COMMITMENTS : Bucking Tradition : Why not have a ‘man of honor’ or a ‘best person’? More couples are enlisting friends of the opposite sex for their unconventional wedding ceremonies.
Whenever she fantasized about her storybook wedding, Mimi Dangtu never imagined her best friend Mike Tuchin at her side. She does, after all, have two beautiful sisters.
But as her July 10 wedding to Jim Johnson grew closer, Dangtu didn’t want to have to choose between her sisters for a maid of honor, and there wasn’t really a place for Tuchin in the wedding party.
“It started off as a joke,” she recalled. “I said, ‘Mike, would you be my honorary bridesmaid?’ and he said, ‘Sure, what color is my dress?’ ”
Yet on the day of the ceremony for the Westlake Village couple at Malibu’s Calamigos Ranch, there was Tuchin, clad in a pink cummerbund and tie made to match the bride’s dress, as “person of honor.” Whether he knew it or not, he had become part of one of the hottest trends in weddings: the best man or maid of honor who crosses traditional gender lines.
Most of their friends didn’t know about Tuchin’s position in the bridal party until the day of the outdoor ceremony, and even while he was walking in the procession friends snickered and whispered, “Where’s your dress?” But Tuchin was proud of his role; he held the bouquet for Dangtu during the couple’s vows, straightened her dress, and held her lipstick and eye drops for emergencies.
“I don’t know if I’ll ever live down the jokes,” Tuchin, a Newport Beach lawyer, said after the ceremony, “but I’m very honored.”
Best man Dwight Spiers kidded: “I didn’t mind breaking tradition like this as long we didn’t have to walk down the aisle together.” At the rehearsal, they joked about doing the first dance together.
Mon-Li, the wedding coordinator for Calamigos Ranch, who has handled 200 weddings a year for the past nine years, said such arrangements have become popular.
“Since the first of this year, not a weekend has gone by that I don’t have a man who wants his best friend--a woman--to stand up for him or a woman asks a man to be her bridesmaid, and I think it’s wonderful,” she said. “You just have to keep an open mind.”
The trend is noted in the September issue of Bride’s magazine. Executive Editor Barbara D. Tober said the idea started spontaneously on the East and West coasts about 10 years ago, and now it’s happening more among white-collar couples in their 30s and 40s.
“It shows that there are fewer gender limitations in friendships today,” said Tober, Bride’s editor for 29 years. “Little boys now play with little girls and men and women become friends in the workplace.”
A survey published in Bride’s shows that most women are living alone before marriage and have close non-sexual friendships with men.
The preferred phrases are “best woman” and “person of honor,” according to Bride’s, but some Southern Californians also use “best person,” “man of honor,” “bridesman” and “bride’s friend.”
It’s less common, Tober said, for a man to stand up for the bride than for a woman stand up for the groom. “There’s more jealousies and guarding going on with men; men tend to be more proprietary than the female, so the groom may not want a man to stand up for his bride. I’m not sure that will ever change.”
Mon-Li said she has noticed that if the couple is confident in each other’s love, it doesn’t matter what gender their friends are--but that it often does matter to the families.
“Older generations sometimes balk about this mixing and matching,” she said. “The worst is usually the bride’s mother.”
But Mildred Cohen of Santa Monica had no problem when her daughter Laura married Rolf Bell and his best man was a woman who wore a tuxedo.
“Everyone said, ‘My gosh, that’s a girl,’ but I thought it was great because she wore this stunning gray formal tuxedo to show that she was on the man’s side,” Cohen said. “It was a beautiful statement. Eclectic, yes, but beautiful.”
Dian Sorensen, manager of Las Vegas’ Little Chapel of the Flowers, has seen “a lot of that happening lately. It’s the ‘90s now, anything goes.”
In the past five years, these kinds of wedding parties have doubled, Sorensen said. “The biggest problem is that very few men want to be called the matron of honor. It’s not a very macho title.”
In June, a dozen weddings at Casa Romantica in San Clemente featured non-traditional wedding parties. Coordinator Maureen Gates, who handles more than 100 weddings a year there, said in previous years there might be fewer than one similar wedding per month at the seaside mansion.
“I’ve seen a father, stepfather, four brothers, even a dog be the maid of honor,” Gates said. “If a couple gets married they should be surrounded with the people they’re most comfortable with.”
But what about the extras? Does a best woman then throw a bachelor party? Does a guy put on a bridal shower?
“Sure, she should throw a bachelor party, because a best friend would know exactly what the groom would enjoy,” Gates said. “But I’ve seen . . . bachelorette parties (that are) a lot worse than anything I’ve heard the guys do.”
Mostly, parties before weddings are instead being combined into co-gender events, such as a picnic in a park or a bonfire at the beach.
“This one couple had a male bridesperson who got together with the best man and they organized a romantic bonfire on the beach and watched the sun set,” Gates said. “All their friends came. There was no stripper.”
Many couples have no problem with having best friends of the opposite sex in the wedding party, Gates said. “For the most part it’s people in their 30s and 40s who are doing this because they’re already over any sexual hang-ups,” she said.
It’s such a phenomenon that the second printing of the marriage guide “The Romance of the Wedding Ceremony” (Foundation for the Actualization of Human Potential, 1991) will address non-traditional bridal parties. The author, the Rev. Richleigh Hale Powers, performed 387 weddings last year, including some on yachts and even hot-air balloons. His wife, also a minister, gave vows for 100 couples at their 17-acre estate, the Plantation, in Fallbrook.
“In the past five years such arrangements have increased every year and now more than 10% of my weddings are planned that way,” Powers said. “I had a guy recently as the maid of honor with five bridesmaids because he knew the bride since he was an infant, and he was delighted to be among all those females.”
Nothing in the Judeo-Christian ethic bars a female best man or male maid of honor, Powers said, and in fact, it often helps ease the tension behind the scenes before the wedding to forgo the tradition of gender separation before the wedding ceremony.
Mon-Li said a male bridesperson had a great calming effect in the bride’s dressing room before a recent wedding she helped organize. “He was fabulous, and it made it so much easier to have a male there because otherwise all these women were running around fussing and creating tension, but his presence was very soothing for the bride,” she said.
“And two years ago I had a best man named Jennifer and a bridesmaid named Steve,” Mon-Li recalled. “He was holding the bridal train and she held the rings. I thought it was very unusual, but why not? The sex of the person didn’t make much of a difference.”
Breaking wedding tradition was no big deal for the Johnsons. Mimi had to explain to the very confused band members playing at their wedding that Tuchin would have to be introduced as the “person of honor.” Jim said if he heard anyone teasing him, he’d personally “bust ‘em in the mouth.”
Tuchin said he now realizes what his girlfriends meant when they have complained about having to purchase outfits for a wedding that they’ll never wear again.
“I have this pink cummerbund and a tie to match Mimi’s dress and, very honestly, I can’t imagine they’ll ever be used again.”