We’ve already revealed the crazy amount of prep (and money) that it takes to be a Bachelor contestant. But the beauty process pales in comparison to the effort and potential expense that goes into Bachelor fashion. “As a society, we’ve become more fashion-focused, and these days, the contestants are so much more aware of how they’ll be judged by their clothes,” says Dana Weiss, founder of Possessionista, a blog that helps readers find clothing worn on TV shows, like the Bachelor, which she has covered for the last seven years. “The show used to be about finding love, but now it’s just as much about finding celebrity. These contestants leave the show mini-celebs, so their appearance is as important as the way they carry themselves.” We talked to a few of our favorite Bachelor women to get the lowdown on what goes into what they wear.
What To Bring
While you might think there's a team of people who dress the contestants with clothing provided by the show, that's not the case. The women have to bring — and buy — everything themselves. Weeks before contestants leave to tape the show, they receive a packing list with suggested items that range from “tropical resort wear” to “coats and jackets for dressing up and dressing down” to “clothes for all types of weather — snow, rain, sun, and wind” to “comfortable traveling attire for possible long-haul flights.” They even throw hiking boots on there, and each love-seeker has to do it all with just two suitcases.
“You want to be prepared for everything and for potentially staying the entire time, so I always go shopping like a madman,” says Sarah Herron who appeared on Sean Lowe’s season of the Bachelor, as well as two seasons of Bachelor in Paradise. “All three times I've done the show, I think I'm overpacking, yet I'll be rummaging through my suitcase and still can't find anything I want to wear.” Over the course of her multiple show appearances, she has developed some show-specific packing strategies. “I've learned not to stress about shoes — no one will see them. And denim shorts and jeans are a lifesaver, because you can wear them over and over again,” she says. “But don't bother with colored bras or panties. Just stick to nude everything, because you never know what will show through clothing.”
Of course, right off the bat, many girls just ignore the two-suitcase rule. “One of the funniest stories I’ve heard was told to me by Michelle Money a few years ago. She is a total clotheshorse and ended up coming with seven trunks,” says Weiss. “One trunk just had shoes, and when they were traveling abroad, they weren’t going to let her through customs, because they thought she was importing shoes or something.”
Some women get creative by vacuum-packing their clothes, while others stick to two suitcases — and live to regret it. “I pretty much ran out of clothes by week three and had to borrow from the rest of the women,” says Andi Dorfman who appeared on Juan Pablo’s Bachelor before starring in her own season of the Bachelorette.
But perhaps the biggest packing annoyance is that you have to do it again and again throughout your time on the show. “Unfortunately, every time you go on a date or attend a rose ceremony, you have to pack up all of your stuff in case you go home,” says Ashley Spivey, a contestant from Brad Womack’s season. “That was seriously annoying.”
The best potential packing problem has to be this: A very fortunate few have to find extra suitcase room on the trip home, because they’re leaving with more than they came with. Who can forget Brad Womack and Shawntel (Newton) Poidmore’s one-on-one Vegas shopping-spree date? “I ended up getting a gray dress, a pair of black heels, and a beautiful purse, all from Fendi,” she says. “Brad also ended up buying me a pair of black Bally heels with his own credit card. He had the cameras stop rolling and said he wanted to buy me the shoes himself!” So, did she really get to keep it all, or was it all an illusion so the show could stay under budget? “I was able to keep almost everything,” she says. “I did have to return the Fendi purse the next day. That was a bummer.”
Rose Ceremony Prep
Think, for a moment, how frustrating it is to find one formal dress you feel decent in when you need it for a friend’s wedding. Now imagine that you need to find 15 or 20 of them that you look freaking amazing in. “Planning for dresses is the hardest and most expensive part — there are rose ceremony dresses, cocktail party dresses, and date dresses you have to plan around,” says Sarah who brought approximately 25 formal gowns for the show. Others go decidedly more minimal. For Andi’s Bachelor stint, she brought only one super fancy dress (which she wore on night one) and four cocktail dresses. “And looking back, they were all hideous,” she says.
And it’s that first-night dress — the stepping-out-of-the-limo gown that, for some unlucky women, ends up being the only outfit they’ll wear on the show — that is the biggie. It’s so important that the show’s stylist notoriously makes the rounds before the taping, approving each girl’s dress and occasionally asking some to change.
The night-one dress is also where most girls aim to spend the largest portion of their budget. “I did want to spend some money on my dress for the first night, so I ordered one online for $500. I received it just a few days before I had to leave — and it didn’t fit. I was freaking out,” says Shawntel, who ending up returning the dress then taking her mother’s Sears credit card to the store for a Hail Mary. “In my mind, I had envisioned a yellow dress, and you wouldn't believe it, but Sears had a beautiful yellow cocktail dress that I ended up getting for $20!”
