Modern Wedding Parties Bend Gender Roles

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Here comes ... the bridesman?

This summer, as Americans walk down the aisle, wedding-goers will be seeing more men in the bride's party and more women in the groom's party, according to experts.

"It's absolutely becoming more popular," said Elizabeth Howell of the Emily Post Institute (search), an etiquette organization formed in 1946 by famous civility expert Emily Post. "If a woman has a particularly close male friend, or a man has a particularly close female friend, why not?" she said.

Howell doesn't see any problem with the gender-bending trend. In fact, in 2001, Peggy Post updated her great-grandmother-in-law's wedding etiquette book to include protocol for opposite-sex attendants.

So what are the rules for these Friends-era weddings? Do “bridesmen” wear hot pink suits if the bridesmaids’ dresses are that color? Do “groomswomen” wear tuxedos?

Howell said opposite-sex attendants should try to blend in with the rest of the party.

"A man on the woman's side can wear a tuxedo. A woman on the man’s side can wear a dress that matches the bridesmaids' dresses. Or perhaps she would feel more comfortable in a pantsuit or a dress that matches the men's clothing," Howell said.

And then there's the question of what opposite-sex attendants should be called. Howell prefers "honor attendant" for both genders to terms like bridesman, best woman and man of honor.

But Olivia Johnson of upstate New York was recently asked to be her friend Ian's "best man."

"We were drunk when he asked me to be his best man," said the 26-year-old. "But I hope that's what I'll be called," she said.

And Johnson’s not worried about causing a stir on the big day.

"I don't think it will really come across as all that odd that I'm a woman, as Ian and Tamara are about the most laid-back people I've ever met," she said of the couple. "It's also good fun for comedy value."

But it's exactly this humorous element that bothers Dr. William Donohue, president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights (search).

"A marriage ceremony is a serious statement, not Saturday Night Live," he said. "I think it's incredibly immature to bring politically correct politics into a church."

Heather MacCuspie's parents and in-laws shared some of Donohue's reservations. The 22-year-old Florida resident and her husband Rob, 23, both wanted to include opposite-sex friends in their wedding parties. But their elders were none too pleased.

"They were like 'you're doing what?'" she said.

Heather's parents came to terms with the idea quickly -- but Rob's were more reluctant.

"They're more conservative … They tried to talk to him about how it wasn't traditional," MacCuspie said. "It came down to, if the church doesn't disapprove, it's okay. The church said they’ve had multiple people do it and it wasn't a problem."

Heather's “honor attendant,” Josh, even went to her bachelorette party, which included the usual club-hopping. But Rob’s groomswoman, Brandi, skipped his bachelor party.

“Let’s just say she decided with their plans that she didn’t want to,” MacCuspie said.

Leah Ingram, author of The Balanced Bride: Preparing Your Mind, Body and Spirit for Your Wedding and Beyond, said the opposite-sex attendant trend has a lot to do with the fact that today's brides and grooms are older than in previous generations.

"People are out on their own, out of college, living and working and making their own friendships," she explained.

MacCuspie said it's a matter of choosing to have people you love be in your wedding party, rather than following a dusty book of rules.

"I don't see people holding back because of tradition. It's a matter of who means the most to you," she said. "Who do you want to be a part of one of the biggest days of your life?"

But Donohue begged to differ.

"What's next? The groom in a white dress and the bride in a tux?" he said.