How Being in a Sorority Prepared Me to Be a Bridesmaid

Last weekend, Jaya and I were bridesmaids in a college friend’s wedding. It was the first time I have been a bridesmaid, and it occurred to me that being a bridesmaid is a lot like being in a sorority (the bride happened to have been one of my sorority sisters). So these are the ways that being in a sorority prepares you to be a bridesmaid:

  • You are accustomed to wearing matching outfits (including teeshirts for the bachelorette).
  • You are used to walking and standing in heels for many hours.
  • You don’t blink at the suggestion to wear Spanx and/or pantyhose.
  • You are comfortable with all women events (for the shower, bachelorette, and getting ready the day of)
  • You know the value of a kit full of emergency supplies such as bandaids, medicine, Tide pens, sewing kits etc from long days of recruitment parties.
  • You know how to express extreme enthusiasm for EVERYTHING.
  • You are used to posing for group pictures.
  • You know how to deal with drama.
  • You can make conversation with people you have never met (people really like to talk to bridesmaids for some reason.)
  • You can (hopefully) hold your liquor and not embarrass yourself.
  • You know all the words to Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing”
  • You can stay out on the dance floor for hours.
  • You are good at crafts (if necessary to help the bride DIY).
  • Theme parties make you happy.

Not all of these are unique to sorority women, of course, but there is an alarming amount of overlap, don’t you think?

Don’t Send Your Bridal Party to the Poor House

I feel like this will be my most used image.

I feel like this will be my most used image.

I read this recent post over at A Practical Wedding with my jaw dropped and my pearls clutched. Basically, a reader wrote in that she had agreed to be a bridesmaid in her friends wedding and when she found out that the dresses the bride had her eye on for the bridesmaids were $7,000-15,000 she told the bride she couldn’t afford that and would bow out of being a bridesmaid, the bride flipped out and disinvited her from the wedding altogether and ended their 15 year friendship.

Regardless of whether this rings true or not, this is appallingly bad behavior on the brides part. The letter writer did the right thing 100%- she brought up her budget and said that the dress wouldn’t work for her and that if the bride was set on the dress, she was happy to bow out. She could have even suggested a cheaper option and still been fine.

It is absolutely not okay for a) a bride to pick out a dress without taking her bridesmaids budgets into account, especially given that one option could easily account for 1/2 of someone’s take home pay and b) berate that bridesmaid c) end a friendship over someone having to drop out of being a bridesmaid for financial reasons.

Honestly, if a $15,000 dress seems like a reasonable expense to you, you should pony up and pay for your bridesmaid’s dresses yourself!

Frankly, the bridesmaid has dodged a bullet. Can you imagine what the bride would have wanted for her bachelorette???

What’s the most unreasonable wedding expense that has ever been asked of you?

How Many Wedding Gifts is Enough?

BridesmaidsDear Uncommon Courtesy,

I know that the wedding gift question is always done to death but since it is such a quagmire I thought I would throw another one in the mix. I am a bridesmaid in my friend’s wedding for which I will have to travel a few hours. I have also traveled for her bridal shower and her bachelorette evening. For both events, I helped pay for the events themselves and bought small gifts (lingerie and coffee mugs). The wedding websites tell me that I am also expected to buy a wedding present and I feel like my friend is expecting one. I am not married and not expecting to get married which is making this whole experience feel very unbalanced. I have already spent a ton of money on my friend. How do I politely get out of purchasing yet another thing for this wedding?

Broke Bridesmaid

Victoria: Okay, so first let’s talk about how ridic this all is

Jaya: Hahahah

Victoria: Like, bridesmaids shouldn’t have to plan and pay for BOTH a bachelorette and a shower.

Jaya: Yeah, like here’s a rundown of the average bridesmaid expenses now: dress, shoes, travel/accommodations to wedding, possible travel/accommodations to bachelorette party, AND gift? I know this is the “norm” now but let’s go on the record saying it shouldn’t be.

Victoria: It should not be! And if we get any questions from any brides asking how can they kindly ask their bridesmaids why they didn’t send a gift after doing all this stuff, we will very politely discuss how they are incredibly wrong and selfish and then mock them (just a heads up).

Jaya: Hahaha, of course.

Victoria: So my advice to this bridesmaid is to not send a wedding gift. Write a very nice and heartfelt card instead.

