Given how wildly different weddings can be, it’s often hard to know exactly what your role is. I’ve attended more weddings than I can count, and have been lucky enough to play a significant part in four of them. I have three pastors in my family, all of whom officiate weddings, and I spent two years working with a wedding planner.
My basic rules are simple: Be on time and don’t be drunk!
Here is more specific information on the roles you may be called on to play in a traditional American wedding, and how to pull them off without screwing up.
It may be your day, but keep in mind your sanity and your budget. Try to focus on the idea that you’re starting a life with someone you love, and not on wearing the most expensive wedding dress in the shop, or how to release 50 white doves when you’re pronounced man and wife.
All the little details that go into a wedding can be overwhelming. Either hire a wedding planner whose job is to make you happy, or solicit your friends and family (often your mother and the bridesmaids) to help.
Wedding planners cost money, but are professionals who are there simply to get you and your groom exactly what you want. Working with friends and family is of course free, and you are getting people you really trust to help you. The problem is that they may not always agree with you.
If you can, let your family and friends enjoy the day itself with you, and don’t put them to work. At least budget to get help setting up the ceremony and reception – or realize the family and friends you ask to help will likely be 98% happy, but 2% annoyed at having to make appetizers.
You’ll probably be picking the bridesmaids’ dresses. Don’t say, “You’ll be able to wear this out on the town,” if you’ve selected a prom-style dress that can’t be worn anywhere else. If you let your bridesmaids pick their own dresses, be prepared to see more skin on display than you might like.
Have two or three things that matter to you about the wedding that you will stick up for, like the flavor of the cake, the design of your ring, or what you’re wearing. My brother’s wedding colors (decided by the bride) were pink and chocolate. One of the ideas was that he wear a pink vest – and that was where he put his foot down!
Ask friends to act as groomsmen as early as possible to avoid conflicts. (Same goes for the bride asking her bridesmaids.) In American weddings, the number of bridesmaids will often dictate the number of groomsmen, which is about symmetry for the pictures. You may find yourself calling up second cousins and long-lost acquaintances if you wait to the last minute.
You will need to organize the groomsmen’s attire. If you’re going the tux or suit route, many places offer deals for renting the whole get-up, but you’ll need to make sure you sort this out in enough time for fittings and delivery. If you are going casual, give specific instructions on what “casual” means.
Mother and Father of the Bride
Traditionally, it’s the bride’s family that pays for the wedding and reception, though of course it doesn’t have to be. If there’s a strict budget, let the couple know up front and be firm with it. But remember that paying for something doesn’t mean you control it.
The father of the bride is traditionally the one who walks the bride down the aisle. Have a handkerchief at the ready.
Mother of the bride, please know that everyone knows you are an extremely important part of the wedding. But it is not your day. It is your daughter’s day. Your job is not to take over. Your outfit should be nice, but all eyes should be on your daughter and not on you.
Mother and Father of the Groom
The groom’s family usually pays for the rehearsal dinner, and anything groom-related. As the hosts of the rehearsal dinner, you should give a toast. Thank everyone for coming, raise your glass to the bride and groom, perhaps mention something about how glad you are your son has met such a lovely woman, and sit back down. If you actually think your son’s bride-to-be is a gold-digging harlot, probably best just to stick with the thanks for coming.
Maid of Honor
You may be dragged along to help choose the dress, the cake, and so on. You are there to help the bride, so don’t make it about you. It doesn’t matter if you think the dress she’s fawning over is a hideous concoction of tulle – be supportive!
Before the big day, it’s your job to arrange a wedding shower and the bachelorette party. Whether it’s a pub crawl or a spa day, go with whatever will make the bride happiest. But remember: if your spa treatments involve the words exfoliate, epilate, or abrasion, don’t schedule them for the day before the wedding!
Your job on the day is to allay any fears of the bride. You will hold her flowers and arrange her train once she’s walked down the aisle.
You will also give a toast at the reception. You are “allowed” to wax a bit more eloquent than the best man, but get to the point, especially if you’re prone to getting weepy when you talk about weddings.
You’re the next level of support for the bride after the maid of honor, and are expected to be there at the showers and pre-wedding events.
If the bride has chosen your dress, then you just need to get fitted and wear the dress without complaint or question. It may not be that flattering, and you may be expected to pay for some or all of the dress and alterations yourself. But keep a smile on your face – it’s your friend getting married.
You are there to make sure the groom shows up and stays put. Before the wedding, you organize the bachelor party. This is for the groom, not you. If he’s outdoorsy, plan a camping trip. If he wants to get smashed and stick dollar bills into the g-string of a stripper, go for it. Just make sure it’s not the night before the wedding, and don’t let him do anything he’ll regret.
During the wedding, you are in charge of the rings. Make sure you know how many there should be. Just because you have two, doesn’t mean you have enough – some brides have a separate engagement ring and wedding band, along with a wedding band for the groom. The wedding will literally come to a halt, with the guests told to talk amongst themselves, if you need to go find a missing ring.
You will also give a speech during the reception. The shorter, the better; the more sober you are, the better. Be complimentary, and supportive of the union. Saying, “I give it two years,” will only sound funny in your head. The groom’s friends and his grandparents are unlikely to share the same sense of humor.
You will have to pay for something: possibly the travel to get there, the hotel room, or your outfit. You’ll need to get your measurements from a tailor if you’re going to be in a tux. Don’t try and do it yourself.
Groomsmen traditionally have the best (though unofficial) job: decorating the car. This is a fine art in my family, and everyone gets involved. We’ve progressed from sticking a few Oreos on the windows, to wrapping the car with saran wrap, unwrapping five rolls of pennies inside, and putting confetti in the vents so when the air comes on the confetti comes out! Get creative, but remember that “what goes around, comes around.”
Buy something from the registry, or just give cash. If you’re going to both wedding and reception, bring the gift to the reception. Always include a card with your full name written clearly. The groom’s seating section is usually on the right, and the bride’s on the left. If you know both bride and groom, sit on the side with fewer people. Don’t be late. Oh, and don’t wear a white dress.
Do you have any other tips about wedding roles that you can share in the comments?