Forget “three times a bridesmaid, never a bride”, more young single women in China are marketing themselves as professional bridesmaids and 22-year-old Xie Yuke is one of them. After “accidentally” dipping her toe in the new territory in 2020, the recent finance graduate has been a maid of honour for more than 40 brides whom she had never met before until the wedding.
Her first experience as a bridesmaid brought her an income of nearly 2,600 RMB ($359.81), including a 1,600 RMB ($221.42) service fee and the rest were red envelopes (a monetary gift enfolded in a red packet symbolising good wishes, which is also a Chinese tradition) from the couple’s families and friends, which was more than enough to cover her travel expenses back to her hometown in Hangzhou, Sichuan.
Now she is the CEO of a professional bridesmaid and groomsmaid sourcing platform and is one of many such businesses in China. The initial part-time job unsurprisingly saw peak demands during national holidays, with orders of “bridesmaid rental” surging 20-fold during the May 1 Holiday (or China’s Labours’ Day) in 2021, according to Alibaba’s resale platform Xianyu. The service was also in demand during this year’s most recent seven-day National Day Holiday with hundreds of requests being received by Xie.
Although having maids of honour is not a custom exclusive to Chinese society, bridesmaids are generally indispensable in China’s modern weddings and are assigned with responsibilities ranging from assisting with dressing the bride and wedding room decorating to photography, greeting guests and keeping things moving when preparing and participating in wedding games. Specific tasks might vary between a traditional Chinese wedding and a Western-style celebration.
Traditionally, maids of honour are chosen from a couple’s best friends who are unmarried. But this is getting trickier and the overall tendency of delaying marriage amongst China’s millennials is to blame. The nation saw 7.64 million newlyweds registered last year, down 6.1% yearly, the lowest record in 36 years. Newly married couples aged between 30 and 40 years old were the largest contributor, indicating a further increase in the marrying age of women which was 26.3 years old in 2016.
The status quo consequently poses challenges for those late married couples who normally expect to find a perfect companion that is not only accommodating and can satisfy their needs of physical intimacy. Additionally, in a rather superstitious way, having a compatible Chinese zodiac sign, is believed by some to bring good luck to the couple. In light of these requirements, bridesmaid rental is fast becoming a profession.
So far, the new practice seems to be more appealing to women than men. A maid of honour rental app developer surnamed Hu observed that 90% of his 110,000+ users are women since the app’s creation in 2019. The 29-year-old bachelor believes there is not much difference in market demand for a bridesmaid and a groomsmaid but the acceptance of this practice as a career is relatively lower amongst men which results in a gap. However, market demand data indicates otherwise, as the average service delivery rate of best man candidates was just 25% of that taken by bridesmaid candidates in 2021, according to Xianyu.
Nevertheless, a new industry is on the horizon to formalise the practice in a more professional capacity, from recruitment to training and execution. Typical requirements of a bridesmaid include being a single woman between the age of 20 and 27 years old who has “a decent appearance”, which means “good looking but cannot be too pretty, otherwise, they would steal the bride’s thunder”, but they can’t be too plain looking either, or “the host would feel like they are losing face”, according to several experienced maids of honour.
On top of that, a friendly and sociable personality is generally welcomed as they would inject more energy into the ceremony, and potentially, although less likely to be anticipated, to resolve any embarrassing drama on the wedding day. In addition, knowledge of the local dialect would work in the applicant’s favour, and when it comes to more demanding clients, holding a minimum of a bachelor’s degree would be advantageous too.
Once an order is confirmed, a bridesmaid will be briefed on the schedule, some dos’ and don’ts and tips on how to handle incidents. Some even run a rehearsal the day before while also allowing bridesmaids to get familiar with the family. For those applying with Xie’s platform, they will spend the night before the wedding with the bride in case she gets too anxious prior to the big day.
With her bridesmaid rental service platform now home to over 80,000 users since it came to life this February, Xie has witnessed a total of 300 couples tying the knot with a profit rate hovering between 30% and 40%. While she is determined to make professional bridesmaids a more widely recognised profession, when asked about her own plan for marriage, the Gen Z CEO simply smiled saying “I haven’t thought about it.”