Wedding Wednesday: The Cost of being a Bridesmaid

I look back at the first time I was a bridesmaid fondly.  However, I cringe when I think about how much money I spent.  I was just a graduate student, but spent as if I was comfortably installed in a lucrative career (I was always headed towards a job in academia, so that was especially silly of me). 

I wasn't really convinced that I would wear any of the bridesmaid dresses I've bought again.  I held onto a couple, but they sat in my closet for years.  I finally donated them to the Cinderella Project a few years ago.

When I think about my bridesmaids (who have not been asked to be bridesmaids yet), I wonder if they might have the cost of the role in mind.  I came across this graphic from Mint a few weeks ago and I wondered if it was accurate...

I expect my 'maids to spend much, much less than this.  First of all, I'm not having an engagement party or any bridal showers and I don't need a bachelorette party.  One bridesmaid is local, so only two would have to travel for the wedding.   I plan on picking dresses from J. Crew and I hope we can get the dresses during one of those ubiquitous sales (is it me or do I get an email almost daily offering some sort of discount?).  I hope some of the other expenses (like alterations) listed aren't necessary, either.

I want to be respectful of my friends' budgets, whatever they may be.  Now, I have questions.  Lots of questions.  Feel free to answer one or all.  I'd really love to get some different opinions on being a bridesmaid.

  • What do you think is an acceptable cost for being a bridesmaid?  
  • What's the most expensive bridesmaid dress you've worn?  
  • Did you wear it again (that might be a silly question)?  
  • Would you rather get an inexpensive bridesmaid dress that you would never wear again or a more expensive dress that you really would wear again?
I'm also noticed a lot of weddings on blogs where all the bridesmaids wore the same shoe!  I never had a bride pick a shoe for her that common these days?

Update: There are two dresses on sale on the J. Crew website in the color I want...they're $80!  Oh, how I wish I had already asked my bridesmaids to be in the party!


  1. Spending too much in one's wedding isn't that really necessary a west palm beach divorce lawyer actually said that instead of spending a to-be couples should start saving for the sake of their "own" family in the near future. What does the wedding symbolizes is the bond and exchange of vows between the two couple not how grand it will be or what will people think about their marriage ceremony.

  2. My bridesmaids dresses cost $240 and I was really worried about how expensive they were. But at the time J.Crew was all chiffon and $230, Ann Taylor's weren't very attractive, and I had 10 bridesmaids.

    I picked LulaKate dresses so that everyone could kind of make their own dress with different bottom and top choices (that's a really cool thing about her company). Then everyone could wear their own jewelry and shoes (although I did request no flats).

    I didn't plant to have a bridal shower although everyone did throw me a surprise lingerie shower the night of my bachelorette dinner (the Thursday before my wedding)- which was very sweet. Travel costs were significant for a lot of my bridesmaids but since everyone was scattered all around the world (literally) there really wasn't much I could do about that.

    Basically I tried to keep costs "low" by not having showers, extravagant bachelorette weekends, etc.

    My step-sister did a cool thing, where everyone got to pick their own dresses as long as they were tea-length and creme. She is braver than I, since someone showed up with a creme-colored feather dress.

  3. Not sure if you know but the J.Crew Regional Warehouse sale is coming back to Charlottesville this week on Friday. They should be bringing in bridesmaid dresses like last year as well! You can pick up shoes and dresses for 60 per braidsmaid if you pay your cards correctly!

  4. I tried so hard to keep costs down for everyone, and to make the whole event as easy as possible for all our guests. I spent more time trying to figure out how I could be helpful to other people than I did on what I really wanted myself. It kind of drove me crazy in the end because there were still plenty of complaints. My girls (as you may remember) didn't have to pay for the dresses. They may not have been perfect, but they were free. Everyone bought their own shoes, but I paid for them to be dyed. We paid for the boys' tuxedos. There were even some people for whom we bought plane tickets because it was more important that they be there, and we didn't want them to have the hardship. I think, though, when someone asks you, you have to determine whether you will be able to afford it, and if you can't you respectfully decline the invitation. At the same time, it is such an honor just to be asked, that I have always gone CRAZY when I've been in someone's wedding. So crazy that I even married my first groomsman :)

  5. I think a lot of the non-travel, non-contribution expenses are reducible if not altogether avoidable. For example: jewelry, shoes, and lingerie are probably not required to be newly bought are they? Plus if one has the time and the creativity, gifts can be really cheap, fun and extra special. I once gave paper art to my friends that costs no more than half a bottle of glue for four presents and they loved it!

