Being a bridesmaid is about supporting one of your best pals on her big day. But these days, the honor comes with what Ashley Mansy Pachkofsky, founder of Minneapolis-based Poppati Events, calls a "steep expectation."
Yes, bridesmaids are expected to lend a hand in the planning process and support their BFF. But they also may need to buy multiple gifts (showers, singular or plural, and the wedding), plus new outfits for themselves for engagement celebrations, parties leading up to the big day and wedding weekend festivities.
In addition, there may be a bachelorette party, which often comes with additional costs of travel, lodging, wining and dining, excursions and themed outfits. And then there's the wedding day itself. As well as the dress, bridesmaids should budget for new shoes and accessories, manicured nails and professional hair and makeup.
"I would say it's not cheap to be in a wedding," said Amanda Skorich, owner and operator of A Range of Events in St. Paul, a former bridesmaid and newly engaged. "It's definitely somewhere between $500 and $1,000, depending on the level of finances of the wedding and the bride and groom."
While the dollar amount can vary widely, a traditional celebration is likely to mean a significant investment of both money and time. That's why Mansy Pachkofsky cautions would-be bridesmaids to think carefully about taking on the role.
"It's not just a couple things to check off the list. It is a big ask," she said. "And it's something that you should be honored and excited to do, but it shouldn't be something you're dreading to do."
So much for simplicity
Mansy Pachkofsky, who has been working in the wedding and events industry for more than 15 years, has seen bridesmaid culture change dramatically in the past decade.
"It was just a lot simpler," she said.
Early in her career, a bridesmaid's responsibilities were limited to attending a shower, serving as a right-hand woman on the wedding day and dancing all night long.
"Almost everything now, I feel like it's just for the appearances. I think everyone is constantly looking for that Instagram opportunity," Mansy Pachkofsky said. "It's like, 'How can I make it look like this is the most fun?' Or 'I want this type of photo opportunity with my best girlfriends.'"
Some in the industry blame social media for ramping up the expectations — not only of bridesmaids, but weddings in general. Posts about extravagant "bridesmaid proposals," destination bachelorettes, intense planning, themed parties, matching accessories and wedding-morning TikToks set a high — some say impossibly high — standard. And the pressure to document one of life's biggest moments is intense.
"I think it's just the whole culture of wanting to see and wanting to be seen," said Minneapolis wedding and event planner Denae Brennan. "Wanting to kind of show off, if you will, to get more likes and views and to be validated in that way. There's a lot of that around the whole wedding culture. It's just very normal to be sharing so much of your life online and with such a big event, it's just that much more important to show in your online persona."
"Saturday Night Live" even skewered bridesmaid culture. The skit "Bridesmaid Cult Documentary" poked fun at bachelorette weekends, controlling maids of honor and crippling expenses. It ended with an irritated bridesmaid announcing she was engaged — and excited about having her own bridesmaids.
Erica Boe, owner and wedding planner at Piece of Cake Wedding Planning, explained that this cycle is part of what makes the bridesmaid experience worthwhile.
"Yes, there's definitely going to be costs involved, but you're making memories and helping someone start their marriage and their next chapter with their chosen partner, and I think that's a beautiful thing to be a part of," Boe said. "And then you hope that when you then someday choose to get married, or maybe you already are, your people did the same for you and rallied around you, and were there for you, and so it's kind of like you do it for each other."
But Mansy Pachkofsky said such a cycle just accentuates the pressure to say yes.
"What keeps everyone doing it is the understanding of 'They did this for me, so I'm going to do it for them,' and that's why this vicious cycle keeps happening," she said. "It's not that you don't want to support your friend, [but] not everyone's in the same financial situation."
Wedding planners recommend that brides be upfront about their expectations — for both time and expenditures — early in the planning.
"If you can go into it with the right expectation, then you'll get more enjoyment out of it instead of feeling blindsided or bombarded with costs that are overwhelming," said Mansy Pachkofsky.
And bridesmaids who have limited resources should feel free to say so. There are other ways to support a friend.
"I don't think there's anything worse than being a bridesmaid in a situation where you are resentful or upset about the expectation or [making] the bride feel let down by you," said Mansy Pachkofsky. "It would be better to just say no."
For their part, brides may want to reconsider the less-than-essential expenses — for, say, boat trips, day spas and matching pajama sets for the destination bachelorette weekend.
When plans are made carefully and communicated well, being part of the wedding of someone near and dear to you can be a time of connection and true joy.
Minneapolis wedding planner Laine Palmrecalled a local bride and her bridesmaids, many of whom had been friends since they were little girls, getting ready for the wedding.
"Even though they were all intelligent, successful women, they just let loose and could be a little silly," she said. "They were dancing and giggling and having such a great time before all of the traditional seriousness. I mean, how happy are you when you're just in a group of girlfriends singing a Celine Dion song?"
Mansy Pachkofsky agreed that — with honesty and forethought — being a bridesmaid can be a very rewarding experience.
"There are great moments and amazing memories made," she said. "It's impossible not to, when you're with your best friends."