When the bridal procession passes from porch to altar there is little to suggest what tribulation has frequently attended the organising of it. Perhaps one bridesmaid is wearing a hat of a slightly different shape from the rest, or there is some such small variation to indicate the troubles that have been; perhaps there is an odd number, someone having dropped out at the last moment, ostensibly because of influenza, really because she " can't and won't wear a dress that makes her look a fright."
Indeed, the bride has a difficult and delicate task to perform when selecting the girls who are to attend her at the altar, and usually somebody will be offended through being omitted.
Suppose a girl has three sisters, all tall and blonde, and the bridegroom-elect has one, who is very short and very dark. The latter most certainly must be asked to be a bridesmaid, but how can the bride find a dress which will suit each of her four maids equally well ?
There is, moreover, the question of cost to be considered; and the bride must remember that if, as often is the case, some of her maids have smaller allowances than the others, they will want dresses which they can wear frequently afterwards. Again, the bride may have strong individual taste, and may choose a dress which all the congregation will say is " all very well for Angela, but it doesn't suit a single one of the bridesmaids ! "
Yes, much kindliness, thought, and tact are called for from the bride in solving the question of the bridesmaids and their dresses.
Some brides cut the Gordian knot by saying that they will have only one bridesmaid, choose a pretty girl with good taste, and tell her to dress as she likes. She, of course, consults the bride, but there is seldom any room for disagreement where the one is almost certain to be in unrelieved white.
The single bridesmaid, however, must be pretty, and, moreover, able to stand gracefully for a long time with all eyes on her. At a quiet wedding her trial is not very severe, but where she attends a bride who has summoned all her friends to see her married, she must altogether banish self - consciousness. The so-called "best girl" is simply the chief, or the sole, bridesmaid, only she waits at the chancel instead of following the bride up the aisle.
As an alternative to the orthodox Charles I. or Georgian costume, a page looks well in Henry VIII. style
Where the maids number from two to fourteen - twenty-four have been known to follow the bride - the fiancee must remember that what is very charming in a single frock is sometimes dull when duplicated, irritating when quadrupled, and hopelessly insignificant when repeated in any larger numbers.
The idea of a set rehearsal of the wedding, such as is frequent in America, is repugnant to English notions, but, none the less, a stage-manager's eye is necessary in choosing the costumes for the procession.
Further, the church in which the ceremony is to take place must also be considered. A colour which is lovely in the dim, religious light of some old church will be crude and unpleasing in the blank glare of a new one; a large number of bridesmaids in enormous hats will present a crowded appearance in a small church with a narrow aisle, and at military or naval weddings the bridesmaids' dresses must be considered in coniunction with the pictorial effect of the men who line the aisle. The floral decorations, moreover, must also be considered in their relation to the costumes.
Perhaps the most successful brides are those who adopt the picture style, and abandon any attempt to follow present fashions. Sometimes the arrangements are taken in hand by someone with expert knowledge. This obviates many difficulties, for, with a definite person in command, objections and hindrances will be less numerous.
When Miss Eden married Lord Brooke, for example, Lady Eden took the whole matter of the bridal procession into her hands. She designed a marvellous gown on mediaeval lines' for her daughter, and for the bridesmaids she invented a most ingenious adaptation of Middle Age costumes in white and silver. Even the page's dress was mediaeval, the chain mail being cleverly suggested by silver tissue.
Miss Drexel, afterwards Lady Maidstone, designed her bridesmaids' dresses. They consisted of white chiffon tunics caught together with marguerites, in honour of the bride's name, over white satin, and flowing mediaeval veils held by clusters of the same flowers.
A Puritan dress is a becoming costume for child bridesmaids
Many brides have elected to dress their bridesmaids in white, so that the whole procession is a shimmer of innocence and purity. It must be admitted that the bride's father, in immaculate grey coat and carrying his tall hat, rather interrupts the effect. But this cannot be helped; he would certainly refuse to dress himself in a white satin Cavalier suit, for instance; and the bridegroom, however devoted, would almost certainly jilt his betrothed if she insisted on his appearing in a snowy fancy dress. Perhaps the best way out of the difficulty is to choose first a father, and then a husband, in some regiment where the uniform is picturesque and suitable for wedding wear.
The Directoire page always looks smart
Harlequin weddings sometimes are very pretty; but where every bridesmaid wears a different colour great care must be taken to ensure that the hues will blend, for there is often but a hair's-breadth between the right colour and the wrong.
When the bridesmaids are dressed in varying hues it is essential that the materials should be soft and light. Sheen satin, for instance, must be forbidden, because if it is worn each figure will stand out boldly from the rest.
Hydrangea weddings are always charming. However, although the church should be decorated with these flowers, the bouquets must be of something else, or the effect will be too laboured. Pale roses would do admirably, or deep red - almost black - carnations. The bridesmaids should wear gowns of chiffon, each in some hydrangea shade, the bride alone being clad in white. The bridesmaids' dresses, so far as style is concerned, might perhaps be Reynolds - with soft fichu and pleated skirts flowing over silver petticoats. White hats with shaded feathers could be replaced equally well by small wreaths of hydrangea.
A sweet-pea wedding on the same lines is more audacious, but, with an expert colourist in charge, is even more successful. The bridesmaids can wear dresses in which two or three shades of chiffon are superimposed - say, purple, pale pink, bright pink, and lavender. Each dress consists of the same hues, but in each they are arranged in different order, so that the top skirt is different from all the rest, and yet brought into harmony by having the same tones beneath it. Sweet-pea bouquets, if chosen, should be entirely in pale colours, with perhaps a very few of the darkest purple blooms among them.
When Lord Rosebery's daughter married
Lord Crewe, the bridesmaids were dressed in his racing colours - primrose and pink. The idea is notable, but not always feasible. Orange and black, for example, would scarcely be attractive.
Short brides frequently prefer to have children for bridesmaids, or at least to keep their taller bridesmaids at a distance by having small ones in between.
The custom of having children in the bridal procession is so picturesque that it is likely to be with us a very long time. The smaller the children the prettier is the effect, but the greater the risk of the service being interrupted. A three-year-old page once, at the end of the first hymn, caught sight of his mother in the first pew, and remarked to her in loud and injured tones as the last note of the organ died away, " Cook said a band - that wasn't a band ! " A little girl of the same age, acting as train-bearer to her aunt, took a strong dislike to the chancel of the church. When the bridal couple moved up to the altar, the chief bridesmaid urged her to carry the train, but she replied with a sturdy " No ! " and sat herself down, cross-legged, in the middle of the aisle. For this she made up, however, by carrying the train down the aisle in a dramatic manner. She stretched her arms wide, held the train somewhere on a level with her eyes, and, with a stately step, passed gravely between the rows of smiling faces.
Where there are both grown-up and child bridesmaids the dresses are nearly always modelled on the same plan, some small difference being made in the children's. Occasionally quite different dresses are made, and then the children nearly always wear white. Long frocks and Dutch bonnets are favourites for the small girls, and Charles I. or Georgian suits are the recognised choice for the pages.
The old adage of "three times a bridesmaid never a bride" seems to have fallen quite into disbelief nowadays. Tennyson's sentiment is more popular. He saw the girl who afterwards became his ideal wife when she was acting as bridesmaid to her sister, and wrote:
"O happy bridesmaid, make a happy bride!"