Jaya: Yes, that sounds good. Okay, so the tricky thing is that no, you are never obligated to give a gift at any point, no matter what your relationship to the wedding, but people have weird expectations now.

Victoria: That’s true, but I mean, honestly, the only way we are going to get past this is by just not doing it.

Jaya: Yeah

Victoria: If bridesmaids would just put their stylishly-clad-in-matching-shoes feet down and say, “I’m sorry, but attending both your wedding and your bachelorette in Vegas and your hometown shower is too much for me”…then people wouldn’t start getting all these expectations.

Jaya: That’s a good point! And it’s hard! Weddings are an emotional time, and nobody wants to be the one to hurt the bride’s feelings. So I think a lot of times the wedding party just becomes total pushovers.

Victoria: Yeah (and trust us, this is hard for us too!!!). I’d love to see more brides sitting down with their maids and being like, look. “My wedding is out of town for all of you, so I don’t want you to plan any kind of out of town bachelorette or shower or anything.”

And grooms, too, I guess.

Jaya: Right. I think half of this is people not even knowing that their expectations are out of line, just because they see what everyone else has. Like, blogs show you fun bachelorette parties in Vegas, and you assume a bachelorette party in Vegas is the standard. When that might not work for your circumstances.

Victoria: Yesss, like, maybe I should create some kind of spreadsheet? Like with formulas of: your friends estimated incomes, the estimated expense of the dress/shoes, estimated expense of travel/lodging for the wedding, and the total shouldn’t be more than like .25% of the bridesmaids estimated income?

Jaya: Victoria, why are your solutions always spreadsheets?

Victoria: Lol, because I am a neeeeerd.

Jaya: I think just better communication can help, and more understanding if your bridesmaids just aren’t the type to be able to afford/want to pay for a big trip or a designer dress.

Victoria: And really listen to what they are saying! If they seem less than enthusiastic, back down, way way down!

Jaya: Yes! If you’re the one getting married, they probably want to make you happy, but you don’t want that to make them go into debt.

Victoria: Or from the beginning, ask them what they think a reasonable price for the BM dress is (and stick to it!!)

And like, everyone’s always saying “oh tradition…”

But TRADITIONALLY, the brides family was supposed to either let the bridal party stay in their home or pay

for their lodging. And no one does that anymore. And yet now brides get showers AND bachelorette parties.

Jaya: Right, and TRADITIONALLY the bridesmaids planned the bachelorette party without the bride saying “hey let’s all go to the Bahamas”

Victoria: Haha yeah. Or the one super rich bridesmaid suggesting that.

Jaya: I always think of the movie Bridesmaids with that, where everyone else can afford Vegas and first class and Kristen Wiig is stuck in the back.

Victoria: Yeaaaaah, that’s no bueno.

Jaya: And I liked a lot of that movie, but also I just wanted to be like MAYA RUDOLPH, YOU KNOW YOUR FRIEND IS GOING THROUGH HARD TIMES, GET EVERYONE TO TONE IT DOWN.

Victoria: Seriously!

I mean, things should be toned down anyway, probably.

Like do you really need to spend an entire weekend?

Like, how about a nice dinner and some drinks?

Especially the older you are…its just not as fun to go clubbing and wear penis hats as when you were 23.

Jaya: So, back to the issue at hand. Let’s say the LW takes our advice and sends a nice card and then, worst case scenario, the couple is like “where is our gift?”

What do you say?

Besides “fuck off”

Victoria: You could passive aggressively send them an uncommon courtesy link!

But also I would say “Sally, I went to considerable time and effort and spent a very large amount of money

being in your wedding, planning and attending your bachelorette and shower, and buying gifts for those parties. I would have hoped that you realized that that WAS my gift to you and frankly, I am a little hurt that you don’t consider it to be enough.”

Jaya: Just to wrap it up, you’re not obligated to get a gift, especially if you’ve spent your money/time on doing other wedding stuff, and anyone who tries to make you feel guilty for that can shove it.

Can I Turn Down The Job Of Being A Bridesmaid?

Dear Uncommon Courtesy,

Can you turn down being a bridesmaid and still be friends with the person? I still love her and want to go to the wedding but don’t know how to turn her down. It’s far away from my hometown so it’d be too expensive for me, plus I don’t know her fiance or anyone else in the wedding party that well, and I’m prone to social anxiety in these sorts of situations.