    Koh lanta holiday

  6. Haven't been in a whole lot of weddings but the few I have all cost around a thousand plus in expenses, not including the cash gift. The most expensive dress was $250 (floor length, ugly color, and unflattering even on the skinny girls which I definitely wasn't at the time) before $50 for alternations and the ugly and extremely uncomfortable gold shoes were another $30. The dress is now huge but I can't bear to throw the ugly thing out. The quality is excellent and maybe it would make a nice valance or something someday. The most recent wedding I was in (Saturday) the dress was only $130, the shower about $200 and I skipped the bachelorette because I was about 10 years older than the other girls and had only met them for the first time at the shower. With the gift I managed to stay under $700.

    We had a VERY small wedding and my two best girl friends had to travel so we decided that I would only have my sister-in-law as my maid of honor and no bridesmaids. It worked out better for Bernard also because he only has one brother so he didn't need to choose among friends. I have three brothers. It all would have been just too much, too many people. I told my sister-in-law I wanted her to wear a black dress and she could choose what she wanted so perhaps she could use it again. We went shopping, she found a great dress that cost $250 that she loved and would wear again. I was mortified at the cost (she was the bride who chose the ugly $250 dress above) and told her I was certain I could find it discounted online. but she insisted on buying it that day. I didn't want a bridal shower as I'm older and have lived on my own for years. Frankly, there is nothing I need and I would just be replacing/upgrading and there was no need for my family members/friends to do that for me. My twin brothers insisted on chauffering and paying for my bachelorette party, which I thought was just the sweetest thing ever.

    I would have to say the costs above, plus or minus a couple hundred for travel, really aren't that far off and I think it's really great of you to be thinking of your bridesmaids and their expenses. :)

  7. Had to chime in real quick. My BFF tried asking all us bridesmaids (7 of us) for ideas on dress style, color, etc. It was a disaster.  No one could agree on anything. 

  8. Today's bridesmaid dresses are so much better than those that I endured in the 70's. Needless to say, I never wore a single one of them again. They were also more expensive than those today. Kudos to you for being considerate of your friends budgets. I found it very hard to come up with the money to be a bridesmaid on my small salary at the time.

    Funny, I thought the projected cost was too low, especially the travel part. It doesn't include transportation to/from airports on both ends, hotel and meals. Years ago we had neighbors who housed some guests for your Mom's wedding (local motels were almost non-existent back then) which was very nice if them, and a serious cost saver.

    I think the cost factor lessens in importance when it is a close friend. That the bride is doing her part to be respectful of her friends budget is always appreciated.

  9. What do you think is an acceptable cost for being a bridesmaid?-It really does depend on the wedding and people involved.  Personally, I wouldn't want to spend much more than $500 for everything.  What's the most expensive bridesmaid dress you've worn?-It was so long ago, I can't exactly recall, but I think it was around $150 for dress, $50 for shoes, $30 for alterations/steaming.  $230 total.Did you wear it again (that might be a silly question)?  -Absolutely not.  I've had two.  One was when I was 15 and then the one mentioned above.  Both long, both in colors not very flattering on me, and not really my style either.  Besides those last two factors, I really don't have any place to wear a long, formal dress.  A shorter dress might've been better to have for cocktail parties and fancy dates.Would you rather get an inexpensive
    bridesmaid dress that you would never wear again or a more expensive
    dress that you really would wear again?-Guess it depends on the financial situation.  If I was in a good financial situation and loved the dress, I might not mind if it's more expensive.

    I never had a bride pick a shoe for her that common these days? 

    -That's actually all I've ever known!  Dyeables were required each time.  Personally I wouldn't make the maids all wear the same shoe style, and probably not even the same dress. 

  10. $450.  Yep, that is right, I once had to spend $450 on a floor length, red satin bridesmaid gown. Don't get me wrong, its BEAUTIFUL. But the wedding was 8 years ago and I have never wore it again. I've been a bridemaid 7 times and have probably spent 10K all in.  I ALWAYS had to have matching shoes.  If you sense my annoyance maybe it will explain why when I got married two years ago I didn't have bridesmaids.  My sister stood for me, she picked her own dress, and my best friends came to help me get dressed, but wore whatever their hearts desired to my wedding.  To me, this whole thing where you have 10 people up there is just crazy.  The day is about you and your husband, and the life you are starting that day. All those matching dresses are a distraction.  YOU are the main event!  enjoy it!

  11. Egads -- there's no way I'd spend that much to be a bridesmaid.  Thank goodness I've had frugal friends with realistic expectations.

    There's a JCrew store at the Asheville distribution center that has lots of special occasion dresses if you are in that neck of the woods and are brave enough to buy w/o your maids there.

