Do I Really Need That: the Bridal Attendant Edition

Chances are that every wedding you’ve been to has included some sort of bridal party. Bridesmaids, groomsmen, a flower girl and/or ring bearer…these are common. In fact, I would bet good money that at least a hefty percentage of our readers have been in weddings where they were not the ones getting married. For my part, I’ve been a bridesmaid twice, maid of honor once, and once I got grabbed at the last minute to attend the bride at a spur-of-the-moment vow reaffirmation.

But now that you’re getting married, you need to decide whom to ask to attend you and in what capacity. That’s where things can get tricky. You may not really know what jobs there are, what sort of person is best suited to said job, or even whether you want these roles filled at all. The fact is that while you will need witnesses for legal purposes (anywhere from one to three people, depending on state law if you’re in the US), those people are not required to hold particular titles or wear matching clothes…but most of us do have those witnesses or other close friends and family members stand by our sides.

Fear not! Here’s a brief rundown of bridal attendants, common and un, in a typical western-style wedding. Read on to get a better idea of what your options are and how to best meet your needs in putting together a bridal party.

MOH: The maid or matron of honor is typically the bride’s best friend or sister. In addition to standing closest to the bride at the altar, the MOH is expected to: hold the groom’s ring (if there is one) until the bride needs it during the ceremony, hold the bride’s bouquet during the ring exchange, arrange the bride’s train at the altar (if she has one on her gown), plan the bridal shower and/or bachelorette party, and act as a general sounding board for the bride throughout the wedding planning process. She may also help out with any DIY projects the bride has planned and go along on wedding errands. Oh, and it’s becoming more common now to have the MOH give a toast at the reception, as well.

The fact is, though, that a great deal of this is optional. If distance or time or lack of skill in a certain area makes it impossible for the MOH to perform one or more of these ‘duties’ that doesn’t change her place in your heart, and shouldn’t change her place by your side. Choose the person you most want standing by your side as you pledge yourself to your love. Oh, and that does include making the title Man of Honor, as well. I attended a wedding once where the bride had her brother as her honor – and only – attendant. That was the right choice for them.

Best Man: What the MOH is to the bride, the Best Man is to the groom. He plots…er…plans the bachelor party if there’s going to be one, stands next to the groom at the altar, holds the bride’s ring until it’s time to put it on her finger, makes a toast at the reception, and is often entrusted with the job of making sure day-of payments get to vendors. Some quite old-fashioned wedding guides have the Best Man doing everything for the groom short of actually marrying the bride, but in practice it’s mostly stand, hand, toast, and wish the happy couple well.

As with the MOH, it is, of course, quite possible for the best man for the job to be a woman. You grooms out there, if your best bud happens not to be male or if you have a sister you’re particularly close to, don’t hesitate to ask her.

Bridesmaids: Most often, this is a bevy of identically-dressed women who join the MOH in standing next to the bride at the altar. Frankly, this job is almost entirely decorative and honorary. Mind you, I would never in a month of sundays suggest choosing bridesmaids according to their looks! If you choose to have them, pick people of either sex who are quite close to you.

These people may or may not, depending on distance, talents, time available, and personal inclination help you out with errands and projects for the wedding. And of course there’s no law stating that they have to dress alike. That’s entirely up to the bride. If you decree a particular outfit, then they wear it. If you give them parameters, they need to go get something that fits them. If you tell them to choose what they will, you need to trust them to pick something appropriate. The blunt truth is that showing up on time wearing what you ask them to wear is pretty much their only required duty. Anything else they may or may not do is up to them.

Groomsmen: More or less bridesmaids for the groom. These are guys the groom is close to who show up on time wearing what they’ve been asked to wear, from custom formalwear to choosing something clean out of their own closets. Again, the groom may ask women to fill this role, if he chooses to do so.

Of course, sometimes the groomsmen double in another role.

Ushers: These may or may not be the same people as the groomsmen. If you’re having a large wedding and have a lot of guys you’d like to include, this is a perfect role for some of them. They dress to match the groomsmen, and their job is to escort guests to their seats at the ceremony. When they have finished the job, they retire to their own seats and become guests from that point on. Again, ushers do not all (or at all) have to be men. That’s simply what has been traditional. The rule of thumb is to have one usher for every fifty guests. If you’re having less than a hundred guests, chances are you won’t bother to have ushers at all. And, as I said before, many times the ushers are just the groomsmen.

