What to Expect If You’re in an American Wedding

It’s an honor to be in someone’s wedding but also hard work. (Universal)

As some Brits discover, there are quite a few differences between weddings back home and weddings in the U.S. If you’re involved in one, here are a few things to be prepared for:

“Standing up”
Years ago, a close friend asked me to “stand up” for her at her upcoming nuptials. “Oh Lord,” I remember thinking, “What am I volunteering for now?” Fortunately, rather than asking me to back her up in a pre-marital spat, she was asking me to be a bridesmaid. (Of which more below.)

Being a bridesmaid
Fair warning, this can get very expensive. If the wedding is a plane ride away, you’ll probably be paying for your flight and hotel accommodation if it’s needed. (Hopefully the bride and groom will arrange a discount at nearby hotels, so if they recommend a particular hotel, book it!) You will also probably be paying for your dress, shoes, and jewelry, unless the jewelry is also your bridesmaid gift. On top of that, there will be a shower to attend, and the bride won’t be picking up the tab. Bridal showers can be in someone’s home but also in a fancy (i.e. expensive) hotel.

If you’re asked to be the Maid of Honor (MOH)…
…do yourself a favor and ask for guidance. This role comes with serious responsibilities, and it’s all too easy to screw up. Here’s advice from The Knot web site: “The maid/matron of honor is part worker bee, part emotional lifeboat. (My emphasis.) Chosen for your energetic, get-the-ball-in-motion qualities, you should also remember that listening to the bride, making her laugh and offering emotional and logistical support are also part of your honor attendant package.” Word count prohibits a full description of the MOH duties, but be sure to study it here if you’re asked. Being MOH often has a tendency to become a part-time job. Even if you’re a lowly bridesmaid, you’ll still have a modest to-do list, which you can also find at The Knot’s web site.

Being a groomsman
The biggest difference here is that there is often an army of groomsmen and ushers, not just the best man. Ushers typically escort guests to their seats in the church, and groomsmen stand at the altar with the bridesmaids during the ceremony. These titles and roles are often interchangeable so if you’re asked to be in the wedding party, make sure you know what is required. As with bridesmaids, grooms and ushers typically pay for the rental or purchase of their suits, and if there is a bachelor party, they foot the bill there too.

Bridal showers are huge here, and not just your typical hen-party piss-up either (bachelorette party in the U.S). There are gifts to be bought, games to be played and rules to be followed. If you don’t believe me, just search “bridal shower etiquette” on the Internet and see what comes up. If you’re the Maid of Honor, you have your work cut out, although it doesn’t necessarily mean you have to host the shower in your own home. (Hint: if someone else offers, take them up on it.) If you’re a guest, note that the bride will open gifts in front of everyone and pass them around, so if you’re thinking of purchasing anything X-rated, probably best to think again. Oh, and, according to The Knot, “Even if all the bridesmaids can’t attend, they should all contribute to the bridal shower budget.”

Rehearsal dinner
This is usually held after the church rehearsal on the night before the wedding. Typically the wedding party (i.e. close family, bridesmaids and groomsmen) is invited, but if people have traveled thousands of miles, they are often included too. If you’re invited to the wedding but not to the rehearsal dinner, don’t get your knickers in a twist, it’s perfectly common.

Wedding day
Even if the wedding is late afternoon or evening, if you’re in the wedding party it can literally take all day. The call for a 4 pm wedding can be an ungodly 9 am in the morning, so ask ahead and be prepared. A bridesmaids’ breakfast is common, followed by a pre-wedding photo-shoot that means you’ll be getting ready hours before the ceremony. Most brides do not get out of the wedding car and walk straight up the aisle like Lady Di and later, Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge. Many churches and other wedding venues have rooms off to the side where the wedding parties can change and check hair and make-up until right before they set foot down the aisle.

Oh, and if you hear the words “destination wedding” be prepared for major expense, as these are weddings in far flung places like the Bahamas, and they’re on the increase.

Caveat: the above points have been verified by at least ten wedding etiquette sources. Obviously there are exceptions, but these are generally held to be the norm.


Toni Hargis

Toni Summers Hargis is a British author who has lived in the USA since 1990. Toni blogs as Expat Mum and is the author of Rules, Britannia - An Insider's Guide to Life in the United Kingdom and The Stress-Free Guide to Studying in the States; A Step-by-Step Plan for International Students. She has made frequent appearances on radio and TV discussing US/UK matters.
View all posts by Toni Hargis.
  • MB

    I think it’s also important to note that not all brides expect their friends to follow a list of chores – especially the ones floating around the Internet that basically turn bridesmaids into servants or unpaid wedding planners.

