Chelsea_SunChelsea_Sun ・ Apr. 23, 2024
A New Side Hustle in China: Paid Bridesmaids in Small Towns
But Zhang says, as long as there are gigs, she'll keep at it. Because she runs a small shop in her hometown, with monthly revenue of about 3,000 yuan. If she works harder, the income from being a bridesmaid can be as much as her main income.

TMTPOST--On the eve of the Chinese New Year, Zhang Lan (pseudonym) boarded a bus headed to Dezhou city in eastern China’s Shandong province. As a paid bridesmaid, she was set to participate in a wedding the next day.

Typically, a paid bridesmaid would receive reimbursement for transportation expenses and a service fee of around 500 yuan (US$ 69) per case. However, the fee this time was 900 yuan, prompting her to accept the job even as the Year of the Dragon approached. It's uncommon to hold weddings near the Lunar New Year, but the year of the Dragon that started on February 9, 2024 was an exception. In December 2023 and January 2023 alone, Zhang served as a paid bridesmaid at six weddings.

The Year of the Rabbit, which largely overlapped with the year of 2023, had two Beginnings of Springs, which are a solar term of 24 solar terms in a year, so it is colloquially known as a "double spring year." As such, there is no Beginning of Spring in the following year of the Dragon, notoriously known as a "widow year," and some interpreted it as an inauspicious year for marriages. "Some families are superstitious, so they all want to hurry up and get married in the Year of the Rabbit,” said Zhang.

Paid bridesmaids were never heard of in China in the past. Actually, bridesmaids became a tradition in China only a few decades ago. In China, bridesmaids need to help the bride with toasts, follow the bride to thank guests table by table, and be responsible for proposing toasts, providing emotional comfort to the bride according to pre-arranged routines.

The sky was still pitch black when Shen Yue crawled out of bed in the hotel room to do her makeup. She needed to wash up and finish her makeup before 6 a.m., then grab a piece of bread and a Snickers bar before heading to the bride's room next door to go over the day's itinerary and assist with the bride's hair and makeup.

A paid bridesmaid's day typically starts at 5 a.m., and the end time depends on the wedding schedule, sometimes persists until late at night, with no time for eating all day.

Shen quickly styled her hair into a half-up, half-down 'do, slung her shoulder with a zippered Uniqlo crossbody bag, and headed out. After two years as a paid bridesmaid, Shen had mastered all the skills required for the job.

The half-up hairstyle was prearranged with the bride, as the bride decided on an updo crown during the trial makeup, and the bridesmaid's hairstyle needed to be distinctive from the bride's. The Uniqlo crossbody bag also had its secrets; it was lightweight, spacious, and had wide straps, ensuring no strain on the shoulders even when wearing a bridesmaid dress.

She usually carries two bottles of water and a few candies in her bag to prevent from experiencing low blood sugar. However, usually by the end of the day, "the bride drinks almost all the water, and there's hardly any left for me,” she said. The zippered bag was designed to prevent theft, and the bag also contained red envelopes and the diamond ring for exchanging vows. The wedding venue was always busy, and one of the bridesmaid's duties was to safely keep these valuables.

After confirming the day's schedule with the bride, Shen needed to decorate the room while the bride was getting her hair and makeup done, "just sticking some window flowers or hanging some ornaments, and also arranging the bed, depending on the bride’s requirements,” said Shen,

For most people, becoming a paid bridesmaid is happenstance. In early 2022, Shen's cousin asked her if she could help a colleague with bridesmaid’s duties. Due to the pandemic, the colleague's original bridesmaid couldn't make it, and many other friends couldn't travel either. Being from out of town with few local friends, finding a bridesmaid turned out to be the trickiest thing. Having only been a bridesmaid once at her cousin's wedding, Shen readily agreed. After the wedding, she received a 680 yuan red envelope and a little gift.

The wage level in Shen's city was not high, and the 600-plus yuan exceeded her monthly bonus. She immediately had the idea of turning bridesmaid duties into a side hustle to earn extra money: making bridesmaid services a profession.

Many others share Shen's idea. Searching "bridesmaid/groomsman" on search engines, we can find companies with business scope covering "bridesmaid/groomsman leasing." On social platforms, intermediary companies that specialize in connecting paid bridesmaids with couples are active. After connecting the needs of the couples with the bridesmaids, they charge a commission fee and pay the bridesmaids based on their income.

Unlike most jobs that require qualifications, becoming a paid bridesmaid requires "mediocrity" beyond the hard standard of being unmarried and childless.

Firstly, the ideal height should fluctuate between 155cm and 165cm, depending on the bride's height. Liu Qingqing once had a couple cancel their booking because, at 167cm, she was the same height as the groom, and they were concerned about their photos looking awkward.

Secondly, having an average-looking face is preferred. “You're too beautiful, not quite suitable,” it is often heard when declining some pretty girl. Zhang understood because most people want to be the most beautiful protagonist on their wedding day.

There are also other trivial requirements, such as the zodiac sign and birthday, which should be in harmony with the couple's or their parents' in traditional Chinese culture.

