Aesthetic vs. identity: how cool are you with changing your look as a bridesmaid?

November 2 | Guest post by Vanda

Remember this post about how to be an offbeat bridesmaid in a traditional wedding and where to draw the line with changing your look to suit the bride's wishes? We've got some follow-up real talk from reader Vanda that we needed to share…

Wedding At Cairnwood 5/31/09 - 11
When you're the tattooed pin-up bridesmaid… Photo courtesy of Lilana Dohnert

I think that the heart of this problem is the question of what physical appearance/beauty/personal grooming actually mean. Are they simply aesthetic — in which case the bride has as much right to dictate them as she does the colour of the stationery? Or are they outward markers of personal identity — in which case, why would the bride even want to shoehorn people who are supposedly her friends into looks which are incompatible with their deep-seated identity?

For people who feel that their external appearance is a fundamental part of who they are — and who may have carefully and thoughtfully modified it, from hair colour to tattoos to piercings, or who may simply have made a conscious choice to not modify it with makeup or hair removal — the idea of someone telling them what to do with their appearance is at the very least infuriating and at worst actually quite hurtful in its implications. But if you feel that external appearance is just an aesthetic then there's no issue with changing it for the day at someone's behest — after all, the spray tan and the makeup wash off.

So maybe if the bride and bridesmaids are a bit clearer with one another on what their underlying assumptions on physical externals actually are, this dilemma could be explored more easily.

Ultimately, it should come to communication on what your aesthetic means to you, if you fall into the camp of your look being more a part of who you are than what you wear. That discussion may be a tough one, but it's important if you value both your identity and your friendship with the bride or groom.

Are you changing your appearance or toning things down to be in a wedding party? What advice do you have for us?

Catch up on the discussion: changing your look as a bridesmaid:

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  1. I've been a bridesmaid several times. I'm pretty flexible about what I'll wear and nothing my friendspicked went outside my identify. Furthermore I was fully on-board will helping my dear friends execute whatever vision they had. I was going to wear (and pay for!) the dumbest dress they could find with a goddamn smile on my face. And I still had conflict.

    What I learned in the process is that it's not enough to just be game to wear something you think is ridiculous. You have to cede control and that's one of those "sounds good on paper" exercises. In my case, I had problems ceding control over what is "good enough". Are the real pearl studs with the gold posts I brought to wear "close enough" to the fake pearl studs with the posts-of-indeterminate-metal that the bride got from Claire's for all the bridesmaids to wear? Apparently not! How about the nude panty hose I'm wearing? Is that close enough to taupe? NOPE. Executing other people's vision of "perfection" turned out to be hard for me.

    To complicate matters you're probably not dealing with the bride, your actual friend. You're negotiating on behalf of your earlobes with the bride's sister or the bride's stepmother or whoever has been delegated with corralling bridesmaids, somebody you don't have an actual connection to. Furthermore whatever sanity they might have had pre-wedding has pretty much been checked at the door and then they start working their own control issues out on you. They can't get the flowers to arrive on time so by God YOU WILL WEAR THE CHEAP EARRINGS.

    So basically even under the best conditions ( I love dresses! ) and the best intentions ( I'm going to help or die trying!), there is still conflict. I can't even imagine throwing real issues like gender identity into it. People who have compromised their identities to help their friends or family achieve some ephemeral decorative goal are fucking saints. Honestly I don't think I would be up to the task. Knowing what I do about myself, I would just bow out from the start.

    4 agree
  2. I think the biggest thing is (as always) communication. If your identity is really tied to something, or you have some physical limitations, speak up about it. With rare exception, when brides ask friends to be bridesmaids, there hasn't been many decisions yet, and letting them know that : you're not willing to change your hair colour, you can't wear heels, your budget is really small, you're not comfortable in something highly feminine, ect, can make a HUGE difference. In my wedding, after I had picked all my bridesmaids, decided on look, purchased all the dresses, one of them turned to me and said she couldn't wear heels. Though in hindsight is seems like a non issue, it made me SO mad (brides are under a lot of stress and things can get blown out of proportion fast..) The look we went with was 1950s, which for formal looks ALWAYS included heels. I ended up putting my foot down and telling her to deal for the photos, but she could ditch them the rest of the time. This girl ended up being a HUGE headache, and wore heels for her own wedding so I don't feel too bad about it (her wedding dress was floor length too, no need to wear heels!) Anyway, communicate these things! Emotions are high as the date draws nearer so get your dos and don'ts on the table ASAP

    2 agree
  3. To me, it goes both ways. If I'm going to ask my maids to dress in a themed wedding (I'm not, but for sake of argument) like Star Wars or Renaissance or Disney or any of the amazing, wonderful weddings we've seen here, I'm going to have to dress as the bride wishes for hers if I'm her maid. How is dressing in a stereotypical bridesmaid dress different than cosplay anyway? Neither one is something worn daily–the purple, ruffled, frilly dress I wore in a good ol' southern wedding is not who I am, and that's ok! It's dress up, but instead of cosplaying Harley Quinn I'm cosplaying Katherine Heigel. :o)

    2 agree
  4. My sister was really cool about this when I was her bridesmaid. She knew that my tattoos and coloured hair were part of my identity. I colored my hair to match the dress and it looked awesome. ­čÖé It was a good compromise.

    1 agrees
  5. I have no beauty expectations for my bridesmaids except to choose a dress that makes them feel hot. I've given them a color, and an idea of what kind of vibe we're going for and any shoes, makeup, hair or dress style that makes them feel sexy makes me happy!

    2 agree

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