Regardless of the size and budget of the wedding or how intimately involved you are in the planning and execution of the event, there are certain costs to which every bridesmaid is going to have to commit. These are expenses that you'll incur whether you've agreed to be in the wedding party of a price-conscious saint or a blinged-out bridezilla.
The dress is the most essential and important bridesmaid-related purchase you're going to make. Unfortunately, it's also one of the most expensive. Sure, we've known girls who've served as bridesmaids in $30 dresses, but these kinds of situations are -- like attractive, intelligent and eligible groomsmen -- few and far between. You can count on spending around $200 to $300 on your dress, though it could cost significantly more if you're standing up for a well-to-do bride in an elaborate ceremony with a budget of $50,000 or more.
As any bride can tell you, no wedding dress fits right off the rack. You're not wearing a wedding dress, but it is a dress for a wedding, and the rule still applies. Regardless what you paid for your bridesmaid dress, chances are it's going to need alterations, and you're going to have to pay for those, too. The good news is that adjusting the gown won't cost as much as buying it in the first place, though you can still expect to pay an extra $50 to $100 to custom-fit the garment to your body.
Like the dress, shoes are one of the most basic of bridesmaids' budgeting concerns, though if you're smart (and the bride hasn't insisted on covering you in a heinous color or making everyone wear the same shoes), you should be able to find a pair of affordable heels you won't mind slipping on again after the wedding. You can expect to pay anywhere from $25 to $100 or more for shoes.
Some brides have the good sense to ask you to wear strappy black shoes or metallic gold or silver that you'll be able to wear again. (As former bridesmaids themselves, they know you appreciate being practical.)
But sometimes the bride prefers to have the shoes match the dresses, and that calls for dyeing. You can dye them yourself for $5 to $30. Or you can pay somebody to dye them for you, but that will raise your cost significantly. However you finance your footwear, think of the expense as an investment for your feet, not money wasted on someone else's big day.
And yes, you're expected to purchase a wedding gift no matter how much dough you drop on the couple's "I dos," but if you're strapped for cash, we wouldn't push it. A $50 to $75 present should be sufficient.