It's not just about the bride: The Wedding Industry puts pressure on bridesmaids too!

February 1 | Guest post by Jess
Photo by JBe Photography
Photo by JBe Photography

I was pretty happy to open up a wedding planning app on my phone the other night and be able to mark "meet with florists" off the to-do list. A few evenings ago, I sat down and wrote down all the details of the appointment in my planning binder, and slid the business card for my florist with the rest of the vendors. As soon as the retainer check is written, "book your florist" can be checked off the to-do list, too.

We still have months before go time and we both feel pretty confident in how planning this wedding has been going.

But wait. What is the one item I've not tapped as done? Oh yeah, choosing a wedding party…

It's not to say that our absolute nearest and dearest don't have much of a idea about us wanting them to be included, but the "Wedding Party" page on our wedding website remains blank. The adorable wedding party invitations I bought are still in the box. Why haven't I given those cards out yet? Because I have such anxiety — it's not about who I plan to ask but it's about the expectations that the Wedding Industrial Complex has set forth on bridesmaids.

It's not just the costs of being a bridesmaid that are alarming

There seems to be new posts every week on wedding forums from frustrated brides who complain and even contemplate "firing" bridesmaids because they feel they aren't "living up to their duties." Most of them are bitter about a friend who isn't able to pay $200 for a dress ("Why couldn't she have saved her money up? She's able to go out to dinner but she can't buy her dress yet?!") or a bridesmaid isn't participating in the bachelorette party ("But she is supposed to do this!").

Weddings can turn friends into props

My favorite posts are from brides who complain that their bridal party isn't obsessed with talking to them about their wedding 24/7 because isn't that what they are supposed to be doing? Other favorite posts of mine are brides who become angry with a bridesmaid who cut or dyed their hair just weeks before the wedding ("THEY ARE GOING TO MAKE THE WEDDING PICTURES LOOK HIDEOUS!").

I have read horror stories on wedding forums of how years of friendship are thrown away because a bridesmaid didn't live up to a bride's expectations. That's the key here — it's not a friend expectation but rather a bride expectation. Somehow the lines of friendship and being a bridesmaid have been blurred by the wedding industry.

If bridesmaids aren't throwing lavish parties in matching outfits, they aren't doing it right

"Requiring" bridesmaids to throw over-the-top bachelorette parties, or instructing brides that all of their bridesmaids must have matching monogramed robes as gifts, are ways to get people to open their checkbooks just a little more. Wedding websites, magazines and Pinterest are filled with lists and suggestions that can make one feel like, if they aren't throwing a lavish bridal shower, they aren't doing it right.

Movies like Bridesmaids show how members of the wedding party can be at odds with themselves and the bride over planning bridal showers and bachelorette parties. In Bridesmaids, Annie fights with Helen over becoming Lillian's best friend/Maid of Honor. Helen's fortune allows her to throw lavish parties and pay for expensive bridesmaid dresses, whereas Annie cannot. With some studies showing that the average cost to be a bridesmaid can be $1,500-$1,800, it's no wonder that Annie couldn't keep up with Helen's spending in showering Lillian with elaborate trips and gifts.

I can't ignore that the fact that all that pressure is already out there

I definitely don't think it should be this way at all, and I guess that's why I'm anxious about asking friends to be in the wedding party. I don't want to be that bride who writes to strangers on the internet that I can't believe my bridesmaids are complaining about the costs of their dresses. I don't want my bridesmaids to feel like there are certain "duties" that they must fulfill.

Maybe it's silly of me to have this anxiety since I don't have a list of duties or expectations in mind. But I can't ignore that the fact that it's there.

The friends that Steven and I want to ask to stand by us on our wedding day are the people who love and support us individually and as a couple, who strengthen us and lift us up when things get rough and we want to honor them on our day because we cherish our friendships with them. Isn't that what the whole wedding day extravaganza is about, anyway?

  1. This article resonates so much with me because I strove so hard during my wedding planning to put as little pressure on my attendants as possible. I knew that none of them make a vast sum of money so my main endeavor was to keep their costs as low as possible. I did not want a bridal shower so right there was a cost cut for them. We chose $30 infinity dresses from Etsy and the rest of their outfit as far as shoes and accessories was left up to them. I didn't care what they did with their hair and make-up so two ended up doing their own, and two went to salons on their own.
    For my bachelorette party we went to NYC to see Wicked and my MOH was amazing at coordinating and making sure that everybody could afford to do it. I told her that if anyone wasn't able to then we'd plan something local instead because I didn't want anyone to be left out because of finances.
    I chose my attendants because they're each a big part of my life and I wanted them to be a big part of my day as well. I wanted them to have fun and not feel like being in my wedding was a chore or financial burden.
    I think sometimes there's this weird misconception that a bridal party is there to wait on the couple. I think they should provide some extra support like perhaps making sure the couple gets some appetizers, or always have a drink, or helping a bride with a puffy dress pee, etc. But, I also think they should be able to enjoy the festivities as an honored guest, not as a worker.

