Q: I have been asked to be a bridesmaid by a longtime (over fifteen years) and very dear friend. This woman is the sister I never had, and we’re closer to each other than we are to many of our own family members. I happily said yes without realizing that her tastes and budget far, far exceed mine.
She is marrying into a great deal of money, and she’s having a huge, expensive wedding. That’s fine. The problem is that the dresses she selected for her bridesmaids START at $7,000. That’s right—$7,000 is the price of the cheapest of her choices, and that does NOT include alterations, shoes, jewelry, hair, makeup, etc. The dress that she favors comes in at $15,000 before alterations.
She did not give us any kind of warning that the dresses she is considering are so expensive. I’m working, but spending $7,000 plus on a dress that I will wear for less than one day (not even) and then never wear it again (it is beautiful, but it is bridal) is an expense I cannot justify. And if she opts for her favorite, at $15,000 before alterations…
I know that being a member of the wedding party is expensive. When she announced her engagement and when she asked me to be a bridesmaid, I immediately started trying to save, but I didn’t think that being part of her wedding would be this expensive. I am also hurt that she didn’t give me a heads-up but waited until we were at the salon and looking at her choices. I pulled her aside and told her that I would have to back out of being a bridesmaid, and I told her WHY (that I cannot afford the dress she chose, nor the shoes, the accessories, alterations, and more). I told her that I would be happy to participate in another way (perhaps do a reading), and if that wasn’t possible, then I would be content to be a guest. She was very, very upset with me, told me that I couldn’t back out, etc. The wedding is still a year from now, so I would think there is time for her to ask someone else to be a bridesmaid.
Since then, I’ve called her and emailed her and she hasn’t responded. I finally wrote her a long letter, explaining that I valued her as a person and our friendship, and that I very much wanted to be a part of her wedding, but that unfortunately a $15,000 dress and even a $7,000 dress is completely out of my budget. I have a job but after rent, insurance, loans, and other expenses, I sometimes have to skip meals in order to save even a little for emergencies.
The thing is, she grew up like me—working class poor and didn’t have much. Her fiancé is a great guy and I’m truly happy for her, but I’m hurt that she did not ask me what I could afford to spend on a bridesmaid dress, shoes, and accessories. I have enough debt as it is, and I can’t and won’t spend $20,000 just on the bridesmaid accoutrements. I’d have to borrow to do it.
But now she’s mad at me and sent me a letter in return telling me how hurt she was that I backed out, that obviously I don’t value her or our long friendship because if I did, I would be there for her wedding. She said that none of the other bridesmaids nor the maid of honor backed out (maid of honor is her sister; other bridesmaids are her fiancé’s sisters, and her fiancé’s family is paying for their dresses, etc.) so that tells her that I don’t care about her. She said that I don’t deserve her and she is never talking to me again.
Have you ever heard of anything like this? Are brides now so unreasonable that they don’t take their bridesmaid’s budgets into account when selecting dresses? Should I have told her my limits re: the cost of the dress? She also told me that I was not welcome at her wedding. I am mourning the end of a fifteen-plus-year friendship, and am hurt and bewildered.
—Unhappy ex-bridesmaid and blacklisted ex-friend
A: Dear UEABE,
Most couples honestly don’t ask their bridal party about their budget before picking out dresses or tuxes or whatever else. But most couples don’t pick a $15,000 dress, holy crap.
It’d be awfully nice for her to consider her bridal party’s financial situation (I imagine most of the readers here tried to), but at the end of the day, your budget is your own personal responsibility, not hers. It’s your obligation to keep your finances in check and be vocal if some obligation is stretching you too thin. Which is exactly what you did! You were right, is what I’m saying here. Telling her you couldn’t afford it and stepping down were the entirely right decisions.
Everyone is in a different financial situation. But fifteen grand is… a lot. Even considering the fact that we’re not all coming from the same place financially, that’s a lot of money.
It was your choice to spend that lump of cash or opt out, and she had a choice in how she responded to the news. She decided to take it personally, and frankly, I don’t know what you could’ve done to avoid that. It sucks. It’s just not your fault. You couldn’t have foreseen a $15,000 dress, and you couldn’t just dig in the couch to find that money once it was proposed. Her hurt feelings suck, but they’re unfounded and not your responsibility.
You say your friend had the same financial background as you before meeting this guy, but I’m wondering if she just cannot relate to “not being able to afford it.” Even folks who consider themselves on the same financial page are usually in very different places. In trying very hard (so very hard) to give the benefit of the doubt here, I’m thinking maybe she just cannot fathom how you can’t afford this dress, and assumes that means you’re prioritizing other things above her wedding (which you are—rent and food and electricity). But on the other, wide-eyed judgey hand—this girl has lost her mind. Fifteen thousand dollars for a dress? That’s crazy talk, and her accusatory response was out of line. Maybe after the wedding is over, she’ll find her common sense again. But till then, you’ve done what you can, and I would try not to give it another blessed thought.
THE TWO YEARS LATER UPDATE:
Nice to hear from you. Your advice, and those of the readers, helped confirm my decision, so I thank you for publishing my letter and for answering my question.
I did not buy the dress; she ultimately decided on the $15,000 dress (with considerable pressure/arm-twisting from her MIL-to-be), which was waaaay out of my budget for a bridesmaid dress. I’m told the costs were closer to $20,000 for the bridesmaid dresses when alterations, accessories, and shoes were included.
As the only non-family member of the original wedding party, her in-laws did not offer to pay for my dress, so I bowed out. The bride pitched a fit, told me that I was “uninvited” to her wedding since I obviously didn’t love her, and that was that. She had her big, bashy royal wedding, and I stayed home.
She has not called me, messaged me, or written to me. I gave her time, thinking that after the wedding insanity and hoopla died down she would come to her senses. I sent her a card several months after her wedding, telling her that I was sorry that I could not afford to be part of her, that we were friends for a long time, and that I wished her well. The card was returned to me with her handwriting on it, telling me that she could never forgive me and to stay out of her life, so that’s what I’ve done.
I do miss her and her friendship, but I miss the old her, the person I grew up with and who was kind, funny, caring. I don’t miss the Bride she turned into, and have decided that if she has come so far that she forgot her old life and what it was like to grow up working class poor and to have work for a living and holds it against me, then she’s not the person I thought she was. I suppose that marrying into that kind and amount of money and wealth (her husband’s family own too many McMansions to count, racehorses, businesses, and more, so it isn’t just a matter of someone having a great job and earning lots of money–there’s a great deal of inherited wealth, the kind that isn’t taxed and/or qualifies for all kinds of tax shelters and loopholes). It is a completely different lifestyle and worldview. And that’s fine, but I have no place in it because I don’t come from inherited wealth and could never work enough to even earn what they spend on trifles. It is a difference of the .0001% vs. everyone else.
Weddings have become expensive enough as it is, even for ordinary couples. I guess I’m more pragmatic—even if I had had the $15K, I couldn’t justify spending it on a dress that I would wear for not even one day. That kind of money could pay down some debt (hello student loans), set aside some for emergencies (hello expensive car repairs and medical expenses that aren’t covered by insurance), or just trying to put some aside for future retirement (I’ll be working until they plant me).
Keep up the good work, and help keep the bridal insanity down!
This post originally ran (Sans Update) on APW in November 2015.