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The surprising origin of the phrase 'always a bridesmaid, never a bride'

Perhaps the only thing worse than being compared to Katherine Heigl’s character in "27 Dresses" is to casually hear that you're starting to live up to the phrase “always a bridesmaid, never a bride.”

As the perpetual bridesmaid in my large group of friends (and a "professional bridesmaid" by trade), I’ve started to keep a running tab of how many times people have said that sentence to me so far. The number is higher than the amount of bridesmaid dresses that I own (which is more than 30) and less than the amount of money I’ve spent on being a bridesmaid (which is easily more than $10,000).

Jen Glantz
That's me (second from right) doing my duty as a bridesmaid ... proudly!

Yes, there is truth to the fact that I am always a bridesmaid, but I truly don’t believe there’s any truth in the latter part of that sentence, which means that since I’m stage left at the alter, my love life is forever doomed.

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I was once standing in a line to board a flight at the airport, wearing a canvas tote bag with the word “bridesmaid” on it that a friend gave to me before her wedding in 2014. A lady behind me tapped me on the shoulder, checked if there was a ring on my left hand and sternly whispered, “Honey, be careful. You don’t want to be 'always the bridesmaid, never the ... ' you know what.”

That’s all it took for me to do a little investigating to find out who was responsible for coming up with a phrase that all single women hope to never hear again.

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The phrase "often a bridesmaid ... never a bride" started as a slogan for a print advertising campaign in 1925. It seems obvious that this slogan would work well for a bridesmaids dress company or even back then, a dial-a-date service, but no. The slogan was used by Listerine. Yes, the mouthwash brand.

The Lambert Pharmaceutical Company, who were the makers of Listerine antiseptic, developed an antibacterial liquid in the 1880s, which was sold as a general product with a long list of uses. In the 1920s, one of the uses that stood out was that Listerine could fight halitosis. They decided to use that as a way to advertise to consumers, letting them know why bad breath needs to be taken care of immediately.

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One way they did exactly that was with an ad campaign that featured women (with sad eyes and even sadder-looking dresses) next to text that demonstrated how Listerine could help their love life.

"Edna's case was a really pathetic one. Like every woman, her primary ambition was to marry. Most of the girls of her set were married — or about to be. Yet no one possessed more grace or charm or loveliness than she. And as her birthdays crept towards that tragic thirty-mark, marriage seemed farther from her life than ever. She was often a bridesmaid but never a bride."

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Can you imagine an ad like that in 2016? Offensive or not, Listerine’s use of print ads seemed to work. Their sales went from $100,000 per year in 1921 to more than $4 million in 1927.

We've definitely come a long way, so perhaps it's finally time to retire this sexist phrase. Since the average bridesmaid can expect to spend $743 on this friendly gig, the phrase could easily be changed to “always a bridesmaid, always broke.”

Jen Glantz is a "professional bridesmaid" and the founder of Bridesmaid for Hire. She's the author of "Always a Bridesmaid (For Hire)” and frequently wears old bridesmaid dresses to the grocery store ... and on first dates.

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