OPEN THREAD: do I need bridesmaids and groomsmen, or can we just have shared attendants?

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Latin American fiesta wedding as seen on @offbeatbride
My partner and I don't really have separate friends. We have a fabulous, shared group of mates of mixed genders from university — so how do we decide which of us got which friends on “our side”? I've seen tons of weddings with mixed gender bridal parties, but what about one shared party? Is that a thing? I want to avoid drama.

-Drama-phobic bride to be

Such a great question! We have indeed featured a million mixed-gender wedding parties (you can check out our HUGE archive for amazing pics!), but many folks still assign their attendants a “side.” This begs the question… side of what?

Is it literally just the side they stand on in pictures? (If so, what if you pose them differently?) Is it the side they stand on during the ceremony? (If so, remember that some attendants don't stand with the couple during the ceremony). Is it just what you're going to call them or who asks them? (If so, remember that some folks use names like “Adventure Party” that doesn't imply any belonging to the bride or the groom.)

This is all to say, the whole ideas of “sides” may revolve around traditions you're not even including in your wedding… so it may not matter. But let's ask our beloved community…

Are any of you having a collective wedding party? Not bridesmaids or groomsmen, or even bridesboys or groomgirls, but just one shared party?

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Comments on OPEN THREAD: do I need bridesmaids and groomsmen, or can we just have shared attendants?

  1. I’m not having any bridesmaids or groomsmen in my wedding. My best friend is marrying us and our parents and siblings are helping with the hand fasting

  2. Why not? If you truly have one big group of friends there’s no reason to artificially separate them into two groups just because.

  3. Ariel raises a great point–side of what? What do YOU imagine would be different between your groomsmen and bridesladies? Do you want big group photos or pictures of just you and your closest friends/just the groom and his closest friends? Do you want a big bachelor/bachelorette party or two separate parties? Do you and the groom want to get ready together or separately, with your friends or without?

    If you’re not sure if you want separate parties, then you have the opportunity to craft your wedding party roles from scratch. Just remember to communicate, communicate, communicate. If you want one big wedding party, people won’t be terribly certain where they should be before the wedding or during photos or which outfit they should be ordering, so you’ll need to be extra careful to spell out everyone’s roles to them. I’d also recommend having someone on hand during pictures to corral folks, because “Just the bridesmaids please” is much easier to communicate than “Just Jessie, Mike, Sara–no, the other Sara–Tina, and Steve please.”

  4. We’re doing this too! It just felt weird to have 2 totally separate groups of people when we wanted everyone to stand with both of us (as you said). We asked them all together and have been mostly communicating with them as one group. Haven’t figured out where everyone will stand during the ceremony, but will likely be mixed up or possibly all on one side sort of facing us. I do think it’s smart to think about these things ahead of time though, especially to communicate with your photographer if you don’t want them trying to line everyone up by gender (or by clothing or whatever) during group shots.

    • If the venue allows, I think a great way would be for them to be arranged during the ceremony is in a semi-circle behind the couple and officiant.

  5. If you’re worried about drama because you need / want to pick sides for pictures or a processional, there are lots of ways to do it that have nothing to do with gender, like birthday order, height order, or picking names out of a hat.

    We had a mixed-gender bridal party (9 guys, 3 girls), and the pictures I love the most are of the two tallest guys, who hammed it up walking together down the aisle and into the reception. If anyone cared that I had guys on my side of the aisle, only one person was rude enough to mention it (the deacon who handled our rehearsal because our officiant had a scheduling conflict), and that wasn’t on our actual wedding day.

    • This is brilliant because the only issue I see is if they are standing at the ceremony they literally have to be on one side or the other. You could make the name-pulling an event at your engagement party or a couple’s shower.

      • Name-out-of-the-hat sounds SO fun! That would make for a great wedding shower game.

  6. You should totally have a single group of people that sounds awesome 🙂 we’re just having one person each but not really labelling them as ‘brides’ or ‘grooms’, but as best man and best woman. Neither of them are going to be matching anything colour wise so they’re just our back up really haha 🙂

  7. Sure, whatever works for you and what you want from a wedding party. Maybe make a list of what you would like your attendants to do with/for you and then see if how much of it is specific to one of you–if one person wants to do a lot of crafting bees and build a gazebo with the wedding party and the other person wants to shop for clothes and get wasted, you might be better off with separate groups of attendants. But if everyone wants to the same things, or mainly the same things, then why not? I found the pre-wedding build really great bonding time with friends I don’t always get to see that much of, so I would definitely say do whatever you think would be the most fun!

