Recession Slicks Aisle for Runaway Bridesmaids

Bridesmaid

Money woes nearly cut Kourtney Wehrle's bridal party in half.

Two of the Illinois woman's bridesmaids -- her sister and her sister's daughter -- considered dropping out of her wedding after job losses in the family meant they couldn't afford bridesmaid dresses. A third bridesmaid living in Florida, Wehrle's childhood friend since the fourth grade, said she was overwhelmed by both the cost of the dress and wedding-related travel expenses.

Relatives ultimately stepped in to pay for dresses, which cost $180 each, for Wehrle's sister and niece. Both still plan to be walking down the aisle for Wehrle's wedding this October.

But Wehrle had no luck with her Florida friend.

"I was running around trying to find as many ways I could to cut costs for her," Wehrle said, but nothing worked. The friend, she said, "couldn't justify" spending the money.

Check out any bridal shop or online wedding message board, and you're sure to find bridesmaid drama as rich as a fondant cake. And while various bridesmaid expenses -- from bachelorette party costs to, of course, that hundred-dollar dress you'll never wear again -- have inspired gripes for years, during a recession, they're more likely to evolve into tear-jerking dealbreakers: broke bridesmaids simply decide to drop out.

"With the recession, this definitely happens," said Charli Penn, the managing editor of WeddingChannel.com. "It's an expensive honor and bridesmaids expenses can total $1,000 or more... It's obviously harder for some people."

Bridesmaid Bills Add Up

The total out-of-pocket costs for the average bridesmaid used to be much lower, said Diane Forden, the editor-in-chief of Bridal Guide Magazine.

"Years ago, it used to be if you were in a wedding, you paid for your dress, you chipped in for the bridal shower and you paid for a wedding gift," Forden said.

Travel expenses, Forden said, were often negligible because brides and grooms got married in their hometowns and chose attendants who lived nearby. Today, engaged couples often live a plane-flight away from their wedding parties or opt for destination weddings -- say, in the Caribbean -- meaning more travel for everyone.

"It becomes more of a wedding weekend," Forden said. "You have to travel and pay for hotel rooms. "You see the costs adding up."

Out With the Updo

The advent of bachelorette parties have also added to bridesmaids' tabs. Those may bear similar expenses as bachelor parties, but groomsmen and ushers still get off relatively easy: tuxedo rental costs can pale in comparison to bridesmaid dresses, not to mention hair and make-up.

Even before the recession hit, Jean, a New York woman, was so frustrated with the beating her wallet was taking from her bridesmaid expenses -- including paying for two bachelorette parties and pricey shoes -- that that she took drastic measures.

Jean, who asked that only her middle name be used to protect her friendship with the bride, didn't drop out of a bridal party but she did drop something else -- several inches of hair.

Jean cut her mane so short that it would no longer fit into a bride-mandated "updo." She estimated that the move saved her about $80.

"It was sort of the last straw," Jean said. "(She) asked me to pay for so many unnecessary things. I'm not going to get this ugly updo."

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