Who Pays for the Bridesmaid Dresses?

All of your bridesmaid dress questions answered.

Updated 11/14/19

Photo by Don + Helen

If you've been asked to be a member of the bridal party for a close friend or family member's wedding, congrats! While this is definitely an exciting undertaking, it can also get pretty costly, which presents the question of who pays for the bridesmaid dresses? Is the bride responsible for purchasing all of the bridal party dresses, or do the bridesmaids buy their own dresses? What about covering alteration costs—or what if one of the 'maids doesn't have the budget for the gown? Everything related to what the bridal party pays for can get tricky, so we had wedding etiquette experts weigh in to answer all of your burning bridesmaid dress questions.

Who Pays for the Bridesmaid Dresses?

According to Gabriella Risatti of Gabriella New York Bridal Salon, old school rules regarding who pays for bridesmaid dresses have gone out the window. If the bride can afford to, it's a very thoughtful gesture for her to pay for the dress or a portion of the cost for each of her bridesmaids. "We’ve seen more brides paying for their bridesmaid dresses, especially if they pick a more expensive dress for their 'maids to wear," says Risatti.

While generous, that's still an exception to the norm. Generally speaking, bridesmaids are expected to pay for their own dresses and accessories, as well as potentially hair and makeup appointments and transportation to the wedding. According to Diane Gottsman, national etiquette expert, author of Modern Etiquette for a Better Life, and founder of The Protocol School of Texas, bridesmaids should be prepared to cover the costs for these expenses once they accept the offer. That being said, it's the bride's responsibility to let everyone know about all upcoming financial responsibilities from the get-go, and bridesmaids should be honest and up front if they'll be under a monetary strain.

How Much Should Bridesmaid Dresses Cost?

Given the various expenses your bridesmaids will be taking on in the lead up to your wedding, it's essential that brides carefully consider the cost of their dresses, as well as their heights and body types when choosing their wedding day ensembles. Gottsman says bridesmaid dresses can range anywhere from $100 to upwards of $800. "It all depends on how lavish the wedding is, and the stores you go to shop," she notes.

As you browse gowns, choose styles that are flattering, comfortable, and within an agreed upon budget with your bridal squad. Cost is often at the heart of any conflicts that may arise between brides and their bridesmaids and the last thing you want is for your attendants to be upset or frustrated about having to shell out a ton of cash on a dress they will never wear again.

What If a Bridesmaid Can't Afford the Dress?

If a member of the bridal party isn't able to foot the bill for the bridesmaid dress, Risatti recommends that the engaged couple step in to help cover the cost and work that expense into their wedding budget, if possible. However, this should be a private matter so that the other bridesmaids don't feel slighted. Risatti also suggests that brides pick their bridesmaid dresses as early as possible so that each of the 'maids will have the maximum amount of time to save up for the gown. Additionally, check to see if the store selling the gowns offers a payment plan.

If the dress still isn't a feasible option for one or more of your bridesmaids, consider shopping for a similar look that costs much less. "While you wouldn’t want to sacrifice style, there are a lot of great, affordable bridesmaid dress options out there, so it’s worth looking," says Risatti.

Alternatively, opting for mismatched bridesmaid dresses opens up a whole new world of options: If the bridesmaids are each selecting different gowns within the same color scheme, it's also likely easier to find a pretty, flattering style that doesn't breaking the bank. "You get to be more flexible," says Gottsman. "Or, someone might already have one hanging in their closet that fits the bill perfectly."

If all options have been exhausted and you're still at an impasse, the bridesmaid may need to take on a different role within the wedding. She could give a reading at the ceremony or help greet guests, notes Risatti, which will make her feel involved without having to splurge on a pricey dress.

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