The Debaucherous History Behind The Bachelor Party

Liz Susong weighs in on bachelor and bachelorette parties

Updated 09/07/17

Olivia Rae James

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.

Is there literally anyone more qualified than I to speak on the topic of bachelor/ette parties? I have planned, attended, and scoffed at more bachelor/ette parties than an average, healthy adult should, I schedule my vacation time around strategically coordinated weekends away with other people’s friends, and I live for a good couple’s jeopardy game. If there were an alternative reality where women hang out for days on end, worrying only about whether everyone is having fun and if they’ve given enough compliments to each other that day, I’d opt in.

And frankly, men have been having bachelor parties since the 5th century B.C., while the first use of the term “bachelorette party” was in 1981, so I’m making up for 2,500 years of lost time. Because, you know what, I believe in equal access to debauchery. It’s what Susan B. would have wanted. (This is a joke; I do not presume to know what Susan would think about brunch and bar-hopping, but she might be pleased to know that suffragette-style sashes are still in.)

But what’s not a joke at all is that bros have been bachelor-partying it up since ancient Sparta, where "the soon-to-be-wed pledged his continued loyalty to his brothers-in-arms" at a feast preceding the wedding. One of the more famous bachelor party scandals was the “Seeley Bachelor Party Orgy” in 1896, where “one of the ‘theatrical agents’ hired to procure ‘talent’ for the party offered an 18-year-old a certain cash amount to bare her ‘lower regions’ for the benefit of the guests.” You heard that right: lower regions.

Wedding historian Susan Waggoner writes, “Contrary to events for the bride-to-be, which traditionally focus on preparing her for life as a wife, bachelor romps are boisterous farewells to a life of freedom, fun, and irresponsibility.” My husband had bid farewell to “freedom, fun, and irresponsibility” 11 years prior to his bachelor party when he first asked me to the homecoming dance in high school, but at least his bachelor party was still an “exaggerated, over-the-top extravaganza of gluttony and bad taste.” Because no matter how long you’ve only been sleeping with one person, bad taste is available to everybody.

So let’s take a journey, shall we? From planning bachelor/ette gatherings for everyone from my mom for her second wedding to two grooms’ joint bachelors party next weekend, it is my honor to impart a little wisdom.

First things first. For me, the highlight of any bachelor/ette gathering is meeting your best friend’s best friends. Literally this week someone I love and respect told me they “hate mingling” because they “don’t want anymore friends.” While I know and love people who hate people, I personally am always on the hunt for kindred spirits and new buddies. Bachelor/ette gatherings are the perfect way to build camaraderie prior to the wedding. They provide an opportunity to get all of the nerves and small talk out of the way so you can really show up on the dance floor at the wedding and give the newly married couple one heck of a good time. I’ve been a part of three bachelorette weekends that resulted in everyone being like “When’s the reunion?” Joanne of New York agrees: “It's been five years since the wedding, and the two other best friends and I still bond over the bachelorette party. It connected us to each other, which I think is the best aspect of bachelorette parties: they turn the bride's various friends into a community.”

Bachelor/ette parties also provide an opportunity to participate in activities you wouldn’t otherwise have a reason for. While going to the club can be fun, I’ve laughed until my stomach hurt decorating cupcakes to look like the bride, dressing up for a DIY sexy photo shoot, and starring in our own music videos. I’ve also felt deeply connected to friends, old and new, by participating in a group yoga workshop or simply having a picnic together. Joanne says, “Most of my friends like imagining their bachelorette parties more than their wedding day.” I agree that bachelor/ette parties are often more fun than the wedding itself and much less stressful.

The biggest downside to a great bachelor/ette weekend is, simply, the world’s greatest evil: money. While a cruise in the Caribbean might make memories to last a lifetime, it’s probably not the most budget-friendly way to celebrate singlehood. And if costs accumulate rapidly, resentment and frustration can build and do more harm than good to the friendships you intended to celebrate.

I’ve also attended bach parties that exit the tipsy-fun-dancing stage and pass into the falling down-sloppy-fighting at 2am stage, and that’s never great. Packs of matching, obnoxious, drunk people aren’t super fun to be around in public spaces, especially as an innocent observer. While bach parties should absolutely be celebratory and silly, they’re not necessarily an excuse for bad behavior.

Jess from Ohio wants to remind folks that gay bars aren’t an appropriate space for bachelorette parties if no one in the party is a member of the LGBTQ community. She says, “don't go to a gay bar because your soon-to-be husband thinks that way you won't get hit on.” While gay bars can feel like safe spaces for women to dance and have a good time, they should be treated with respect, because first and foremost, they really are safe spaces for the LGBTQ community. Bach weekends are a great way to build group camaraderie, but it shouldn’t be at the expense of other groups, so reconsider dominating spaces that weren’t intended for you or co-opting cultural elements inappropriately.

That being said, I encourage you to embrace bachelor/ette weekends as celebratory, community events. The pre-wedding festivities can create a magical, suspended reality for the friend getting married: one where all of their favorite people connect—is there any better feeling?

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