The bad and ugly of being a bridesmaid

A bride and her bridesmaids preparing for the wedding day

Photo credit: Shutterstock

What you need to know:

  • The role of a bridesmaid has evolved into a complex and financially demanding one.
  • Close friends and family members who are broke but would love to participate in a wedding are increasingly being excluded from this coveted role.

In the whimsical world of weddings, where love takes centre stage and vows twirl in the air, an unsung hero exists—the bridesmaids.

Years ago, during a wedding, the main focus was on the lovers who dined and danced together with their friends and families to celebrate their union.

In those days, weddings were simple, and the main expenses involved purchasing items for the bride and groom, food, and the honeymoon.
Today, many couples emulate what they see on bridal magazines and apps such as Pinterest, and seek to make their wedding the most glamorous and most talked about within their circles.

The role of a bridesmaid has morphed into a complex and financially demanding role.

Way too expensive

While bridesmaids needed to only show up on wedding day in beautiful dresses, today, it is not so simple. They need to attend rehearsal dinners, bachelorette party, bridal showers and after-party dinners, which are sometimes held out of town.

And because photos from these events will be posted across social media, the maids have to look perfect from their hair, nails, makeup and outfits.

They also have to pay for travel to and from the wedding and buy a wedding gift for the couple.

In this harsh economy, it is little wonder that many friends and family members are shying away from being part of the bridesmaid's line-up. Financial acumen, it seems, is taking precedence over friendships.

Close friends and family members who are broke but would love to participate in a wedding are increasingly being excluded from this coveted role.

Some couples, especially those who are keen on having lavish weddings, are opting to pick only acquaintances who can contribute significantly to the event. This often sees broke but loyal family members get left out of the lineup.

Brighton Okut is a fashion designer and the brain behind Cittifficial Klothing, a fashion business in Nairobi that specialises in wedding attire. He says a bride should choose her friends as maids, but she must first look at the maids’ ability to afford the necessary costs.

“First, friendships are currently very expensive. You need to keep a very small circle because if you were to invest in everyone, you would certainly not manage to maintain all of them,” he says.

Mr Okut adds that once one has picked bridesmaids, all parties should discuss and agree on how expensive or affordable the wedding should be.

“One of the things that pushes up the cost of being a bridesmaid is the choice of dress. Most of the materials and designs that Kenyan couples settle on nowadays are luxurious.

“Luxury wear comes with a lot of cosseting, beadwork and requires expensive laces and fabrics,” he says.

Brighton Okut

Brighton Okut, a fashion designer, and founder of Cittifficial Klothing, a fashion business that makes custom-tailored suits, dresses, wedding outfits and African.

Photo credit: Wilfred Nyangaresi | Nation Media Group

Mr Okut adds that years back, a bridesmaid’s dress would cost just about Sh5,000. Those days, the popular materials used were light satin and silk, which are more affordable.

However, right now, couples prefer high-end laces, which can cost as much as Sh5,000 per metre. The dress may need four metres if it is a mermaid dress.

“This means that the cost of the fabric alone, before stitching, is Sh20,000.

“Some come with photos of dresses they have seen on various social media platforms. To make the dress come out the way a client wants it, they will definitely incur additional cost,” he adds.

The least he charges for a bridesmaid’s dress is Sh12,000 and the maximum is Sh30,000.

“The prices depend on the design and the bulk of work. Plus, we need hangers, unique zippers, branding, cosset pieces, and add-ons which include beadwork, clear laces, fabric, laces, steaming, and we also charge for labour,” he says.

Rising shipping costs

The raw materials are also not available locally, and import costs have gone up compared to past years.

“The shipping costs keep soaring. There is a big jump in the price of fabrics compared to some years back,” Mr Okut says, adding, “Kenyans prefer custom-made wedding dresses compared to imported ones. This is because adjusting an imported dress is costly and takes time. Custom made dresses are also more unique."

Eunice Odhiambo, who also makes wedding clothes, admits that the rising cost of living has created a dilemma for many.

As a bridesmaid, do you spend Sh50,000 on a wedding that is not even yours, or do you use the money on household expenses?

“Despite the financial strain, weddings are an inescapable obligation. And now, rounding up a bridal team is becoming a real challenge. Just five years ago, a bridesmaid could get an outfit for Sh2,500 or Sh3,500 but today it ranges from Sh6,000 or more. A metre of fabric from Turkey used to be Sh350, now it is being sold at Sh600 or Sh700. Even sewing thread doubled from Sh40 to Sh100. It is not just fabrics, everything used in the making of the dresses has shot up,” Ms Odhiambo says.

Eunice Awino Odhiambo
Photo credit: Pool

Even those who opt for ankara fabric have to pay more.

Ms Odhiambo says the cost of kitenge has also gone up by Sh500 per metre.

Men's wedding outfits are not spared, with prices exceeding Sh10,000 compared to Sh5,500 in earlier years.

Bridemaids complain

Veronica Achieng’ and Justus Ng’ode had their wedding in November 2023. They say convincing the eight bridesmaids to be part of her line-up was not easy.

“This was primarily due to the money involved, but they agreed because they are my cherished friends. Their willingness to be a part of my celebration speaks volumes about our bond,” says the 25-year-old nurse.

Ms Achieng' reveals that to make her wedding memorable, each bridesmaid spent Sh3,000 on hair, Sh2,000 on nails, Sh3,500 on shoes, Sh2,500 on makeup and face scrub. They also spent Sh2,400 on food, as Achieng’ spent an additional Sh10,000 on accommodation and Sh30,000 on her gown.

This means that the bridesmaids in Ms Achieng’s wedding spent between Sh13,000 and Sh15,000.

“Of course there are those who complained about the budget of being a bridesmaid. However, they sacrificed to make my day a success,” she says.

Some say that couples should solely bear the wedding costs, but a legitimate argument can be made that the lovebirds are already burdened with paying for the wedding venue, catering, attire, decorations, photography and videography, entertainment, wedding planner or coordinator fees, invitations and stationery, transportation, cake, wedding rings, officiant fees, marriage license, hair and makeup, accommodation, rehearsal dinner, pre-wedding events, post-wedding expenses, and other miscellaneous costs.

Veronica Achieng and Justus Ng'ode

Veronica Achieng and her husband Justus Ng'ode. 

Photo credit: Pool

*Ann, a 25-year-old, is among those who had to decline to be part of this coveted role.

She says there were various expenses involved, from the dress and accessories, to pre-wedding events.

“I had to weigh the costs against my financial situation and responsibilities. We were expected to pay Sh7,000 for the dress, make-up was Sh3,000, pedicure and manicure (Sh3,000), hair (Sh3,000) and contributions to bridal shower parties.

“These financial expectations can accumulate quickly and become overwhelming to manage alongside an individual’s regular money commitments,” she says.

She admits that before she backed off, she had a candid discussion with the bride.

“It is unfortunate when financial considerations overshadow the joy and camaraderie that should define such an occasion, but I discussed my situation with the bride. Thankfully, she was understanding and empathetic,” she adds.

She suggests discussing and setting realistic expectations from the beginning.

“Perhaps picking budget-friendly dress options and activities would make the experience enjoyable for all bridesmaids,” she says.