  12. Transportation...I was fortunate enough to not have to travel (other than drive my car a couple hours) to said wedding.  So with gifts, I still spent less than $500, but I would definitely put wiggle room in that $500 if I had to travel on a plane/train.  I was lucky enough to be maid for a bride that was VERY (almost insanely) thrifty.

    Same thing you said about shoes goes for dresses, I think.  The dress I had to buy was a halter style, and at the time, I'd put on some weight - and all my weight goes to my hips.  I'm almost flat up top.  The dress made me look HUGE.  And it was seafoam green - not a good color on me!  I think it would have looked fine though if I could have picked something different, like an A-line with little cap sleeves or even sleeveless would have looked better.  For this reason, I think the maids should get to pick the style of their dress too.

  13. My gaggle of girlfriends were really more bridesmaid-ish than my sisters (who were the "official" ones in church-ish outfits that I knew they'd wear again). They planned my Vegas bachelorette party (although I picked up my share of the tab), they were there when I got ready, etc... but they wore whatever they wanted to my wedding. I loved it and I think they loved not having matching dresses. But our wedding was super casual.

    I've only really been a bridesmaid once. The dresses were handmade and cost around $80 + $40 matching shoes, but the bride paid for them (we were all 20 years old with hardly any money). I did wear it a few times afterward and only recently donated it after six years.

    Acceptable cost... to be honest, I'm totally out of the loop here. Maybe a couple hundred dollars? Probably under $400, at least in my group of friends. It's just hard for me to gauge, because my out-of-town friends' financial situations are such that even just airfare was a stretch for them. And our Vegas trip (just my in-town friends) involved squeezing all of us into one hotel room and driving a minivan 6 hours instead of flying, so it was pretty cheap. Eek, I'm no help because we're just not really "wedding" people.By that I mean that we didn't get that into all the parties, showers, etc that come with weddings, like you.

    This is interesting, because I just wrote a post today about how much stuff costs and how everything is relative. I think every bride has a feel for what her bridesmaids can afford, and that's probably the most important thing.

  14. Jeannine,
    You are being such a thoughtful friend/bride! I think oftentimes that brides are more concerned with the overall "style" and "look" of their weddings than they are with the financial burdens they are incurring. The most expensive total bridesmaid experience for me totalled over $2300! That includes dress, shoes, travel and bridal shower expenses, but sheesh. It would have paid for a great vacation.
    My favorite experience so far was when all of the maids/matrons in the wedding were sent fabric swatchs in a particular color and were requested to match a dress of their choice to that fabric. The only real requirement was that the dress be cocktail length and not be strapless because the bride wanted to be the only one wearing a strapless dress in the party. Their were 5 of us in her party of varying body styles, financial means, and ages, but everyone agreed that they would all wear their dresses again, and the pictures still looked great. Good luck!!

  15. Oh gosh. I was just in a wedding for a very dear friend from college and I spent almost $2k. And I didn't fly anywhere. (Although one MOH had to - THREE times!) I think that is way way way way way too much to expect a bridesmaid to spend on your wedding.

    That breakdown from mint is kind of in the ballpark. Kind of. According to that I gave way too much for my cash wedding gift,

    The bridal party did a lot of things to cut costs for the wedding shower and bachelorette party - without skimping on quality or style - and the bride's mom picked up the tab for catering for the shower. But overall I feel like I spent way too much, even with the budgeting and cutting back I did.

    Our dresses were only $150 and I did my own alterations. Sweet. They were really pretty, but I probably won't ever wear it again.

    Our shoes were only $45 but we were all required to buy and wear the same exact gaudy tacky ones. They were hands down the most wretchedly uncomfortable shoes ever. They were 4.5" skinny heals and we were walking on soft grass. Just standing there for the ceremony, our heels sunk into the ground about 2" and each of us had immediate dirt/grass stains on them. Great. (The next week I actually rinsed them off and got out the dirt with a soft tooth brush, then returned them to DSW no questions asked, even though they had been worn. Yay.)

    So those two things weren't that bad and the bride gave us earrings & bracelets to wear for the wedding.

    But then we were required to get manicures done the day before the wedding, and were required to get a very specific hair style done the day of. IMO, if you are *requiring* that your bridesmaids get a very specific thing done (that perhaps they are able to do on their own), you should be willing to gift it to them. I mean, if she had said "hey I'm having stylists come to the bridal suite for hair and make-up, if you want..." that would have been fine. But she actually dictated our uniform hair style and dictated the color of our nails. :/ So nails, hair & make-up set me back $195. I kid you not. Although in hindsight, I could've done my make-up myself since two other girls did.