    8 agree
    • "I think sometimes there's this weird misconception that a bridal party is there to wait on the couple. I think they should provide some extra support like perhaps making sure the couple gets some appetizers, or always have a drink, or helping a bride with a puffy dress pee, etc. But, I also think they should be able to enjoy the festivities as an honored guest, not as a worker."

      – Absolutely! I couldn't agree with this more!

      It also sounds like you had a kick ass bachelorette party!

      3 agree
  2. All of those expectations are why I never want to have an official wedding party. Heck, the original point of bridesmaids was just "Hey, uninvited ex-suitor / angry spirits, we're all dressed like the bride. Go ahead, try absconding with the bride now"

    6 agree
  3. For my bridal party, I asked my 2 sisters, my best friend from college, my roommate in college, and my best friend from high school. I knew that none of them were well-established, so I couldn't depend on them paying for things (not that I would have expected them to anyway). I wrote each of them a letter asking them to be a bridesmaid with my very limited expectations outlined — attend as many events as they could (and I included the dates) and wear a dress in a certain color, which could be one they already owned. I also asked a couple of them individually to do more than those two things, but told them I was okay with it if they had too much on their plates to handle the additional responsibilities.

    Basically, my bridesmaids didn't have to do anything but show up, and I included them to let them know how much I love and care about them, rather than to help me handle my wedding planning or anything. It sounds like you don't have (m)any expectations for the people that you're going to ask to be in your bridal party either, so I think you might be overthinking things. Just ask them to be in your bridal party with clear expectations and enjoy yourself!!

    3 agree
    • Thank you for reading, Ashley! Since I wrote this a few months ago, I formally asked my girls to be bridesmaids and pretty much have told them as long as we're having fun then that's what mattered to me. Everything has been smooth sailing. 🙂

      1 agrees
  4. I've never been interested in having a whole cadre of bridesmaids around me. It seems like a lot of work for them for not a lot of payoff. So instead, I'm having just my best friend stand up with me. And the rest of the women I'd typically ask to be my bridesmaids, I'm asking them to do other duties. One will be the emcee. Another will do a reading. And I'm asking my not-bridesmaids to come get ready with me that morning, to come to my bachelorette party, to come to my shower, if they can. But they don't feel obligated to do any of it (or buy a special dress, or shoes, or whatever).

    1 agrees
  5. Amen to all of this. Well done for writing with such clarity, it makes such a refreshing read. Thank you.

    1 agrees
  6. I am having two weddings in two different countries and live in a third. There was no way I wanted to make my friends feel like they had to travel the world to prove they love me. So I made a huge list of options for all the girls I would like to bridesmaids, ex. be a bridesmaid in country #1, do a reading at either ceremony, get ready with me the day of, show up at any pre-wedding events, or just dance and celebrate with me at whatever wedding they could attend! This way they could each participate according to their means, and more importantly they felt special and knew that I truly cherish their friendship. For the girls who are acting as traditional bridesmaids, I've given them a dress color and length and everything else is their call!

    2 agree
  7. Dutch wedding are so different! Having a bridal party of several bridesmaids is not a custom in my country. A bride and groom usually only have a witness/MOH and it's common to not have a dress code for the wedding so everyone can be dressed according to their own tastes and means. Although I also drool when I see georgeously matched bridal parties 🙂

    Bachelor/ette parties are common but knowing some of my friends are unemployed, I kindly asked my MOH to organise something that wouldn't cost that much. She was happy to take that in mind.

    My advice would be to be open to people who you know are struggling with costs. One of my friends is struggling mental disease and has no income and we noticed she was hesitant about accepting the invitation to the wedding. So we just told her in private that she was welcome no matter what, that she wasn't expected to bring a gift and that her gift to us would be her sharing our special day with us. It took away a lot of pressure for her. So especially with good friends: talk to them like you would want to talk to you when you are in the same situation!

    1 agrees
  8. My two cents… one of the things you need to do is sit down and figure out what your expectations are of your wedding party. How can they know if you don't? If all you want is for them to show up in specific clothing and sit near you at the reception, fine. But if you the whole hog of bachelorette party, bridal shower, matching dresses, dancing with the groomsmen, and making sure they have reception speeches ready, then you need to tell them that before they accept. Give them a couple days to think about whether or not they even want to commit to that expense and let them know you want them at the wedding no matter what role they play. But don't mistake "I gave you no instructions" for "easy-going." Spell out their job in advance and don't make it more difficult later. Remember these people are your most loved ones and most likely to forgive you when you mess up, and thank the ever-loving crap out of them.