Not The Best Bridesmaid


Emily Post’s Wedding Etiquette suggests you take great care in choosing attendants. “Participating in someone else’s wedding is both a pleasure and a responsibility,” and you should consider if this person is reliable, considerate, courteous and fun. The book also brings up “the number of prewedding events requiring a financial contribution or gift seems to be on the rise,” and that “people in their twenties and thirties may find themselves invited to attend or participate in several weddings in the same year,” so to keep that in mind when asking people to participate in yours. However, there is no explicit advice on how to say no to that request.


Jaya: This is a great question, because as much as we’re like “turn down being a bridesmaid if you can’t do it!” we haven’t actually spoken about how to do that, or what the likely ramifications are.

Victoria: It’s a hard thing, and it definitely depends on the reason.

Jaya: To me there are two categories of reasons: circumstantial and, I guess, non-circumstantial. Some people would want to be a bridesmaid, but it’s too expensive, or they don’t have the time, or something like that. And some people, if they had all the money and time and freedom in the world, would just not want to be a bridesmaid. Here it seems like a little of both.

Victoria: If she does want to be a bridesmaid but there are these obstacles, sometimes they can be worked around. So let’s go on the assumption that in her gut she just doesn’t want to do it. I always assume that brides and grooms will be reasonable about this stuff, but that is not true.

Jaya: A lot of people see their wedding party as the ultimate expression of friendship, even though being a good friend and being a good bridesmaid are very different skill sets! And even within being a bridesmaid, there’s a difference between being good at helping plan a wedding and being able to afford to attend four different parties.

Victoria: I mean, I think you should stay away from making excuses like “it’s too far away” or “too expensive,” unless those are the only hurdles. Because you run the risk of the bride negotiating with you about that stuff.

Jaya: Right. I mean, if that’s your only hurdle, fine. But if you really don’t want to be a bridesmaid and you try to get out of it by saying “I can’t afford it” and the bride offers to pay for all your flights, then you’re stuck with having to say “well actually, it’s just that I don’t want to do it.” And that’s part of what you have to figure out yourself.

Victoria: I think you need to have a heart to heart with the bride, say you love her and want to support her, but being a bridesmaid is not something you think you can do, and that you’d better support her as a guest.

Jaya: Yes, and perhaps offering something in return, like helping to craft stuff. I think the best outcome is not you turning it down, but having a talk and you coming to a mutual agreement that this isn’t the best job for you. But again, easier said than done.

Victoria: If pressed maybe you can bring up the money and anxieties, but maybe just say something like “You know me so well, and we’re close enough that you’d ask me to be a bridesmaid, but since we’re so close you know that this kind of thing just isn’t my thing, and I don’t want to be the kind of bridesmaid that disappoints you.” And if they take it the wrong way and can’t understand that, maybe it’s not a great friendship.

Jaya: That’s great, though I imagine a lot of people would press for further details. Just like, “I don’t want to be a bridesmaid” quickly followed by “Why not?” A lot of people just won’t take “it’s not my thing” for an answer. Because the other side of this is thinking about the compromises you make for friendship. Given the choice, no, on most days I do not get up at 7am to get my makeup done and put on a dress I spent $200 on, even though when I’ve been a bridesmaid I had a blast most of the time. You do it because you want to support your friend. Like anything there are parts that are a hassle and parts that are fun, and it’s a balance of what you know you can do that’ll make them (and sometimes you) happy, and what’s too much.

Victoria: If people are just ambivalent about it, I’d encourage them to suck it up and do it. But if you’re dead set against it, you should bow out instead of participating and just being a downer the whole time. And you can even try to negotiate yourself. Maybe say, like, “I want to support you but in this time in my life, the only thing I can do is stand up with you on the day, and if that is fine with you, I’d be happy to accept.”

Jaya: I think there are three stages to this, possibly. The initial rejection, the minor explanation, and then the firm no. Like, “I’m sorry, I love you but I don’t think being a bridesmaid is the right job for me, but I’m so happy for you and can’t wait to celebrate with you on the day.” Which can possibly be followed by “why don’t you think you’d be good as a bridesmaid?” To which you’d have to explain…something. And this depends on whether you just flat out don’t want to be a bridesmaid, or if you would were it not for money/travel/time.

