Your friendly guide to navigating the pitfalls of dressing your Bridesmaids
Gone are the days when you followed tradition and appointed your willing sisters as bridesmaids and told them to ‘put up or shut up’. Now your bridesmaids are a compilation of close friends and siblings (if indeed like me you are close to your sisters). It’s therefore a little more difficult to take the ‘authoritarian approach’! Even if you are lucky enough to have a bevy of bridesmaids at your beck and call, it’s likely they are scouring Instagram for Bridesmaid Inspiration before you’ve slipped that long-awaited diamond solitaire on your deliriously happy finger!!
There are several big decisions to make around your wedding and bridesmaids dress choice is up there with the best of them. It sets the tone for the wedding, like a halo on an angel (that’s you by the way.. well at least before you started shopping for their dresses!!)
Choosing bridesmaids dresses is fraught with challenges. Your bridesmaids have you in common, but often that’s about it! It’s likely they are different shapes, sizes and colouring. You are torn between wanting something that YOU love but that they too will love, and possibly even cherish so much that they will wear it again (that’s if they didn’t stick their 6 inch stiletto in it jumping ‘Paul O’Connell style’ into the air to catch your bouquet…)
So, we are here to give you a little bit of guidance – we can’t help with the squabbling over who gets to walk down the aisle first but we can take the pain away from saying yes… to the Bridesmaids dress! (and don’t forget, handle it the wrong way and you might find yourself in a pink Tafetta number that would but Gwyneth Paltrow’s Oscar dress to shame when it’s their turn…)
The ‘4 C’s of Selecting a Bridesmaid’s Dress’
We all know the 4 C’s that apply to diamonds… but did you know there are 4 C’s to bridesmaid dress shopping too!
Keep this four words in your mind at all time when thinking about Bridesmaids dresses and the wonderful ladies who will be wearing them
This is a tricky one. Personally there are shades that make me look like I’d look better in a coffin than escorting a bride down the aisle (canary yellow anyone?). The challenge is to pick a colour that suits everyone and doesn’t require a spray tan that makes your bridesmaids look like they are casting for the remake of Willy Wonka’s Chocolate factory!…
First up, do not even think about stepping that well manicured toe inside Debenhams until you have settled on your ‘theme’ and chosen your own dress. You do not want to make those decisions based on your very persuasive bridesmaid’s desire to ‘look like Kim Kardashian’ at the Grammy Music Awards – Lamé gold was never part of the plan…. And… once you give in… you’re stuck with it (and who can compete with Kimmy!?).
When you are ready to commence the bridesmaid-dress expedition with the diplomatic skills of Kofi Annan, start with a colour palette in mind. Look at photos of what colours your bridesmaids most often wear. With our obsession with social media, finding photos of your besties should not be difficult. If there are common colours they all seem to wear frequently, start with those (and yes, ‘black’ is an option… see below in ‘current trends’!). Same goes for dress shapes / necklines / sleeve lengths…. Which brings me to….
We've all seen our share of bridesmaid dress disasters. The ‘wedgie’ when they walk, the endless ‘pulling it down or Hoisting it up’, the over-spill of those blessed with more ample bosoms. (And then the photos come out and you struggle to find one with all four bridesmaids not looking like they want to punch your smug-married face…. )
It’s a challenging one and best solved by avoiding the ‘school uniform’ vibe. There are no rules. Your bridesmaids hung up their pinafores several years ago, they don’t need to look identical! Many brands do different versions of the dress in the same fabric in complimentary hues.
On the same note, check out the tailoring in the dresses… built-in corsetry will flatter every shape… even the less ample bosom will thank you for a little built in ‘cup’. Please! No ‘7-way dresses’, unless your bridesmaids are beanpoles with no nipples….
Ok, so, whether you are in UK or Ireland, we are not going to get hugely varying temperatures but, we do get them. With winter weddings becoming ever more popular, thinking about your poor bridesmaids as they wait outside the church in sub-zero temperatures is humane. Explore the current trend of formal dresses with delicate long lace sleeves and, if that’s not your bag, a fur stole can add a gorgeous touch of glamour.
