This week's debt report

I’ve Been a Bridesmaid 4 Times. Here’s the Real Cost

When I set out to compare the costs of “bridesmaiding” to the costs of “groomsmanning,” I assumed that bridesmaids would spend more on appearances for the ceremony, while groomsmen would spend more on the bachelor party. Anecdotally at least, I was proven to be half right. But in an endeavor like a wedding, are the only costs financial?

(Side note: Why do I use “bridesmaid” as a verb? There is no other word that encompasses the duties of the bride’s wedding party, in the heteronormative tradition. A bridesmaid is equal parts hostess, event planner, counselor, negotiator. She is a soundboard for the bride, and an occasional punching bag. She will be thrown into intimate situations with people she barely knows and dressed as part of a trio of dolls. A bridesmaid should really love the bride in order to put up with all of the hassle she receives.)

I have loved all of my brides, all four of them: Nikki, Anne, Sam and Sarah. And they love me, too, or else they wouldn’t have paid me the compliment of asking me to be in their wedding parties. I tried to do some financial tallying. In hindsight, my brides have been fairly economical in their choices. I’ve never encountered the notorious “Bridezilla.” My lady friends are thrifty, creative people, and their weddings have been as varied as their personalities.

There are several major expenses for a bridesmaid, and you can mix and match at will: travel (I’m including it, even if it’s just a tank of gas), lodging (if you’re lucky, you’re local), a wedding gift, a bachelorette party, a bridal shower, any beauty service or products you buy for the ceremony, shoes, and a dress (plus any fancy undergarments you might have to purchase to wear with said dress).

But emotionally! What are the costs there?

These costs can be as diverse as the brides themselves. Often, there is the emotional fallout from family drama. I barely remember the first two weddings I was asked to participate in (sorry, friends), let alone ballpark what I spent financially on each. But I remember exactly how I felt about each.

1. Nikki

The first time a friend asked me to bridesmaid was in 2005, the year following my own elopement. Every little thing made me happier about my decision to not have a wedding. I watched the maid-of-honor cluck around the bride. She was a pro; this was my first wedding, but her second within four months. She had one of those wedding kits, a tackle box filled with tampons and breath mints and safety pins and stain pens. Meanwhile, I was flustered by the prospect of group shopping. I remember this wedding as being tense for those involved, and I’m certain I had a share in that. I felt out of place and un-beautiful and angry with everyone except the happy couple, and therefore generally uncooperative. A lot of my stress revolved around dress shopping. The bride did her best to run interference for me, being of a similarly zaftig body type. We finally found a dress that flattered all three of us equally, in the bride’s colors, on clearance for $50 each. It was the best possible scenario, but later, I fought over shoes.

This wedding was a fairly traditional one, with some heavy hands-on help from the bride’s mom. This wedding was a learning curve for me. Surprisingly, I did get better at this gig. After working out all my anxiety about performing and comparing myself to the rest of the wedding party – basically, getting over myself — I had a good time. It was a local wedding, and Nikki didn’t demand that her bridesmaids pay for hefty makeup or hair appointments. She might have actually paid for someone to do our hair, which is very generous for a bride. The biggest financial cost was probably the bridal shower. The other bridesmaids co-hosted it with me. We paid my sister (a chef) to cater it, hosted it at my church, and invited every close female friend or relative in Nikki’s life. Nikki is an extrovert, so that’s a lot.

2. Anne

I would not have been surprised if, given karmic accounting, I was never asked to bridesmaid again. But my best friend from high school was getting married, and she asked me to be in the wedding party. Anne’s wedding cost roughly the same to me as the first, but travel was the big expense in this instance. Her attendants consisted of her 11-year-old cousin, our friend Jason, and me. Given a reprieve from identical dresses, her mother took us to a department store, picked out some essentials, and made the rest of the ensembles herself. It was wonderful.

However, I had moved out of state by that point, so I had to drive 12 hours to attend the wedding weekend, and missed out on any shower or bachelorette party.

This was still a relatively low-key, inexpensive wedding on my end. As the matron-of-honor, the biggest stressor was my reception toast. I thought I did a beautiful job, naturally; the bride’s mother edited it heavily to omit some innocuous references to the groom that struck a little too closely for her. She’d had her own tension with him that week.


3. Sam

The third wedding was a double whammy, as my husband and I were both asked to be in separate wedding parties that weekend. Two weddings. It was an eye opener. This wedding heavily involved traveling for me. I shelled out more for appearances (dress, hair, makeup – I looked amazing) and travel (three separate weekends five hours away) than he did (tuxedo, tank of gas). This was also my first close-up view of the groomsman’s experience. The difference in emphasis on appearance was huge. I spent more on looks for this wedding than I had at either of the two previous weddings. Meanwhile, I was horrified to find that my husband had shaved his beard into a moustache for the wedding. I saw the photos later; it was pretty pornstachey.

The difference in responsibilities also stood out pretty starkly. I hadn’t really been responsible for the whole wedding package before, and it was difficult to coordinate across state. The wedding party also operated on a different wavelength than the previous ones I’d been in. Sam, the bride, is a freelance artist and paper crafter, and I think everyone was picking up on that creative energy and running with it. I went a little crazy with spending. I’m going to attribute that in part to age and employment: everyone involved was older, with a bit more money to spend. Meanwhile, my husband only had to show up in a tux. He didn’t even have to shave.

The second time he was asked to be a groomsman was a repeat. However, he shaved for that wedding.

4. Sarah

The fourth wedding was my cousin Sarah’s. In terms of stressors, I can only say that it was a family wedding. She asked my two younger sisters and me to be her bridesmaids. We joked after the fact that had she just picked two of the three, everything would have run smoothly. The three of us together are overwhelming, and a good dynamic can go south quickly. One of the key jobs of bridesmaiding is reducing headaches for the bride, and we failed on that point.

The major cost of this wedding was the dress, a hot pink strapless number that magically flattered everyone. Sarah shared Sam’s DIY spirit, and we spent quite a bit of time assembling non-bouquets out of wire and heirloom buttons, handed down from our grandmother. I made the invitations, and in my zeal for etiquette, effectively changed the time of my cousin’s wedding (my aunt just laughed and laughed). Luckily, it was a small wedding, and our church was very flexible. Sarah was understanding, the picture of stoic composure.

Ready for another?

I don’t know if I’ll bridesmaid again. One of my sisters is engaged, but I wouldn’t want to be presumptuous about the decision. I have not been perfect at the job. I still haven’t assembled my own wedding emergency tackle box, and at this rate, I never will. Obviously, it’s an important decision for the bride. But it’s a heavy job for the bridesmaid, too, and it’s interesting to me that I’ve never personally heard of anyone saying no when asked. These women have been my closest friends throughout incredibly formative experiences in my life. How could I say no? The benefits should always outweigh the costs.

In this instance, the relationship between me (bridesmaid) and my friend (the bride) is what makes the costs worth it: having a front-row seat to the commitment between two people who love each other, one of whom is someone I love dearly myself.

This post by Tera Brasel originally appeared on TheBillfold. 

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