Victoria: Or if you admit that you have crippling social anxiety and this would just not be good for you.

Jaya: Yeah, and ideally that’ll end the conversation, but of course some people won’t take no for an answer, which is where we move into the firm no/possible friendship strain.

Victoria: At that point, you probably just keep repeating that it’s not possible for you to be a bridesmaid, and that’s your final answer.

Jaya: Yes, and realize that no matter how careful you are and how much you make it about your issues, not theirs, there are people who will see this as a major blow.

Victoria: Which is why you shouldn’t do it lightly.

Jaya: And you know your friends best, you know who would possibly take it well and who wouldn’t.

Victoria: And if they take it really badly, maybe they’re not a great friend. I mean, I would feel terrible if I put a friend through a huge financial and emotional burden just for the sake of them standing next to me on this day.

Jaya: I guess it just comes back to our standard advice that both sides should be reasonable. If you’re a bride, try to understanding and not ask too much, or understanding if what you consider normal is “too much” for someone else. And if you’re a potential bridesmaid, understand that you’re going to take on some extra stuff in your life for the sake of a good friend, and weigh what you can handle and what you can’t.

Would You Hire a Bridesmaid?

We recently read about this new service, Bridesmaid For Hire, who, as described, will fulfill many of the traditional duties of a bridesmaid: help with planning, keeping peace with your family and friends, and a shoulder to cry on. We thought this was an interesting concept, especially given the blowback brides have gotten from demanding too much from their real bridesmaids, and had a lot to say about it:

Jaya: So this is just a wedding coordinator? Can we talk about this? And also that a lot could be solved if you talked with your bridesmaids about expectations beforehand?

Victoria: Yeah, I mean I guess it is slightly different than a planner or coordinator, it’s almost more the old fashioned social secretary, except mixed with a therapist. I guess it’s a fine idea if people want to shell out for it. And super great if it means no one is expecting a bridesmaid to deal with every little issue.

Jaya: I’m weirded out that one of the packages involves her actually walking down the aisle as a bridesmaid.

Victoria: THAT is REALLY weird. Like you are showing your wedding pictures to your grandkids and “oh that lady is someone I hired to come.” You can definitely do all that stuff and not be IN the ceremony!!!

Jaya: And also I think it just frustrates me that we’ve gotten to the point where this is what’s expected as a bridesmaid.

Victoria: Yeah, omg the crazy expectations.

Jaya: It’s more the bigger picture that now you expect your best friend to be an expert party planner. So instead of lowering your expectations, you hire a better friend?

Victoria: Yeah, seriously. I mean the thing is, no one should be expecting their bridesmaids to do ANY of this. Bridesmaid expectations: show up, wear prescribed dress. Anything else is extra (not that there aren’t very heavy cultural expectations at play!)

Jaya: Yeah, and I mean, that’s why you talk about it! Don’t just throw all this stuff on somebody, because they might be busy with other things, or maybe they’re just not good at planning showers.

Victoria: The bachelorette party and stuff is generally expected, but honestly if your bridesmaids are too broke, spread out, or busy, then tough–you don’t get that. Or you take what they CAN give you.

Jaya: I just feel like most of it could be solved with like “this is what I’m hoping happens, is that something you think you could do?” and then everyone is just honest with each other.

Victoria: Yeah, for sure, and like also omg, it doesn’t HAVE to be the MOH who does it all. Like if MOH lives far away, and Bridesmaid A is interested and wants to plan, then duh she should. The whole thing is so bizarre.

Jaya: Yeah! When I was a bridesmaid, the maid of honor would start an email chain and then everyone figured it out together based on our budgets and schedules.

Victoria: I do like this Bridesmaid for Hire the more I think about it- if you need THAT level of service and hand holding, it’s definitely better to hire someone than force it on your friends. But don’t dress them up and march them down the aisle, that’s creepy and weird.

Jaya: I’m trying to figure out how I feel. To me, it’s more like, a wedding coordinator and a therapist would probably be more beneficial in the long run. You get the coordinator for planning, and you get your friends for emotional support. And with “forcing” it on your friends, obviously it depends by relationship, but I’d hope that my friends could take maybe a few late night freak out phone calls. I don’t wanna push the boundaries of what friends are for, but sometimes that’s what friends are for! OR YOUR SPOUSE MAYBE??? Like if you’re bonding yourself for the rest of your life to a person, maybe they can be an emotional/planning support??