When Zhang started as a paid bridesmaid, her parents didn't believe such an occupation existed. "They thought bridesmaids were supposed to be friends or relatives, hiring one and paying for it seemed unbelievable, just something you ask a friend to do, right?" Even Zhang herself was curious initially, wondering what kind of couples would pay for bridesmaids. "Are they particularly unsociable, or have a bad relationship with their families?" she wondered.

One bride told Zhang that she chose a paid bridesmaid because she had been a bridesmaid for a friend once, but being exhausted and underappreciated in the end. She was afraid that if she asked friends to be bridesmaids, she might "owe them" in the end, so it seems better to pay someone to do this thing.

"Being a bridesmaid too many times will make it difficult to get married." This is the most common comment Shen hears in her small town. Shen, 24, tried to find the origin of this saying but found no authoritative answer. "Most say that being a bridesmaid will give away your fate and luck to the couple, and doing it too often will exhaust your own."

One time, Shen's grandmother earnestly warned her that being a bridesmaid was about shielding a bride from "bad luck," preventing the bride from bringing bad luck to her husband's family. So, she should stop being a bridesmaid. She asked her grandmother, why is that only the bride who brings bad luck? Her grandmother said, "We women are yin, men are yang, they have strong yang energy, and there's nothing dirty in them." Yin-yang is a concept that originated in Chinese philosophy, describing opposite but interconnected, self-perpetuating cycle.

Shen disagreed, saying while giggling, "I think the strongest yang comes from the money I get for being a bridesmaid."

Regarding "why you can't be a bridesmaid too many times," Liu has a more materialistic answer: seeing too much makes you afraid to get married.

During her years of work, one bride was the one whose hometown is far away, and the bride's family performed a water-sprinkling ceremony behind the bride's wedding car, symbolizing water as wealth, hoping the daughter would bring wealth and blessings to her husband's family. But she always felt this explanation was far-fetched; after all, the more widely circulated saying goes, "A married daughter is like water poured out."

"Do you think so?" She asked in confusion, as if questioning herself.

There's another custom that makes Shen uncomfortable. One family hung the groom's pants high at the door before the bride entered, symbolizing the need to walk past the groom's crotch, signifying obedience to the husband's family.

"If it weren't for being a bridesmaid, I would not be able to learn about these things about marriage in advance." Shen said that many things had no explanation, and no one taught you in advance. You have to "learn on the fly" and often end up confused.

Most weddings Shen attends have male emcees. The general consensus is that male emcees are more imposing and can better liven up the atmosphere. There's also a more covert reason: those who work as wedding emcees usually have degrees in broadcasting and hosting majors that require an arts entrance exam, and the girls who pass this screening are relatively good-looking. Many brides worry that their once-in-a-lifetime big day will be overshadowed.

However, one couple who got married in Shenzhen hired a female emcee. The bride told Shen  that she preferred the female emcee's hosting style; male emcees tend to be overly enthusiastic and use clichéd lines. She asked the bride, aren't you worried about being overshadowed? The bride retorted, male emcees are usually well-groomed, it's always been this way, which groom worries about being overshadowed?

Shen said she didn't stop wanting to get married because she saw more. She just started to ponder whether there was an inevitable connection between marriage and real intimacy. "There's too little in our education about how to handle intimate relationships, isn't there?"

Zhang's hometown of Cangzhou in Hebei province is adjacent to Shandong province where Confucius was born, and traditional customs still hold sway in the two provinces. Many young people from her hometown go to work in Beijing and Tianjin. By the time they reach marriageable age, some women return home like swallows to get married, take care of household chores, and begin a life of separation from their husbands. There aren't many women like her, over thirty, and still being unmarried.

Since being a bridesmaid often requires spending more than a day away from home, Zhang often stays overnight. Sometimes it's in the city, sometimes nearby cities. Her family can't understand it, urging her not to run around for these "meager payments."

"But I know there's more gossip behind it, they think I'm doing something wrong for this 'odd job.'" Zhang describes repeatedly, but she can't specify what others speculate about her. "It's just that, you know, that kind of moonlighting."

But Zhang says, as long as there are gigs, she'll keep at it. Because she runs a small shop in her hometown, with monthly revenue of about 3,000 yuan. If she works harder, the income from being a bridesmaid can be as much as her main income.

"I don't care what others say. I’m earning money with my own work," Zhang says.

Related Posts
Minister Says Canada Weighs Tariff Hike on Chinese EVs following US
Minister Says Canada Weighs Tariff Hike on Chinese EVs following US
Fangdd Shares Skyrocket 321% over China's Forceful Measures to Shore up Property Sector
Fangdd Shares Skyrocket 321% over China's Forceful Measures to Shore up Property Sector
Baidu Q1 Net Income Surges 22% as AI Cloud Drives Marketing Despite Sales Slowdown
Baidu Q1 Net Income Surges 22% as AI Cloud Drives Marketing Despite Sales Slowdown
China's Industry, Exports Indicators Improve Moderately
China's Industry, Exports Indicators Improve Moderately
China Announces Sweeping Measures to Stabilize Property Sector
China Announces Sweeping Measures to Stabilize Property Sector Q1 Net Income Beat Estimates with 14% Growth as Logistics Unit Reports Turnaround Q1 Net Income Beat Estimates with 14% Growth as Logistics Unit Reports Turnaround

  • Subscribe To Our News