In today's ever-personalized weddings, a bride isn't limited to having just her female friends and sisters as bridesmaids. If a special male friend or brother has a place in her heart, she may invite him to stand on her side of the bridal party. The same goes for the groom, who may select a close female friend or sister to stand within his own circle of attendants. The man in the bride's circle is most often called a "bridesman," whereas the woman in the groom's circle is most often called a "groomswoman."
If the bride wishes for her male friend to assume the role with the highest honor, he might be called the "man of honor," and the groom's high-honor female friend might be called the "woman of honor" or the "best woman." The wedding industry, of course, opens the door for the couple to diverge from these particular titles with their own incarnations. Creative options are often used in themed weddings. "Our wedding was 'Star Wars'-themed, so we each called our attendants our 'Jedis of honor,' with no differences for men or women," says recent bride Michaela Combs.
Whatever you opt to call your top attendants -- and you may indeed simply list all of your bridal party members as attendants in your programs, with no special titles for any -- you'll need to accommodate each of them in several different wedding planning categories.
Here are some guidelines:
--Be ready to explain the role before you approach your attendant-to-be. If the person hasn't heard of "groomswoman" and "bridesman" roles before, he or she will most likely have a lot of questions before committing. It's best if you can give the person full details about what he or she will be wearing and his or her responsibilities. Help the person out visually with some photos from Pinterest showing real "mixed" bridal parties.
--Decide on your wardrobe wishes and outings. Will you invite your bridesman to join you and the bridesmaids on your dress shopping expedition? This is assuming you will all go out to bridal shops or department stores together. Some groups shop entirely online, creating Pinterest pages where potential dress styles are posted. The bridesman may or may not wish to participate in the dress shopping process because he will not be wearing a dress to match or coordinate with the ladies. The bridesman can wear a tux or suit, most often matching the groomsmen, but he might opt to wear a suit to coordinate with the bridesmaids, such as a gray suit to complement the bridesmaids' gunmetal gray gowns (while the groomsmen wear black suits). It's up to you as the "stylist" of your own wedding. On the groom's side, the groomswoman may be invited to the men's tuxedo shopping outing, if there will be one. Or she may opt to sit this activity out. She, too, can dress to coordinate with the men, such as wearing a black dress or gown to match their suits or tuxes. Or she may dress similarly to the bridesmaids, if that is your (or her) style decision.
--Decide on party participation. Share with your maid of honor and bridesmaids your wishes about the bridesman's involvement in the shower. They may not know whether he wishes to co-plan the party. Make it easy on all and avoid potential etiquette mistakes and hurt feelings by making it known that he should or shouldn't be contacted to join in party planning. If the bridesman doesn't wish to plan, he should still get an invitation to the shower. It's up to him if he wishes to attend an all-female event. "Many couples opt for coed bridal showers to make it easier for all bridal party members to join in, and they like the all-inclusive feel of a coed shower," says freelance party planner Elizabeth Veen. As for the bachelorette party, that, too, can be presented to the bridesman for his decision, as the groomswoman may also be presented with a realistic view of what the bachelor party will entail so that she may make her decision as to whether she plans to attend.
--Places, everyone. Your processional and recessional are up to you to plan. The groomswoman may walk out with the groomsmen, not walking down the aisle, unless you prefer to have all of your attendants participate in the processional. For the recessional, both sets of attendants may be paired for that walk back up the aisle. If you prefer, certain bridal party members might escort parents or grandparents up the aisle rather than pair with other members of the wedding party. Or each attendant can walk back up the aisle alone. "The bridesman stands on the bride's side during the ceremony and appears with the bride and bridesmaids in photos, and the groomswoman stands with the groom and groomsmen during the ceremony, also posing with them for photos," says Camille Cerria, wedding planner at Smooth Sailing Celebrations. "Our yachts make great settings for these group photos, and we have seen many unique bridal parties here at our events."
--Plan for toasts. If your groom has a woman of honor instead of a best man, she would make her version of the best man's toast, and the same goes for the man of honor for a toast from the bride's top attendant.
--Give great gifts. Though you might give each of your bridesmaids the same type of gift, your bridesman might not like an engraved powder compact, so a different gift item for him is needed. The same goes for the groomswoman, who might not be able to use that shaving kit. Personalized gifts are essential for these nontraditional bridal party members.
--Invite input. If there is anything about belonging to the bridesmaid or groomsman circle that makes your opposite-gender attendant feel uncomfortable, this person should know that he or she can propose an adjusted plan to you.
Sharon Naylor is the author of "The Bride's Guide to Freebies" and three dozen additional wedding books.