My wife recently pointed out to me an interesting line in Anne of the Island (1915). (This is the third book in the series starting with Anne of Green Gables.) In it, we have the have the following statement from Anne:
"I'm to be Phil's bridesmaid next June, when she marries Mr. Blake, and then I must stop, for you know the proverb `three times a bridesmaid, never a bride,' " said Anne, peeping through the window over the pink and snow of the blossoming orchard beneath.We are of course more familiar with a variant of this saying: "Always a bridesmaid, never a bride." That saying is bemoaning the fact that a particular person is single and being asked to serve as a bridesmaid, but has not yet become a bride.
But in the Oxford Dictionary of Proverbs, we have the following entry:
Always a maiden [bridal attendant], never a wife.
[1882 E. M. Ingraham Bond & Free i.]
Three times bridesmaid, never a bride.
[1903 V. S. Lean Collectanea II. 81]
Why am I always the bridesmaid, Never the blushing bride?
[1917 Leigh, Collins, & Morris ‘Why am I always the Bridesmaid?’ (song)]
Then they'd leave me‥and go off and buy candy and orchids for the other girls. ‥Often a bridesmaid but never a bride.The first one, Bond and Free, has a character singing that line.
[1951 Wodehouse Old Reliable xi.]
Despite that this is the earliest listed, both proverbs and superstitions obviously can have histories well before the time of of written attestation. And my strong inclination is that it started with the "Three times bridesmaid, never a bride" and developed to the other proverb.