Courtney Duffy made national news this summer when she begged JetBlue to help her cancel a cross-country flight to be in a friend’s wedding, telling the world the bride had asked her to relinquish her bridesmaid role after Duffy revealed that she was overwhelmed by the duties the job entailed.
Her admission sparked a viral internet conversation: In this day and age, what are those duties?
They are reaching epic proportions, say wedding planners and those who have studied the wedding industrial complex. Gone are the days where a night out on the town was sufficient for a pre-wedding celebration.
There are more events leading up to the Big Day, like elaborate proposals, engagement parties, destination bachelorette (and bachelor) parties, multiple bridal showers and dress-shopping outings. And businesses are capitalizing, meaning there’s more to pay for, from custom bridal shower Snapchat filters to matching bachelorette weekend T-shirts with phrases like “Wife of the Party” in sparkly script.
“The pre-wedding stuff has just gotten so spectacular and so expensive,” said Laurie Essig, a professor of gender, sexuality and feminist studies at Middlebury College. “It’s just more and more stuff to sell, and more and more stuff to buy. That’s the marriage of capitalism and romance.”
While there always have been costs associated with being a part of a wedding, those obligations have greatly increased, particularly as Americans are waiting to get married. The median age of a first marriage for women is 27 and 29 for men, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. In 1960, it was 20 for women and 22 for men. The betrothed and the attendants have had time to establish their careers, meaning they have more money — and higher expectations.
Alyssa Longobucco, an editor at wedding planning website the Knot, said that according to a survey the site conducted in the past year, the average member of a wedding party spent $1,430, a figure that includes travel, accommodations, gifts, attire and accessories. And because everyone is more or less on the same timetable, many people have multiple friends getting married in the same year.
“It’s a pretty steep number, and it is a little jarring,” she said, “but the whole millennial outlook is paying for experiences, and we’re finding a lot of people don’t mind. The thought process is: She will do it for me.”
Or maybe they do mind. While perhaps reluctant to complain to their friends in person, plenty of people are willing to call them out on Facebook in what have been dubbed “wedding shaming groups.” Members of wedding parties frequently use the groups to post about their nameless friends’ expectations.
“Is it me, am I showing my age, or are bridesmaids being expected to pay way too much?” one woman posted recently. “In addition to paying for the dress, required tanning sessions, nails, makeup, the bridal party was told they had to pay for a wine tasting ‘bridal shower,’ which cost $600 per bridesmaid for wines selected by the mother of the bride.”
The post garnered hundreds of comments, including: “I spent $5,000 to be in my best friend’s wedding. Custom made gowns from India, three nights at a five star luxury hotel, bachelorette week in Vegas.”
Christiane Lehman, owner of Philadelphia-based Truly You Events, blamed the hashtag phenomenon. “Everybody wants that cool picture, hashtag from their bachelorette parties.” There are even online bachelorette party hashtag generators.
Kelly Gallagher, a Philadelphia-based event planner, put it more bluntly. Would-be brides, she said, are looking for over-the-top things “so that their Instagram makes people jealous.”
For the masses, it’s a three- or four-day trip to popular hot spots like New Orleans, Las Vegas, Miami, Austin, Texas, or Nashville, said Gallagher, director of marketing for Bach Party Travel, a group focused specifically on planning bachelor and bachelorette parties. But for those with the money to spend, the experiences are getting bigger and bigger and adding things like personalized bathing suits and raunchy T-shirts that show that a party is on a “distinct different level.”
The men are running up their own tabs, shelling out to party in Ibiza, drink at Oktoberfest in Munich or go whitewater rafting in Central America, Gallagher said.
“You always hear about millennials wanting experiences over things,” she said, “so this is a huge market, not just for millennials, but people getting married that are older that want to travel and almost use this as an excuse to travel with their friends.”
Longubucco recommends that brides and grooms have a frank discussion with their close family and friends about how much being in the wedding party will cost before the person accepts. Outline hopes and expectations, and ensure that the friends feel comfortable disclosing financial constraints. And, she said, if that person can’t afford it, involve them in another way, perhaps through being an usher or a reader at the ceremony.