IN YEARS GONE BY, THE OLD LER- ner and Loewe song "Just get me to the church on time . . ." came fairly close to being a complete summary of the groom's involvement in his own wedding.
"He showed up and that's about it," says Letitia Baldrige, author of "The New Manners for the '90s."
But, changes within society -- including increases in the divorce rate for parents of the wedding couple, or the possibility that it's a second marriage for either groom or bride -- as well as in economic realities have ended those days. And, Ms. Baldrige says, "Basic, fundamental traditions have simply crumbled."
In addition, the average age of both grooms and brides has risen -- up from about 20 years for women and about 23 years for men in 1970 to about 25 for brides and 26 for grooms -- and the couple now is more likely to be paying for the wedding without parental help, says Ms. Baldrige. Consequently, more and more grooms are taking an active role in planning -- and paying for -- their weddings.
But while more-involved grooms may be a wonderful thing, says Ms. Baldrige, the flip side of casting off tradition is that "everyone used to know what to do. Now, no one is sure."
Nowadays the details of who does what at weddings may vary as widely as the brides and grooms themselves, says Helen Kadlec of Country Weddings Limited, a wedding planning service in Glen Arm. Her working motto is, if everyone agrees and is happy, anything goes.
In fact, recently Ms. Kadlec was hired to organize a wedding according to very elaborate specifications -- set out by the groom, not the bride or her mother.
The groom was a Civil War re-enactment buff, she says, and the couple marched down the aisle under a saber arch (sabers held by ushers in Civil War uniforms). The groom wore a period morning suit and top hat; the bride wore a period skirt and blouse gown and snood.
"He knew what he wanted," she says.
Of course, some couples choose to follow in the footsteps of parents and grandparents and stick solidly with tradition, says wedding consultant Lynn Farrell of Beautiful Beginnings. "Some grooms sit back and let the bride go ahead with the plans."
Generally speaking, tradition holds that the groom is responsible for the rehearsal dinner, the wedding rings and the honeymoon travel plans. He also has a "limited amount of responsibility for flowers: the bride's bouquet and the boutonnieres, except his own," says Elizabeth Bailey, who has been a wedding consultant in the Baltimore, Washington and Annapolis area for about 10 years.
The groom also chooses his own attendants (the best man and the ushers), and buys them gifts. A nice -- but not mandatory -- touch is for him to wait until the bride chooses her bridesmaids so that the number of male attendants matches the number of female attendants.
Other details that are taken care of by the groom are his half of the guest list, what he chooses to wear, what his best man and ushers should wear (including where to send their measurements and to get their attire).
Used to be, Ms. Bailey says, "he very often didn't even pick the church site or the reception site. There was the old joke about the groom saying 'I don't know anything, I just know I'm supposed to be there.' "
But "we don't see it that way anymore."
Ms. Kadlec suggests beginning your wedding plans by gathering both families together to decide whether to follow tradition closely -- or branch out on your own.
"Good communication is the best thing for bride's parents and groom's parents and bride and groom."
At this stage, she says, if the groom's family is wondering what it can do for the couple, a getting-to-know-you gesture is apropos. "It could be a shower, a luncheon, an engagement party. Anything is fine and is a good way to introduce the girl to the family."
Then, she says, if you don't plan to follow tradition precisely -- that's fine. Just divide the responsibilities in a logical fashion while being flexible.
For example, her son is getting married this fall and "the wedding is being held in his home church so it shifts things a little bit because we know the details of our church." Consequently, the groom's family is handling details of the actual wedding and the clergyman, etc.
However, a friend of the bride has offered to handle the flowers so the bride is in charge of flowers. And more unusually, Ms. Kadlec says, "I'm making the bridesmaids' dresses because [the groom's] sisters are in the wedding."
If, after pitching in either as tradition dictates or as they agreed, members of the groom's family would like to help out further, says Mrs. Kadlec, "and if there are a lot of out-of-town guests at the wedding, the groom's parents might help more in the entertaining." But responsibility for the bachelor's party falls on the best man's shoulders.
DIVIDING THE DUTIES
HERE ARE A FEW suggestions from wedding consultants, caterers and etiquette experts for grooms who may be wondering who is responsible for what in weddings these days, and how to divvy up the duties:
*Communicate. If parents will be involved in paying for the wedding in part or entirely, get the two families together to meet and discuss the responsibilities. Besides, getting together is a nice idea anyway, says Helen Kadlec, wedding consultant.
*Be specific. (Write down exactly who pays for what if that will help.) This exercise will avoid costly budget overruns as well as ,, hurt feelings and confusion later.
*Be flexible. Tradition holds that the groom (or his family) pays for the rehearsal dinner, the flowers, the honeymoon and not much else. But if the groom has very specific ideas about how the reception should go, maybe he could assume that part of the wedding celebration. Or, if the bride's best friend is a florist and offers to do the flowers for nothing, tradition might be waived.