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To All My Friends, This Is My Bridesmaid Resignation Letter

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To All My Friends This Is My Bridesmaid Resignation Letter
Design by Channing Smith

This story is part of our cover series We Don’t: The Bridesmaid Burnout, in which we explore the role’s often absurd demands, astronomical expenses, copious amounts of unpaid labor, and ways to change the tradition so it benefits everybody involved. Read all our stories here.

No sugarcoating here; let’s slice right to the wedding cake of truth. After the past year and a half, three weddings, and a sum of money I don’t want to think about (precisely $4,634.50), I hereby declare my retirement from the job of being your bridesmaid. To my dear friends, cherished family, and maybe even future friends—consider the bouquet tossed. Spare me from future bridal-party pleas. I adore you all, and I mean it when I say I’d do almost anything for you. But one more stint in a satin dress? That’s where I draw the line.

Let’s not misunderstand my intentions here—I’m not here to bash the whole bridesmaid gig. If you’re into it, more power to you. According to a recent survey, 95% of bridesmaids claim to have a blast during wedding-related adventures, which has to be fake news in my opinion, but kudos to them! I’m here to represent the other 5%, the unsung heroes of bridesmaid-dom. The ones who grin and bear it while watching their hard-earned money and sanity take a nosedive. I’m here to say on our collective behalf: We’re done. We’re over it. Consider this letter the ultimate strategic move—a way to consolidate countless future awkward no’s into one resounding NO. Let us be the spectators once and for all.

Of course I understand the fundamental purpose of being a member of somebody’s wedding party: It’s to stand by a loved one’s side on the most important day of their life. In theory, you should want to be there, to share in their joy and support their union. But—after the universe conspired against me and I was faced with two best friends and a cousin all getting married during the last year and a half—I’m beginning to see there’s much more at stake than some smudged mascara ruining my makeup from the happy tears as you exchange your vows.

Replying “Yes, of course!” to the seemingly simple but undeniably loaded question “Will you be my bridesmaid?” is often a no-win proposition. We feel our love and loyalty are being monitored and measured by how amenable we are to buying sage-green gowns that don’t fit right and metallic shoes we’ll never wear again, and shelling out thousands for far-flung bachelorette weekends that almost always include picking up an excessive amount of dinners and bar tabs in addition to lodging, airfare, gifts, merch, and doing whatever else is asked of us when we sign up to be a bridesmaid—even sometimes splitting the bride’s bill.

To All My Friends This Is My Bridesmaid Resignation Letter
Photography By Hannah Whitaker

This letter isn’t meant to insult or offend anyone—as I said, I adore my friends and family—but I’m ready to get a few things off my chest. On behalf of myself and the other 5% of you (or more, don’t be shy), I’m here to say that at 29 years old, as much as I want to support you all on your big day, I’m simply not cut out for the job. And I’m not afraid to be honest about it anymore.

Let’s start with a gripe most people can understand: money. I earn what’s considered a standard income for someone my age and background, with no hefty Wall Street bonuses or trust funds in sight. I rent my own small apartment in New York City. And while I’m grateful that I have a little disposable income left over each month, I’d rather not spend it all on clothes, trips, and activities I didn’t choose. Why should I shell out the cost of a small country’s GDP to cheer on your love story? Attending a wedding is pricey enough, let alone being part of the show.

As I mentioned, I’ve already dropped $4,634.50 on weddings. But trust me, it could have been more. I gracefully dodged two bridal showers and two bachelorette trips, even reusing two of the six bridesmaid dresses (keep in mind, these were multicultural weddings with double ceremonies) straight from my closet. So I’d ballpark that I saved myself another $4,000 or so. Now, I can hear some of you thinking, Three weddings? That’s nothing! And you’re spot-on; especially for many of you, that’s just the tip of the wedding iceberg. But believe me—when I contemplate the potential expenses looming on the horizon with more close friends, cousins, and a sister who’s yet to tie the knot, it’s enough to make me bow out early. I’ve had just the taste I needed.

To All My Friends This Is My Bridesmaid Resignation Letter

And while money does talk, it’s not giving a solo performance in this decision of mine. It’s also about the mental gymnastics I have to perform to keep friendships unscathed and the internal tug-of-war between keeping my brides happy and my sanity intact. And I know I’m not alone in that—even among you bridesmaids who claim to love the whole experience.

