Why is the bride glaring at you? Perhaps it’s that you were so busy flirting with her college roommate that you forgot to join the attendants’ dance. And the groom seems to be avoiding eye contact. This is because you missed the wedding rehearsal in lieu of sleeping off the bachelor party.
Protocol was invented for bystanders who find themselves in emotionally tense situations. As a member of the wedding party, you can have a calming effect on the bride and groom by following protocol, or you can risk losing one of your limbs by neglecting it. Get careless, and the bride will aim square at your head when she throws her bouquet.
Wedding parties are most often comprised of a best man, a maid of honor, groomsmen, bridesmaids, and ushers. All of these people have a few responsibilities in common. Let’s start with those:
Be helpful and specific. ‘Can I come over and help you fill the little plastic cherubs with rice?’ is better than, ‘What can I do?’ It indicates that you’re serious about your offer, and it takes pressure off of the bride and groom to find a task for you.
Get out your wallet. Being a member of the wedding party can get expensive. You’ll need to pay for your outfit, chip in on the wedding shower and the bachelor(ette) party, and buy gifts for the shower and wedding. If you can’t afford it, or might resent the cash outlay because you aren’t close to the bride and groom, decline the offer on the grounds that you won’t be able to live up to your financial responsibilities. It’s also a good out if you’d rather see the bride marry her own brother than the groom.
Stay in touch. Be responsive to calls or emails from the couple, and try to see them as often as you can. This is a good opportunity to re-establish a friendship if you’ve been out of touch. Planning a wedding can be overwhelming, so offer to spend time just running errands with them or searching for some inane but indispensable object, like a teddy-bear bride and groom cake topper.
Be there for them. You’ll need to attend, and sometimes plan, all the pre-wedding engagement parties, showers, and bachelor(ette) parties. Help run errands before the wedding and on the day itself. Most of all, provide moral-support when the florist doesn’t show, when the undercooked salmon gives everyone food poisoning, or when the ring-bearer makes farting sounds through the ceremony.
Be prepared. Try everything on beforehand to make sure that nothing is stained or ill fitting. Know where you need to be and when, and then be on time. Wedding-day schedules are tight, and making everyone wait for you makes the day about you. The day is not about you.
Be a good co-host at the wedding. Stay sober enough so you can still tell guests where to put their coats and how to find the bar. Help greet guests if the bride and groom ask you to be in the receiving line. Mingle with strangers, encourage bachelorettes to join in the bouquet toss, and get out on the dance floor. If the groom wants to do the Macarena, swallow your shame and get his back.
Bridesmaids, Groomsmen, and Ushers
In addition to the responsibilities listed above, bridesmaids should help the maid of honor plan the shower and bachelorette party. They should also refrain from complaining about the ugly dress.
Groomsmen help the best man plan the bachelor party and decorate the couple’s car.
They also dance with the bridesmaids and any single female guests. They avoid public displays of affection with the bride’s 17-year-old cousin.
An usher’s main job is to escort people to their ceremony seats, especially members of the immediate family. At a Christian wedding, the bride’s guests sit on the left, and groom’s guests sit on the right. For a Jewish ceremony, flip that arrangement. Afterward, you’ll escort the couple’s family out of the church, and possibly help the guests to leave one aisle at a time. This is not so tough.
Ushers also give directions to the church and reception and help out-of-town guests get to the ceremony. They answer questions from the florist and photographer, and sometimes pull an aisle runner into place before the bridal march.
Maid of Honor
The maid of honor has the lion’s share of responsibilities. She’s there to organize parties, help the bride wrangle her other bridesmaids, and present gentle arguments against hand-beading 300 place cards. Most brides will expect you to:
- Help shop for her gown and the bridesmaid dresses.
- Tell friends and guests where the bride and groom are registered without making them seem greedy.
- Host the bridal shower and bachelorette parties.
- At parties, record which heart-shaped crystal bowl came from Aunt Myrtle and which from cousin Pat.
- Help with small but redundant tasks like addressing envelopes, or wrapping impenetrable Jordan Almonds in soft puffs of pink tulle.
- Supply pre-ceremony tequila when the bride gets a sudden case of cold feet.
- Adjust her veil and train before she walks down the aisle, and hold her bouquet while she says her vows.
- Try not to grimace as you mince down the aisle in the four-inch stilettos she made you buy.
- Hold the groom’s ring during the ceremony.
- Be a witness when the bride and groom sign their marriage license.
- Toast the couple after the best man makes his toast.
- Help the bride wrangle thirty-two yards of tulle when it’s time to powder her nose.
Brides with large bridal parties may also need your help herding the bridesmaids. This includes:
- Making sure everyone has their dresses and accessories, and that everything fits right.
- Keeping the bridal party informed of pertinent dates and times.
- Making sure the bridal party gets to the rehearsal.
- Making sure the bridal party gets their hair and makeup done, and giving everyone the correct bouquets.
And if you really want to wow her:
- Host a bridesmaids tea so everyone can meet each other if they haven’t already.
- Store her gown before the ceremony so the groom doesn’t see it.
- Feed her on her wedding day. Make sure she has breakfast and lunch, and bring her snacks and drinks at the reception. A hungry bride is more likely to lash out inappropriately at the photographer.
- Let her know that the ceremony kiss smudged her lipstick, or that there’s rice in her hair.
- Be her first line of defense. She doesn’t need to know about any problems until they’re fixed. The cake fell apart? Head to the nearest bakery. No one can find the groom? Remove all clocks and watches from the bride’s vicinity, and offer her another go at the tequila.
The best man will check to make sure the groom is sober the morning after the bachelor party, provide breath mints and coffee if he’s not, and get him to the church on time. The best man will also:
- Plan the bachelor party.
- Intervene when someone proposes another shot of bourbon, though the groom’s eyes no longer work as a team.
- Help the groomsmen and ushers figure out what’s going on with their tuxes or suits.
- Pick up and/or take a lint brush to the groom’s formal wear before the wedding.
- Pick up out-of-town guests.
- Organize the order of toasts at the rehearsal dinner.
- Confirm the honeymoon travel plans on the day of the wedding.
- Be in charge of the wedding timeline so that everything runs smoothly.
- Help the groom get ready, and give him a lift to the ceremony.
- Hang out with him and remind him to breathe until it’s time to walk down the aisle.
- Help the ushers figure out the ceremony seating plan.
- Keep the bride’s wedding ring during the ceremony.
- Act as a witness by signing the marriage license.
- Help the photographer herd family members for the formal portraits.
- Give payment envelopes to the officiant and the vendors.
- Make a brief toast. Opt for sincere instead of ‘funny.’ Funny too often involves inappropriate references to that time the groom met those twins at the frat party.
- Bring all the necessary materials to decorate the car.
- Load the honeymoon suitcases into the car and make sure it’s filled with gas.
- Drive the happy couple to their post-wedding destination.
- Help transport gifts to the couple’s home and take all the groom’s personal items back as well.
- Return all the men’s tuxedos or suits to the rental shops, or have the groom’s clothing dry cleaned and returned to his home.
Going to the Chapel
And that’s it. Now you know why they have bars at weddings.
My final directive is to skip the complaints. Evidence of self-interest on someone else’s wedding day will seem selfish to onlookers. The bridesmaid who cringes over her dress, the groomsman who whines about having to show up early to help decorate, these are not endearing characters. Any inconvenience you’re facing is small compared to ten months of sleepless nights fretting over rice pilaf.
Being in the wedding party is a chance to celebrate your friendship and to cement it. Be gracious and helpful, and you’ll keep the happy couple happy.