Why I’m Done Being A Bridesmaid

This originally appeared on Alternet. Republished here with permission.

At $1,700 a pop, being a bridesmaid is a pricey commitment. So why do groomsmen get away with spending so little?

My phone rings at 8am on a Saturday morning. I groggily look at the caller ID and see that it’s one of my good friends from high school. Still half asleep, I answer. I can tell just by the way she says my name how excited she is as she tells me the big news: She got engaged last night.

“Here we go again,” has crossed my mind more than once when learning that another friend has gotten engaged. Because I know that after my friend is asked an important question and happily says yes, I will be asked another question—one that I will most likely want to respond to with, “Thank you for asking, but no.”

I am 30 years old and have been asked to be a bridesmaid numerous times in my life. Every time I have said yes. My experiences being a part of bridal parties have been largely positive. The brides have been considerate and respectful and usually selected dresses that actually can be worn again. Other brides have invited the bridal party to select their own dresses, saving us a few hundred dollars if we already own something the color and style she had in mind. I have never experienced anything even remotely resembling the stereotype of a narcissistic and hysterical “bridezilla” that unfortunately permeates our culture.

My reluctance to commit to being a bridesmaid stems from one simple reason: I can’t afford it anymore.

I consider the financial expectations that are placed on women in bridal parties to be excessive, unreasonable, and sexist—and all too ingrained as a part of our culture as being “the way it is.” These expectations and commitments bear serious examination and consideration if they are going to change. And I think they need to change.

A 2012 study by TheKnot.com and WeddingChannel.com reported that the average wedding budget was $28,427—the highest number it had reached since 2008. And Mint.com estimated in 2011 that the average cost of being a bridesmaid totaled $1,695. Because about one year typically passes between being asked to be a member of the bridal party and the actual wedding, the bridesmaid might not be aware of this total as it adds up, unless she keeps an ongoing tally of the expenses. And they do add up. The Today Show reported that approximately 10% of people said they went into debt simply to attend or be in a wedding.

How does this enormous number come to be? There are the obvious factors: the dress, which can cost anywhere from $100 to more than $400; and then the alterations, which can add another $100 or more; and the shoes which can ring up as anything from $30 to $150. Then there are all of the events related to the wedding: the showers, of which there are usually more than one (along with the customary bridal shower, recipe and lingerie showers are now the norm). Then there’s the bachelorette party, which, for many, has evolved from a night of bar hopping to a destination event that involves airfare or gas, a hotel, and several expensive days and nights at spas, restaurants, and bars. Factor in manicures, pedicures, hair, and makeup for the wedding itself and the total cost could easily exceed that $1,695 average.

Along with the credit card charges, the time that being a bridesmaid requires of people can also be a burden, especially if members of the bridal party are not full-time salaried employees and are paid per hour, or they normally work on the weekends, which is when showers, parties, and weddings are usually held.

“I’ve been in a number of weddings, and each time it has always cost more than I anticipated,” one bridesmaid said. “I’ve considered saying ‘no’ at times when I was unemployed or not making much money, but have never declined because I didn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings.” The emotional weight of being a bridesmaid resulted in everyone who was interviewed for this story asking to remain anonymous out of fear that the brides whose weddings they were in would read it.

“I’ve delayed bills, I’ve skipped going out with friends, not bought a plane ticket home to visit my family because I couldn’t afford to go to the wedding and visit family out of state,” another woman said of her numerous experiences as a bridesmaid. “At a time when I was unemployed, it was so difficult to pay for things I had to negotiate with my credit card company for a higher limit and to delay a payment so that I could fulfill my bridesmaid obligations.”

Everyone who was interviewed for this story expressed appreciation and honor at having been asked to be a bridesmaid. It’s a sign of friendship and love to be a part of someone’s bridal party. But the commitment and expectations are not only stressful, they are sexist. When compared to that of being a groomsman, the practical aspects of making the commitment of being a bridesmaid are completely impractical and unfair.

Men still earn more money than women. That’s a fact, and it isn’t going to change any time soon, given that in April, Senate Republicans blocked legislation meant to close the pay gap between men and women. The New York Times reports that female doctors and surgeons earn 71 percent of men’s wages; women who are financial specialists make 66 percent of what men in the same occupation earn; and women who are lawyers and judges make 82 percent.

So men still make more money than women, and yet, they pay less than women with regard to many aspects of life—especially when it comes to weddings.

A groomsman isn’t expected to have a manicure or pedicure. A groomsman doesn’t have to pay for hair and makeup artists. A groomsman doesn’t have to purchase gifts for numerous showers—which are often held at restaurants, resulting in even more charges.

“If you’re in the wedding party, it’ll be around $400-$750 depending on how involved you get,” one groomsman commented, when tallying up suit or tuxedo rentals; while a bridesmaid said of her husband’s commitments for being a groomsman, “It is always significantly cheaper—$100 for the tux, sometimes a bachelor party, sometimes not, and he never feels obligated to go to or throw a shower.”

While every wedding is different, and many bachelor parties can be equally or more lavish, the fact remains that there is a disparity. This disparity has become the accepted norm, and it causes financial distress—even debt— for many.

Explained by one married man—a self-described feminist—as “consumer feminism,” the belief that women must come together for an organized event that requires spending money on food, drink, and appearance modification, is accepted by many as part of the deal.

One bridesmaid summed it up perfectly: “I think the greatest challenge with a wedding is the collision of etiquette from the generations of family and friends…There is tremendous pressure to get the event to conform to widely differing standards, which results in a lot of tension and awards an unreasonable amount of authority to the corporations selling things.”