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Bridesmen and Groomsmaids: Tips for Planning an Unconventional Wedding Ceremony

Published Thursday, Jan. 10th, 2019

Photo of men and a woman standing outside posing for the wedding party photo, they are wearing coordinating suits and dress shirts for a wedding

As we're writing this article, Microsoft Word is telling us that there’s a spelling error --  Apparently “bridesmen," “groomsmaids,” and our newest favorites, "best-mates" and "best-maids," aren’t in the dictionary. Yet.


But go to any millennial wedding these days, and you’re likely to see that the old gendered rules for the wedding party don't apply anymore. It’s 2021, people: Let’s get with the times!


We suppose that means it’s up to us to help popularize these newer terms...


In this article, we review the origins of these roles, provide some tips about how to choose the right person to have by your side -- regardless of gender -- and answer other questions we frequently get on the topic, such as, “What about the wedding photos?”


The origins of these outdated gender roles...



The Best Man is thought to have originated with the Germanic Goths back in the 16th Century. In those days, the Best Man’s job was to steal the bride from her neighboring community or disapproving family and bring her to the wedding ceremony -- and that meant he was probably the best swordsman, too.


Needless to say, both kidnapping and murder are illegal these days, and the role of the Best Man continues to evolve towards a less violent and more ceremonial role...



The Maid of Honor's origins are equally rooted in outdated gender roles. The Maid of Honor's job was to wear the same dress and veil as the bride in order to confuse jealous suitors and evil spirits. (Wikipedia tells us that in China, during the feudal era, the female womb was seen as “precious for the production of an heir,” so naturally, a spiritual buffer was all that was required to keep those demons at bay.)


It’s fair to say that nowadays, most brides are more worried about bad weather and wardrobe malfunctions than evil spirits showing up. And a Maid of Honor has far more responsibilities than simply wearing a dress -- including organizing the bachelorette party and keeping any bridesmaids and the rest of the wedding party in line!



photograph of a very large wedding party, with over 20 bridesmaids and groomsmen and more

This party is so big nobody's going to notice anyway...



Times have changed


Things have certainly changed since those early days of weddings, but you don't have to take our word for it alone:


We talked to couples who had choose unconventional wedding parties, and they told us that what mattered most in their decision was friendship and loyalty.



“My best friend is a guy, and I really wanted to have him standing up there with me,” newlywed Rachel told us. “My now-husband had a best-maid, and that just felt natural to us since we have opposite-sex best friends. It just make sense for us.”


Christine’s wedding, taking place this July in Los Angeles, is another such wedding. When planning started, she made a promise to herself that she wouldn’t do something, “just because it’s what everyone else does.” She told us that her brother would be standing beside her as her “Man of Honor.”


Christine’s best friend will be beside her as well, as her Matron of Honor. “My brother is the person I’m closest to,” she explained. “My future husband and I both really wanted by brother up there, and just because he’s a guy doesn’t mean he can’t be part of the bridal party."




image of wedding planning supplies including a notebook, pen, and schedule for picking a wedding venue




Choose your best friend


Millennials have taken the conventional wedding and transformed it into a personalized ceremony that says more about the couple than it does about what others might think a wedding should be like.
When it comes to addressing the ceremonial roles in a wedding, the choice has more to do with honoring long-standing relationships than upholding outdated conventions. That means a best 'man' can actually be any gender, for example. What matters most is honoring a couple's meaningful relationships.
Here are three important things to consider when the time comes to choose your Best Mate, Groomsmaids, or Man of Honor:


1. Is the person reliable and capable?


The person you choose to stand beside you as you take your vows should be efficient and useful, helping with any preparations, attending all wedding functions, and essentially being on call. That means they need to be reliable. Brides and grooms should be able to count on them to keep to wedding party obligations and the wedding timeline, and know that they will show up prepared, ready to celebrate and be helpful. 



2. Are they sociable?


The groomsmaid, bridesman, or whatever term works for your wedding, is going to be spending a lot of time with you and your loved ones. It’s important to consider all personality types involved -- and any potential personality clashes.


The person you choose should get along well with everyone and be up to the task of wrangling in all of the other personalities for the duration of your wedding. And don’t forget -- the person in this role often makes a speech or toast during the reception, so if your groomsmaid is comfortable with the idea of speaking in front of a crowd, that’s even better!



Give this part some serious thought...


3. Will they be involved in all of the same wedding-related events and activities as the rest of your wedding party?


Remember, wedding parties typically spend a lot of time together during the planning of the wedding. They participate in bachelor and bachelorette parties, suit or dress fittings, bridal showers, etc. Even more importantly, the people in these roles are traditionally responsible for planning the bridal shower, bachelorette, or bachelor parties. It's also important to consider dressing room arrangements for the day of the wedding. Traditionally, each wedding party gets ready together on the big day, in the same dressing room.


You may already be planning on having more co-ed and non-traditional wedding activities, and in that case this won’t even be a thing to consider. But take this into consideration  -- along with deciding which events your groomsmaid or bridesman will be comfortable planning and attending.

What about the wedding photos?


Now that you've chosen someone, what about the photos?


Folks are going to look awesome, regardless of their gender or where they're standing! And if you're comfortable having a Man of Honor, or another nontraditional choice, we don't expect you'll get too hung up on who stands where in your wedding photos…


That said, be sure to give your photographer a heads-up on who goes where, so that they don't accidentally leave anyone out of key pictures, or have someone in the wrong place in the photo.



Make sure to let your photographer know that your Man of Honor is with your crew for photos!



What should they wear?


As we tend to answer most questions like this one: Really, whatever they want to, as long as it's in-line with your wedding theme and tone.


A popular choice is to have any bridesmen dress in the same attire as any groomsmen, but to match his accessories (like his tie or pocket square) to any bridesmaids’ dresses. 'Best Women,' or groomsmaids, will often just wear the same dress as any bridesmaids, or don the same style suit as any groomsmen. 


Have fun with it! Clothing isn't gendered, so have folks wear what they feel comfortable in. Work together as a group to create your own unique wedding party look!



What sort of gift should I get them?


There’s a long tradition of couples purchasing gifts for the members of the wedding party. These gifts serve as a token of appreciation for all of the personal and financial contributions they've made to the wedding experience.


Cuff links are a traditional gift for groomsmen, along with engraved pilsner glasses or cigars. Traditional gifts for bridesmaids include monogrammed dressing robes, bottles of champagne, and jewelry -- just to name a few.


Naturally, these gifts can (and should) be tailored to the individual’s preferences, so don’t feel pressured to give whatever everyone else gives. Just as you have with the rest of your wedding planning:  Focus on what is meaningful, and what matters to you.



Updated May 17, 2021


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Lewis King
Lewis King

Staff Writer

Lewis loves exploring the space between power, discourse, and material reality where institutions like marriage are defined. He also wears other hats at AMM, like taking out the recycling and restocking the sparkling water.

Natasha Anakotta
Natasha Anakotta

Guest Contributor

Natasha is passionate about promoting marriage equality, and encouraging couples to celebrate in a way that’s authentic and unique. Aside from weddings, she enjoys Star Wars, true crime podcasts, and eating macarons by the dozen.

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