    Anyway, add that stuff to an engagement gift, a shower gift, a cash gift for the wedding, shower decorating & invites, travel/dining out-of-state for the shower, out-of-state bachellorette party travel/hotel/food/drinks/gift, travel/dining/hotel for the out-of-state wedding...that $2k could've went toward a nice Nikon that I've been lusting after for months! ;)

  16. Exactly...what if someone HATE 4.5" skinny heals?!

  17. I love the idea of the bride selecting a material, color and a general style, then letting her maids select their own dresses. :)

  18. I would totally be willing to buy an $80 bridesmaid dress, especially from J. Crew and especially now that I'm not 20!

  19. This is exactly why I chose not to have bridesmaids.  I'm in my thirties, most of my friends have young children, and the cost is ridiculous.  I felt it was much more intimate to have just my sister as a maid of honor and my husband at the altar.  But I did have my close friends come to have professional photos taken with me before I walked down the aisle.  I included them, saved them the expense and they got choose their own outfit.  Every last one of them thanked me for NOT asking them to be a bridesmaid (after being one of theirs) but still having them included in the festivities.  And I noticed several brides are doing this as well- have seen many blog postings about this trend.  Going to weddings are expensive enough, after all.    

  20. This is a tough subject. Having been a bridesmaid before I tried to be very conscientious of my bridal parties budget when I got married last Fall. As a bridesmaid I remember shelling out money for dresses, shoes, travel, expenses, gifts, that I truly didn't have, but was somewhere along the lines of $1,000 (which I think is RIDICULOUS). To alleviate cost for my own wedding, I let the girls narrow down the dress line and said I don't care what you buy as long as its floor length and in this color. When I heard the prices of their dresses $250 and $325, I kicked in $75 for costs for each. I didn't care what shoe they wore, nor about accessories. Because both girls had to travel extensively for the wedding, I didn't have showers or any type of parties. I put them up at my house, saving them $$ on a hotel. I also picked up the tab for hair and makeup the day of. I think one girl spent less than $500 to be a part of the wedding and the other one $800 (but that's only because of flight and car rental). I still cringe at the thought, but it's a lot cheaper than most.

    To answer your questions:

    What do you think is an acceptable cost for being a bridesmaid?  - Whatever the bridesmaid can afford and is willing to spend. I'm not a big fan of brides who demand that this shoe be worn, this earring, this hair style, and you will throw me three parties. Not my style. Personally, at this point in my life I couldn't afford more than $500 and that $500 would really cramp our budget. What's the most expensive bridesmaid dress you've worn?  $125. I got lucky. Did you wear it again (that might be a silly question)?  Nope. But I did donate it to charity so I am hopeful that someone out there got to wear it and feel fabulous in it. Would you rather get an
    inexpensive bridesmaid dress that you would never wear again or a more
    expensive dress that you really would wear again? ....I'd say expensive dress that I really would wear again, providing that I REALLY COULD wear it. Every girl needs a fabulous dress.

  21. Wha? thats crazy. My maid of honor cost $30 which I paid for. A pretty not fug dress on sale at Macy's . For her wedding I spent $120. Plus their gift less than 100. Thank God we both lived in the same town at the time. We did our own hair and make-up and used shoes we already had. She did however give all her bridesmaids a gift, necklace and bracelet to wear for the wedding. Have no clue how much she spent there. I'm glad most of my friends are dudes, I couldn't handle buying another ugly bridesmaid dress. Wish the dress I bought was wearable again but it was fug.

  22. Spark! (Ada-Marie)August 5, 2013 at 6:23 PM

    You are a thoughtful bride! I think my 3 'maids spent about $300. We bought their dresses off the rack from Ann Taylor, paid for their hotel rooms, and hair and make up as part of the wedding budget. No one had to travel, so the only expenses were bridesmaid luncheon and gift and maybe shoes (just black heels). Good luck Jeannine!

  23. I've totally worn bridesmaids dresses again.  Many don't lend themselves to multiple wearings, but sometimes all it takes is a simple alteration.  The main one I've reworn is a strapless dark navy number with drop waist--from Amsale, I believe.  It was a floor length gown, so I had it shortened and have worn it to too other weddings.  Score!  It was an expensive dress to begin with and I lucked out and didn't need any alterations beyond the hem.  That was only because after sending them my measurements from my own wedding dress, they said I would need a size 14.  Totally ridiculous even though I know they don't vanity size wedding/maids dresses.  I ended up going to the shop to try on their sample size 10 and ended up ordering a 6--perfect fit!  I know I'm hippy, but not THAT hippy.  Shesh!  I did the same thing with a Ralph Lauren strapless gown that I found at Marshalls.  Had it shortened and wore it to one of my wedding showers.  My sister-in-law was getting rid of the bridesmaid dress she wore for my wedding.  She never wore it again, but I got it taken in and wore it to a few cocktail functions.  Many dresses can't be worn again, but sometimes a few changes make all the difference and seriously lesson the pain of a $300 dress.

