Although being a contestant on ABC's The Bachelor offers the potential reward of celebrity (of the reality TV variety) and love everlasting, it also comes with a hefty price tag. And we're not just talking about the emotional cost of having your relationship (and statistically-probable dumping) broadcast to millions.
This season's third episode, which aired on Jan. 18, opened with the hushed whisper of one flowy-shirt-and-short-shorts-wearing contestant to another flowy-shirt-and-short-shorts-wearing contestant on the patio of the Bachelor Mansion: "Olivia said she spent, like, $40,000 on clothes. It's insane."
This assertion certainly sounded like mean-spirited gossip (especially considering the way the women later derided contestant Olivia Caridi's appearance in the show, down to her "fat" toes). But the pricey estimate is rooted in some truth.
So just how much do Bachelor contestants spend on 10 weeks' worth of sparkly dresses and trendy yet approachable date outfits?
Going into debt for the perfect Bachelor dress: "I did the math, and unless [Caridi] is wearing forty pairs of Christian Louboutins, I don't think it's feasible," said fashion and television blogger Dana Weiss, better known as Possessionista, disputing the $40K claims in an interview with Mic. "She's wearing brands like Alice & Olivia, which [are] $300 to $400 dresses."
Possessionista gained notoriety for humorously recapping Bachelor episodes along with accurate rundowns of all the fashion on the show. Weiss, who now recaps additional TV shows on her blog, started gathering her Bachelor clothing intel in 2009 via in-depth Google searches, trying to find out what then-Bachelorette Jillian Harris was wearing. She has since built relationships with ABC, stylists and even the contestants themselves, who will send her breakdowns of their outfits.
Weiss told Mic that contestants have certainly spent significant sums to dress for the show, sometimes resulting in debt. ABC only provides dresses for the two finalists for the finale episode, meaning contestants must bring their own outfits. And even though she might get sent home after the first rose ceremony, a contestant must pack enough TV-ready outfits to last the whole competition, which can include diverse travel destinations ranging from freezing glaciers to tropical beaches.
"I know that there are women in the past who cashed out their 401(k)s for the show," Weiss said. "Not in this season, but some have gone into serious credit card debt."
Jillian Harris, the former Bachelor contestant turned Bachelorette, confirmed the high cost, writing on her blog after last week's episode, "I had re-mortgaged my house and I spent something like $8,000 on clothing (which is still a lot) ... but now that designer labels are even more important, I can see how someone can spend that ... easily!!!!!"
Depending on pre-existing relationships, contestants can also save on clothing by borrowing from friends and — if they're lucky — designers. After all, it's an excellent marketing opportunity for a brand.
"I have a really good friend in the city who works for a designer so they actually gave me 14 dresses to take with me on the show," Ashley Spivey, a contestant on Brad Womack's season in 2011, told Reality TV World.
Sometimes brands will reach out to contestants before filming to lend them dresses to wear on-air. "When I went on the show, we got goodie bags filled with some stuff that they wanted us to wear," wrote Harris on her blog, "but half of it didn't even fit."
(Mic reached out, and both ABC and producers Warner Horizon declined to comment.)
How much they really have to pack: That said, plenty of people bring clothes they already have. "I know that there are women who have brought everything from their closet," said Weiss. "[Former Bachelorette] Jillian Harris wore almost entirely Forever 21."
According to Weiss, the Bachelor contestants are given very few instructions when it comes to packing.
"The show tells you to bring two suitcases and an approximate number of dresses," she said. "The only rule is you can't wear a brand across the chest... I have trouble packing for a weekend away. Can you imagine packing for six weeks on national television?"
As former Bachelor contestant Leslie Hughes told the Daily Beast, "It's a lot of suitcases."
Since the contestants never know when they are going to be sent home, Weiss said, "They often 'front-wear' their good clothes, so by around week six or seven, they start wearing their old ugly dresses from high school."
Of course, contestants don't need a new outfit for every on-air moment. According to Chris Harrison's Entertainment Weekly Bachelor blog, "If you really pay attention, and it appears many of you do, the girls often wear the same dress twice or borrow each other's for dates and ceremonies."
Do the clothes even matter? Weiss doesn't believe that the clothing and labels contestants wear have a bearing on who will win the show. While season 16 winner and Los Angeles-based model Courtney Robertson "wore all designer labels," Weiss said season 14 winner Vienna Girardi "wore all jean short cut-offs."
Season 15 winner (and later Bachelorette) Emily Maynard famously had the most expensive wardrobe budget in the show's history as the Bachelorette, but when she was a contestant, she mixed high and low, wearing Herve Leger bandage dresses on one date and Target bikinis on the next.
Clothes can't compensate for a romantic connection, and Ben Higgins probably won't pick a fiancé based on her rompers. But The Bachelor has never only been about love, and the clothes certainly does add another layer of interest for fashion-loving viewers watching — and live-tweeting — the show.
That's even truer today, in our era of social media, style blogging and a Kardashian-esque fixation on clothes, than it was when The Bachelor debuted in 2002. Indeed, former contestants like Maynard and Ali Fedotowsky have turned their Bachelor and Bachelorette stints into fashionable careers, making money by promoting their clothes on Instagram or creating lifestyle blogs.
"Fashion has evolved, because we are a much more shallow society than we were 20 seasons ago," said Weiss. "And the women on the show are much savvier than we give them credit for... This is their 15 minutes, or their opportunity to extend it."
Why pass up a chance of drumming up good press for good dress?