What the Best-Dressed Hen Parties are Wearing

When I posted the first in this recent sequence of egg-related blog entries (for first poultry-related post click here, for the second post in the series click here‎) Elliott, a reader from Alton in Hampshire, reported that when he read my article, one item on the automatically generated list of possibly related posts had to do with hen nights—the female equivalent of stag nights. The algorithm WordPress uses to find related blog entries wasn’t sophisticated enough to know that when I talked about (ahem) laying hens, I wasn’t speaking of people.

This is nothing new. Amazon once suggested that since I’d been looking at the listing for Flann O’Brien’s classic metafictional novel At Swim-Two-Birds, I might want to buy a swimsuit (UK: bathing costume). But having hen night come up as a related topic makes a nice lead-in to a subject I’d been meaning to take up for a while now.

Over here, a groom may have a stag night or stag do before the wedding and a bride may have a hen night or hen party, though these days a hen party is usually more of a hen pub-crawl. It’s common to see hen parties in restaurants, clubs, or pubs, groups of young women wearing identical costumes or at least identical T-shirts, and generally drinking a lot—and I mean a lot. It’s not unusual for the bride to wear an L-plate on a string around her neck; that’s the blocky red L on a white square that the law requires drivers with learner’s permits (UK: provisional licenses) to display on cars they drive until they pass their driving tests. And there’s always some kind of headgear: veils of one kind or another, or deelyboppers—those headbands with wiggly antennae on top. And what antennae they are (see illustrations). Hen parties here generally seem to involve a lot of drinking and a lot of raunchy references to sex.

When I got married in the US, I had heard of bachelorette parties, but only knew of one bride who’d actually had one. Most women had bridal showers (for UK readers, these are parties at which the bride-to-be is ‘showered’ with gifts to furnish her new home), tasteful afternoon affairs with cake and some silly games, nothing un-ladylike, nothing much that could by any stretch of the imagination be seen as racy. When I organized a shower 15 years ago, a saleslady at a California party store offered me a book of games appropriate, or so the publisher thought, for bridal showers. They might have suited women in 1940s, but not in the 1990s: there was a game about labeling the cuts of meat on a cow, with a space to write in your groom’s favorite steaks and beef dishes, and a relay race with brooms that involved sweeping up and down the room. I didn’t buy the book.

That vision of the life a newly married women could look forward to is, thank goodness, out of date, but it gives you the idea: US bridal showers are generally tame. British hen parties are anything but.

Hen is a term of affection here for any women or girl, especially among people in the north, who also use duck for the same purpose. If you’ve seen the animated film Chicken Run, you might remember that one of the chickens says to the others, “Face the facts, ducks”, while another says “Aye, hen” with a Scottish accent. British people got more of the joke of the movie than most Americans would have, underscored by the fact that many of the characters had northern accents. (According to the Internet Movie Database, http://www.IMDB.com, Tweedy’s farm is in Yorkshire; the road sign made into an airplane propeller reads “Halifax 32 mi”, which seems to clinch it.)

The phrase hen party goes back at least to the 1880s, but through most of the intervening years has meant any women-only gathering; the current use of hen party as a celebration for the bride before the wedding hasn’t made it into the Oxford English Dictionary yet (not even in the on-line version, which includes updates to the printed edition). The OED’s example from 1960 reads “A hen-party can be a very pleasant, relaxing affair, particularly for the older woman.”

Since I couldn't talk any of my friends into modelling any of these veils, I pressed a nearby pumpkin into service

Today’s hen parties aren’t meant to be relaxing, and are usually for younger women. The women at most of the hen parties I see around here wear fairy wings on their backs and dance around with wands, although hen parties can take on any of several themes. If they aren’t in fairy mode, they may be wearing school uniforms, although hemmed up to here and unbuttoned down to there. It’s too much like a paedophile’s fantasy for my taste, and a long cry from No Sex Please, We’re British. It’s clear that some British people are a lot more forthright about sex than American stereotypes of the British would lead you to think, and I have to admit I was a bit shocked to find Wiggle Willy deelyboppers displayed on the wall of the party store near me that doubles as a post office. Standing in line to buy stamps, I certainly didn’t expect to see little sparkly phalluses on headbands, there by the birthday candles and balloons.

It’s apparently part of a trend for young women to party more like young men do. In young men, getting falling down drunk in public and looking for casual sex  is called laddish behavior; more and more young women, called ladettes—a word that has made it into the OED—are doing the same, and some find it a worrying social development.

Whichever way you look at it, a party of young women wearing penis headgear is something not ordinarily seen in the USA.  To prove I’m not making it up, here are some photos of the hen party gear I found on sale at the aforementioned post office. I couldn’t persuade any of my friends to model them—you’ll see that I pressed an uncomplaining pumpkin into service—and you can see lots more photos using Google’s Image Search feature and looking for hen party.  If you look for products to buy for hen parties, you’ll find items a lot more explicit than what I’ve presented here.

Now, what can I do with the hen party accessories I bought in order to take the pictures? How about this: Anybody who posts a comment on this blog entry will be entered into a drawing and the winner will receive some items from these photos (if the winner wants them, of course). That should either bring in a lot of comments, or ensure I get no comments at all.

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19 Comments

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19 responses to “What the Best-Dressed Hen Parties are Wearing

  1. Christine Lindop

    It just shows how far post offices have to diversify in order to survive, though it’s not the first place I’d think of looking if I wanted hen night accessories. I wandered onto Google Images one day to find out what kind of pictures there might be of hen nights to illustrate a forthcoming book about weddings. That was an eye-opening experience. It took quite a lot of research to find a picture that was at all publishable. PS – if mine is the only comment, can I have the pumpkin?!