    2 agree
  9. I think this is very culturally based. I am Canadian & I know so many of my friends had massive wedding parties (like 8 ppl each!). But my fiancé is Irish. In Ireland, the bride and groom pay for the dress/suit, hair, make-up, shoes, whatever, etc. for their bridesmaids/groomsmen, which is why there tend to be smaller wedding parties. They said to me 'Omg, it's beautiful, but we have no idea how you afford it!' and were shocked when I explained that the wedding party pays their own way. I think it's nice that way. I think it also stops people from being outrageous in their demands from their wedding parties. My friend was a bridesmaid in a wedding where the bride insisted the wedding party had matching jewellery from Tiffany's! She had to back out in the end because it all became too expensive.

    For our wedding, it is just my best friend (my sister is shy and didn't feel comfortable) & my fiancé's brother. We're both starting out and cash is tight. So we can't help them out very much (we're paying her accommodation & his daughters' flower girls' dresses). But we told them to wear whatever they want. Already have a suit they love (unless it's neon green or hot pink), wear that. Want to wear your favourite dress that you've only worn once & haven't gotten a chance again? Wear that! Want an excuse to buy a new dress? Go ahead. People always say that they chose the dress so the person can wear it again, but really, when has that ever happened? But I guess we're being completely non-traditional (for our families). No bouquet toss, no first dance, no limos, no photographer, no official sit-down meal (we are having a dinner and open bar because everyone is traveling), no seating arrangements, no DJ, no decorations for the church (church is non-negotiable for one side of the family), probably no bouquet, no photographer/videographer (nothing we could find under $1000 and that's 1/5th of our entire budget and we have 80 ppl coming!). We don't even have wedding colours (nor do we intend on having them!)! *gasp* haha

  10. This article makes it seem like the wedding industry is pressuring the bride who then pressures her bridesmaids, and I'm not saying that doesn't happen, but sometimes the wedding industry skips pressuring the bride and directly pressures the bridesmaids. I told my bridesmaids to wear red dresses they chose, thinking that would be easier than getting them all together for dressing shopping, but then I was inundated with messages and e-mails saying "Is this one okay? How about this one? I just want to fit your vision!" Like, ladies, my "bridal vision" isn't as important as the industry is making it out to be! One of my bridesmaids dyed her fiery orange hair a more natural color thinking again that it would fit "my vision," but I missed the bright orange hair–we called the group of bridesmaids "The Order fo the Phoenix," and what's more phoenix-y than red and orange?

    If I had to do it all over again, though, I would still have those same women in our bridal party because they were wonderful, but sometimes we just all gotta see the forest for the trees. Pinterest had me believe for a little while there that if my bridesmaids' nails didn't match a polish color (seemed to always be an expensive polish too, like OPI or Essie) then I Fail As A Bride, but I couldn't tell you what my bridesmaids did with their nails for the day of, because it didn't matter. What mattered was they supported me through this life transition.

    2 agree
    • I definitely have felt the pressure as a bridesmaid before the bride even shared her first expectation of me. Google "bridesmaid" duties and immediately lists pop up that say a bridesmaid "must do" a list of things that made me feel like I was going to be a horrible bridesmaid because I couldn't a) afford certain things and b) I was not capable to do certain things. This is why I said I think the lines of friendship and bridesmaid duties have become blurred. Chances are, as your friend, I want to do certain things because I love you, I want to support you and want to do it, not because a list on Pinterest says I *have* to do certain things because you're putting a poofy white dress on today.

      1 agrees
  11. This is all good insight, but something to keep in mind is that few of us have the clearest vision when we're in the throes of wedding planning. I seriously know no one who thought their requests of their bridal party were hard to meet. EVERYONE says what a chill, considerate friend they are being to their wedding party, but in truth, most of us have some requests, whether it's clothes or parties or time off work or interacting with people they don't enjoy. It's important to keep in mind that one person's "totally reasonable, totally fun" plans are not the same as another's–which is fine, we are all allowed to ask favours of friends, but it's important to tune into what we're getting in response and adjust plans if folks seem uncomfortable or stressed–don't get too self-congratulatory ahead of time. I (like everyone) thought I was being very relaxed and undemanding as a bride, and in many ways I was, but there's stuff I look back on now and wonder if it was really necessary, and feel all the more appreciative of my lovely friends who put up with me!

