Expert Bridesmaid Advice: Caitlin Kenney
Navigating bridesmaid territory can be a little tricky. With so many new types of events cropping up (engagement parties, lingerie parties, etc.), it’s hard to keep up with duties and etiquette.
Who pays for the bridal shower Do you need to bring a gift to the engagement party Where do you draw the line for flights
That’s why we asked Caitlin Kenney, founder and editor of Ultimate Bridesmaid, for her expert input on everything from budgets to destination events.
WI: We all know a bridesmaid’s biggest fear is the dress. What’s an appropriate price range for a gown Does this include accessories and hair and makeup the day of
Kenney: It’s hard to specify what’s appropriate, since a reasonable cost for one person might be over the top for another. I would say an average price for a traditional bridesmaid dress is about $150. High-end or floor-length gowns can run $300 easily, while you can find nontraditional bridesmaid dresses for $50. There are also rental alternatives, like Rent the Runway or Little Borrowed Dress, which stock beautiful bridesmaid dresses for a $35 to $75 rental fee. Hair, makeup and accessories are an additional cost, but a bridesmaid on a budget should be able to opt out of having her hair and makeup professionally done. The bride can also save her bridesmaids money by not requiring matching shoes—just specify a color and let your maids wear something they already own (or hunt for a bargain).
Who is expected to host, plan and pay for the bridal shower
The bridal shower is traditionally hosted by the maid of honor, the bridesmaids or a family friend or relative of the bride. Hosting a shower is a choice, not an obligation. If the maid of honor has offered to host the shower, she may ask the rest of the bridesmaids to cohost—but they do not have to say yes. The host is also responsible for paying for the shower. If the bridesmaids have agreed to cohost, they should split the costs of the shower, but they are not hosts by default. In the past, it was considered a faux pas for a direct member of the bride’s family to host, but even the maven of manners herself, Ms. Emily Post, now says that it’s perfectly fine for your mother or future mother-in-law to throw the shower.
How about the bachelorette party
The bachelorette party differs from the bridal shower considerably. First, it is expected that each guest will pay for her share of the party—this includes her travel, hotel, food, drinks, and any other activities. The event is usually planned by the maid of honor, but since she will be asking the attendees to pay for the events she plans, it’s important to set a budget up front. When I have planned bachelorette parties, I make a list of any anticipated costs and present a baseline budget to the invited guests. That way no one has to back out later when they realize the party is running above their comfort zone and no one can complain about cost since you were transparent about it. The maid of honor is responsible for a few costs on her own, which will include invitations, decorations, party games and favors. The MOH may also pay for some food and drink, depending on the type of party. For example, the MOH would not foot the bill at restaurants during your destination weekend but might provide refreshments for the hotel room.
Should either of these have any input from the bride, or is it supposed to be a surprise
I don’t think either the bridal shower or the bachelorette should ever be a complete surprise. For both events, you need the bride’s input on guest list to make sure the people she wants to attend are included—you don’t want to overlook that touchy great-aunt or her drinking buddy from work who you’ve never met. I also think that it’s important to get the bride’s input on what kind of party she wants. Unless you’re 100 percent confident she’s going to love that striptease class, don’t book it and then find out she’s uncomfortable and would have preferred a wine tasting weekend. I think it’s fine to leave a few things a surprise, but at the bare minimum make sure the bride knows the time and date of the party, what she needs to bring and who will be attending.
What is your advice for bridesmaids who are expected to attend destination events (i.e. bachelorette in Vegas, wedding in Florida, etc.)
My personal rule is that I only buy two plane tickets per wedding—one for the wedding itself and one for the bachelorette or bridal shower. I don’t have the funds or the time to do more than that and all of my friends have completely understood. For the weddings I have been in, we have usually tried to incorporate a small shower into the bachelorette weekend even if the bride has had other showers with her relatives or local friends. That way I get to experience it all.
