Bridesmaids must be female and groomsmen have to be male, correct? There has to be an even number of them too, right? Not necessarily. Marrying couples have many different choices about who and how many they have as their attendants.
Once upon a time, if the bride had a close male friend or sibling he would be invited as a guest, be a groomsman, or would serve as an usher. Similarly, if the groom's best friend happened to be female or he had sisters he wanted in his wedding party, he'd have to arrange for them to join his wife-to-be's bridesmaid entourage. More and more couples are discarding this convention in favor of simply including their closest friends and family members among their attendants regardless of gender.
As always when choosing something a little out of the norm, it is smart to check with the officiant and/or house of worship to make sure that it is acceptable to deviate from tradition in this way. Most officiants won't care who the attendants are, but some church denominations do have stricter rules.
As long as it is permissible, it makes a great deal of sense to have those closest to the bride and groom serve as their attendants rather than sticking to strict gender guidelines. Today's couples also include people of differing ages and family members other than just siblings or cousins—sometimes even a parent.
What are opposite gender attendants called? The bride could have a Man of Honor, Friend of Honor, Honor Attendant, or Bride's Witness. Other male attendants might be called Bridesmen or simply male Bridesmaids. The groom's Best Man may actually be his Best Woman or Best Maid and other attendants female Groomsmen, Groomswomen, or Groomsmaids. Occasionally, the couple will just call everyone Attendants to keep it simple. Ultimately, the title really is up to the bride and groom to select.
How do these attendants dress? Again, it depends. Sometimes groomsmaids will wear tuxedos cut for women. More often females standing up for the groom will wear dresses that differ from the bridesmaids but are similar in style or color to the rest of the wedding party. Likewise, bridesmen usually wear tuxedos or other masculine attire like the groomsmen but with distinctive cummerbunds, ties, or vests. Other couples will select identical dress for all women and for all men.
Where do they stand? Generally, a bride's attendants will stand in front with her and the groom's attendants with him. Sometimes a couple will mix things up to balance out an uneven number of wedding party members, though.
The modern wedding party can take on many forms, better representing who the bride and groom are as individuals and who they are becoming as a married couple. Sometimes the old rules just don't work and can be discarded in favor of innovative ways. It is their choice.
Reverend Marcie D.B. McDonald, M. Div., is an interfaith wedding officiant based in the Portland, Oregon area. www.wedding-minister.net (503) 351-8572