Maids of honor

Ditching the traditional bridesmaid dress

Alternatives to the dreaded bridesmaid dress will keep the whole party happy.

Most women will have the honor of being asked to be a bridesmaid at the wedding of a loved one a least once in their lives. Of those women, it’s safe to say that a majority of them have been forced to wear a dress that made them look like a corpse wrapped in taffeta. The ugly bridesmaid dress has passed into the realm of cliché. Movies and television are flooded with images of lines of women in garish puffy dresses that swallow them whole.

Aside from the dreaded ugly bridesmaid dress, there are other time-tested issues that come along with choosing. Finding a dress that looks good on multiple women is a task in and of itself. A bride should take into consideration the different body types, as well as different skin tones, of the bridal party. It’s also important, if not just nice, to take personal taste into account. It’s best to avoid being the bride who makes her friends look terrible just to look good by comparison. There are ways to make brides and bridesmaids feel good about what they are wearing on a wedding day.

“There has never been a better time to be a bridesmaid,” says Michelle Depoali, owner of Swoon bridal salon. “Bridesmaid dresses have shifted significantly over the past few seasons, and have never been more fashionable and fun.”

The practice of having bridesmaids at a wedding originated with the idea that the bride may need protection from any violent wedding guests or unwanted visitors. They were intended to be an army to serve as a shield should the bride need protection. This eventually evolved into the belief that bridesmaids were needed to confuse any evil spirits that should bring ill wishes to the bride and groom. The bride and bridesmaids, as well as the groom and groomsmen, wore identical clothing, in order to make it difficult for the spirits to tell whom to curse.

With this in mind, being a bridesmaid was meant to be a big deal. The women were sacrificing their own safety, physically and spiritually, to protect the bride and her future with her husband. And while today the tradition is little more than a shadow of the original intention, for all of their willingness to be in your front line, it’s nice to choose dresses that don’t make people feel uncomfortable or send them into bankruptcy.

Michelle Depoali is the owner of Swoon.

Today, we are no longer subject to such strict customs and superstitions in most cases. Gone are the days of the identical bridesmaid dresses. Brides choices and opportunities to set your wedding apart from the rest.

“Like the general trend with weddings, brides are infusing personality into all elements of a wedding and bridesmaid dresses are no exception,” Depoali says. “One trend that we just saw this past season is to put maids in lace or in prints.”

It has become the goal of many brides to have a unique and interesting wedding day, and the bridesmaid dresses can play a role in making that happen. Having some options laid out for the bride and her bridesmaids can help to make the whole process easy and fun.

Wedding tradition suggests that bridesmaids pay for their own dresses. This is the first thing that should be considered when shopping around. The more formal the attire, the more expensive the dress. A bride may find the perfect dress for all of her ladies—it fits the theme, color scheme, and taste of the wedding … but it’s really expensive. It’s a good idea to keep friends’ budget concerns in mind when making the final call on what dress they all have to buy. If the bride intends to maintain friendships after the wedding, it’s best not to ask them to drain their bank accounts for a dress they’re only going to wear once.

On that note, brides tend to be hopeful and say, “It’s really pretty, and you can wear it again too!” It’s a sweet thought, but one that rarely turns out to be true. How many women have the occasion to wear that maroon and black floor length strapless gown? One major challenge when finding bridesmaids dresses is trying to suit all of the different personalities, body types, and skin tones in the bridal party. But this means that some brides leave the decision-making to the bridesmaids, which can sometimes be more complicated.

“One thing we see with this shift in approach is that brides are letting their maids pick out their own gowns without much direction,” says Depoali. “This sounds like a good idea, but we find that maids prefer some kind of firm direction from the bride. It’s her day and her visions, and a lot of maids we see who are just trying to find a purple dress feel pretty lost.”

Consider picking not just a color, but a general style and theme as well, such as retro and strapless. A bride still has the final say over whether or not it goes in her wedding, but this gives more freedom to the friends who can now work within their individual budgets and personal preferences; plus, it can add flare to the overall look of your wedding. A combination of direction and choice can give brides a break and allow bridesmaids to feel comfortable. Some brides tend to go overboard on micromanagement.

“Something we also see go wrong is the bride inviting in too many opinions to pick out a bridesmaid dress,” Depoali says. “It’s part of the fun of being a bridesmaid—you wear a dress you may otherwise never wear. It’s part of the deal. We see a lot of brides trying to please all of the maids and as long as the bride picks something with style and that is flattering, most maids are happy with that.”

If letting bridesmaids choose their own dresses is just giving up too much control, there are still plenty of options out there. Most bridal stores carry dresses by manufacturers who specifically produce wedding attire. They make lines of dresses that work well with one another. Brides can pick a specific color and a set of several dresses that you feel comfortable with, and allow the bridesmaids to choose among the selection. That way, brides can both accommodate the different women in her bridal party and, at the same time, keep with the dream she has envisioned for her wedding day.