For the most part, bridesmaid dresses have come a long way since the 1980s, when they were sucked into a fashion vortex that encouraged giant satin bows and puffy sleeves. Even though many brides make an effort to be enlightened dress shoppers, it's exceptionally difficult to pick out one dress in a color and style that will suit a variety of body frames, skin tones and financial limitations. Beautifully hued dresses line the racks of bridal boutiques, but it's still way too common for bridesmaids to wind up in a gown that might've been lovely -- if it not for the hideously unflattering color the bride selected.
If you're lucky, your bridesmaids are the type to grin and bear it, while complaining quietly behind your back. So, it falls on my shoulders to beg you to take special care when selecting a color for your girls' gowns. Trust me, your friendships will thrive and you'll get a much better wedding gift if you manage to be one of the approximately four brides in history who avoid criticism for their bridesmaid dress selection. Keep reading for a list of colors you should only consider if you really want to end up with sullen faces and recycled gifts.
There are several truths to life. It's not nice to lie, cheat or steal, and salmon doesn't look good on anyone. Save the salmon for your buffet spread rather than forcing your bridesmaids to plunk down a significant chunk of change for a dress the shade of a delicious, yet very unattractive, sea creature. For the love of Pete, if you must go with this color, do not pick a shimmery satin fabric unless you want your bridesmaids to sprout fins and swim away.
A few years ago, my family and I toured Saint Patrick's Cathedral in New York City. We were overwhelmed by the serenity of the location and its architectural beauty … until we saw the wedding taking place at the front of the church. (Tourists are allowed to enter during ceremonies -- we weren't crashing).
Granted, this was the mid-1990s, when the bridal industry was still suffering from a major fashion hangover from the '80s. Nevertheless, it was still appalling to witness psychological torture in the form of nine gold lamé bridesmaid dresses with matching hairpieces.
If you're going to subject your friends to such a fate, I sure hope they've done something awful to warrant it, like running over your dog or eating all your brownies without asking. Tip to bridesmaids: If there ever was a time to revolt, this is it. Friends don't let friends wear gold lamé. Not even Cher.
Unless you're holding a "Star Trek"-themed wedding, you'll want to step away from the silver swatches.
Nothing says "I yearn to be abducted and probed" quite like gowns that bear a striking resemblance to aluminum foil. Of course, if you're going for the baked potato or extraterrestrial look, silver is your go-to color. Otherwise, spare your bridesmaids by remembering that silver gowns are so 1999.
There are so many gorgeous shades of green to choose from, so why do brides insist on selecting this one? A most unfortunate cross between brown and green, this color should be permanently relegated to Yoda costumes and split-pea soup.
Your bride probably thought it would be a nice shade since it was described as cypress or forest moss. Of course, some brides unwittingly select this shade based on a photo, only to be appalled once the final product is delivered.
And this brings me to yet another piece of unsolicited, but valuable advice: Insist on seeing a swatch or, better yet, an entire dress in the color before placing any orders.
Peach is a lovely shade. Unfortunately for us fair-skinned ladies, it makes us look like we're going totally buff when we wear it. Unless you want your guests to be checking out the nearly nude tableau at the front of the sanctuary, you should choose a more vibrant color that's not going to completely wash out complexions.
Annemarie from Tennessee recalls a peach gown and matching hat combo that caused significant friction between the bride and her attendants. In particular, the maid of honor/sister of the bride opposed the ensemble and actually changed clothes between the wedding and reception.
"The bride would not let her walk in with the wedding party and did not talk to her for a month or so after the wedding," laments Annemarie, who was caught in the middle of the fracas.
Perhaps the maid of honor should have borne her dismay in silence, but the bride could have avoided this conflict altogether if she'd simply let her sis weigh in on the gown choice.
Prison Jumpsuit Orange
Avoid this color completely unless you want passersby to mistake your wedding for a roadside prison cleanup crew.