For the final two women on each season, though, the dress-pressure is off — and so are the budget constraints. “Generally, the women are on their own until the final rose ceremony. Then, the last two women each get to pick out a dress from a rack of around 18 choices,” says Weiss. “And they both get to keep those dresses.”
The amount of money spent on clothing varies. Wildly. The women who spend the least tend to use items they already own, filling out their wardrobes by borrowing from friends. Ashley says she actually spent nothing on clothes as a result of some creative thinking (more on that below); Shawntel managed to spend around $200 thanks to help from friends and budget shopping. “I got my clothes at Target, Nordstrom Rack, or my friend’s closet, plus a few great cocktail dresses at Forever 21,” she says. Andi had a similar experience during her time as a contestant. “Honestly, I didn't spend much, because I was completely naive and unprepared for it all,” she says. “I bought the gown I wore the first night at Loehmann's on clearance. It was a navy Halston Heritage gown that cost $55.”
But the spending goes way up from there. “It makes me sick to think how much money I've spent prepping for these shows,” says Sarah. “For season 1 [of The Bachelor], I spent roughly $6,000. By Bachelor in Paradise 3, I only spent about $2,000 to $3,000. Still, it's out of control and I'm still paying off my credit cards.” But turns out that’s not even scratching the surface. She adds: “I have heard of girls spending $20,000 to $30,000. I'm not even sure how it gets that far.”
If you’re starting to wonder if dressing for Bachelor success is reserved for the 1%, consider that many resourceful women have begun taking a cue from what celebrities have been doing on the red carpet for years: asking fashion brands to hook them up. “It’s a newer phenomenon, and brands have gotten really savvy with creative and economic ways to do product placement,” says Weiss. “Over the past few years, I’ve seen brands like Show Me Your MuMu all over the show, and it’s smart. These contestants are basically modeling their latest collection directly to their demographic.”
Ashley was an early adopter of the practice. Nearly broke when she got the call to appear on the show a few years back, she had virtually no shopping budget at the time. So she appealed to formalwear brands Aidan Mattox and Adrianna Papell to help her out. “They were super receptive to the idea and immediately had me come in to look at dresses and try things on,” she says. “I wore one of their dresses on the first night — and scored the first impression rose.” In the end, Ashley may not have walked away with the guy during her time on the show, but she did leave with 14 gifted dresses, all of which she was allowed to keep. (“I later donated a couple to a charity event,” she says.)
The brand-begging trend has caught on. “Girls figured out how to get free stuff in exchange for Instagram posts, and by the time I did Bachelor in Paradise 3, I was able to get some brands to send me some swimwear and beachwear for free,” says Sarah. Still, she’s not really a fan of the practice. “It's made fashion a status competition on the show and I think that’s really sad,” she says. “The girls with 200K-plus Instagram followers will stand around in the dressing room comparing their high-priced dresses that For Love and Lemons and Nightcap sent them for free. It’s unfair, because not everyone has the same advantage and are [instead] spending thousands of dollars and borrowing clothes for the show.”
One democratizing solution to the madness: Rent the Runway. While a spokesperson for the dress-rental company says they have not worked with the contestants or the show in an official capacity, the girls themselves report that some contestants have started using the service, aided by kindhearted producers who return the dresses via mail after they’ve been worn on camera. (BTW, if you fall in love with the $1,100 Badgley Mischka dress that JoJo wears on this season’s finale, it’s available for rental on Rent the Runway here.)
Everything you’ve read so far changes when you’re the star of the show, though. Forget toting suitcases stuffed full of new clothes, and the precipitous credit card bills — when you’re the headliner, you’ll need to bring little more than your toothbrush. From JoJo to Desiree to Emily, each Bachelorette star works closely with Cary Fetman, the show’s longtime stylist, to build an entire wardrobe for the season — all on ABC’s dime. “Weeks before we began filming, I went to Cary’s apartment in L.A. for my first fitting, and there were racks and racks of fabulous clothing, shoes, accessories, you name it,” says Andi. “We spent eight hours trying on everything and picking out outfits; then a seamstress came and fitted everything for me. A few weeks into filming, we did another fitting and picked out more outfits, and we were still picking out outfits all the way until the end.” Awesome, right? Yes, but here’s the bad news: Officially, the women aren’t allowed to keep the clothes. Of course, that doesn’t mean they don’t. Says Andi: “Let's just say some things might have gotten ‘lost’ along the way.”