Junior Bridesmaids/Groomsmen: Is there a child in your life who has hit that awkward stage where it’s no longer cute to have them as flower girl/ring bearer, but they aren’t adults yet? Want to include him or her? Call them junior attendants. They can wear what the adults wear, if appropriate, or a slight variation on the theme. All they have to do is stand at the altar and be as decorative as they know how…but it might mean a lot to a thirteen-year-old to be included.

Flower Girl: Usually a small girl who follows after the bridesmaids in the processional strewing flower petals in the bride’s path. Of course, the flower girl can be a flower woman, a flower boy, or a flower man. Some couples even have a beloved dog perform the service. Flower girls, however, are about as optional as can be. Also, be aware that choosing a very tiny child or a four-legged friend may require quite a bit of flexibility. Small children can develop stage fright at inconvenient times and Fido may not understand why it’s not okay for him to relieve himself on his way to the altar.

Ring Bearer: The counterpart of the flower girl. Usually a small boy who carries a fancy pillow which may bear the actual rings, or (more often now) some sort of symbolic rings that will not be used in the ceremony. Again, if you have a favorite small nephew or niece, or good friend of either sex or any age that you’d like to include in this way, have at it. If you haven’t, don’t be afraid to simply exise the role.

Oh, and keep in mind that even inanimate ring bearers can cause trouble, if they so desire. My brother the alpaca rancher and his bride chose to have the lady’s beloved teddy bear, Bailey, act as ring bearer. He carried the real rings and the Best Man carried Bailey. When the time came for the rings to be exchanged, Bailey entirely refused to give them up. I’m quite sure it wasn’t that the ribbon on the pillow got knotted or anything. It wasn’t until the Best Man swore at the bear in Korean that the rings came free and my brother was able to marry his love.

Later on, someone checked Bailey’s tags and discovered that he had been made in Korea.

Just a cautionary tale from the Twilight Zone that is my history.

Pages/Train Bearers: These were typically small boys in very fancy clothes who helped the bride with her train as she processed to the altar. I say ‘were’ because they have pretty much fallen out of use since the early part of the last century. If, however, you happen to be having a very grand wedding gown with a terribly long train and have a large number of children who wish to be included in the excitement, you could consider ressurrecting the idea.

Readers/Soloists: Attendants? Maybe not. But many people give these jobs to people close to them who aren’t going to be standing at the altar. After all, you may choose to have just one formal attendant but want to include your favorite cousin or another close friend in the festivities. Make sure these people have good voices, clear diction, and aren’t inclined to stagefright.

Keep in mind that each and every one of these roles is entirely optional. So long as you have the legally required number of adult witnesses on hand to sign the license, it doesn’t matter if you have just yourselves and your officient at the altar, or a cast that would put a Broadway musical to shame. And while certain roles are expected to be carried out by men or by women or by children, the fact is you can fill any role you like with any person you prefer…and some can be handled by animals or inanimate objects, if you’re willing to put up with a few odd looks and sighs from those who Just Don’t Get It. Consider well and don’t be afraid to vary the theme.

The best way to decide isn’t by gender or age or expectation, but by looking into your heart and choosing who will make you happiest.

10 Responses to “Do I Really Need That: the Bridal Attendant Edition”

  1. jstar December 7, 2008 at 10:04 pm #

    In MA if you get married by a JP you don’t need any witnesses. Perfect for our clandestine wedding a year to the day before our wedding.
    In our ‘public’ wedding we will not have any bridal party. We found it was too hard to narrow it. down. We wanted half of our 75 guests to be involved, so we are opting for a Quaker style wedding instead (I am sort of Quaker). This means we don’t need a bridal party or readers etc. but anyone and everyone is allowed to stand and speak in the silence after we exchange vows.
    Just further proof that a wedding can take many forms, and that what is important is not the formalities, but the relationship between two people.

  2. dr nic December 7, 2008 at 10:18 pm #

    The most recent wedding I participated it (where I was the MOH) we had a bridesmaid who had issues with the show up in the dress the bride picked out thing. She was nearly kicked out of the wedding by the bride (which would have been especially awkward since her husband was the best man) for all of the issues she caused.