Victoria: Yeah for sure, but if you need someone like…every day. I mean, I guess that maybe means you have bigger problems, lol.

Jaya: Anyway, yeah it does sound useful if your friends and spouse are gonna be no help and you’re prone to getting overwhelmed.

Victoria: Yeah, and if you were going to hire a wedding coordinator anyway, maybe you want that extra level of service.

Jaya: But if you take away the wedding coordinator duties, you’re sort of left with just needing the emotional support. and ideally you have friends that can provide that. I know bridesmaids are just supposed to show up in a dress, but I also think they’re supposed to be a bit happy for you and supportive when you need them, like friends are.

Victoria: Yeah, absolutely. But I guess looking at her packages she does do a lot of coordination type stuff, like between a full on wedding planner who deals with vendors and a “day of” coordinator who isn’t really there to help you make to-do lists and stuff.

Jaya: I feel like a lot of planners offer packages like that too. At least when I was researching there were lots of in between options.

Victoria: Do they? I have no idea.

Jaya: So I guess this girl is just good at branding/marketing. And sometimes wearing a dress and standing next to you.

Victoria: Not to mention the creepy thing of your MOH hiring this person secretly to plan your showers/bachelorettes.

Jaya: Yeah!!!!! That is weird. Like, if you’re a bridesmaid and you’re thinking of hiring help, please talk to the bride first.

Victoria: Seriously, omg that is so strange. Unless I guess you are super rich and would outsource all that kind of thing anyway.

Jaya: It’s just frustrating that it’s gone far enough to justify this, instead of people maybe trying to work together with their friends to make an enjoyable time.

Victoria: Haha yeah, but I do get, I guess, that weddings are more “stressful” now than maybe they used to be. And so maybe you do need to hire some form of planning help, in whichever iteration is more pleasing to you.

Jaya: Yeah. Though it still is about expectation. If you planned a 300 person wedding 100 years ago, you’d probably need a social secretary or assistants and such, but now, the expectation is that everyone will have a big wedding and know how to plan it by themselves.

Victoria: Yeah, plus your mom would be planning it and had probably planned dozens of parties for 300 people.

Jaya: Hahaha yeah. And yeah there’s the WIC (Wedding Industrial Complex) and all that, whatever. [ed. Jaya is not very into the term Wedding Industrial Complex] [other ed. IT’S A STRAWMAN]  I guess what bothers me is people tend to use that as an excuse for having no control over their weddings, like there are no other options. Hellooo you’re an adult, stand up to your parents’ expectations. And we have the internet, I can find you a white dress for under $100 like yesterday.

Victoria: Haha yeah, exactly, but I mean, it does seem like a lot of people go in with great expectations about keeping control on things and then it just spirals and they throw their hands up. So I can see getting in over your head.

Jaya: It is easy to be convinced things are necessary when they’re not, by family or by vendors. That’s definitely an issue. Why can’t everyone else just have a will of steel??

Victoria: Plus you have to have a pretty strong sense of self and what you want to do that. And that is just not easy for…probably most people. Especially if they hadn’t really thought much about their wedding besides, “it will be lovely and pretty and the happiest day of my life.” And not everyone spends as much time reading about weddings as us. For some reason.

Jaya: WHY NOT?! They have no excuse then. I say that as a joke but also kinda mean it???? Like, even if you haven’t read a lot about it, it’s not ridiculous to go in thinking it’ll take planning and decisions. So if you don’t research how to do that and then get overwhelmed, idk.

Victoria: Haha yeah for sure. I mean there are tons of resources.

Jaya: I certainly got overwhelmed, and it’s hard dealing with everyone’s opinions. But if it’s too hard for you then go to City Hall. If you agree to do a wedding, you sorta have to agree to planning, and making decisions, and saying no, and all this stuff. Or that you’ll pay someone to do it for you.

Victoria: Lol yeah for sure. Anyway, it’s certainly not rude to hire a bridesmaid, but maybe it would be best to talk to your actual bridesmaids about their expectations first. And, hey, if anyone wants to hire etiquette consultants to make sure you are doing everything above board, we are probably available!