Bridesmaids: Why less is more

Flora Watkins pleads with brides-to-be to show restraint and avoid the temptation to walk down the aisle with a small army in tow.

Coco Chanel’s maxim for stylish dressing was to look in the mirror before leaving the house and remove one accessory. For many a modern bride, that advice might be tweaked: shed two, three, four, even five bridesmaids before walking up the aisle.

It’s an American import that’s as pervasive as the grey squirrel: a bride surrounded by a phalanx of fuschia-clad flunkies who almost outnumber the wedding guests.

A sole adult bridesmaid – usually the bride’s sister – used to be the norm, to hold her bouquet during the vows and marshal the tinies when they removed their shoes and started dancing during the hymns. One Society photographer says this still tends to be the case among the marquee-in-the-garden set, whereas the wedding ‘venues’/planners/Pinterest brigade are more American influenced.

“Unless it’s a royal wedding, more than six bridesmaids – of any age – is excessive”

However, even traditional nuptials aren’t immune. I was showered with examples like confetti when writing this article. One acquaintance shuddered as she recounted being one of 14 bridesmaids.

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There’s something about weddings that can turn previously right-thinking women, of good judgement and taste, into a monstrous hybrid of Medea and Violet Elizabeth Bott. Magenta taffeta? Backless dresses? In church? Yes! And I’ll scweam and I’ll scweam until I’m sick if I don’t get it!

May I speak frankly, Violet Elizabeth? Because I know your girlfriends are too terrified. Unless it’s a royal wedding, more than six bridesmaids – of any age – is excessive. And do you know why American brides have so many? It’s because there’s no tradition there of the bride footing the bill.

For the British bride insisting on a sizeable support crew, there are two options. Pass the cost onto your friends or buy a job lot of purple polyester. Neither is classy. A bridesmaid’s dress shouldn’t give the wearer a static shock when she takes it out of the packet. Not to mention what suits the svelte six-footer won’t do for the size 12 who has just had a baby and vice versa. You don’t want a wardrobe malfunction during 1: Corinthians.

With fewer bridesmaids, you can afford the best. Mine, aged six and nine, looked adorable in Nicki Macfarlane sashes and puff sleeves, in the same silk dupion as my Vivienne Westwood dress.

If you don’t have a stock of sweet little girls (perhaps you’re in your twenties and don’t yet have nieces and goddaughters), ask your friends, but perhaps limit it to two. Involve other friends by asking them to do readings or be master of ceremonies at the reception. Let them choose their own dresses, within reason.

And if you’re a grown-up bridesmaid facing a cerise catastrophe this summer, well, perhaps email them (anonymously) a link to this article… or perhaps a printout, ringed in fuschia lipstick.