  8. We got the idea of an “I Do Crew” from an article on OBB when my fiancé and I came to the conclusion that we didn’t want to pick out bridal party members just to have even numbers or sides. I have my 3 best girlfriends in the crew while he just has his 1 best guy friend. We aren’t doing the traditional parade of people down the aisle since our ceremony is taking place on a vaudeville stage. However, we wanted to honor our relationships with the people we consider to be our chosen family. The girls aren’t wearing matching dresses. We don’t expect the crew to throw a lavish parties for us even stand next to us on stage if they aren’t comfortable. They are the people who will hang out with us while we get ready and keep us grounded and present in a wonderful milestone in our relationship. It’s your wedding! Honor the people you love in your own way, and forget what you’re “supposed” to do. Your crew will be thrilled.

  9. This is something I’ve thought a lot about. We decided to just go with what felt right, regardless of standard wedding expectations. He’s including 6 guys, I’m including two couples. And logistically, we aren’t having a processional, no outfit requirements, and we’re just asking the people to stand in a half circle behind us during the ceremony. No sides or specific order. Just a crowd of peeps showing support. It actually feels really natural. Who needs sides!?

  10. Love this discussion! I have this problem as quite a feminine type girl in a group of mostly tomboy girls and three masculine guys, including FH. It’s interesting to me that most people respond to this regarding literally which side people are going to stand on in the ceremony, how the processional is going to work etc. – for me, the tricky part is the logistics of who stays with/gets ready with whom on the day, and if you want a separate hen and stag who goes to which? That sort of thing. Especially when you have friends who aren’t very in keeping with gender norms. For example I would love a big girly session the morning of, getting hair and make up done with champagne and all that jazz, but several of my lady friends would hate that. This is why splitting into maids and men isnt adequate anymore, gender isn’t about sides!! And yet other parts of a traditional wedding may still seem appealing, even if gender makes them hard to organise. I think mine and my partner’s solution is going to be about sitting our friends down together, outlining how we envision the day/process, and honestly asking them which parts they want to be involved in. (I’m pretty sure everyone would want to go on whatever awesome activity we might choose for the stag, and maybe two of them would care about doing a girly hen, but I want my sparkling afternoon tea and spa day darn it!)

    • I had 3 guys and 3 girls on my side of the aisle, and we all got ready together. 4/6 plus one bridesmaid’s FH stayed at my (mom’s) house the night before, and the 2 guys who were local came over in the morning. While the girls did their hair & makeup, the guys shaved & groomed their hair; we had breakfast and listened to random music on Spotify. After, the guys got dressed in one room and the girls got dressed in another. I needed two people to help me get dressed – my tallest bridesman to hold me up while my local bridesmaid laced up my corset-backed dress – and everyone else finished getting ready & hung out downstairs. While getting ready wasn’t super girly, it was super fun, and that was good enough for me.

      PS: the two local guys also attended my tea party bridal shower, not because they were necessarily comfortable in that environment but because I asked them to. I’ve spent lots of time over the last fifteen years doing things they liked, and I didn’t think one tea party was a big deal in the grand scheme. They actually got really into the games, despite having no prior frame of reference for anything shower-related.

  11. I think Ariel’s point about the needs for sides revolving around what traditions you are including is a really good one.
    When my wife and I got married it was very much the case that friends were shared. We also knew we wanted to walk down the aisle together with no formal processional or attendants. Our witnesses were already in the room having arrived with everyone else and just took their places at the front just before we came in.
    For posed photos we knew we wanted it really simple. We just did four big group photos in the town square outside the registry office which just happens to have a big monument with a handy set of steps for arranging groups of people on! We started with the one that involved the most people – us with all the guests. Then a shot with us + plus my choir who had sung at the ceremony, then just us + my wife’s family, us + my family and then us + friends. The friends one was a bit spontaneous but after posing with families while friends waited patiently we just shouted “and now lovely friends!” and the look on their faces when they realised they got a “family photo” too was great. It was quick and simple and resulted in a rowdy school photo look which we loved and for all shots we let people stand where they wanted as long as they were in shot! Everything else was candid/reportage through the day.
    We also didn’t want to do separate hen nights or whatever, it’s just not how our friend groups work. What this all meant was in just thinking about what we wanted to do in terms of pre wedding stuff, processional (or lack thereof) and photos we had actually already edited out a wedding party.
    However we did have one very good friend to both of us who was in charge of making sure everything was ok for the ceremony, handing out orders of service etc and in order to make sure he knew how grateful we were we gave him the title of Best Man/Chief Bridesmaid which he loved. It became a running joke for all three us of to make a superhero slashing motion with our hands when we said his title too. He was in the everyone photo and the friend’s one and we let him stand where he wanted. We also gave him and our parents and siblings each an origami lily boutoniére, like the ones we each had but other colours. So we didn’t have a traditional wedding party in terms of function but we did use co-opt some of the way you can use it to honour people, that felt right for us. If anyone’s nose was put out of joint they have kindly not informed me!