“But can’t you just say no to things?” people might wonder. Well, yes, and I have. I’ve managed to sidestep some of the outrageous parts of bridesmaid culture by learning the art of selective participation—i.e., I’m smart enough to know when I can dive into the bridesmaid fray and when to decline politely. But here’s the thing: It’s uncomfortable as hell. In the bridesmaid universe, there’s an unwritten code that allows you barely one, maybe two Get Out of Bridesmaid Duty Free cards before you risk being branded with the dreaded “bad bridesmaid” label. It’s a strategic dance, a carefully choreographed balancing act that requires finesse. This is another reason behind my decision to resign—I’d rather not put myself in the unenviable position of saying no to things only to have a jury of bridesmaid enthusiasts pass judgment.

It’s here I’d like to pause and offer some context. Weddings are big deals in my life. I come from Ethiopia, where they’re not just five-hour parties on a Saturday night; they’re full-blown seasons of celebration. We’ve got the telosh, a two-day prewedding extravaganza during which the groom’s family showers the bride with gifts. Then comes the multi-hour church ceremony, culminating in a grand reception. Just when you think it’s a wrap, the melese takes the stage—a traditional festivity held a few days after the main event hosted by the bride’s family. And that’s not all! The kelekel comes along days after the melese, as the groom’s parents gather friends and family who missed out on the main show. It’s a marathon of jubilation, but also a lot of time, energy, and money.

Toss in my adolescence spent in North Carolina, where Southern traditions are impossible to shake. Can you imagine the expectations for my own wedding I had growing up? A sweeping ball gown, a 700-person guest list, just like my parents had, and a bridesmaid squad that could rival a small army because, well, family, childhood friends, high school friends, college friends, and maybe even those future friends I haven’t met yet. After experiencing the trilogy of weddings, I’ve had a revelation: I want none of it.

First, let’s talk about the dresses. Who even dreamed up these matching disasters? The tale of bridesmaids sporting identical ensembles traces back to ancient times when they were wedding decoys for vengeful spirits. Back then these poor souls were required to mirror the bride’s appearance as if auditioning for the role of the bride herself. Nowadays if you so much as tiptoe into the territory of white attire, you’re treading on thin fashion ice—somewhere none of us want to be. The current trend seems to be all about making us look like a random assortment of septuplets in our matching chiffon gowns of “classic” jewel tones and “neutral” gray-blues or sage greens. It’s safe to say, bride, I won’t be donning these outfits ever again.

For someone who has always prided herself on fashion independence, being told what to wear feels like a regression to my pre-middle-school days when my parents dictated my wardrobe. At 29, with a hard-earned sense of individuality, surrendering that choice is a bitter pill to swallow, a pill I’m happy to stop taking. Let me wear what I want to your wedding! There’s no way I could ever “upstage” the bride because she’s the bride—everyone will be looking at her, not my black slip dress.

Of the three weddings that nearly bankrupted me (each multicultural and each with double the number of ceremonies and dresses), the first bride had a laid-back attitude, which meant the maid of honor (MOH) and other bridesmaids came in with their takes and opinions, leading to a lot of back-and-forth before the decision fell on a champagne charmeuse flutter-sleeve dress. Did I feel like I’d time-traveled back to my elementary school days with those flutter sleeves? Maybe, but hey, bridesmaid solidarity.

The next bride aimed to find a dress that would be flattering for diverse body shapes and styles. We all fell in love with a burnt orange sleeveless chiffon gown with a scoop neckline. Finally, a bride who seemed to have cracked the code! Although wearing identical dresses is a tad too vanilla for my taste, the collective bonding experience and our consensus brought solace. Regrettably, a few months later, as we were on the verge of placing our dress orders, the bride executed a wardrobe 180-degree turn—new style, new color—just like that. The reason for this abrupt change remains a mystery, a classic case of a bride being, well, a bride. Naturally, none of us dared to question her decision. Instead we summoned our inner martyrs, swiped those cards, and kept our bruised fashion egos on mute.

