The position of maid of honor today is usually reserved for the bride’s closest confidante, the friend who will organize the bachelorette party, the bridal shower, and other pre-ceremony events and be at the bride’s right hand through the ceremony. This dutiful role can be traced back to the origin of the maid of honor tradition, believed to come from ancient Rome.
Ancient Romans believed that evil spirits haunted weddings so to protect the bride and groom they required ten witnesses to dress in the same clothing as the couple so the spirits wouldn’t know who was who. The maid of honor was one of these attendants. She and the other bridesmaids dressed like the bride for another crucial reason – to trick very mortal aggressors, the men in the groom’s village who were jealous of the groom and might try to steal the bride away before the ceremony. Brides in ancient times traditionally traveled to the groom’s village for the ceremony so she really needed reliable protection. The maid of honor made sure to stick by the bride, dressed exactly like her, to confuse any threats natural or supernatural until her fate was secured.
The maid of honor also helped the bride dress before the wedding, as she still does today, and helped her weave a wreath of aromatic flowers believed to protect her from evil spirits. The term “maid of honor” came from the United Kingdom, meaning female attendants to the queen.
Check out our brief history of the maid of honor’s counterpart, the best man.