Bridesmaids spill the tea on post-pandemic wedding mania


Sure, it’s an honor to be a bridesmaid, but the role in 2023 “revenge weddings” requires substantial money, time, and emotional energy. Graphic by Evan Solano.

When Michelle Guerrero’s friend popped the question, “Will you be my bridesmaid?” — the “yes” came easily. 

The wedding ceremony, in a waterfront garden near the Brooklyn Bridge, would surely be beautiful, as would the reception that followed, in a banquet hall dripping with chandeliers. It was a close friend, and the experience would undoubtedly bring them closer together. 

Less easy than the initial “yes”? The spending that immediately followed.

A bright teal surplice maxi dress from David’s Bridal cost Guerrero $180. Alterations piled on another $100. By the time she shelled out for a bachelorette trip to a music festival, a flight to the Brooklyn wedding, and hotel stays, she estimates she was out $3,000.

“I think it's really special to be asked to be a bridesmaid, but also it is quite expensive,” says the LA-based fashion designer. Guerrero would know. She’s been a bridesmaid seven times.

“You have these very special memorable moments with your friends or family when you're going through that experience with them – memories that you'll have for the rest of your life,” she says. “[But] in the end, it's like, okay, if I had known how much money I was going to spend, maybe I wouldn't have agreed to it – some of the time.”

(For this particular friend, Guerrero had no reservations. “Yes, it was expensive,” she says, “but it was also priceless.”)

Guerrero may have been part of what New York Times Weddings Editor Charanna Alexander calls a 2023 “revenge wedding,” a style of celebrating – and spending – that’s emerged in the aftermath of the pandemic.

“People didn't have a chance to celebrate with friends and family in large numbers, so now they're going all out,” says Alexander. “They're spending lots more money than they would before. They want every single detail that they see on social media. It has become a little bit [more] of a performative experience than it was in previous years.”

Extravagance, says Alexander, is the hallmark of a 2023 revenge wedding. 

“Before [the pandemic], wedding party members would just have to consider the bridal shower, the bachelorette and the main wedding. Now there are engagement parties, there are sleepover beauty sessions. There are mixers for family members … the after-wedding brunch, and the list goes on and on.” 

“If you're able to spend big, you definitely are,” Alexander adds. “And if you're not able to spend big, then you want it to look like you did.” 

Alexander says some couples, in consideration of their loved ones, are opting out of assembling a wedding party at all, or engaging in conversations about what their loved ones can afford.

On the other side of the spectrum, bridesmaids and other members of 2023 revenge wedding parties are spending more than they can afford in time, money, and emotional energy. 

The average cost to attend a wedding as a guest in 2023 is $611, according to data from the consumer finance company Bankrate. But younger adults – millennials and Gen Z who are more likely to have friends getting married and less likely to be able to afford it – are planning, on average, to spend twice that amount on weddings this year, and they’re not necessarily in the wedding party.

“All I know is that it was over budget,” says Tyra Kristiansen, an LA educator who estimates she spent around $400 as a bridesmaid in her friend's wedding. Kristiansen acknowledges that to some, that might not sound like a lot of money. But to her, it was. She had to pick up extra teaching days over school breaks to make up the expenses. 

“It hurt,” she says. “It's ouchies, for sure.”

That wedding was local. Kristiansen didn’t have to get on a plane. Many revenge weddings come with travel expenses.

Kay Hoffman, an LA attorney who’s using a nickname to protect her privacy, estimates she spent about $7,500 on a friend’s wedding that included a trip to Egypt. “Without time included,” she adds. 

LA film industry employee Sarah Polito estimates she spent at least $3,000 to travel to Italy for a wedding this summer and “a lot of it's on the credit card,” she says.

Travel has costs beyond the dollars and debts. Wedding travel can book up your social and vacation calendar for years at a time. 

One bridesmaid KCRW interviewed is weighing her wedding-related travel against parental leave. 

Maggie Graycar just returned to work at an LA entertainment company after having a baby, and she says, “I think one of my first orders of business will be telling my boss about all the weddings, so I can plan my PTO for the rest of the year.”

On top of time and travel, add expectations around clothing and appearance. 

To be a bridesmaid in her friend’s wedding in Italy, Polito was asked to find a dress in black satin. “It was summer, and the example dresses she sent were all a skimpy, sleek silhouette, and I'm just like, ‘Yeah, that's just not going to work for me,’” she says. 

Polito ended up finding a dress with sleeves, and worrying she’d be the only one with her shoulders covered. She was conscious that her photo was being taken: “Being the fat bridesmaid, or whatever, was my fear,” she admits.

So, with all the expense, pressure and discomfort, why do so many of us agree to be in our friends’ weddings at all?

Many bridesmaids told KCRW it’s an honor to be asked. 

Kristiansen still keeps a note from a friend asking her to be a bridesmaid hanging on her fridge. 

“We want to be there for people. We don't want to say no,” says Graycar. “I know a wedding invitation is not a subpoena, but we do want to be there for people, and it's a joy.”

And also … a lot of people say yes because they feel obligated. 

“There can be a lot of guilt because you want your friend to be happy, and you want them to feel like you support them,” says Guerrero. “It's a big moment in their life.” 

Alexander, the New York Times wedding editor, recommends having hard conversations about finances upfront. Friendships, she says, have been ruined over weddings. 

“What we're seeing is a bunch of women, men, [and] bridal party members overspending, feeling as if they don't have a choice, upset on the wedding day — because after all is said and done, they're forgotten in the wings,” she says.

But putting your foot down at any point throughout the experience isn’t off the table, either, says Alexander.

“It's very important that bridal party members check in with themselves consistently throughout the process to say, ‘Hey, does this feel right? Does this make sense for me financially? Is this a triggering situation for me? Am I having body image issues now because of the dress style that was chosen for me?’ Always speak up, always have a tough conversation, and there's always an opportunity to ease your way out.”

But Guerrero says there’s another reason to set your financial goals and emotional needs aside and say yes to being a bridesmaid, and it has to do with something like … revenge.

“I've got an IOU against a lot of people,” she says with a laugh. “When it's my time, then I'm gonna make those calls, and I'm gonna have some bridesmaids for sure.”