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Shaking up Tradition: The new roles of modern weddings

Jordi Lippe McGraw and Jessica Deveyns

Running from May to October, the summer wedding season is epic, but have you noticed modern families just don’t fit the traditional mold?

Best women, walking the aisle on your own, cultural mash-ups, friends of the bride speeches, male bridesmaids – it’s still about having the most important people in your life by your side. We meet five people who have played a non-traditional role and they tell us what it meant to them.

Caroline: The Paintballing Groom’s Lady

By Jordi Lippe-McGraw

“How are they going to react,” Caroline thought as she helped plan the bachelor party for her best friend, Charlie. “Am I going to make the other groomsmen uncomfortable because I’m a woman?”. But it turned out Caroline’s fears of being asked to be a groom’s lady for her closest male pal were unfounded.

“They were encouraging me the whole time we went paintballing, and I was able to bond with each of them when we got hurt,” said Caroline.

Charlie felt her presence throughout the wedding process was special because she was constantly thinking about him and his wants. “As much as all the groomsmen were there for me, there were many different opinions of what a bachelor party should be,” he said. “And I feel like Caroline was the only one that was thinking of it as well, what would I want this to be?”

Best friends Caroline and Charlie

"There’s less of a need to maintain those gender roles and more focus on the people you care about sharing the day with.”

Though Charlie’s parents are traditional they were excited to have Caroline around in such a prominent role. “I was the one on the wedding day helping all the guys with their ties, cufflinks and making sure they were put together,” said Caroline. “Charlie’s mom was happy about that.”

Charlie feels that Caroline’s non-traditional role is just a snapshot of the changing perception. “I don’t see why gender should be an aspect of what side someone is on,” he said. “There’s less of a need to maintain those gender roles and more focus on the people you care about sharing the day with.”

And in just a few months the roles will be reversed for the pair. As Caroline prepares to get hitched to her fiancée Karina, Charlie will take on the role of Bridesman attending the bachelorette party and helping out on the big day. “I can’t wait,” he said.

Susie: Escorting the Flower Dog

By Jordi Lippe-McGraw

It’s pretty typical to see the whole bridal party walk down the aisle at a wedding. But, a four-legged guest of honor? Not so much. When Heather married Bret, she couldn’t imagine saying “I do” without her dog Stella by her side.

“It was really important for our dog to be part of our wedding day, so we made her our flower dog,” said Heather. “But as a bride and all of the logistics that have to happen, we knew we couldn’t watch her the whole wedding, so I asked one of my best friends, who was also in the wedding party to walk down the aisle with her.” And that’s how Susie landed the unique role of dog escort.

A dog owner and love herself, Susie had known Stella since she was born. So, for Heather, it was an easy ask. “I was happy to be a special part of my friend’s special day, regardless of title,” said Susie. “I felt no less a bridesmaid, more like a bridesmaid with bonus duties.”

Susie and Stella with the wedding party

“I felt no less a bridesmaid, more like a bridesmaid with bonus duties.”

Susie escorting Stella up the aisle

“I felt no less a bridesmaid, more like a bridesmaid with bonus duties.”

What did those duties entail exactly? Well, Susie walked down the aisle with Stella, wrangled her for photos, watched over her on the dance floor, and spent the night with the pup to let the newlyweds have a romantic evening. She even made the experience more fun by bringing her dog, who was Stella’s “date” at the wedding.

“Weddings are a celebration of love and individuals,” said Susie. “And everyone interprets that differently.” So, having a dog might be important to one couple, just as getting married in a church might be a priority to others.

Sonia and Chris: Cultural Ties

By Jessica Deveyns

The weekend began with a swirl of red and gold and ended with a train of white. Sonia, who was born in India, wed Chris, a third-generation Italian American. The union was a weekend of mixed traditional ceremonies – from henna parties and jaago parades, to drinking grappa out of shoes.

Though the couple planned to share each other’s traditions, there were no expectations for the rest of the family. So, Sonia explained, it was a surprise when Chris’s father volunteered to join his son in growing a beard and wearing a turban in homage to her Sikh customs. “That made my parents so happy,” she remembered.

Trying on a turban for size © Sullivan & Sullivan Studio

“I didn’t realize that that was part of the ceremony, where the idea is everybody takes away class identity.”

