Who Pays for the Bridesmaids’ Dresses? Etiquette Explained

If you’re having bridesmaids in your wedding, you may be wondering: who’s supposed to pay for their dresses? It’s a tricky topic, and opinion on the subject can be quite divided in the U.K.

Some couples are happy to fork out for their entire wedding party’s ensemble, and wouldn’t dream of asking their bridesmaids to pay. But others believe it should be the bridesmaids’ responsibility to fund their own outfits. And others, while they’d like to pay for everything, just haven’t got the budget for it. So, what should you do?

Before you broach the topic with your bridesmaids, take some time to familiarise yourself with bridesmaid dress etiquette. We’ll discuss whether you should pay for your bridesmaids’ dresses, and when it is and isn’t appropriate to ask them to contribute. We’ll also discuss who should pay for their shoes, accessories, hair and makeup.

Does the Bride Pay for the Bridesmaids’ Dresses?

The etiquette rules on who should pay for the bridesmaids’ dresses vary, depending on where you are in the world. Like many aspects of wedding tradition, the ‘done thing’ differs from country to country.

In the U.S., bridesmaids are always expected to pay for their own outfits. The bride decides what her wedding party will wear, and they pay for it. If you accept the invitation to be a bridesmaid in the U.S., this expense is something you should be prepared for.

However, it’s very different here in the U.K. Our wedding etiquette dictates that in most circumstances, the bride should pay for the bridesmaids’ dresses. (Or whoever’s funding the wedding - e.g. the bride’s parents.) This is particularly important if:

● The bride wants to pick the exact dresses her bridesmaids will wear
● The dresses are particularly expensive
● You’ve chosen a dress that your bridesmaids probably won’t wear again (because of its style, material or colour)

According to a survey by Oasis, 59% of U.K. bridesmaids expect the bride to pay for their dresses. Many more of those surveyed believe that the bride should at least contribute towards the cost.

How to Save Money on Bridesmaids’ Dresses

If at all possible, you (as the bride) should cover the cost of your bridesmaids’ dresses. It’s only fair - after all, your bridesmaids will already be spending a lot of money and time on your wedding.

Typical bridesmaid duties include organising and paying for the hen do, assisting with wedding planning, and helping to set up the venue. They’ll also need to book time off work, organise their own transport and accommodation, and pay for their beauty treatments (e.g. waxing and tanning). And don’t forget, they’ll probably buy you a wedding gift, too.

The least you can do is pay for their outfits. But if you’re on a tight budget, you might struggle to afford the cost. Luckily, there are various ways you can save money:

- Have fewer bridesmaids, so you’ll have fewer dresses to buy
- Browse end-of-season sales racks at your local department stores
- Search the internet for coupons and discounts
- Look for second-hand bridesmaid dresses on eBay

Most importantly, try to be flexible with the colour and style you have in mind for your bridesmaids’ dresses. The less fussy you are, the more options you’ll have.

Can I Ask My Bridesmaids to Pay for Their Own Dresses?

If you can’t afford to buy bridesmaids’ dresses, that’s OK. Although it’s unusual in the U.K., it’s not unheard of for the bridesmaids to pay for their outfits. But you should make this crystal clear from the beginning.

Allow your bridesmaids to decide whether it’s something they can afford before committing to the wedding. Don’t wait for them to agree to be a bridesmaid, and then drop the bombshell on them later down the line. This could create a lot of awkwardness.

Also, if your bridesmaids will be paying for their attire, be prepared for them to have a say in what they wear. It’s only fair to let them choose their own dress if they’ll be forking out for it. For example:

● Find a selection of 5-6 different gowns that you like, and allow each bridesmaid to choose their favourite.
● Provide a colour swatch, and let your bridesmaids choose any dress in that shade. Give them freedom over the gown’s length, shape and style.
● Choose your preferred style (e.g. tea length or sweetheart neckline) but let them choose their own colour.
● If you don’t mind mismatched bridesmaids (which are all the rage right now), give them complete freedom over their attire. This way, they can wear a dress that they already own, if they can’t afford a new one.

If you’d prefer to choose the exact dress, at least ask them (separately and privately) what price range they’d be comfortable with. Then, find a dress that’s well within their budget.

How to Ask Bridesmaids to Pay for Their Dress

If you know you can’t cover the cost of your bridesmaids’ dresses, it’s best to make that clear right from the outset - i.e. when you ask them to be your bridesmaids.

First, decide whether you can afford to contribute at all. For example, if you’re willing to split the cost 50/50, or contribute £50 towards each dress, this might go down a little better than asking your bridesmaids to cover the entire cost themselves.

When you ‘pop the question’, bring up the subject straight away. Let them know that there’s no pressure, and if it’s something they feel they can’t spare the money for, you won’t be upset if they say no. Here’s an example script:

“As you know, I’m getting married next July, and I’d really love for you to be one of my bridesmaids. But unfortunately, I’m on a tight budget, so I won’t be able to pay for your dress. It would be a great help if you could buy your own outfit - and of course you’d have the final say in what you wear. Does that sound OK? If not, I won’t be offended at all if you’d prefer not to be in the wedding.”

Who Pays for the Bridesmaids’ Shoes and Accessories?

Although the bride is expected to pay for her bridesmaids’ dresses, it’s common for the bridesmaids to provide their own shoes and accessories (e.g. bag, jewellery, stockings, hairpiece).

As with the dresses themselves, if you want to have full control over your bridesmaids’ look, you should pay for it. For example, if there’s a specific pair of shoes that you want all of your bridesmaids to wear, it’s up to you to pay for them.

But it’s perfectly OK to expect your bridesmaids to pay for their own shoes if you’re giving them free reign. You can give them an indication of the colour you’d prefer - e.g. nude or white shoes - but let them sort themselves out.

The same goes for jewellery, and all other accessories. If you insist on everyone having 100% matching outfits with coordinating jewellery, that should form part of your wedding planning budget. If not, let them have control over everything except the dress. That way, they can choose whether to buy new accessories, or wear things they already own.

Who Pays for the Bridesmaids’ Hair and Makeup?

The same goes for your bridesmaids’ hair, nails and makeup on your wedding day. If you’d like them to have matching manicures, hairstyles and makeovers, you should pay. But if you’re not fussy, let them decide on their own look.

That way, if any of your girls wants to get her hair done professionally (for example), she can choose to do so and pay for it herself. But if the others would prefer not to, they can style their own hair.

It’s perfectly within reason for you to give some general guidelines. For example, you might ask that all your bridesmaids have nude nails. That way, they can choose whether to get a professional manicure, paint their nails themselves, or forego polish altogether.

Whatever you decide, make sure to address the subject directly with your girls when you ask them to be bridesmaids. Be transparent with them about their financial obligations from the get-go, so that they can make an informed decision. This will avoid any disagreements or tension in the lead up to your big day.

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