Do Modern Weddings Really Need An Usher?

A wedding usher's job used to be a lot harder than just escorting you to your seat

Updated 01/04/18

Photo by Marcus Meisler

In Catalyst Wedding Co. editor Liz Susong’s weekly column devoted to the feminist bride, she dives headfirst into the crazy history behind common wedding traditions we may take for granted. Liz investigates here.

So the history of Usher at weddings is that he called off his 2007 wedding to Tameka Foster the morning of, and a lot of guests didn’t get the memo and showed up as the wedding planners were halting preparations. Apparently Tameka was livid, but Usher’s mom was doing the happy dance. Whatever issues they had, they resolved in order to have a wedding about a month later, but the marriage only last two years. Hold on; that’s my assistant again. What? Really? Oh, how embarrassing; she informed me that this piece is to be about ushers, not Usher. I hadn’t even started on his second marriage to Grace Miguel. What a damn shame.

I nearly forgot about wedding ushers because I assumed the trend died out with Friends and choker necklaces. What’s that? My assistant just informed me that choker necklaces are back in style, along with velour and spaghetti straps—and, jk, Friends will always hold up. Honestly, this day is going downhill fast. Kind of like how your day might go if someone asked you to be an usher. Ushers are...JV groomsmen? Wedding party understudies? Forced to rent expensive tuxes and make small talk with your aunties?

Ushers are meant to invoke an air of formality at a wedding. Imagine striding into a wedding: You’re wearing a new dress and your nails are freshly painted. You catch a glimpse of guests seated in neat rows, and a wave of anxiety sweeps over you. Which side should you sit on? How far back should you sit? At that moment, a strapping young man greets you, offers you his arm, and escorts you to the perfect place, leaving you with a program and a wink. Social disaster averted, and you’ll spend the rest of the ceremony trying to determine if that usher is single or not.

“Originally known as the bride’s knights, groomsmen and ushers are a throwback to an old European custom that called for male friends and relatives to escort the bride to the church, ensuring her safe passage and delivery,” writes wedding historian Susan Waggoner. “In an era when vandals and robbers wandered at large...a show of male force was a deterrent to mischief makers.” Ushers were the original wedding thugs, either helping their buddy capture a desired bride or acting like bouncers on the way to the wedding. They were the guys who ensured this wedding would happen and that the dowry—I mean bride—would arrive on time.

Prior to the 20th century, groomsmen and ushers used to walk in pairs down the aisle preceding the bride and her bridesmaids as a little “bros before hoes”-style army. Today, the role of usher is much more casual and a lot less overtly patriarchal. No groom is like, “Hey man, I could really use a show of muscle at my wedding just in case the Hardy Boys try to come after Sandra; would you be an usher?” Rather, the role of usher provides a way to honor friends and family by including them in the wedding production.

Cindy Savage of Aisle Less Traveled says, “Usher is a great job for cousins and kids of friends who are not old enough to be in the wedding party, but who are too old to be flower girls or ring bearers.” She continues, “I don't think they are necessary, but they are helpful for encouraging people to sit closer to the front, answering the question of which 'side' is whose, and handing out programs. Boys in the 6 to 10 range are ridiculously good at this job in my experience.” Wedding photographer Latoya Dixon agrees: “For my last wedding, the bride’s nephews were the ushers. It was a really cute way to incorporate them since there were no flower girls or ring bearers.”

Minneapolis wedding photographer Becca Dilley finds ushers really helpful: “I feel like sometimes people are nervous to sit close to the front or close to other people, so having an usher actually be like ‘please sit here’ makes my photos look better. I also think that everyone else is generally too busy to focus on welcoming every guest, and ushers can help make people just feel like they know where to sit and have a program.”

Meanwhile Erica of Folie à Deux Events in North Carolina finds them “basically unnecessary now that most couples are not doing assigned seating or ‘bride's side’ and ‘groom's side’ at the ceremony. It's a formality I just don't see done anymore.” You know what else you don’t see anymore? Usher singing in his white boxers because he’s got it bad. I miss 2001, don’t you?

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