Aside from being seriously unflattering, this shade of orange is better suited to a chain gang than a bouquet. And just try finding a shade of lipstick to complement it. It's simply not possible! We don't care if it's your favorite sports team's or alma mater's color. Don't. Pick. Orange.
If you're not careful, your attendants will change the lyrics to the "Barney" theme song to something more fitting for the occasion, like: "I love you, you love me, so why the heck did you outfit me in this awful prune-colored gown, you Bridezilla?!"
Jewel-toned purples may be hot on the red carpet right now, but it's shockingly easy to end up in a shade more closely resembling a giant eggplant. Do your friends a favor, and proceed with caution when heading down the purple path.
Everyone has a signature color. Mine is toothpaste blue, which I try to find in everything from pajamas to T-shirts.
Despite my love of this hue, I still beseech brides to avoid choosing bridesmaid gowns in aqua. While one girl in an aqua dress isn't an eyesore, try five -- or eight. That's a lot of aqua. Shiny fabrics, in particular, make everyone look like they've been dipped in mouthwash and tossed out to sea. (Note: This is not to be confused with lighter shades of blue/green, which are usually very flattering and much less overwhelming.)
In a perfect world, all brides would refrain from outfitting their attendants in overly bright dresses, and we'd be able trade in used gowns for chocolate.
Sadly, both are pipe dreams for unfortunate bridesmaids, many of whom are stuck purchasing hot pink or lime green dresses that the guests will be able to spot in the dark. Before you make them plunk down a week's salary on one of these unfortunate getups, take a moment to consider how closely your wedding photos will resemble costume changes from a Cindy Lauper tour. Instead, opt for something more understated (read: less glaringly ugly).
School Bus Yellow
A makeup artist once told me that my coloring and complexion are ideally suited to wearing lots of yellow. I stood up and walked away because, clearly, she was a big, fat liar. I look terrible in yellow, and so do most people. Outfit six of your closest friends in one of the brighter shades, and you're just begging for banana and pineapple jokes.
Maria (well, we'll call her that -- her name has been changed to save her from embarrassment) from Atlanta had the displeasure of strutting her stuff in a dress that she and the other attendants dubbed "school bus yellow." Ever the dedicated bridesmaid, Maria is quick to defend the bride.
"She picked it because she loves yellow, and I think she envisioned a softer shade," explains Maria. "The dress itself wasn't so bad -- very simply cut -- but the color made all the bridesmaids look like we were sick! Of the six weddings I've been in, this was the worst bridesmaid's dress by far. My family still teases me about it, and it's been 10 years!"
Call me crazy, but a gown that makes your attendants appear physically ill is going to cause whispers of an unfortunate kind. Be kind to your bridesmaids and yourself when you're picking a gown. Everyone knows who makes the final gown decisions, so try to choose a color that'll earn rave reviews, rather than years of teasing.
How much does it cost to be a bridesmaid? Read about the expenses involved in being a bridesmaid at HowStuffWorks.
- Annemarie in Tennessee. Personal interview conducted by Alia Hoyt via e-mail. Feb. 19, 2011.
- Bates, Ashley. "The Mystery of the Ugly Bridesmaid Dress." Gainesville Times. Feb. 7, 2008. (Feb. 20, 2011). http://www.gainesvilletimes.com/archives/2934/
- Hawkins, Katie. "iReporters Fear Ugly Bridesmaid Dress, Seek Alternatives." CNN. June 24, 2008. (Feb. 20, 2011).http://edition.cnn.com/2008/LIVING/06/11/bridesmaid.dresses/index.html
- Maria in Atlanta. Personal interview conducted by Alia Hoyt via e-mail. Feb. 19, 2011.
- Wolfert, Cari. "Tips for Choosing Your Bridesmaid Dresses." Brides. (Feb. 20, 2011).http://www.brides.com/wedding-dresses-style/wedding-dresses/2009/06/tips-for-choosing-the-bridesmaid-dresses