“What wonderful news! I am so pleased for you both. You’ll make a beautiful bride …What’s that? Oh, I am truly flattered. And honored. Really I am. But I can’t. You see, I’m retired.” After more than three decades of being a bridesmaid, two years ago, I finally decided to hang up the dyeable pumps and the rosebud tiara. I’ve been the opening act for visions in white a total of 35 times. That’s more trips to the altar than Erica Kane, Elizabeth Taylor and J. Lo combined.
I was to bridal attendants what Cal Ripken was to baseball: solid, dependable, record-breaking and scandal-free. No videotape of me hooking up with the ushers in a flurry of organza and upturned crinolines, thank you very much. (Although, a few years back I was tempted to snap a spaghetti strap at one of the groomsmen, who, after a few martinis, seemed to bear a striking resemblance to Adrien Brody, but the moment mercifully passed.)
t all started out so innocently. I was 10 when my cousin Rose asked me to be a junior bridesmaid. Back then, it was exciting— being fitted for my lace-bodice dress that was the color of buttercups, having my hair pinned and sprayed into a grown-up updo that made me feel like a swan-necked princess.
The years passed in a rustle of satin and raw silk, as my sister got married while I was still in college and many of my girlfriends followed suit after graduation. I barely tore off my cap and gown before I spent the rest of my 20s in a blur of bridesmaid dresses that ranged from a ruffled, petticoat-laden number that rendered me a dead ringer for Aunt Pittypat to a one-shouldered Wilma Flintstone creation with countless fluttery tiers that made me look like the Hanging Gardens of Babylon in motion.
The back of my closet at one time resembled a fashion timeline— the Qiana of the late ’70s giving way to full skirts and peplums and puffy sleeves the size of pumpkins in the 1980s, when everyone wanted a fairytale wedding dress like Princess Diana’s. Austere early ’90s trends could be seen in the whisper-thin, unadorned slip dresses in colors normally reserved for metal coffins, while the latter years of the decade brought on the ubiquitous strapless corset gown that brought new meaning to the phrase “my cup runneth over.”
I have lurched down the aisle balancing lit candles, swinging hurricane lanterns, toting woven baskets brimming with flowers and twirling parasols— hauling practically everything to the altar but moose antlers and a mobile of the solar system.
Perched on my head have been berets, garlands of flowers, Mother Goose bonnets, picture hats roughly the size of an emerging nation, and, on one occasion, a variation on the tricorn that gave me the countenance of Napoleon in pastels.
On my hands I have worn gloves, mittens and muffs, as well as lace doohickeys on my forearms for that “Wild West dance hall girl” effect. Slung over my shoulders have been shrugs, marabou-trimmed ponchos, capes a la “Doctor Zhivago,” chiffon serapes and fur stoles— unless you count the two weddings I was in where I appeared in a knock-off of Donna Karan’s famous “cold shoulder” dress. My feet have sported ballet slippers, platform sandals, Doc Martens (it was a Goth wedding), sky-high stilettos, nothing at all (the bride and groom were vegans) and, of course, the venerable fabric shoe dyed-to-order in shades like Lime Fantasy and Mulled Brandywine.
By the time the new millennium rolled around, I felt as though I was on the Christmas card list for every bridal shop in the Free World and the mere sight of sateen or Battenburg lace made me break out in a rash. When I blacked out after a brideto- be rhapsodized about the rhinestone spider-web effect on back of the velvet gowns she had chosen for the bridal party, I realized it was time for a change.
But I knew I was too much of a peoplepleaser to quit the wedding circuit cold turkey, so I retired in stages. I did readings of poems and passages from the Bible for a while, and for my swan-song to bridal attendant- hood two years ago, I stood in my friend’s garden in a gorgeous black 1950s retro frock and sang the disco classic, Cece Penniston’s “Finally,” in exquisite threepart harmony with two other similarly clad middle-aged broads. I would like to think I went out with class.
Why did I rack up 35 stints as a bridesmaid? Well, who wants to lose a friend or cheese-off a relative over a dress to be worn for a couple of hours? And that brings up another point— no matter how often the bride said “you can cut off the bridesmaid dress and use it after the wedding,” I’ve worn each ensemble exactly once. How many times can you be seen in public in a periwinkle chiffon dress strewn with canary yellow cabbage roses anyway?
Even if I have yet to drift down the aisle resplendent in white, my bridesmaid gowns have had a happy ending. I shoved every dress into the nether regions of a closet until my mother called one day and said she and my father were getting rid of stuff and the “collection” was taking up precious space.
The dresses were too expensive to just toss away, so I was at wit’s end until I read a notice in the Minneapolis paper (I was living in Minnesota at the time) that a fledgling transvestite theater troupe was looking for donations. A few weeks later, the dresses and accessories arrived at my apartment in a box so big the concierge at my building said “Your mother mailed furniture to you from Baltimore?”
The box went to the transvestite theater company, where I was listed as a major donor, and for several seasons you could catch glimpses of my bridesmaid gowns in productions like “Psycho Beach Party,” “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” and “Come Back, Little Sheba.”
My 35 dresses had a life beyond anything I could have imagined. Standing in a bridal shop in my slip, I never would have dreamed that one day the electric blue Halloween satin number with the Nimitz-sized bow on the hip would be worn by a 6-foot-4 cross-dresser belting out “Put the Blame on Mame, Boys.” Not even Cal Ripken can top that.
Writer and editor Jayne Blanchard always meant to get married, but Jeremy Irons was already taken.