Nowadays our brides are choosing to leave the dodgy, unpredictable UK and Irish weather behind and choosing sunnier climes to say ‘I do’.
This means you need to consider fabric, colour and cut carefully. Polyester is a no-no in searing temperatures so go for natural fibres / blended cotton material. Likewise, tight dresses result in little tropical micro climes in bodily crevices that lead to embarrassing perspiration marks. If you are going with the lethal combination of synthetic fibres and fitted dresses, then at least go for darker shades that conceal (nobody wants to see a wet bum as your dutiful bridesmaids follow you down the aisle…)
Modern convention (and a quick Google search) would suggest that bridesmaids should pay for their own dresses – and you’re a modern bride, right? It’s tempting to follow ‘modern protocol’ but my advice is that ‘money means control’…
Again, this is a conversation you absolutely must have before setting foot inside a store (or, in today’s world, typing ‘Bridesmaids Dresses’ into a Google search bar!).
So, set a budget but, discuss it with your bridesmaids (I go by 15% of the cost of your own dress). Whether they are willing to go halves or you are feeling generous and paying 100%, give them the option to ‘buy in’. They may well prefer to spend a little more for something that they can wear again or, which guarantees them a better cut / fit. After all, they are likely to spend the best part of 24 hours in it and a largely synthetic dress will eventually feel a little like they are encased in a giant plastic Aldi bag ☹
Thank God for the internet!
You no longer have to put aside 7 Saturdays in a row and coordinate 4 begrudging bridesmaids diaries to traipse through every department store or boutique known to man to ‘find the one’ . So, bin those blister plasters, pour yourself a nice glass of wine and say ‘Hello’ to your new best friends - Pinterest / Facebook/ Instagram (if they could handle 5 hours of photos on an empty stomach – you’d ask them to be your Bridesmaids!)
Social media is bulging with bridesmaid inspiration. #bridesmaidsdress #weddingblogger #celebritywedding (#Iwantmylifeback )… you name it, it’s there. And you can tag your gal pals in the posts you like so, they see them right away. Easy! It’s like having your own team of Stylists, a la Kim Kardashian!
Be prepared, many of the dresses you find on Social Media will be from Online Retailers or possibly overseas brands. However, online retail is a fact of life now so stay open to leveraging this wonderful Aladdin’s cave of opportunity. You may NEVER have to drag your hungover Merry Maids out of bed on a Saturday morning in pursuit of the perfect bridesmaids dress….
After your PHD-esque research expedition from the comfort of your own lounge, you’ve probably spotted some key trends this season. Just in case you missed them (or want to skip to the juicy bits..), here are a few:
- Black is HUGE for Bridesmaids at the moment and I LOVE it! You can pretty it up with some soft pink flowers. It’s also very wearable again so your bridesmaids will be very happy! It’s an easy one to match with the fellas (what guy doesn’t love a black suit) and it’s just Oh so Glam!
- Mix & Matching Styles/Hues: Finding a colour you love and then, letting your bridesmaids choose which cut / style they like will not only avoid the aforementioned issues with ‘boob hang’ but will also mean they are looking their best and comfortable.
- White / Ivory: Yes, the days of the bride being the only person to wear head-to-toe white are gone; or at least if you want to make the most confident statement EVER! It’s really a look I adore and says, ‘look at me’ more than you know!
- Midi length: Another very welcome trend for those who don’t want to sentence their bridesmaid dress to a lifetime at the back of the wardrobe until mildew means it walks itself to the Charity shop a few years later… is the shorter length dress. Not only is it completely wearable again, the choice is huge so, you’re definitely off the hook and those Saturday’s with your bridesmaids can be spent on YOU!
You’ve probably sourced your wedding favours / bridesmaids gifts / chair covers / and wedding invites online, so, why not your Bridesmaids dresses..!?