Going Italian with grappa drinking © Sullivan & Sullivan Studio

“I didn’t realize that that was part of the ceremony, where the idea is everybody takes away class identity.”

In India the way a turban is tied marks the wearer’s heritage and status, and Sonia’s father was determined to tie Chris and his father’s turbans perfectly, “he was so nervous about it,” she remembered.

Chris was also anxious about the turban and properly honoring its significance. As the groom, Chris’s turban was topped with a jewel but he was surprised when it was removed by the officiant on his way up the aisle. “I didn’t realize that that was part of the ceremony, where the idea is everybody takes away class identity.”

Sonia said that these little hiccups were essential to maintaining a “non-traditional symmetry” to the ceremony. “That’s the thing about weddings. Some people get really in their heads about ‘this has to be this way,’ who cares what someone’s supposed to be,” Sonia declared. She and Chris agreed that whatever the arrangement of people and places, what matters most is that those who form the foundation of your life are surrounding you.

Stephen: A Man of Honor on a Rainy Day

by Jordi Lippe-McGraw

Shana and Jamar planned the wedding of their dreams at Central Park Zoo but, when it came down to who she wanted by her side on the big day, Shana’s choice was anything but conventional.

“I didn’t want to have to choose one girlfriend to be my maid of honor,” said Shana. “So, I was like why don’t I just pick Stephen, who’s my best friend?

“I’ll be honest,” said Stephen. “I was a little nervous. I knew it was like a big responsibility, and I just wanted her to be happy. Plus, I’m the kind of person that I didn’t necessarily want any attention on me and thought there might be since she chose a man. But I’m happy I did it.”

She added, “I felt I could be myself around him and he would be honest, and I could ask any favor of him on my wedding day without feeling guilty. It helped me feel relaxed.”

While Shana knew his presence would be different than that of a female friend, she didn’t quite know how important it would be to have him by her side. “It rained, and Shana got nervous,” said Stephen. “I was there to help her calm down, tell her that it was okay and that everybody was having a great time anyway.”

Shana and Stephen

"People should have those around them that they want regardless if they’re male or female. Having them a part of your special day is what’s most important.”

As far as traditional to-do list items of a maid of honor, Stephen didn’t do many. While he came to the bachelorette party, he didn’t plan it; he didn’t give a speech since he wasn’t a fan of public speaking, and he didn’t stand by her side during the ceremony. But he attended a couple of dress fittings and got ready with Shana on the big day.

Neither had heard of a man of honor before but they both can see it becoming a popular trend.

“I feel like people are getting married later”said Shana. “And by that point they’re kind of over the traditional bridesmaid experience.”

For Stephen, it was more about the shift in gender roles. “People are trying to move past stereotypical wedding party structures,” he said. “People should have those around them that they want regardless if they’re male or female. Having them a part of your special day is what’s most important.”

Max: The Mixtape Officiant

By Jesssica Deveyns

Since elementary school, Max has watched Elaine fall in love with music, so it was no surprise that she ended up with a jukebox in her living room and a music-loving man.

When Elaine asked Max to officiate her wedding he decided to compose a script that was the equivalent of a mixtape. “A good mixtape, just as a good marriage,” he wrote in the speech, “requires different styles and ideas to create a story.”

“I built a music themed speech because Elaine and Dan are very into music, they’ve got a jukebox, a lot of records,” Max chuckled. To tell the couple’s story and offer sage advice for their adventures in marriage, Max picked popular songs that he knew Elaine was fond of and guests would identify with.

“I built a music themed speech because Elaine and Dan are very into music, they’ve got a jukebox, a lot of records.”

With a few wise words from a handful of admired artists it only took 15 minutes for Max to officiate the marriage. He was bolstered by the wise words of David Bowie, Bobby McFerrin, and Jim Croce. Bowie offered advice on changing companionably together through the years. McFerrin wisely suggested laughter and joy as a remedy in his song Don’t Worry Be Happy. Croce underscored the value of time together and its precious value that shouldn’t be wasted.

Although Max admits it was a bit nerve-wracking to marry the couple under the gaze of the musical greats, it was a pleasure to marry his oldest friend. “I definitely did feel the weight of that responsibility, I didn’t take it lightly,” he remembered.