A traditional wedding party has more members than just groomsmen and bridesmaids: the ushers can be some of the most critical participants.
Who are the Ushers?
Traditionally, these male members of the wedding party performed many behind-the-scenes duties to help the wedding ceremony have a flawless execution without burdening the more visible bridal party with mundane tasks. As weddings have become less regimented, however, many of these duties have been combined with those for groomsmen, often making these roles one and the same. Couples planning larger weddings or very formal affairs, however, may still want these valuable assistants to be part of their entourage on their special day.
How Many to Have
Because the traditional duties of ushers relate directly to the comfort and convenience of the guests, it is important to have enough gentlemen on hand to coordinate the necessary tasks without lengthy delays or mishaps. Generally, one man per 50 attending guests is sufficient, though if the wedding is particularly formal or has multiple complications (complex parking procedures, delicate seating issues, etc.), an extra hand or two will be appreciated. Because these male attendants may be paired with bridesmaids for pictures, dancing, or specific events, many couples opt for an equal number of men to the number of bridesmaids (filling in for an odd number of groomsmen), though that is not always necessary.
Who to Choose
Selecting whom to participate in the bridal party can be critical. Most couples immediately choose siblings, close friends, or soon-to-be in-laws to fill these roles, though the lower visibility may be perfect for someone who is still a valued friend but may be unable or unwilling to fulfill more demanding roles. Similarly, this type of unobtrusive attendant position is suitable for additional friends or family members who could not be included in a smaller bridal party.
Traditionally this role is filled by men, but there is no breach of etiquette if a couple selects women to assist behind-the-scenes as well, so long as all participants are aware of their duties and can help out wherever it may be necessary.
A bridal party is not just a picturesque entourage: they serve many purposes to assist the bride and groom when coordinating a ceremony and reception. By giving the newlyweds-to-be a bit of breathing space and taking some pressure off them, attendants give the couple a chance to enjoy the day celebrating their new union. Each member of the bridal party has different duties, however, and each individual must understand those duties and be able to execute them properly.
Traditional duties include:
- Arriving at the ceremony site 45-60 minutes before the event to assist guests.
- Directing guests to parking if necessary and keeping the approach clear for a limousine or other rented vehicle if one is to be used.
- Escorting guests to their seats, typically seating the bride's guests on the left while facing the altar (this is reversed for Jewish ceremonies).
- Balancing seating if one family is larger than the other.
- Dealing with seating conflicts such as divorced parents, guests with disabilities, or guests with small children.
- Unrolling and retracting the aisle runner at the beginning and end of the ceremony.
- Escorting the parents of the groom and the mother of the bride to the appropriate reserved seats.
- Handing out programs if they are to be used.
- Having umbrellas on hand to assist arriving guests in case of inclement weather.
- Dismissing guests from the ceremony site to help prevent chaos or bottlenecks.
- Offering directions to the reception site if necessary.
- Checking the ceremony site after the event to ensure no personal possessions have been left behind, and picking up leftover programs or trash.
- Transporting wedding flower arrangements from the ceremony site to the reception site if necessary.
- Returning any hired clothing from the bridal party after the event if necessary.
If the role is combined with that of groomsman, contemporary duties may include:
- Escorting bridesmaids in the recessional.
- Tending the guestbook to be sure all guests have the opportunity to sign it.
- Dancing with bridesmaids at the reception.
- Decorating the getaway car if necessary.
- Offering speeches or toasts at the rehearsal dinner or reception.
- Assisting with the bachelor party if one will be held.
Individuals invited to be ushers are also expected to live up to certain standards, including:
- Paying for the rental clothing they will need during the event.
- Being properly groomed, including a fresh hair cut and shave if desired.
- Assist in any way they may be asked, even outside the familiar range of duties.
- Conducting themselves properly as bridal party representatives during the event, including mingling with guests and controlling any irresponsible behavior.
Are They Needed?
While these members of the bridal party do fulfill many important roles, couples who are having a smaller or less formal event may question the need to have them. Particularly for a small wedding party, the additional attendants may be superfluous, and family members may be willing to step in and assist with one or two tasks instead of needing designated assistants.
Ushers were once a mainstay of bridal parties and were particularly vital before and after the ceremony while assisting guests. Today, the role is less critical and often usurped by groomsmen or other individuals, but the spirit of the attendant is just as important: ushering in a joyous celebration for the happy couple.