  3. De December 8, 2008 at 9:36 am #

    For our lovely, laidback event coming this fall, neither of us is going to have any sort of attendant.

    This concept confuses and seemingly frightens my mother, but she’ll just have to adjust :P…

  4. Melinda Ledbetter December 8, 2008 at 1:35 pm #

    In this day and age, attendants are nice but sometimes more of a hassle then expected. My best friend married a man with three sisters. All three wanted to be in the wedding but she also wanted her best friends. She chose her fiance’s sisters but it killed her inside.

  5. La BellaDonna December 9, 2008 at 7:53 am #

    Melinda: It’s a pity that the sisters weren’t Groomsmaids rather than Bridesmaids. They were close to the GROOM, not the bride, and the bride was obviously Not Happy at having to do the “correct” thing.

    Which sucks. Where is it written that wanting=having? In the weddings of unhappy brides and grooms, apparently. Nothing like a little touch of residual resentment to tint the memories of the wedding!

  6. La BellaDonna December 9, 2008 at 8:01 am #

    A Family Tale! When my brother got married, his bride-to-be, a perfectly nice woman whom none of us really knew – at all – asked my sister to be a bridesmaid, because she felt obligated. My sister, another perfectly nice woman, accepted – because she felt obligated. This entailed my sister the agoraphobic making several long-distance trips by car to attend events where she knew NO ONE, spent money she couldn’t afford on various gifts and clothing for various “festivities”, etc. I declined the invitation, because I was making the bride’s dress (I offered freely). I worked my ass off, including an unscheduled, UNPAID week off work in order to finish the gown, and I think I got the better deal (I also did a reading, which was fine). The bride also had friends who were acting as bridesmaids; she really didn’t need to have us fill out the ranks.

    There has to be a better way than this to deal with what is supposed to be a happy occasion.

  7. Pencils December 10, 2008 at 3:46 pm #

    When I got married last year at the age of 40, my friends all said, “Congratulations, and we’ll be there, but don’t expect me to be a bridesmaid.” And I didn’t blame them, I wouldn’t want to be a bridesmaid at this age. I liked the idea of having our families be part of the ceremony–we both come from fairly small families–so my bridesmaids were my young nieces (who loved the chance to dress up and wear a tiara!), the flowergirl was my husband’s only niece, my stepson was the best man, and our siblings held the chuppah poles, with my nephew standing in for my sister, busy as the MoH. My other nephew was the ringbearer. Every member of our immediate families were in the wedding party! It made it very special, that we were joining our families together, not just ourselves.

  8. Fenny December 15, 2008 at 9:40 pm #

    At the last two hitching ceremonies I’ve been to, I was the “Best Man”. This all came about because of a night out in a curry house with the happy couple to be. Four of us were enjoying our dinner when Beth & Steve said that when they were finally free to tie the knot, they fancied going on a South Sea cruise and being married by the captain. I like boats, so I invited myself along. Nevilley asked Beth if he could be the bridesmaid, so Steve looked at me and said I’d better be his Best Man, then. A few months later, I got an email from Beth saying “Steve says are you still OK for BM duties, we’re not going to sea!”

    The following year, Nevilley & his young lady got hitched and he asked me to be the Best Man.

    Both ceremonies were small, simple, low budget and all round happy.

  9. Groomswench December 16, 2008 at 11:11 am #

    When my HS best friend got married 2 years ago, he asked me to be his- as he so lovingly and eloquently put it- “groomswench”.

    I donned a very nice black suit (woohoo, no nylons!) and stood by him as he married his first (and only.ever.) wife.

    People would ask me why I wasn’t standing up with the bride. I had not even met her until the week of the wedding. J and I had been friends for 17 years, why wouldn’t I stand up for him?

    I went to Vegas with the boys for the bachelor party and even planned the second bachelor party 2 days before the event.

    It was great fun and I would gladly agree to stand up for him again.

  10. Twistie December 16, 2008 at 1:29 pm #

    Fenny and Groomswench, that’s what it’s all about: good friends standing up to support the people they love in the most important moments of their lives. You guys, and your guy friends and their ladies, are all superfantastic!