    Like you said, though, the person should have a discussion with the bride before accepting the honor, to see what the bride may expect. And maybe decline the offer if the bride is a brat who wants someone to do a ton of work for her.

  • LG

    “These are generally held to be the norm” among social-climbing suburbanites, perhaps, or rich white folks, or devotees of Martha Stewart.

    The only helpful information here is, “Ask the bride and/or groom.” American weddings are as unique as the families involved, and “wedding etiquette sources” are typically attached to wedding magazines or websites (who are in it for the money, of course, and therefore have a vested interest in urging conspicuous consumption).

    • hoppytoad79

      Magazines urge huge, ridiculously overpriced weddings, receptions, and honeymoons.

      The best wedding I’ve ever been to was in 2001 and cost the couple less than $500.

  • gn

    Be prepared to become familiar with “The Prophet” by Kahlil Gibran. I think it’s been read at every single American wedding I’ve attended.

    • hoppytoad79

      As an American, I’d like to say I’ve never heard of it.

      • gn

        Maybe it’s a California thing.

  • TheWanderer22

    Too true. My sister in law recently spent upwards of $400 on a bridesmaid’s dress alone – and she was not pleased. Luckily my own American wedding was infinitely more low-key and cost about $300 in total.

  • Jennifer Howze

    I remember my husband was very confused by the rehearsal dinner idea. In the end he loved it, and we extended it to all out of town British guests who otherwise would have been at loose ends at our NYC — we got that advice from, of all places, at etiquette book!

    • expatmum

      Jen – we were married in London and my in-laws insisted on a rehearsal dinner. At the time I had no real idea what it was, but it was great fun anyway!

  • http://aboutlastweekend.com/ Jody Brettkelly

    I’ve only been to my brother’s American wedding 24 years ago in Maine where we had a blast and all our dresses etc. were paid for. They were in a great midnight blue which I think it a fab colour for weddings. The parents split up and so did my brother, he’s now on his “second administration” which is the American dream isn’t it? Wonder where my midnight blue dress is?

    • expatmum

      I think if it’s your family it’s less likely that you have to pay for your dress, plus if you’re a Kiwi, like with Brits – someone probably put the word out that you’re not expecting to have to shell out anyway! LOL

  • http://www.theamericanresident.com Michelloui

    This was an education for me! I must admit I planned my American wedding from the UK, used British magazines etc for guidance and then wondered why everyine was so confused on the day when I did things ‘differently’!

  • Iota

    Great advice.

  • hoppytoad79

    Bridal showers are as fancy as you want them to be. All the ones I’ve been to have been held in someone’s home or a church and they’ve all been low key, low budget affairs, and showers are hosted by pretty much any female who knows the bride, not just the MOH.

    The list of MOH duties isn’t written in stone. I was asked in 2002 by my best friend to be her MOH. Ten months later, I moved eight hours away. The other bridesmaids were great about stepping up and doing what I couldn’t at a distance, and one of the bridesmaids who’s much better at putting together parties than I am said she’d take care of the hen party. I was happy to agree and she did a great job (the bride was a complete wet blanket, but that’s another story). The etiquette sources are a starting point, not the final word.

  • Wendy Eames

    Many middle class, hard working types here, from what I’ve been seeing, are big on DIY weddings. Young women I’ve talked to don’t see the sense in spending big $ on a wedding, they’re preferring smaller, casual, fun weddings. Bachelorette parties, however, do seem to be getting crazier & more elaborate.

  • Inkish

    I’m more than a few decades old, have participated in many weddings and I’ve never heard anyone use the term “stand up” in this context. That doesn’t mean it isn’t used, just that it might not be as widely used as the writer believes it to be. Most of the weddings I’ve attended, including those I’ve participated in, were low budget affairs. But this comes from a person who made her own dress and tiered cake and catering. Also, in my experience, the majority of the time because tradition says the groom should not see the bride before the wedding and the photos are all taken at the same time, photos are taken after the wedding while the guests are en route to wherever the reception is being held. Then the wedding party can make its grand entrance with all the guests assembled, a much better use of everyone’s time.

    • Genevieve

      Standing up in someone’s wedding- It’s a very common expression in Chicago.