The Bride's Ultimate Guide to Choosing Bridesmaid Dresses

Image Gallery: Bridesmaid Dresses It's the bride's big day but the bridesmaids should look beautiful too. See pictures of bridesmaid dresses.
Jupiterimages/© Getty Images/Polka Dot/Thinkstock

So, you thought choosing a wedding gown was exhausting? Now you have to deal with the bridesmaid dresses. This is the part of the wedding planning process where friendships are made or broken. Bridesmaids don't want to upstage the bride, but they do want to look -- well, not hideous. You've probably seen so many disastrous bridesmaid dresses in movies that they're a cliché. Oh, you know -- the Little-Bo-Peep dress with balloon sleeves, or the satin nightmare with puce stripes and a big ruffle to match.

This brief primer will help you inject some sanity into the search for the perfect apparel for your bridesmaids. Check it twice before you make a final decision. Your friends will thank you for your thoughtfulness.


It's Your Wedding

Discuss your wedding theme and colors with your bridesmaids.
Jupiterimages/© Getty Images/Comstock/Thinkstock

The bride always has the final say in the choice of bridesmaid dresses. It's not a dictatorship, though. Bridesmaids are responsible for paying for their gowns, so being considerate of their feelings is important if you want friends after the wedding. After discussing your wedding theme and colors with them, you may want to ask your bridesmaids for general suggestions about their dresses. Although it pays to be diplomatic, your opinion is the one that counts the most.

A full-length bridesmaid dress will cost at least $200, so being mindful of your friends' budgetary concerns is important, too. If you want a friend to participate in your wedding who can't afford to pay for a gown, you can opt to buy it for her. This may be sensitive territory, but if the alternative is for someone special to bow out of your wedding party because of financial concerns, it's an option.


Choosing the Perfect Bridesmaid Dresses

Color is one of the most important considerations for bridesmaid dresses.

If you have a wedding theme that includes specific colors, like autumn russets or spring pastels, then bridesmaid dress colors will be pretty easy to pick. If your color options are more open, you can go with a shade that will flatter your wedding gown or complement your flower choices. You can also choose colors that reflect the year's wedding trends.

Let the bridesmaid dresses do the heavy-lifting of tying together different elements of your theme. If you have three bridesmaids and want to choose three different complementary colors for them, pull it all together with your bridesmaid bouquets. By using the same flower varieties in three different colorways, one for each bouquet, you can integrate the look with a minimum of fuss. Roses and miniature calla lilies are great for this because they're available in so many colors. Add all three colors to your bridal bouquet, and you'll have created a nicely unified composition with a custom look and feel.


Let bridesmaids express their personal style by selecting a color and asking them to choose dresses in the same shade. When you lead with color, it can solve a number of potential problems while still pulling everything together effectively.

Your attendants need to get through the day in relative comfort, and the weather will have an impact on how fresh and friendly they'll be feeling for the duration. In spring and summer, opt for lightweight fabrics like chiffon and silk. In fall and winter, go with heavier satins or even velvets if you like drama. You can play with textures and fabrics a little depending on the venue.


Fashion and Function

Choosing a style is one of the biggest challenges in the choice of bridesmaid gowns. Because body types can vary so much, it may be hard to find a single dress style that will flatter every woman on your list.

Gown manufacturers have tried to make this easier by providing dresses in different styles that have unifying aspects in common, like fabric, color or accessories. You can choose individual dresses that will flatter the wearers but still look similar enough to present an attractive and unified whole for the wedding ceremony and photo ops afterward. Just be sure to order all the dresses at the same time. Fabrics can look very different depending on their associated dye lots, so make sure the bridal shop knows they're all for the same wedding.


Accessory cover-ups can be lifesavers, too. A strategically placed shawl, scarf or even bolero can make a body-conscious bridesmaid more comfortable with a dress style that works for everyone else in the party.

Bridesmaid dresses are sized differently from manufacturer to manufacturer. Each bridesmaid will have to be measured for her gown and then wait to have the gown made or fitted to those unique measurements. This can take time and may require more than one fitting. Depending on the shop, dress manufacturer and time of year, lead times can vary from a few weeks to a few months. A good approach is to start the process as soon as you've selected the dresses. So, plan ahead and hold onto your sense of humor. If a bridesmaid goes on a diet, discovers she's pregnant or decides gelato is the best breakup comfort food, you may be in for a little extra drama.

We'd like to tell you that if you pick the right style and fabric, those bridesmaid dresses can be worn on multiple occasions. But we don't want to lie to you. Bridesmaid dresses perform a unique and specific function, so they're often hard to repurpose for everyday (or evening) wear. It's only human for bridesmaids to want their investment to do double duty, but realistically it's a long shot.

Now that you've taken care of arranging for bridesmaid dresses, you can move on to the next step in planning your wedding. There are probably another thousand details to take care of, so relax and enjoy the moment.


Lots More Information

Related Articles

  • Bridesmaid 101. "Tips on Finding the Perfect Bridesmaid Dress." Undated. 7/18/10.
  • Bridesmaids Dresses 101. "Dress Advice." Undated. 7/18/10.
  • Easy Weddings. "Bridesmaid Dress Trends." Undated. 7/28/10.
  • Favorite Ideas. "How to Choose Those Bridesmaids' Dresses." Undated. 7/18/10.
  • Ohabim, Jacob. "Bridesmaid Dresses - Considering Fashion, Practicality and Comfort, How to Choose!" Buzzle. 7/5/10. 7/18/10.
  • Perfect Bridal. "Bridesmaid Dresses - Ideas and Inspirations." Undated. 7/18/10.
  • Video Jug. "How to Choose Your Bridemaids' Dresses." Undated. 7/18/10