  12. I love this conversation, and agree that you can really do whatever you want. The logistics are always the trickiest thing to figure out, but if you are clear about what you want, and then communicate clearly to everyone involved, there is no reason it can’t work! My fiance and I are having a super small ceremony–us, our parents, a friend officiating, and the photographer. We are then having a big party about a month later to celebrate with everyone. So no attendants at all. But my sister has stepped up and offered to help plan a shower and bachelorette (I did the same for her as her official Best Lady last year), and I asked two of my close, local girlfriends to help her out. These are also the ladies I asked to come hang out with me as I get ready on the day of the party. I don’t think anyone is giving a speech or anything, but it’s a way to have some of my favorite ladies close to me, and to ask for help with wedding-related things along the way. The only weirdness I had at all around not having a wedding party was that this stuff didn’t feel built-in, and I realized that I was potentially making some of these things solitary, or non-existent. But people either offered, or I have ended up asking, for just what I need and want, and because they love me, it all seems to be working out pretty perfectly! Good luck, and just stay true to what feels right to you and your fiance, and all will be well. 🙂

  13. My wife and I basically did this: we each had a maid/matron of honor, and otherwise chose 10 friends (including our honor people) to be bridesfolk, without a distinction as to who was for whom. We mostly share our closest friends, and while there were also some that were more clearly there for her or me (like her older sister and my high school friends), we didn’t break it up that way, or by gender. We had everyone stand in a semi circle behind us, and we had them choose whether they wanted to wear red or teal. Luckily for us, this very easily divided them into 5 reds and 5 teals! Then we paired people (or they paired themselves, mostly), by contrasting colors, and they lined up that way on the stage we married on. And for pictures, we rearranged in lots of combinations. It all seemed to work really well and felt good to us.

    • Oh, scanning through the other comments made me realize I’d forgotten stuff! We did a combined bachelorette at the hotel the night before the wedding, and people of all genders were invited, and our bridesfolk came and went freely while we were getting ready, again regardless of gender. Of course, we also got ready in the same place, so that would be less useful for some people.

    • THANK YOU! The semi-circle is the most perfect thing! We love this idea and are crossing our fingers colors work out as well as yours did!

  14. This will be my third wedding and my fiancé’s second. We both have children, his teens and mine adults. They are all girls. He has two brothers and I have two sisters. We want our siblings and our girls to be in the wedding, so it’s not going to be bridesmaids and grooms. Instead of an aisle, the wedding party will come in via a windy route through the seating area (that’s the plan anyway – we still have to map it out). This is to symbolize the circuitous route we’ve taken to get where we are now – with each other. The siblings will then stand up front at the four corners of the chuppah. The daughters will be on either side of us, even though they are an odd number. We are also going to come in at the same time down that winding route.

  15. A great discussion! I’m going to preface my answer by saying that we paid for our own wedding and pretty much got to make the decisions that pleased us, with input from (and sometimes concessions to) friends and family where appropriate. It might be different if you have political pressures from inside or outside of your family to have “sides”.

    We did not have “sides”, and didn’t assign “groomsmen” or “bridesmaids” for a few reasons. We were asking our friends to bear witness to our union, and as such, a mixing of friends groups felt appropriate! We also didn’t want anyone to feel like they were being set up to take a “side” later if something happened between my husband and I. We invited the folks we wanted with us, gave them the option of wearing a suit or a dress (since we had gender nonconforming friend in the wedding party who wanted to wear a suit), and then had people stand by height, so that everyone could see the ceremony okay. We originally had four dress-wearers and three suit-wearers (as we took to calling our wedding party in coordination emails) and at the last minute one of the dress-wearers’ son got ill and she had to miss the wedding – so we ended up with incidental symmetry. I did not have a maid of honor, but the tall woman in red is one of my very good friends and she acted as my day-of coordinator. You can see a photo of our wedding party here.

  16. Thank you so much for this and all the comments! We have been really struggling with what to do but were only going between no attendants or maids/men (with men on my side as well as his). This is just perfect! As soon as I mentioned it to my future husband he was like YES! We aren’t super traditional and are having one of the people I would have asked be our officiant and wouldn’t have asked one of his close female friends he grew up with because we wanted to stick to no more than 5 on each side. So now, it’s perfect!

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