The average wedding in the U.S. now has five bridesmaids—according to an annual survey conducted by the wedding-planning platform The Knot—a number that’s up from four in 2007, and appears to be steadily rising. It’s now common, several wedding experts told me, for a bride to have 10 or 11 maids. “In the South, forget it,” says Meg Keene, the author of A Practical Wedding Planner. “You’re going to have 50.” In most other Western countries, on the other hand, traditional weddings rarely include more than two or three bridesmaids. In Italy and Germany, it’s common to have none at all. “It’s an American import that’s as pervasive as the grey squirrel,” Flora Watkins writes in Country Life, a British weekly magazine, “a bride surrounded by a phalanx of fuschia-clad flunkies who almost outnumber the wedding guests.”
In pursuit of aesthetically pleasing photos and a tidy recessional, couples typically choose the same number of bridesmaids and groomsmen. But multiple people in the wedding industry told me that, while groomsmen numbers are growing, too, it’s likely bridesmaids—and thus brides—who are behind the ballooning attendant numbers. For heterosexual weddings, the bride almost always lands on her number first, and that number is usually higher than her partner’s, says Gwen Helbush, a longtime wedding planner based in San Francisco: “Grooms end up finding enough guys they feel okay about to add to whatever number she’s got.” (If none are available, well, there’s always sites like groomsmenforhire.com.) More couples seem to be mixing up the genders of their attendants, too—male friends of the bride might stand on her side, female friends of the groom on his. In a same-sex wedding, Helbush told me, each side of the wedding party is especially likely to be co-ed.