Savage suggests that if you have expectations for your MOH or other members of your wedding party beyond showing up to the wedding, “then it is on you to clearly communicate those expectations upfront and actually ASK if your friends feel comfortable taking them on.” Why? She says, “As a planner, I see so much drama when wedding party members aren't living up to what a bride or groom has envisioned, and relationships suffer for it.”

Some feel that choosing a maid of honor is not easy or natural because they don’t have a hierarchy of friends. Mandy of Florida says, “My mom was my matron of honor, and my husband’s father was his best man. We couldn’t think of anyone better.” This is truly genius. The one person who would fulfill all MOH duties with glee just might be your mother. Plus, why choose one friend over another for the sake of tradition? A wedding should reflect your actual life and relationships, and I’d love to see more moms standing next to their daughters on their wedding day!

If you are debating about who to select as your MOH, wedding planner Cindy Savage offers some great advice: “Worry less about your wedding being 'perfect'; worry more about the health of your friendships. They're what will get you through (or out) when your marriage gets hard. Prioritize them.” Or, you know, hire me.

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