I stood there in the dressing room amidst a sea of taffeta and lace, clad in only my underwear, breasts clutched in my hands. “Wow, these things sure are a lot of work to get into,” I quipped, making small talk with the attendant who was busy heaving a wedding gown onto my frame. I saw a smirk on her face reflected in the dressing room mirror. “Yeah, well, that’s why people have bridesmaids,” she retorted with surprising aggression. My intake form had revealed to her that my partner and I did not plan on having a wedding party, following the increasing trend to eschew this tradition and surely cutting into the dress store’s potential commission.
American weddings, and in particular the burden placed on bridesmaids and groomsmen, have spiraled wildly out of control. The New York Times reports that it costs on average $1,200 to $1,800 to be a member of a wedding party (though in my experience, the cost can be much higher, particularly if you include travel). As a generation encumbered with student loan debt, job insecurity, and an economy that will prohibit many of us from ever owning homes, maybe it’s time declare a moratorium on foisting unnecessary expenses on those we care most about?
The (Often Excessive) Costs Of Being A Bridesmaid
As wedding costs have ballooned, the expenses expected of wedding parties have kept pace. The millennial generation is far more geographically mobile than those of yesteryear. Instead of having pre-wedding events nearby to the shared hometown of the honoree and his or her friends, bridal showers and bachelor parties these days often involve plane travel, hotel rooms, and time off of work. Moreover, the number of pre-wedding events included in today’s weddings have expanded beyond reason. Engagement parties, bachelor and bachelorette parties, bridal showers, Jack and Jill parties—for how many parties must we require our friends and family travel and buy gifts in order to honor a single life event?
Moreover, bachelor and bachelorette parties have morphed into long weekends away, the attendees expected to cover costs for a lavish destination vacation of the honoree’s choosing. Rather than the normal compromise that goes into planning a group vacation, the bride or groom’s needs subsume those of the guests in order to ensure that s/he has the vacation weekend of his or her dreams.
Why are we doing this?
If having wedding parties is so expensive and burdensome, then why do we perpetuate this tradition?
In theory a wedding party allows you to honor your close friends and make them feel special. However, if your goal is to make your friends feel special, surely this could be done by supporting your friend’s life choices and accomplishments, being there in times of need, and giving thoughtful gifts rather than a stereotypical inscribed groomsman’s flask or bridesmaid’s bathrobe. But, if your goal is necessarily to make your close friends feel honored on your wedding day, there are numerous other ways to involve them. You could ask your more loquacious friends to give speeches or read poems, your artistic friends to decorate a program or perform a song, and your friends who are often the life of the party could design a custom cocktail or give a toast.
Is The Wedding Party A Young Person’s Game?
Aside from being financially cumbersome, the tradition of choosing a wedding party feels… young. Frankly, it feels younger than the average age that we now get married at. For those of us who marry later, we’ve likely lived in several places, collecting many and varied friendships along the way. Our friendships are meaningful for numerous reasons—perhaps because of the time of our life they represent, the intensity of the friendship, or particular qualities of the friend that we admire. It’s already incredibly difficult to balance family expectations and whittle down a guest list according to budget and venue size; why would we want to further hurt feelings by rank ordering friends? Sure, the intention is in theory to honor those friends who are selected, but for every person who is selected, there is likely another hurt that your friendship isn’t as meaningful to you as it is to them. To not have a wedding party is to have a more equal wedding, celebrating your unique relationship with each of your guests.
Why Are We Using Women As Props?
And then, of course, are the optics. There is an entire industry built around taking pictures of a happy couple flanked with friends dressed in matching outfits. Dresses, shoes, matching accessories, and oftentimes-requested hair, nail, and makeup artistry are all purchased at the bridesmaids’ expense, tailored to the bride’s specifications. What a strange aesthetic our culture has developed that favors a group of grown women to be dressed identically and essentially used for decoration. It is a trope so often repeated that we’ve ceased to question how undeniably bizarre it is. If you insist on having a wedding party, why not allow friends to forego the added costs and wear their own clothing?
Let’s Find Better Ways To Spend Our Money
There are so many better things on which our generation can and should be spending our money. The average range of $1,200 to $1,800 (or far more, depending on how many weddings one’s asked to be in) could start a savings account, make a dent in student loan payments, or be donated to charity. Those lucky enough to not be strapped for cash can spend it on a vacation or experience of their choosing. The money would be better used for almost anything other than a dress that will never be worn again and an overpriced updo. We should not prioritize being a bridesmaid over financial stability and investment in our own priorities and happiness.
If I sound bitter about my career as a bridesmaid, it’s because I am. I put great effort into maintaining friendships—I send cards and gifts on birthdays and for no reason at all. I’ve traveled the world over to spend time with people I love. But, in my experience, a financially unreasonable gift obligated by tradition has never strengthened any friendship.
Our No-Wedding-Party Wedding
Despite the dressing room attendant’s misgivings, on my wedding day, I was surrounded by friends who were more than happy to lend me a hand in zippering my dress. If a wedding party is the people that make your wedding go smoothly, we had a hundred bridesmaids and groomsmen. Friends and family were eager to do anything they could to help the wedding go smoothly, perhaps because so little had been asked of them up until that point. Many I wouldn’t likely have chosen as bridesmaids took leading roles in decorating the venue and making sure guests were well taken care of. The evening couldn’t have turned out better.
Let’s start new traditions. Your dream wedding doesn’t have to be your friends’ financial nightmare.