How to Decline Being a Bridesmaid Without Losing Your Friend in the Process

Photo: Getty Images/JGIJamie-Grill
To this day, my mom and her residual resentment like to recount how her friend Amy refused to be a bridesmaid at my parents' wedding. My parents got married in 1987, so it's amazing that this tidbit still gets referenced. Sure, it was a pretty bold move on Amy's part for the time, but I contend that she was really a trailblazer of protesting the yet-to-be coined wedding industrial complex by knowing how to politely say no.

Now we're in an age where weddings seem to get more lavish and costly by the season as engaged folks scour Instagram and Pinterest and Etsy and their own friends' actual nuptials for ideas to be original. But since it's not just the couple and their families bearing the cost of the big fete and its surrounding events—engagement party, bridal shower, bachelor and bachelorette parties, travel, wardrobe, hair, makeup, gifts, ahhh—all the hoopla can unfairly target the wedding couple's friends. More specifically, their friends' time and wallets. Given all this, it makes sense that someone might to pass on being a bridesmaid, right? Sense aside hough, how does one go about that without risking the quality an important, close friendship?

In the moment, rejecting a bridesmaid proposal is almost as emotionally weighted as rejecting an actual proposal. Okay, maybe not, but lord help you if you're forced to say your peace with one of those "Will you be my bridesmaid?" gift boxes in your hand. But if you smell the bridesmaid invitation is in the air, and you know no number of mini Moscato bottles will sway you to want that role, you've gotta prep your response. Because as taxing as the job may be, your friend only wants you to fill it because she loves you. Tricky, huh? Luckily, San Francisco-based etiquette expert Lisa Grotts has tips for how to politely say no and break the bad news as gracefully as possible.

3 helpful tips for how to politely say no to being a bridesmaid

1. Be frank; she's your friend
"It’s okay to ask how much it will cost you," says Grotts. If this is someone with whom you're close enough to hold up her five layers of tulle while she pees (without it being weird), she should be able to give you a guestimate on the financial burden you can expect. And she should also be understanding if the $400 mandatory gown and weekend trip to Cabo is a deal-breaker for you .

2. Always be kind so you don’t have to rewind
"Saying no is okay as long as it’s done gently and with good reason," Grotts says. So don't immediately get defensive about why you can't play the part. The most basic advice for how to say no politely is to be soft, thoughtful, and measured, so you can present your reasons for being unable to fulfill the commitment in the manner the bride clearly wants and and also deserves for it to play out. Because whether or not you personally agree with her preferences, it is her day.

3. If you know from the get-go that you cannot be in the wedding, then just say no—and soon
It's understandable if you say yes initially but, due to more pressing, unforeseen issues requiring your time and money, have to switch your answer. We can't predict the future, and a good friend won't hold that against you.

If you know from day one that you can't handle bridesmaid duties, don't be a hero. Tell the bride instead of letting her know a month before the wedding.

But if you know from day one that you can't handle bridesmaid duties, don't be a hero. Tell the bride instead of letting her know a month before the wedding. "That way the bride-to-be can move on," Grotts says.

How to play the money card? Honestly.

Good news first: "For destination weddings and the extra costs, you have an easy out," Grotts says. You're certainly not obligated to expend your vacation days this way if you don't see fit. Instead, offer to take them to dinner and drinks, or find some other, local way to celebrate.

If you recently lost your job, or straight up can't afford the bridal-party costs, perhaps this situation is a bit more complicated. A 2017 WeddingWire study reported that on the cost of being a bridesmaid is $1200, and I can only assume that number has since risen. Given that 59 percent of Americans say they live paycheck-to-paycheck, according to a 2019 survey from Charles Schwab, it's totally understandable that you don't have a quick thousand for your friend's special day (and the inevitable other few you're invited to this year as well). In this case, the answer to how to say no politely is to be upfront and insist that you don't want to be a burden. And if your friend contends it's NBD, she gets it, and still wants you to take the role? Share your limitations: That you probably won't be able to attend events adjacent to the wedding itself and you can only spend so much total—including on your dress and shoes. As with nearly all conflicts, communication here is key.

Grotts' example Script: "Charlotte, I am so honored that you asked me to be in your wedding. This isn't easy for me to say, but I'm unable to accept your gracious invitation. You’re a close friend and I would love to have some role in your big day, but I just lost my job and I haven’t even had the nerve to tell anyone—not even my family. With the stress of no future income, I can’t possibly take on all the costs associated with being a bridesmaid. I hope you understand. Your friendship means the world to me, but the last thing you need is to feel my stress during one of the happiest times in your life."

Slightly trickier, what's the best approach if you're just too busy?

If you're starting a demanding job, working on a side hustle while balancing a demanding job, in the middle of some kind of crisis, or navigating any other serious situation that requires your devoted attention, your desire to say no makes sense. "It may be work, family obligations or a life event, but regardless, you will not be able to fully partake in the festivities," Grotts says. Or you're already in four weddings during that time frame because your friends sadistically decided that nobody will have a free weekend in September 2020, there's just no way it'll work out. So now you just have to deliver the news.

If you're navigating any situation that requires your devoted attention, your desire to say no makes sense.

Grotts' example Script: "Charlotte, I am thrilled you and Matthew are tying the knot. You two are made for one another. Being part of a wedding involves a big time commitment, but my new position will involve extensive travel. I’m not even sure I will be in town for your wedding or shower. I hope that you understand. I value our friendship and you can always count on my support."

And here's how to say no politely if you simply don't want to be a bridesmaid

Grow up—no one wants to do it. But even Samantha Jones put on a chic gown and supported Carrie Bradshaw in that ill-fated wedding. Otherwise, you could always try to phone it in using intel from above to soften the blow, I suppose.

But, seriously, if your friendship is at all legit, it'll get past this. I grew up with my mom's non-bridesmaid Amy as an ersatz aunt. She's still very much part of my family's life despite opting not to be a bridesmaid so many years ago, and honestly? I've seen the peach and turquoise ruffle gowns from my parents' wedding…. Homegirl made the right choice.

Here are some essential tips for maintaining the peace (and friendship) between brides and her bridesmaids. And if you're terrified of knowing no one at the wedding (and didn't know how to say no politely to that invitation), here are some introvert-approved mantras to calm you down.

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