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Wedding Etiquette for the Best Man, Groomsmen, and Ushers
Undoubtedly, the groom will want to choose a few good men—often his brothers, college buddies, and best friends—to carry out all of the responsibilities traditionally assigned to the guys. Once your fiancé has picked his team, he’ll have to give them a few pointers on just what their roles and responsibilities are, so here’s the lowdown.
A Friend in Deed
Let’s start with the best man (the head groomsman) since his role is so crucial. The best man is an all-purpose kind of guy—friend, organizer, coach, confidant—with a lot of responsibilities.
In general, he must make sure that the wedding goes off without a hitch. When the groom feels stressed, he is ready with encouragement and a good sense of humor.
Traditionally, it is the best man who is in charge of organizing the bachelor party and making all travel arrangements for the bride and groom. He makes sure the groom and other groomsmen get fitted for and pick up their formalwear. He is also expected to supervise the other groomsmen and ushers, serve as an official witness to the vows, safeguards the ring and marriage license just before the wedding, and pay the clergyman’s fee (which the groom quietly slips to him before the ceremony).
After the ceremony, he makes sure the wedding party lines up properly for the "wedding parade" through town, if one is planned. At the reception, he serves as the master of ceremonies, proposes the first toast, and remains on hand to ensure that all subsequent speeches are both short and sweet. His final duty is to return all the rented tuxes.
INCIDENTAL—In case it should happen that several notable people would like to offer a toast, here is the order of the speakers: best man, groom’s dad, bride’s dad, groom, bride, maid of honor, groom’s mom, bride’s mom, other friends and relatives.
And a Few Good Men
Of course, the other groomsmen or ushers are also important members of the wedding party. The are, in effect, the couples hospitality committee. Although groomsmen often do double-duty—serving as ushers before and after the ceremony—in may cases, at large weddings, for example, there are two sets of men: groomsmen and ushers. (The general rule is one usher for every 50 guests.) In these instances, it is the ushers who seat the guests, and it is they who make the first impression on guests as they arrive.
Ushers greet the guests and escort them on the proper side of the church. As tradition would have it, when a female guest arrives (whether she is alone or not), one of the ushers should step forward, extend his right arm, and escort her to her seat, followed by her spouse or date. (I am in favor of the more modern sentiment which suggests that this approach is incompatible with the whole concept of marriage and that the husband should not be relegated to trailing behind this temporary pair.)
Before walking toward the pews, the usher should ask which side of the church she would like to be seated on, the bride’s or groom’s. Generally, the right side of the church is reserved for the guests of the groom. Her relatives and friends are usually escorted to the right.
In a Jewish ceremony, this seating arrangement is reversed. And if one side appears to be filling up and the other side has noticeably few occupants, then this rule should be abandoned for the sake of appearances.
Incidentally, in keeping with the spirit of the occasion, ushers should not escort guests to their seats in total silence, as if this were a solemn affair.
This is a time for a few casual and friendly, yet dignified and quiet remarks.
Pews are filled from front to back, leaving the first several reserved for family members and close friends of the bride and groom. Just minutes before the ceremony is scheduled to begin, two of the ushers should escort the groom’s mother and then the bride’s mother to their seats. After the ceremony, they escort these ladies down the aisle.
It is the groomsmen who should be available to assist the bride’s mother with any last minute details. Just before the bride makes her entrance, they should unroll the aisle runner. Another important duty of these men of chivalry is to arrange for transportation of the bridesmaids to the wedding site.
After the ceremony, as everyone heads off to the reception, it is their responsibility to ensure that no one is left behind. And, because they are largely responsible for making sure that a good time is had by all, they are expected to introduce guests to each other.
Modern day armor
What the groomsmen wear is largely determined by the formality or informality of the ceremony, and to a lesser extent by considerations such as location and time of day.
These days, most grooms, groomsmen and ushers rent their formalwear. The groom and his men should order their tuxes at least three months before the wedding. If possible, they should select a local shop, just in case last minute alterations are needed.
The groom and his men usually wear the same attire. To set himself apart, the groom may select a different colored tie, vest, pocket square, or boutonniere.
Sometimes the groom will present a memorable gift, such as cufflinks, studs or, if he can afford to splurge, monogrammed shirts, to be worn by these men of honor at the wedding. Given all that they are expected to do, the groom should indeed go out of his way to show his appreciation, even in advance, for a job well done.
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