Nov 12, 2023

Will you be my bridesmaid? It'll probably cost you thousands

It's the beginning of wedding season and everywhere people are being asked the big question: Will you be my bridesmaid?

Breanne Davis from Calgary has been asked that six times.

From destination weddings to local intimate ceremonies, she's well versed in the demands of the role.

The first couple of times she was a bridesmaid, however, all the costs that came with it were a bit shocking.

"You see it on the movies, and it just kind of looks like, Oh, you're there to have a party and celebrate with your friends," she told the Cost of Living. "Not really."

Davis says beyond a bridesmaid outfit that can cost hundreds of dollars, there are other spending expectations like bachelorette parties, group activities, gifts and travel that can tally up to thousands.

And Breanne's experience isn't isolated. In recent years, the role of being a bridesmaid has expanded, and generally gotten more costly, say people who follow the wedding industry.

Being a bridesmaid can be complicated because you're mixing friendship and financial circumstances.

"This is what's so tricky about it. It's not like at the outset somebody hands you an invoice and they're like, 'Will you be my bridesmaid? It's going to be $2,500 all in,'" said Stefanie O'Connell Rodriguez, who hosts the podcast Money Confidential.

O'Connell Rodriguez has written a lot about the wedding industry, and she says often people say "yes" to being a bridesmaid before talking through what that might mean.

As in, could there be a bachelorette trip to Nashville involved? Or are the dresses you are considering in the hundred- or thousand-dollar range? And do you have to pay for the bride's portion of the bachelorette weekend?

It can be a tricky thing to talk about in a friend group, too, she says, especially as many people in the bridal party could be coming from varying financial circumstances.

Of course, not every wedding party comes with the same set of expectations, but generally, the role of being a bridesmaid requires some spending.

One American survey from 2019 reported that more than half of bridesmaids surveyed felt pressure to spend when it came to bridal-party-related expenses, and that more than a third of respondents had gone into some debt over bridal party expenses. The online survey conducted by Qualtrics on behalf of LendingTree polled 713 Americans who had been in wedding parties in the past two years.

The pressure to go all out that's felt by engaged couples — and by extension, bridal parties — has only increased since the advent of wedding reality television and social media, said O'Connell Rodriguez.

"The wedding industry was already wild with the introduction of like 'Say Yes to the Dress' and the whole like 'televisionization' of weddings and really idealizing weddings as this one perfect day," she said.

"I'm not going to say that Instagram alone made the wedding industry go wild, but it's certainly made all the tangential events go wild."

Calgarian Ricki Fisher has seen how much weddings have evolved since the first time she was a candle holder in a wedding as a junior high student. Since then, she's been in almost 20 weddings, and been a bridesmaid 11 times.

"I got married — and my friends mostly all got married — kind of right before Pinterest blew up. And I think that just kept costs down significantly," she said.

And though she estimates she spent an average of $1,000 every time she was a bridesmaid, she says she knows it's more expensive now.

"I think weddings have gotten a lot more expensive because now everyone tries to have an Instagram-worthy wedding," said Fisher.

Charmaine Mendyk has seen many trends come and go in the wedding industry in her 17 years running the boutique bridal shop Jealous Bridesmaid in Toronto.

Long hemlines on bridesmaids' dresses for instance? That's a trend that has stuck. But the overall cost of being a bridesmaid? That's trending upward.

A few years ago Mendyk said she would have estimated the costs associated with being a bridesmaid at $1,500, including dress, alterations, accessories and gifts.

"I think that the average is now $2,500 to $3,000 to be a bridesmaid because [of] all the additional costs of being a bridesmaid," she said.

O'Connell Rodriguez says the only way to manage the expectations tied to being in a wedding is by talking it out.

"The best preparation is to be transparent about your money as it comes up in your friendship and interactions on a day-to-day basis, so that when this big moment happens, it's not the first time you're having a conversation about money," she said.

For her own wedding a few years ago, she threw a party, but decided not to have bridesmaids altogether. She said she just didn't want to put that cost on her friends, or the pressure on herself.

When Ricki Fisher looks back on the weddings she's been a part of, she says matching outfits matter little to her. But on some things, she would spend the money all over again.

"Experiences do seem worth it to me. I have great memories of the activities I did with my friends," she said.

Breanne Davis, who will be a bridesmaid twice more this summer, says she's still happy to stand beside her friends for their big day and be a part of it all, cost and all.

But she is considering eloping, if she decides to get married.

Reporter & Associate Producer

Jennifer Dorozio is a local journalist from Calgary. She ran a pop-up CBC news bureau in Lethbridge in early 2022, covering news in southern Alberta.