Is it okay for a bridesmaid to speak up if things get too far out of her price range
Of course it’s difficult to talk to friends about money. But people somehow lose sight of the fact that this is one of your best friends, and a good friend shouldn’t want you to feel uncomfortable or financially burdened. Talk to the bride directly and let her know what’s going on. Be careful not to use blaming words like “Your party is too expensive,” or “You aren’t taking my budget into account. Instead, say “I’m not comfortable with this financially right now,” or “I don’t want to put a burden on you since I won’t be able to afford all the fun things you’re planning. This way, your friend won’t feel attacked, and you’ll avoid drama. End the conversation on a positive note: “I can’t wait for the wedding, I’m so excited for the day.
Along those lines, what kind of duties are okay to say no to and what aren’t For example, if the maid of honor doesn’t feel comfortable giving a wedding speech
The maid of honor speech isn’t one you can back out on. When you agreed to be the maid of honor, you agreed to take on the duties, and the speech is really your number one responsibility on the wedding day (aside from making sure the bride stays calm and happy and makes it down the aisle looking fabulous). Pre-wedding events have a bit more wiggle-room. You are not obligated to attend the bridal shower or bachelorette party. If you have a conflict or the intended event is too out of your price range, gracefully decline.
We get this one a lot. Is a bridesmaid expected to buy a gift for every wedding-related event (bridal shower, engagement party, bachelorette party, etc.)
You have two obligatory gifts: bridal shower and wedding. Gifts are not customary at bachelorette parties, unless you’re throwing a lingerie shower during the weekend, in which case that’s your shower gift. Presents are also not required for an engagement party. As one of the bridesmaids, you may also be invited to multiple showers thrown by different friends and relatives of the bride. If you are local and able to attend all, it’s lovely of you to do so—but only bring a gift to the first shower. After that, only your presence is required. If you feel weird showing up empty-handed, just bring a card with a sweet or funny note for the bride.
If a girl is asked to be a bridesmaid, how much can she reasonably expect it to cost her
Oh, reasonably. Since when are weddings reasonable In all seriousness, the bridesmaid bill can certainly add up fast. Minted has this fabulous chart that estimates the cost of being a bridesmaid at $1,695, which includes everything: travel for multiple events, wedding day apparel, gifts, bachelorette party, bridal shower, etc. This estimate might even be conservative. Of course, travel and lodging is a huge percentage of the budget. Bridesmaids can try to save money by staying at a friend’s house to avoid hotel costs or carpooling when possible. There is also my two plane ticket limit: I only buy two planes tickets per wedding, so no traveling for the bridal shower, bachelorette and the wedding.
What are some great ways to thank your bridesmaids
A bridesmaid favor is customarily given at the bridesmaid luncheon the day before the wedding. I am personally a big advocate of giving your girls something that is not “themed” to your wedding. Sure, a robe monogrammed with your wedding day may seem like a great idea at the time—but if you really think about it, when will your friend ever be able to use that robe again They aren’t going to be parading around their house advertising the day of your nuptial. A much more appreciated gift is one that appeals to your bridesmaids’ tastes and style. Another generous gift idea is to offer to pay for the bridesmaids’ hair or makeup in lieu of a physical gift. Sure, they won’t take away an object from the wedding, but I’m guessing they’ll be pretty stoked to save money and look amazing at the event.
Finally, everyone’s relationships are different. If a friend made you a bridesmaid, are you obligated to make her one if you might not have otherwise
A perfect representation of the difficulty (and downright absurdity, in this case) of that idea is that scene in 27 Dresses, where Katherine Heigl ends up with 27 bridesmaids all decked out in scuba gear and Victorian gowns. There’s no rule that says you must invite a friend to be your bridesmaid if you were hers. When it comes time to decide how large your wedding party will be, a ton of factors will come into play. How many groomsmen does your fiancé want Do you have bridesmaid defaults, like sisters Maybe you want to have a small wedding and if you invited all your friends to be your bridesmaids, the seats would be empty. Think carefully about who you want to be with you on the morning of your big day. Who will support you, calm you, make you laugh, and contribute to making this one of the happiest days of your life That’s what good bridesmaids are for.