Recession Slicks Aisle for Runaway Bridesmaids

That was in late 2006. This year, Jean said, she's in another wedding, but this time her experience is markedly different. The bride, she said, is being sensitive to everyone's financial constraints and is consulting the bridal party on various purchases.

The bride "is trying to make things easier on all of us," she said. "It makes a difference if you're included in the decision process instead being told you need to pay for this thing and this thing."

"She's trying her hardest not to be a bridezilla," she said.

What Brides Can Do to Help

Not being a "bridezilla" -- the slang term for wedding-crazed brides known for making monstrous demands -- is key to making sure bridesmaids can afford to be part of your special day, WeddingChannel.com's Penn said.

"Be flexible," she said. "Let (them) know you're willing to downsize and want to make things easy for everyone."

Penn has a few tips specifically for brides looking to lower their bridesmaids' bills:

Keep the lines of communication open. Tell your bridesmaids "what you are and aren't expecting," Penn said.

Don't go overboard on expensive bridesmaid dresses. "There's a lot of good dresses out there that don't cost $400," she said.

Fewer events mean fewer costs -- try combining your bachelorette party and bridal shower into one celebration.

Consider covering some of your bridesmaid's expenses, especially travel costs for destination weddings. "In a lot of cases, I see that more often the bride and groom are actually willing to pay for the hotel rooms of their wedding party," Penn said.

But even the most budget-conscious bride can still find herself losing a bridesmaid or two thanks to financial concerns. Julia Voll, of Greeley, Colo., said she took various steps to keep her bridesmaids' costs down: her family stepped in to pay for the girls' hotel rooms as well as a portion of the costs of their $250 dresses. She set no requirements for shoes, jewelry and hair styles.

"I know most of my friends are in college and young and they can't really afford a lot," said Voll, 23. "I really wanted to save everyone money."

Nonetheless, late last month, two of Voll's bridesmaids called it quits. They tag-teamed to give her the bad news.

"They actually called me together on speaker phone. They said that they were just really broke and couldn't afford to be in my wedding," said Voll, who is getting married in August. "It was really weird that they kind of flaked out at the last minute -- I just felt very betrayed … It's not like they didn't know they were broke until two months before the wedding."

An Alternative to Bridesmaid Bitterness

Both Voll and Wehrle, the Illinois bride, say they wonder if their wayward bridesmaids were just using financial hardship as an excuse to duck their obligations. Wehrle, who later found out that her friend had bought a pricey computer shortly after dropping out of her bridal party, said that that friendship is now kaput.

"Sometimes, going through something like this does teach you who's going to be there for you and who's not," Wehrle said.

If you're a reluctant bridesmaid seeking to avoid such strife, experts say it's always better to express your doubts sooner rather than later. You can always offer to perform another wedding-related role, like being in charge of the guest book, instead.

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