For Richer or Poorer: It Costs $1,000 to Be a Bridesmaid?

“I’m horrified at your advice to the cash-strapped bridesmaid in the May issue,” a reader named SarahPNC wrote this week. “The bridesmaid already spent over $1,000 on the wedding. I say that she can bow out of the group gift.”

Let’s get out our calculators; wedding season is underway. In the case of one cash-strapped bridesmaid who wrote to Real Simple for advice, the cost of everything from the dress to the bachelorette party added up to more than $1,000. She wondered if it was possible, as the wedding date neared, to politely decline a request to chip in an additional $50 for a gift.

Granted, this particular wedding sounded like the sort of elaborate occasion one might see parodied onscreen in “Bridesmaids.” But for better or worse, the bridesmaid agreed to be a member of the wedding party. My opinion: It’s certainly possible to decline to chip in for a gift, but not to decline politely. Saying no makes a statement and would send a rather strident message to the bride. In my “Modern Manners” column in Real Simple, I wrote:

“Here’s an important lesson every woman must learn: Don’t agree to be a bridesmaid until you have a sense of what’s required of you, logistically and financially. If it’s a no-frills backyard affair, your time and money outlay should be minimal. If it’s a fancy destination wedding, expect the opposite. It’s too late for you to make these inquiries now. You’re stuck, and—I’m sorry to break the news to you—you need to pony up for a gift, just like all the other guests. Remember: You’re in this position because the bride is a close friend. Fifty dollars for a wedding present is a small price to pay for maintaining a valuable friendship.”

SarahPNC disagreed. She wrote: “I’ve been a bridesmaid dozens of times and in only one instance did the bride know exactly what her wedding would entail when she asked me. There’s rarely any way to tell what a wedding will cost for the bridal party that far in advance. For you to say that ‘fifty dollars is a small price to pay to maintain a valuable friendship’ is to assert that the amount of money you’re willing to spend is directly correlated to how much you value another human being. This is preposterous. I say to the bridesmaid that she can bow out of the group gift and if her bride friend takes such great offense at that then perhaps that’s a clear message about the BRIDE’s values.”

SarahPNC’s argument doesn’t change my opinion for a simple reason: Every wedding guest is expected to give a gift. Being the only one who refuses to comply with this time-honored custom is an act of hostility. The $1,000 has been spent. Do the polite thing: Chip in for the gift and enjoy seeing how happy the bride will look at her wedding, surrounded by her closest friends.

(image via RealSimple.)

What’s the most you ever had to spend to be a bridesmaid? Where would you draw the line?