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

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?

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

  1. 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. 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.

    • 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.

    • 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!

  3. 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.

  4. This article popped up in my facebook feed today and I have to say that I am so confused and almost shocked about all of this. I am German, and when I got married I wouldn’t have dreamed of asking my wedding party (which was small anyway) to do any of this. They helped me with the planning, one made my wedding cake and they threw me a simple but sweet bachelorette party (basically a girl’s night out, dinner and dance). All of this they did because they wanted to, not because I asked them to, and I was so thankful for their help. I certainly didn’t ask them to buy dresses or shoes or anything. If I wanted them to wear matching dresses or whatever, I would have payed for them. It is my wedding, my vision, my extravaganza, not theirs. Why would they pay for my wedding choices? None of this makes any sense to me. As a guest at a wedding, you have expenses already. Usually, you pay for a gift, a hotel, the travel to the venue. That is more than enough imo.

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