  2. Candida

    Thanks you so much for reducing me to hooting laughter this morning. Horns I have seen, L-plates I have seen, wands and wings, and all that sort of thing, but never, never before an accessory that will literally make you look a complete dick-head.

    Do parents accompanied by their toddlers buying candles for the birthday party not get a bit put out by these? I can imagine they’d spark some interesting exchanges…

    • Exactly!! I’m with you. That’s…why I was so surprised. These are displayed on a wall, but not so high that the average 5-year-old couldn’t see them. You can’t get them off the wall yourself because of a small side counter customers use for sticking on the stamps they’ve just bought, or filling in forms. You have to ask a sales assistant to get them down off the wall for you, but that seems just a quirk of the placement of the counters; if the counters are arranged that way on purpose, well, the proprietors still aren’t making any attempt to keep kids from seeing their “Wiggle Willy” products.

      I just figured that meant the parents around here have no problem with this, but if you think it’s weird, it’s not just me: it may just *be* weird.

      • Candida

        I think it’s definitely a bit weird.

        Mind you, I thought it was weird that the local Tesco put their magazines by the checkouts in such a way that one of my (then primary-school) boys asked me “Why is that woman only wearing her knickers?” (Answer: because she’s on the cover of Nuts.) But I can’t have been the only one to say I thought it was less than wholly family-friendly, because now they have two stands of magazines facing each other and a blank back facing the checkout queues. As far as I know, Tesco don’t stock phallic headbands. Yet.

  3. Blair

    ME,
    Having recently visited the fair city of sin (Las Vegas), I can assure you that these kind of parties are catching on here. We saw one group of young ladies (I use the term loosely) dressed like slutty angels, one group just dressed in very small dresses and very high heels ,with pins on identifying their part in the bridal party, and our personal favorite, a group dressed in police costumes (once again the slutty variety) with one of them carrying a life-size blow-up doll.
    Imagine my thoughts when my 9 yo asked what that was for.
    I think they dress up mostly for each other, not for all the gawking men, who fantasize being part of the evenings festivities. Things sure have changed since the 70″s

    • Thanks for the report from Las Vegas! It’s been years since I was there, but it is on the standard flight path for British visitors to the USA. Obviously there’s variation, but most people I met here, if they’ve been to the US, have been to Orlando for Disneyworld and/or New York, and then usually Las Vegas and the Grand Canyon. If they have a third big stop, it’s likely to be LA. (Could do a whole post on this.) Obviously I also meet people who go to see historic sites or national parks, but usually you can count on it: NY, Orlando, Las Vegas, the Grand Canyon, and back. Why Las Vegas?

      And I know the girls are dressing up for each other, but I still don’t get it. They’re dressing up as male fantasy figures and to use your extremely apt word, slutty ones. (Their parents must be so proud…)

  4. I thought I had seen it all. Clearly, I lead a very sheltered life! 🙂

  5. These pictures are brilliant and will defo make a hen night great fun. I’ve got a very large smile now on my face. Please put some more pictures on..

    • I asked lots of people on the internet who’d posted photos of hen nights for permission to use those photos; nobody said ‘yes’, except a guy who runs pirate-themed parties, which are pretty unusual. May I use the hen party photo from your website? Could do a little mini-post with those photos and the URLs of your web site and his…?

  6. a couple questions, ME . . .
    1. Is it “one size fits all” with the deely-boppers
    &
    2. Is there an uncircumcised version?

    If I win the drawing, please donate it to the nunnery.

    • I think it has to be
      1) yes
      2) no

      and

      3) I’ve searched Google maps for convents near Guildford, and found a surprising number. If you should win, I’ll consult you, so you can choose.

  7. Very funny pitcure of the willy headgear. You would have to be brave to wear this or have some very cruel friends! Love it!

  8. Cathy Villa

    Mary Ellen, thank you for putting a big smile on my face as I am feeling under the weather today. I’m just wondering, do “ladettes” actually wear their Wiggle Willies in public? I can just imagine a group of young ladies walking into a bar with these on… What a commotion! –CRV

    • I confess I’ve never seen anyone wear these in public, though I’ve seen plenty of young woman in devil horns, cat’s ears, and other headboppers. But I asked the staff whether they sell many, and they said they do sell. As to whether any are worn or they’re all gag gifts, I couldn’t say with confidence, though I have seen ladettes behaving outrageously in public, and wouldn’t put it past them.

      The type of Wiggle Willy boppers sold at the party store/post office near me is one of many, some of which are said to flash (I think we could make the case that all of them are flashing). Search for “willy boppers” at Amazon.co.uk and you’ll see the evidence.

  9. Pingback: I’ll Have 2 1st-Class Stamps, Half a Dozen Pearl Buttons, a Fishing License, and a Mortgage, Please « M E Foley's Anglo-American Experience Blog

  10. Lynn

    The Fogle men did not find this nearly as funny as I and refused to even look at the photos.

  11. Bonnie

    OMG–love the pumpkin head and the horns (reminds me of a chocolate phallus I once had–not that kind of had–that was in the fridge of someone I was housesitting for till she threw it away … GASP, she should have asked first). Hmm, haven’t thought of that in years and now can’t remember where it came from. I do remember I was housesitting right after a PWC tour and the bells at the convent next door (housesitting in MP across from SRI) reminded me of the trip.

    Miss you, B

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