Bridal Parties Mix It Up With Bridesmen and Groom’s Gals


Mastering the logistics of how it works, getting family members to accept the decision, or making all parties feel comfortable during the festivities, is sometimes less simple.

Jennifer Maas, a 27-year-old reporter on “The Wrap,” a website covering the entertainment and media industries, is getting married Oct. 6, 2018 in downtown Los Angeles. Her father, Stephen Maas, thought she was joking when she told him that she was going to have two men in her bridal party — her brother in a maid-of-honor-type role and her closest guy friend as a bridesman.

“It took awhile for it to sink in for me because I had never heard of such a thing,” Mr. Maas said.

When Mr. Maas got married years ago, men always stood on the groom’s side and women on the bride’s side. “I’m old school,” he said.

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Alex Yergin, center, asked his best friend, Ellen Campbell, to be a “groom’s gal” at his September wedding in Siasconset, Mass.

Credit
Cambria Grace

Nowadays, he said, “I still can’t figure out when the boys walk down the aisle. Do they do it with the bridesmaids, or do they stand on the side of the groom? Is he going to wear heels?”

For his daughter, who lived in one of New York University’s first mixed-gender dorms her senior year, the traditional practice made no sense. “They are my guys, and they belong with me, no matter their gender,” Ms. Maas said.

Alex Yergin, 32, who lives in New York and worked in business development, asked one of his best friends, Ellen Campbell, who is also 32 and from New York, to be a “groom’s gal” for similar reason for his wedding Sept. 16 at his family’s home in Siasconset, Mass.

“There might be some historical purpose from a long time ago that I’m unaware of, but nowadays the point of a wedding party is to have the people closest to you to be there supporting you,” he said. “Anybody who knows me knows that is Ellen.”

He also noted that there are no wedding party duties that she couldn’t do as well as a man.

Kellee Khalil, the founder and chief executive of the wedding website Lover.ly, said that the next generation of brides and grooms is less likely to abide by tradition. “The old rules don’t apply,” she said. “Everyone is trying to make their wedding their own, and that includes who is by their side during the festivities.”

Ms. Khalil said that for decades weddings have been guided by strict, clear procedures that have been passed down for generations. Now that many couples are choosing not to follow the norms, they have to make up new rules as they go.

“You have to think that we have become a society that accepts all types of genders and fluidity and how people identity, that is this generation,” she said. “Same-sex weddings have become normalized, and I think this will be, too. It will be: Who do you want in your bridal party, a guy or a girl?”

One of the common questions with mixed-gender wedding parties is what to call the male bridesmaids or female groomsmen. Are they bridesmen and groomsmen or groomsmaids and bridesmates? “People kept coming up with different words,” Ms. Campbell said. “ ‘Groom’s gal’ was a favorite. I was going with ‘groom’s human.’ ”

Ms. Khalil said she’s also seen many couple also get creative with the wedding party’s fashion. “You get girls wearing pantsuits or men wearing accessories,” she said. “What’s really fun is you get these amazing bridal party photos where friends are expressing themselves.”

Some of the hardest details to figure out are which wedding-related activities the mixed-gender wedding party participants would attend.

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Ms. Campbell said family members of the bride asked why she had never dated the groom if they were such good friends. “It’s like asking why didn’t you date your brother,” she said.

Credit
Cambria Grace

“We weren’t doing all-male bonding activities before I got married, we were just hanging out,” Mr. Yergin said. “There is nothing I wanted to do on a bachelor party that would have been single gender.”

Ms. Khalil, though, felt that clarity was needed on these issues, so she created a guide on her website. When it comes to prewedding gifts, or example, the guide suggests giving the men something that is similar to the women, but not the same. “There’s no rule that says the gifts have to match perfectly,” it said.

More traditional families, however, might be troubled by mixed-gender wedding parties. “They are concerned about the relationship their son or daughter has with that individual,” said Elaine Swann, a wedding-etiquette expert in Los Angeles. “They think there could be some romantic relationship involved there.”

Ms. Campbell once had two of the bride’s family members ask her on the day of the wedding why she had never dated Mr. Yergin if they were such good friends. “It’s like asking why didn’t you date your brother,” she said. “But I think for them they were just a little confused. They were in no way mean or hostile. They were just curious because it’s out of the norm.”

Other bridesmaids or groomsmen may feel uncomfortable, too, by having someone of the opposite gender around them during what have traditionally been same-sex bonding activities.

“It might be better to err on the side of traditionalism unless that individual is clearly, clearly part of the entire family unit where everyone would think it is the most natural fit,” Ms. Swann said. “The concept is neat, but it is so new that some families just aren’t quite ready to accept it.”

Mr. Ballard, the bridesman, witnessed the confused reaction of some guests. “There is this picture of me walking down the aisle with a lot of people being confused and staring,” he said. “I think a lot of people were wondering what is going on. But, whatever.

“I got to actually hang out with my best friend on her wedding day.”

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