On season 13 of The Bachelorette, the ABC show in which a couple dozen men compete for the chance to find love, a contestant eliminated in the first episode lamented what he’d be missing out on: modeling all the cool outfits he bought for the show.
“I’m just disappointed. It’s just a waste of time, that’s what I’m most upset about,” Milton, a 31-year-old hotel recreation supervisor from Florida, told the camera with tears in his eyes. “I brought a bunch of outfits that I wanted to wear. Didn’t even get to show them off, you know? [I’m] probably the best-dressed dude in there.”
For those watching at home, Milton’s statement may have seemed funny, and maybe even a little superficial — participants ostensibly go on the show to find a wife, and he was crying about not getting to show off his best ’fits? — but it makes a lot of sense.
Contestants on both The Bachelor and its various spinoffs, including The Bachelorette and Bachelor In Paradise, are instructed to bring at least 10 weeks’ worth of clothing for the show, and to pack for all seasons and occasions, since they’re often whisked off to exotic locales like France, Finland, and Fort Lauderdale, Florida. They also have to pack formal clothing for at least 10 cocktail parties and “rose ceremonies,” the excruciating ritual where the Bachelor or Bachelorette selects which potential suitors get to vie for their attention by bestowing them with a rose.
Some contestants spend thousands on outfits, occasionally going into credit card debt or taking out second mortgages on their homes to finance the wardrobe for their pursuit of love. Others borrow clothing from friends and family. And, increasingly, some contestants borrow clothing from brands, exchanging free clothing for exposure on social media.
Steve Carbone, a blogger who runs the popular reality TV spoiler website Reality Steve, told me he’s heard of several instances of this happening. “There are some women who already work in the fashion industry and go to shops and say, ‘Hey, lend me a dress, I’ll wear it on the show, and once it airs, I’ll put it on my Instagram [and say] where I got it from,” Carbone said. “I don’t think they get paid to actually wear it, but the company lends it to them for advertisement on the show.”
Carbone’s theory holds up. Social media followings for contestants — especially those who are either villains or fan favorites — tend to skyrocket after they go on the show, even if they only manage to stay on for a few episodes, and the free publicity can be appealing for brands looking to reach a wider audience. CableTV.com found that Bachelor contestants’ follower counts can increase by the hundreds of thousands once the show airs. (Each season, at least one contestant is accused of not “being there for the right reasons” — of going on the show to increase their public profile, not to find love.)
But according to Chelsea Roy, who appeared on season 22 of The Bachelor, contestants aren’t allowed to disclose that they’re going on the show ahead of time, which makes finding brand sponsorships tricky.
“We sign a big NDA [nondisclosure] agreement where we’re not allowed to tell anyone that we’ve been cast and we’re going to start filming the show,” she told me. “I was able to reach out to a couple of people, local people, and say, ‘I would like to support your store in exchange for some exposure in the next few months. Just trust me.’” Her strategy worked. “A lot of my dresses were borrowed; they weren’t given to me,” she said. “It’s a trust thing that you have to build while also remaining secretive.”
Bekah Martinez, a contestant on season 22 whose style and ability to laugh at the absurdity of being on The Bachelor quickly turned her into a fan favorite, said she borrowed clothing to go on the show. “Knowing that there’s a potential to go on the show for two months and not make any money during that time — I’m not working, but I still have to pay rent and all my living expenses — there was no way I could spend a few grand on clothes,” she told Glamour.
Since Martinez’s boss worked in the fashion industry, she was able to pick up nice clothing free of cost. “She sent me to a couple of showrooms where I was able to get samples of different dresses to borrow for the show,” Martinez said. “After the show, I had to collect everything and bring it back to the showroom — they were their samples for models and photo shoots and stuff like that.”
Even though she was able to borrow a dozen outfits, Martinez still had to buy shoes, makeup, and other accessories. She said she spent around $700 or $800 on heels and makeup but was “so broke, I returned everything that still had tags on” after getting sent home.
Contestants have different strategies for deciding what clothes to wear on set. Dana Weiss, a blogger who ran the website Possessionista, where she recapped Bachelor episodes and broke down where contestants’ outfits came from, told Mic that some choose to “front-wear” their best clothing because they never know when they’ll get eliminated.
Astrid Loch, who appeared on season 21 of The Bachelor, told me she decided to wear her nicest dress on the first night. “The cocktail parties are really not as dressy as people think,” she said. “If you’re accessorizing, you can make things look a lot dressier. It’s really the first night, that’s the one dress you want to spend your money on.”
Maquel Cooper, a photographer from Utah who was on season 22, said she ended up saving her best dress for last. “For that first dress, I reached out to a company and [asked] if they’d be interested in doing something — either a discount or giving it to me for free,” she said; they gave her a discount. “And then I just packed any type of cocktail dress that I had, and I picked up two more. I got cheap dresses from H&M. The week I was eliminated, I ended up wearing my favorite dress. I had a feeling I was getting eliminated, so I was like, ‘I’m going to go out with a bang.’”
She also borrowed dresses from other contestants, because the producers let her know ahead of time that contestants often swap clothing at the mansion. “You don’t notice, a lot of the time, that girls are actually switching off clothes,” she said.
For the men who go on The Bachelorette, swapping clothing isn’t always an option, since many of them get their suits custom-tailored for rose ceremonies. Lucas Yancey, a contestant on season 13 of The Bachelorette, said he managed to get a 20 percent discount on tailoring but ended up spending a couple thousand dollars on clothing anyway.
“You have to buy all your stuff, $3,000 to $5,000 worth of clothes, depending on what you’re willing to spend,” Yancey said, adding that asking for freebies is hard for people who don’t already have large social media followings and can’t disclose why they need the clothing or what they’re going to do with it. “When you’re not verified, you don’t have that many followers, what do you have [to offer brands]? You could be gone on the first episode.”
Alexis Waters, a contestant on The Bachelor season 21 who wore a shark costume during the first rose ceremony, said she didn’t think to reach out to brands when she went on the show. “I was a broke college student when I went on the show, so shoutout to [my mother] Tracy Waters for helping me out,” she said. “She was so pissed when I wore the shark costume. She was like, ‘Bitch, I spent so much money on your dresses and you come out with a $39.99 shark costume!”
And, Waters added, she hardly wore the cute clothing her mom bought her anyway. “I ended up wearing pajamas every day, because I was hungover every day, so all that money Tracy Waters spent literally went to waste,” she said.
When contestants aren’t out on dates or at cocktail parties, they’re usually sitting around at home, where drinks are always on hand — drunk contestants equals more drama, after all. “I wore these blue Juicy sweatpants every day,” Waters said. “When I wasn’t going on a date, I didn’t care. There were girls who were glam every day, and then there was me, no makeup, chugging Pedialyte.”
By the time she went on Bachelor in Paradise, a spinoff show where former contestants mostly drink and hang out on the beach, Waters was able to leverage her newfound social media fame to get free swimsuits to wear on the show.
It’s no surprise that after appearing on Bachelor franchise shows, many former contestants abandon their old careers and become full-fledged influencers. Only one person gets the final rose, but those who don’t find love on the show may come away with something that’s arguably better: lucrative sponsorship deals.
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