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Choosing the Wedding Party

Photography: LIZ BANFIELD

Source: Martha Stewart Weddings, Fall 2005


What do honor attendants, bridesmaids, groomsmen, flower girls, and ring bearers have in common? They're people who love you, and they've signed up to help out.

Members of the wedding party are very important people -- cherished friends and family who are there for you from the earliest planning stages to the day they accompany you down the aisle. Their participation in your wedding is a testament to their love for you, something you will all remember for many years to come.

Being in a wedding party can involve a fair amount of responsibility and expense, especially for the honor attendants (best man and maid of honor). Bear this in mind when asking; make sure all participants know up front what you are expecting of them. To give everyone ample time to plan, name your attendants soon after you choose a date and venue. Invite people to participate in a way that allows them to decline gracefully if they feel they're not up to the task, and don't insist on an immediate answer.

If anyone is unable to afford the cost of their formal wear, hotel room, or travel, you might tactfully offer to help out if you can. Pick the right number of attendants for the size and style of your wedding. Eight to twelve is common, but you can have more or less. Many couples include children, often nieces and nephews. Others have honor attendants only.

For their September 2003 ceremony in East Hampton, New York, Lulita and John Reed had twenty-one attendants -- family members, childhood playmates, and dear friends from high school and college.

Whatever you decide, don't feel you must choose an equal number of men and women. Loved ones don't come in boxed sets, and neither should your wedding party. To give everyone enough time to make plans, name your attendants as early as you can preferably as soon as you have chosen a date and venue.

Maid of Honor

How to Choose

Traditionally, the bride invites the sister closest in age to her to be maid or matron of honor. These days she can ask any relative or friend, even a grandparent, parent, or adult child. A bride may name a brother or close male friend, and cast him in a slightly different, more masculine role. And if she can't choose between two people, there's no rule that says she can't have both.

What Does She Do?

The maid of honor is the bride's number-one confidante and helper. She's also the head bridesmaid, in charge of delegating jobs and keeping everyone informed and organized. Her job description is lengthy, but it includes a lot of tasks a good friend will likely enjoy doing. They generally include helping the bride shop for the wedding gown and bridesmaid dresses; spreading the word to guests about where the couple is registered for gifts; and hosting the wedding shower (and perhaps the bachelorette party, too).

On the wedding day, the maid of honor sticks close to the bride, tending to her veil, train, and bustle. She walks in the procession and stands by the bride at the altar. During the ceremony, the maid of honor holds the bride's bouquet and sometimes the groom's ring; afterward she signs the marriage certificate as a witness. At the reception, the maid of honor and best man sometimes join the newlyweds and their parents for the first formal dance sequence. She may also offer a toast if she wants to.

Etiquette Tip

Some couples ask the maid of honor to join them in the receiving line; if so, she stands just to the left of the groom. Bridesmaids, if included, stand to her left.

Best Man

How to Choose

At one time, the best man was usually a brother, but these days anyone is appropriate, provided he (or she) is important to the groom and is willing to assume this demanding role.

What Does He Do?

As the other honor attendant in the wedding, the best man is kept just as busy as the maid of honor. He helps the groom select the men's tuxedos and sees to it that everyone gets fitted. He may also act as bachelor-party planner. In addition, the best man is charged with getting the groom to the ceremony on time, marriage certificate in hand, and keeping him calm and relaxed. He stands at the groom's side during the ceremony and signs the marriage certificate. He may also hold the bride's ring (or both rings).

Afterwards he hands out payments -- for the officiant, and for any other sundry expenses that come up the day of the wedding. At the reception, the best man traditionally offers the first toast. He's often also called upon to safeguard gift envelopes and orchestrate a smooth departure for the newlyweds when the party is over.

Etiquette Tip

Not every best man is a gifted public speaker. If yours is shy and serious, don't pressure him to deliver a lengthy, entertaining toast; let him know in advance that short and sincere is just fine.


How to Choose

In addition to family members and friends, the bride's retinue often includes at least one of the groom's sisters. Older girls and young teenagers can join the party as junior bridesmaids.

What Do They Do?

The bridesmaids often help the maid of honor plan the shower and the bachelorette party or cohost these events. They attend all prenuptial festivities if possible. The bride, or her maid of honor, might ask bridesmaids to assist her with numerous small tasks, such as securing hotel rooms for out-of-town guests and keeping a log of gifts at the bridal shower. You may want to consult with bridesmaids before you select their dresses -- they could be a great help.

Bridesmaids purchase the dress you have chosen and have it fitted in time for the wedding. If they're wearing dresses of their own choosing, they need to be aware of any style or color specifications you may have. At the ceremony, bridesmaids precede the maid of honor in the procession; they are often paired with the groomsmen. If there is an odd number of bridesmaids, two women can walk together, or a groomsman can escort one on each arm.

Etiquette Tip

It is customary for the bride to give her attendants gifts as tokens of appreciation --jewelry is popular, but anything you know they will enjoy is appropriate. The gifts need not be identical, but they should all be of equal value -- with the exception of the maid of honor's gift, which can be more expensive, to reflect her larger contribution. Many brides treat their bridesmaids to a pre-wedding luncheon and distribute their presents at this time.


How to Choose

Here, too, you want people you're comfortable with. A brother (or brothers) of the bride makes a wonderful addition.

What Do They Do?

Groomsmen might help host prenuptial celebrations -- the bachelor party in particular. They pay for their own formal attire. At the wedding, groomsmen often serve as ushers (as do bridesmaids, in some cases); if so, they need to pay close attention at the rehearsal and arrive early to roll out the runner, distribute programs, and escort guests to their seats. They walk in the procession alongside the bridesmaids and stand next to the best man during the ceremony.

You can also ask groomsmen to make themselves available to guests after the ceremony, for help with directions to the reception site. Some couples have ushers in addition to groomsmen. Either way, make sure you have enough help on hand. A good ratio is one usher or attendant for every 25 guests.

Etiquette Tip

Select personal gifts for your groomsmen, including something extra special for your best man, to give at the rehearsal dinner. These are often small luxury items, such as cuff links, leather-bound journals, or money clips; gift certificates are also a good choice.

Ring Bearers and Flower Girls

How to Choose

If you are close to any small children, including them in your wedding party is lovely. Keep in mind, however, that children can't be expected to behave like adults. Flower girls and ring bearers should generally be at least four years old and mature enough to handle their ceremonial role. A very shy or fidgety child will probably not do well in the spotlight. Ask your candidates' parents whether they think their youngsters will be able to manage.

What Do They Do?

The ring bearer and flower girl precede the bride down the aisle. He carries the wedding rings (or decoys, if he's too little to be trusted with the real things), tied to a small pillow. The flower girl may carry a basket of petals, which she scatters as she walks, or a nosegay. After the procession is over and the rings are handed off to the best man, the children's work is done, and they can be seated with their parents.

Etiquette Tip

Ring bearers' and flower girls' outfits and accessories are usually paid for by their parents. Discuss your choices with them in advance, and be sure to keep your selections within their budget.

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