Shopping online means that you will have access to a greater variety of styles and you’re more likely to find something unique. It’s likely you’ve already bookmarked a few styles that you and your girls love. It’s normal to feel a little nervous / wary (Aladdin’s cave was dark and probably full of snakes after all…). Get it right and it can be the perfect answer to finding the perfect bridesmaids dresses.
As an online boutique owner, here are my top tips (a whole blog in itself but will try to be brief!).
1. If it looks too good to be true, it probably is.
I’ve heard more horror stories about buying from online China based bridal boutiques than I’ve had 4-course wedding dinners… The images are usually copies of celebrity dresses. Two weeks out from the wedding after 16 calls and 32 emails in your best ‘Chinese’ they arrive. There are tears… Funnily enough the 4 dresses you bought for £50 each don’t look like they did in the photo. If you’re lucky, Deirdre the local dress-maker can work her magic for the next week and at least make them fit (Don’t forget to give them a good spray of fire-retardant before wearing…)
So, how do you know when it’s the real thing? Remember that thing called a phone? Call them directly. Visit their social media pages. Contact them, one way or another before parting with you cash.
2. Measure up….
As an online retailer, I get enquiries daily from ladies wishing for advice on what size they should order. I start with ‘what are your measurements’? I’ve yet to hear an assured answer with RECENT measurements. If you intend to source your dresses online, ask your bridesmaids to measure themselves. See my video on how to do this (2 inches the wrong way and you are in ‘wrong size-land’…).
Then use the retailer’s size charts on their website, if they don’t have them, ask them. Also, note, while measurements are supposedly international, it differs with every country and designer AND don’t forget to measure your height! If the model is 5ft 11 and you are 5ft 1, then the style may not fit you, missing your waistline by 10 inches. Similarly, look at fabric make-up, garments with a little stretch, even if it’s 2% are a bit more forgiving where ‘fit’ is concerned.
Don’t be afraid to contact the retailer and ask them for size/fit guidance.
3. Check Returns Policy & Shipping costs!
Large online retailers like ASOS have set the expectation that everyone accepts returns and, ships for free. Read the fine print, especially when buying from overseas. Finique stocks mostly Australian labels and, when you order from the designers directly, many of them do not accept exchanges or refunds due to the complications around duty. When buying from outside the EU, check customs / duties before purchasing. Duties can amount to 30+% on top of the cost of the dress and customs will not release it until those are paid. There are often also additional handling charges from the courier company (e.g. DHL / DPD / Postage handlers) if duty must be taken which all adds to the cost.
Just because you are buying online, doesn’t mean you can’t ask for a discount. You probably haggled with the wedding venue / the suit hire place / the jeweller and even the local parish priest so, don’t stop at the Bridesmaids dresses. This is especially appropriate if you have 3 or 4 bridesmaids! It might not be possible with big retailers and department stores but many smaller online businesses, such as my own may give discounts or, free shipping or more flexible returns policies.
5. Shipping to multiple destinations
These days, your bridesmaids are probably dotted around the world – or indeed you are living abroad yourself so coordinating the search can be challenging. This is where online shopping can really come in handy – you can all go shopping virtually! Also, it’s a good idea to contact the seller directly and ask if they can send the dresses to different locations. A good online retailer will oblige. If they don’t, then question whether they will be helpful facilitating if the size is wrong / an exchange is required.
It’s YOUR Big day… not theirs….Good Luck!
So, when you summoned your best gal pals to walk you down the aisle, perhaps none of you realised what you were really getting yourself in for. However, with good preparation, a lot of patience, a little diplomacy and many hours on Instagram, you will ALL eventually ‘Say Yes to the Bridesmaids Dress’…
Stick with it and you’ve got yourself a really chic looking bridal party – and very happy faces like they never want to take the dress off (and your smug-married face remains well….smug…)
I hope some of my advice has perhaps taken the angst out of choosing your bridesmaids dresses. Remember, it’s only one day and your friendship will last a lifetime so, don’t let the pursuit of the perfect Bridesmaids dress tear you apart….
Want more wedding tips and inspiration?
Check out our friends at WeddingWire for more inspiration for your big day.
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