I, for one, would be relieved if from now on, brides included only family in their wedding parties.
Don’t get me wrong: I love my friends and enjoy celebrating them. In fact, when assigned a bridesmaid task, I’ve often spent time and money beyond what was expected.
Yet how does honoring a couple’s decision to wed translate into responsibility for organizing, patronizing, attending several parties, buying multiple gifts, and purchasing expensive dresses worn only once?
In fact, bridesmaid101.com lists no fewer than 21 responsibilities to be shouldered by a bridesmaid. The daunting workload includes such activities as scouting locations, addressing invitations, and registering for gifts because “many times the groom does not want to go register with his bride-to-be.” (Suck it up, groom!)
The dreaded dress
Of course, bridesmaid dresses are notorious, and griping about them is par for the course. And why shouldn’t it be? After all, they’re compelled clothing, suited to someone else’s taste, not your own. Besides, the dress may be extremely pricey, and rarely will it see repeat wear.
It might even be hysterically hideous, like the corseted, lace-up-sided purple gown that Rochelle Thomas, a 33-year-old New York City real estate manager, wore for a childhood friend. “I felt like a vampire Barney,” Thomas said.
Not to mention that pleasing the bride is often no easy task. Rachel Sklar, 39, founder of Change The Ratio and TheLi.st, recalls a friend asking her wedding party to choose any dress in wine color. Although Sklar sent a sample via e-mail prior to making her purchase, the bride took to her choice poorly when Sklar presented the fabric in person.
“It was not wine enough,” explains Sklar, who was compelled to go back for “a darker red.” It turned out the remaining members of the wedding party had independently gotten the exact same shade of burgundy. “The bride was not pleased,” said Sklar. “It is still touchy.”
All those expenses
Beyond the dreaded dress, there are many additional costs and burdens. WeddingChannel.com estimates that being a bridesmaid can cost upwards of $1,000, much of which isn’t even for the main event — $700 goes toward a bachelorette party and shower expenses alone.
An American Express survey reveals that in 2012, the average cost for being in a wedding party was $377 dollars. And if you were in the wedding party of an affluent couple, defined as those with a minimum of $100,000 in household income, the price rose to $583. Either is a hefty sum, and let’s not forget that the “affluent” category applies to the newlyweds, not to the wedding party.
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And don’t underestimate just how important these parties can be to the bride. Ester Brooke Friedman, a 30-year-old copy editor in Manhattan, had an aunt who passed away two weeks before her friend’s bachelorette party in Las Vegas. She made the trip, but was understandably not in the best frame of mind for Sin City revelry.
“This did not please the bride,” Friedman recalled. “Our friendship ended when she said, ‘I know your aunt just died, but this is a happy time for me.’”
Even wedding strategy is considered a bridesmaid duty. It sounds rough, but a bride’s trusted friends have always had a lot on their plate: In early Roman history, bridesmaids formed a human shield around the bride to protect her from potential kidnappers while proceeding to the groom’s town. So perhaps you shouldn’t be surprised if you’re similarly called upon to jump through a few hoops.
The frustrated blogger behind Full Credit For Being Alive says she and her fellow bridesmaids were subjected to numerous, arduous rehearsals to choreograph a dance in unison. “[The bride] wanted to be entertained at her reception,” she explained. “The dance was to ['I Say a Little Prayer (For You)'], that song at the beginning of ‘My Best Friend’s Wedding.’ To this day, I feel queasy whenever I hear it.”
And yes, participation is key, or you you might just lose your precious position. “I was demoted from maid of honor to bridesmaid without my knowledge,” said Shuni Zerykier, 30, from Teaneck, N.J. “I found out when I saw the wedding program and read a different name under ‘maid of honor.’”
More than any individual, I blame the system: Brides are simply conforming to normative wedding behavior. Or perhaps they were bridesmaids once, and are just getting payback?
So what to do if you can’t manage either the time or money involved? Harriette Cole, a wedding expert and author of the book “Jumping the Broom,” advocates the “honest and early” approach. Cole says to make it clear to the bride that even though you want to support her, you just can’t “afford to do all this.”
Kristin Koch, senior editor at WeddingChannel.com, agrees with the tactic. “Where you get into trouble,” Koch says, is when “you wait too long to say anything.”
Both Cole and Koch described the bridesmaids’ role as a support system, available for anything from calming the bride down to stuffing envelopes — whatever might arise.
Thomas, who gamely wore the “vampire Barney” gown to her friend’s wedding, chose not to have bridesmaids when her own time came. She explained: “I think that even asking people to take time out of their very busy lives to come to your wedding is a big deal.” She felt it was important to end the trend described by Cole of brides being “so consumed by what they are about to do … that they are oblivious to the strain” that their demands may have on others.
As it turns out, however, selfish brides, burdensome expenses and hideous dresses may be the least of a bridesmaid’s worries. The phrase “thrice a bridesmaid, never a bride” was coined because bridesmaids were thought to help protect the bride from evil spirits by absorbing said spirits themselves.
I’ve been a bridesmaid six times. Maybe I could have gotten out of the last four by citing serious health risks.
© 2012 MSNBC Interactive.