  24. We aren't really having a budget wedding (though I'd love it if someone had donated a vineyard instead of us having to pay for one!), but I just want to be respectful of my bridesmaids and not assume they can spend many hundreds of dollars. 

  25. Your Amsale sounds beautiful!  

    I'm jealous that you were able to wear some of your dresses again!  The dresses that my sister-in-law picked were pretty, but one had too much bling for my taste and the other was backless and made out of some sort of crepe material.  It was a pretty dress, but I can't imagine wearing a backless dress again.  I'm not sure Charlottesville would be ready for that.

  26. I think the most expensive bridesmaid dress I wore was about $420 (I can't remember if that was with the alterations or now).  It was the first wedding I was in...I was so excited and I didn't know what people spent, so it was fine with me.

    I never wore that again.  I did try it on before I donated it and it still fit.  :)

  27. Inexpensive dress that I'd never wear again.  Hands down. Because even if the fancy dress is something I'd say I'd wear again, that doesn't mean I necessarily WILL end up wearing again.  If I'm spending a ton of money on a dress, I'd rather it be because I just love the dress.  Not becuase it's a bridesmaid dress.

    My best friend got married last summer.  I track my espenses in mint, so was able to see what it cost me. . . the total was over $1,200.  What amazed me was that she tried to keep costs down for us, too.  Part of it was several hundred dollars I spent the day of, when my friends and I had to run out and buy for things the bride forgot, like her veil and 100+ votive candles for the tables.

    It's just come to my attention that being a bridesmaid always costs a ton of money.  I'm considering not having bridesmaids when I get married, becuase I don't want my friends to have to spend anything more than a regular wedding guest would. But if I do have bridesmaids, I'm buying their dresses - I have decided that.

    PS: I think the Mint graphic is somewhat right, but I think they underestimated the cost spent on bachelorette parties.  These days it seems everyone does more than just hit up a bar, there's usually dinner, hotels, etc involved.

  28. I think that number is MUCH too high but unfortunately, less than some people are "required" to spend by the bride.

    What do you think is an acceptable cost for being a bridesmaid? I don't think there's a "right" number. Depends on so many factors! It could be as small as $100-200 - a bridal shower at someone's house with homecooked foods, a DIY or department store dress, etc. or as large as a few thousand or more. I think it's really important for the bride to be in tune with what the bridesmaid can afford. I did a destination wedding and my maid of honor (i didn't have bridesmaids) was paying $1500 for the trip plus she was moving into her first house a month later. Needless to say, I was not expecting her to spend much more beyond her flight there (I paid for her dress) but she surprised me with a bridal shower at a restaurant anyway.What's the most expensive bridesmaid dress you've worn?  I've never been a bridesmaid but my friends have spent $400-500 which IMO is way too much for the average person.
    Would you rather get an
    inexpensive bridesmaid dress that you would never wear again or a more
    expensive dress that you really would wear again? I would rather not have to choose between the two. There are many dresses out there that are a balance of both. I bought a jersey convertible dress for my maid of honor. It cost me about $130 but you can find it for about $80-300. Not only was she able to wear it two different ways during the wedding (ceremony and reception) she can wear it many times again.

  29. Hi Jeanine..
    the most recent wedding I've attended was that of my stepson and his bride,
    she was extremely cost conscious..
    the attendants dresses were indeed from Old Navy..$20 each and looked like a million bucks on each.
    the men wore casual linen shirts with Khaki trousers..  from Men's Warehouse on sale!
    the flower girls were in simple leotards with net Tutu's made by the bride and bridesmaids..
    the venue was DONATED by a friend of the couple (FREE)
    the reception menu,simple, again picked up by friends as their gifts to the couple!!
    what a non stressful enjoyable event!!
    the entire wedding was beautiful..
    coordinated  delightfully for mere "good cents"
    *yes.. I have worn several Bridesmaids/maid of honor dresses afterward..
    these were such inexpensive  yet tasteful choices..
    * I think today's brides friends are more astute/aware of the costs involved and would be open and honest with the bride.I personally think friends could talk about their dresses easily with the bride to come to an agreement on a color, style which would enhance the bride..


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