    2 agree
  12. I think one of the main issues is the tension between wanting to be the "cool bride" who has no preferences and lets her bridesfolk do whatever and the pressure to have the picture-perfect wedding so that you can justify all the money you spend throwing it (and all the money you spend having pictures taken of it). There's a point at which being the cool bride with no expectations becomes just as difficult as the exacting one — I've seen brides who wouldn't say what colour dress they wanted, how formal, what length, nothing. And invariably, those brides end up super frazzled and become hyper-controlling at the very end because they realise that not making those decisions has been a problem and they have to get everything in line with the wedding vision now — leading to upset bridesfolk who feel suddenly put upon and upset brides who feel like nobody has been supporting them. I watched a bride go from "wear whatever, so long as it's blue, and if I give you a crafty task, I don't care how it's done so long as there's a table number/guest book/card box/etc" to a hyper-detailed list the week before the wedding of exact jewellery, makeup (look, application, and brands!), hairdos, stockings, shoes, and style of gel manicure with brand name polish sent out as mandatory for being in the wedding party and the bride demanding people buy versions of their crafty projects since she was unhappy with the outcome, as well as a lecture distributed to the whole party about two people who had dyed their hair colours the bride thought clashed with the wedding theme, so they needed to go get their hair redone immediately or they were out of the wedding party. This was a few years ago when I was working as a wedding planner, but holy shit, I was convinced that bride was going to get keelhauled by her wedding party and leave the ceremony with a husband but no friends left. As a general rule, I always advised brides that beyond the dress and the shoes, if the bride wanted her wedding party to have specific hair, makeup, and/or nails, she should pay for having it done. If it's not important enough for you to budget for it, then you can't demand that the bridesfolk pay to achieve your desired look. It's a wedding, not a fashion spread.

    The best thing brides can do is be super, super up-front about what they expect. Better yet, put it in writing. If you expect your bridesmaids to buy matching dresses, throw the shower and the bachelorette, have their hair and makeup done professionally, and spend the night in the hotel with you before the wedding, say so. The most hurt feelings and biggest resentments come when you don't outline what you expect. Then, when you tell your party, "btw, why aren't you throwing me a bachelorette, you know I always wanted one," or "ladies, I need you to go to this salon tomorrow to get your nails done in this specific colour, no exceptions," you don't end up with the bridal party meltdowns that are becoming increasingly common. Communication, always, is the only thing that makes weddings happen as smoothly as possible. Be upfront, be grounded in reality (ie, your bestie who is waiting tables can't afford to plan and pay for a blow-out Vegas bachelorette, no matter how much you want one), listen to people's concerns, and try to meet in the middle. Bridesfolk are your friends, even if the Wedding Industrial Complex wants you to treat them like temporary servants and financiers of your dream vacations.

    4 agree
    • You are so right about making your expectations clear. I had an issue with my MOH because all along I thought she would be staying with me the night before the wedding, and all along she had planned to stay at her own house so she wouldn't have to cart around all of her make-up / hair stuff. Some definite hurt feelings arose when I learned of her plan, but then I realized I had never told her mine so how the hell was she supposed to plan for it? My husband and I ended up renting a room for two nights and spending the night before together which was great! It all worked out but a lot of stress would've been avoided if I had made my expectations not just clear, but known in the first place.

      1 agrees
    • I couldn't agree with this more. I've spoken to my girls about what little expectations that I have moving forward and that's been a good thing. I've been that bridesmaid that has been been blindsided by last minute changes because of lack of communication and that's definitely resulted in hurt feelings.

    • "As a general rule, I always advised brides that beyond the dress and the shoes, if the bride wanted her wedding party to have specific hair, makeup, and/or nails, she should pay for having it done. If it's not important enough for you to budget for it, then you can't demand that the bridesfolk pay to achieve your desired look."

      I absolutely love this advice and this perspective. It never occurred to me to look at it that way, but you're so right!

      1 agrees
  13. It's such an honor to be asked by a friend to stand by her side as she makes her vows, even as it's a pretty big time commitment. That's the part I focused on when I asked my bridesmaids. I told them I didn't care about expensive dresses or parties – I just wanted to spend time with my favorite ladies on one of the most memorable days of my life.

    I also asked their dress budget before I looked at anything, and used the smallest one to find a good vendor that had a wide selection of sizes. My bridal shower was just snacks and love-themed games at my mom's house, no gifts. My bachelorette party was rom-coms and board games at my apartment. On the wedding day, I asked them to dress comfortably (no matchy-matchy required) and I supplied lunch during our get-ready time.

    Being conscious of that pressure on bridesmaids is the first step. Then just treat them like your friends who are doing you a favor, because that's what they are.

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