Why do weddings have best men, bridesmaids and ushers?

By Emma Langman

Anyone who’s watched the film Bridesmaids will know how important it is to choose your wedding attendants carefully. Your favourite girls are there to help ensure that everything runs smoothly, not get (too) bored by your incessant wedding chat, throw you the best hen-do imaginable and coordinate with your fiancé’s groomsmen for on-the-day prep. With an ever-growing ‘to do’ list, it might seem obvious that you’ll need support before and on the big day, but how did this tradition begin?

The concept of a ‘bridal party’ can be traced all the way back to biblical times, but it’s in the Anglo-Saxon era that we have evidence of the more up-to-date groomsmen. These men were friends of the groom who were honoured with the role of guardians, making sure that the bride arrived safely at the cere mony with her dowry (money given to the groom by the bride’s father to pay for the upkeep of their household).

Over time this idea evolved into that of bridesmaids and ushers, whose duties remain to look after their bride and groom but with a more modern outlook. A few centuries ago, ushers might have wanted to protect the dignity of the bride. Now, it’s often their mission to humiliate the groom as much as possible. Best men used to stand beside the bride at the altar, continuing to protect her, but jealousy on the part of the grooms led to the banishment of best men to the other side of the line-up for good!

This new role of ushers and bridesmaids makes choosing them all-important. While a fifth-century bride wouldn’t have had any say in who escorted her to the ceremony, now it’s up to you to ask your nearest and dearest to be part of your special day.

Your top team have to be reliable, organised and, most of all, fun!

So where do you begin? Firstly, you need to think about how many attendants you want. You might love the idea of a huge cortege or you may prefer a more intimate group. This will depend on the style of your wedding.
Start with your maid of honour / chief bridesmaid and best man, as these two will have the most involvement, and work, to do in the lead up and on the big day itself.

From organising your hen and stag-dos to helping you make favours and decorations for your venue, your top team have to be reliable, organised and, most of all, fun! For many, a sister or brother will be the obvious choice for this role. If you don’t have any siblings to take on the task, pick someone who you know won’t mind being driven mad with all your wedding worries, who’ll support and guide you through the upcoming months, and who’ll embrace your big day with as much enthusiasm as they would their own.

It’s a huge mark of respect to be chosen as someone’s maid of honour or best man, but it also brings extra work and a lot of responsibility, so don’t be offended if a workaholic best friend or a sister with three young kids doesn’t feel up to the task.

For the rest of the bridal party, ask those close friends and family members you most want to share the intimate moments of your special day. They’ll be with you as you get ready and their faces will greet you at the top of the aisle. Younger members of the family or children of loved ones are great as flower girls and page boys too. It’s lovely to share the celebration across the generations, and it makes for some great pictures.