And then there’s every bridesmaid’s tale of the dress that cost an arm and a leg. Mine happened to be my cousin’s traditional Ethiopian habesha kemis. If an African aunty discovered how much we dropped on that kemis, she might have rolled over in disbelief—we’re talking 30,000 Ethiopian birr, which translates to about $540 officially. Despite providing precise measurements and even doing in-person fittings during our Ethiopian visit, the dress could’ve easily accommodated two of me, not exactly the two-for-one deal I had in mind. It was practically begging for a “What I Asked for Versus What I Got” feature on The Shade Room. And let’s not forget the alterations that set me back an extra $100. It turned out to be my favorite dress of the bunch, but the hefty price tag and quality didn’t quite match up. Needless to say, I have not worn it since.

Now, on to the bachelorette parties, which are no longer a night out in your local bar, not in the age of Instagram and TikTok. They’ve become multiday getaways, often requiring flights. Even though I skipped a couple, I (reluctantly) attended my cousin’s bachelorette because, well, family obligations. While Miami wasn’t my dream vacation, I managed to have a good time, though not without mishaps, like one of the bridesmaids accidentally buying fake “Magic Mike” tickets and losing us money. The financial and time commitments were just the start. The endless group chats, Splitwise requests, and coordination on top of my 9-to-5 job drained me. My advice: Go if you genuinely want to, can afford it, and are excited about the destination. If not? Skip it.

But the culmination of my bridesmaid frustration—when the collective list of things I disliked about being a bridesmaid became too long—came during the last wedding I attended. My best friend, whom I love to pieces, had sent the wedding party shared notes with every conceivable detail from shoe color to makeup style.

There was also a note about hair preference.

The note read, “Hair: curly/wavy, preferably lean into your natural texture; however, curly/wave wigs/clip-ins/sew-ins are cool.” I remembered from a previous conversation that slicked-back hair, ponytails, and protective styles—i.e., braids/twists/locs—were not permitted. As a Black woman, embracing my natural hair celebrates my identity, but when traveling, I always straighten my hair because it’s easier to manage, so that’s what I did.

To my astonishment, during the dress rehearsal, fellow Black bridesmaids approached me with concerns about my straightened hair, concerned I received preferential treatment. We decided to speak with the bride, who reinforced my apprehensions by stating that my hair wasn’t supposed to be straightened. And to make matters worse, the irony was that she had three non-Black bridesmaids with hair straightened and curled with a wand. Whether it was loyalty, love, or a willingness to be amenable on her big day, I went home that night and washed out my hair, even though I truly didn’t want to.

I wish I had known at the time what my best friend was thinking. If anyone understands the complexities and sensitivity of the Black hair journey, it’s her. We went through it together during our years as undergrads. I get that she may have imagined that embracing our natural hair was important and beautiful, but it took away my choice and my own agency. And the shock of realizing that even amid the stress of putting on a wedding, there was policing of my hair. It was a deeply personal blow I hadn’t anticipated.

So why not say no to being a bridesmaid and avoid these types of situations entirely? Love? Loyalty? While these values are crucial, they shouldn’t require a hefty price tag or emotional warfare. As women, we’re taught, for better or worse, to be agreeable and, above all, to be a good friend. But here’s the twist: Being asked to be a bridesmaid isn’t an unbreakable spell. You can say no. Brides, how about giving your friends the freedom to support you in their own way?

After all, isn’t it every bride’s dream to stand alone in the spotlight, basking in her moment of glory, without having to share it, even with a devoted bridesmaid?

All I can hope for is that my friends and family will understand my perspective. You remember that Bridesmaids scene where Maya Rudolph’s character says, “Why can’t you just be happy for me and then go home and talk behind my back later like a normal person!?” No! I want to be the friend who shows up with unwavering honesty without compromising my peace. Hopefully, this letter serves not only as a resignation but also a prompt for other women—disgruntled bridesmaids, demanding brides, single girls with a strict vision of what they want their wedding to be—to say no, to not lose sight of the big picture, and to reframe their expectations.

So when I say I’m retiring from the world of bridesmaids, I mean it. Spare me future inquiries; yes, this implies I won’t have bridesmaids when my big day arrives.

Here’s to me, hanging up my bridesmaid sash in my prime.