Once an engagement is announced and a date set, the burning question of bridal attendants must be decided. This is often a bone of contention in wedding planning. How many should you pick? Who should be Maid of Honor? Is your three year old cousin really too young to be a flower girl? What about your slightly awkward twelve-year-old niece whom you adore? Is there a role for her? Do you really have to have your snotty sister in the wedding party? Can you put your foot down and tell your intended that his friend who still thinks fake dog poo is hilarious cannot be Best Man?
Let’s start with how many and then move on to whom.
The general feeling is that there ought to be a Maid/Matron of Honor and a Best Man. Even this is actually optional, but since the people who fulfill these roles usually sign the marriage license as witnesses, they’re almost always chosen. They should be the people you and your intended are closest to and should be reasonably responsible people. Choose someone you can rely upon for help in practical matters and support in emotional ones.
From there we move to bridesmaids, groomsmen, and ushers. The rule of thumb for ushers is given as one per every fifty guests, but that’s just a rough estimate. Also, ushers and groomsmen are often the same people. In this case, they seat the guests, then join the groom at the altar. If they are two separate groups of people, then the ushers simply find their own seats after they’ve seated everyone else. Bridesmaids and groomsmen may be helpful over the course of the engagement, but their primary function is decorative and emotionally supportive rather than particularly practical. Choose people you love and wish to have near you, certainly, and don’t pick them purely for looks, but if one of them is a little on the flaky side or lives several hundred miles away from you, it’s not that big a deal. If you’re having fifty guests, it’s probably best not to choose twelve attendants per side. If you’re inviting three hundred people, it looks better to have a larger party. Again, all of these roles are common and expected, but completely optional.
Then come the tricky ones: children. They may be flower girls, ring bearers, pages, or junior bridesmaids/groomsmen. If the children you love are very small, it’s probably kinder to them, their parents, and your guests to leave them out of the party, particularly if the ceremony is going to be longer than about twenty minutes. The best flower girls and ring bearers, in my experience, are between the ages of about five and seven. They’re old enough to understand what’s going on and take direction, but small enough to make most of your guests go ‘awww’ at their arrival. Pages are rarely done anymore, but they are usually small boys who carry the bride’s train. If you choose to have pages, make sure they know to be gentle with the train and have long attention spans. Junior attendants are most often between the ages of twelve and sixteen, but may be a little younger, too. They’re bridesmaids and groomsmen, only a bit smaller and more prone to acne.
As to how to pick these people, let your heart guide you above all. If you’re only going to have one attendant and you’re honestly closer to your best friend than your sister, choose the friend. If that will be a scandal, then go ahead and have two attendants…assuming you are also close to your sister.
Ignore gender. If the person you are closest to is of the opposite sex, choose that person anyway. One bride of my acquaintance chose her brother as her only attendant. Her two sisters weren’t even in the wedding party. No, they weren’t hurt. No, nobody raised a fuss. In fact, many of us would have been more surprised if she had gone a more traditional way. Another couple I know had only one argument about wedding planning: which one got to use my brother as honor attendant. They finally compromised and shared him as their only attendant. Again, the bride had a brother and the groom had both a brother and a sister, but they chose the person they both felt closest to. Again, it was no big deal.
Yes, in some families and social circles it will raise eyebrows, but the point of wedding attendants is that these are the people who will love and support you no matter what. Sometimes that isn’t the same as the people everyone expects will love and support you no matter what.
What if he has a sister? Do you have to ask her to be a bridesmaid?
While it’s always a graceful gesture to invite your intended’s siblings to be in the wedding party, it’s not actually required. If you know and love his sister, then ask her. If you don’t know her well and think this will bring you closer, then go right ahead. If you find her repellant, then don’t. After all, if the groom wishes her to be in the wedding party, he always has the option to ask her to stand up for him.
What if I don’t like his Best Man? Can I tell him no?
Sure. As long as you’re willing to take the risk that he’ll inform you that your cousin who insulted him at a party six years ago isn’t allowed to be Maid of Honor. Tread carefully in this regard. Save any objections for truly violently objectionable cases, and then be prepared to face the consequences. Chances are you’re going to be socializing with his friends for a very long time, as he will with yours. Don’t raise a fuss unless you’re ready to deal with ugly fallout over a long period of time.
But what if one of you has only one person close enough to have as an attendant, while the other has five? What to do then? How do you even it out?
Don’t bother. Again, you’re choosing the people who will support you and your marriage, not casting a Broadway chorus line. Everybody doesn’t have to have a partner.
Besides, it seems to have worked out just fine (at least through the photographs!) for this couple: