The truth about bridesmaid dresses

You know they love you, and will wear anything you ask them to, but it doesn’t hurt to keep these shopping secrets in mind when choosing what your bridal party should wear.

Lumina | Stocksy United

We’ve all heard the complaints and horror stories about bridesmaid dresses: She wanted us all in plunging necklines! She asked us to wear an icky brown with orange polka dots! It cost $400 and I can never wear it again! But, of course, the truth is that no bride really sets out to put her maids in ugly dresses, and no bridesmaid sets out to whine about the bride’s choice. In fact, most bridesmaids are pretty happy just to be included, whether you want them in short lime green spandex (okay, hopefully not!) or flowing pale pink chiffon.

Still, it’s a tough task to navigate as the bride: what’s too much to ask? And how do you sort out all those different necklines?

So it’s time for some honesty: we asked real bridesmaids to spill their best advice and insider insight to help you communicate with your bridal party—and all stand next to one another proudly on the big day.

Start an email chain

“Keep the lines of communication open! You asked us to stand beside you on your big day because we already have a great relationship, but it takes two to make sure that keeps going while you’re planning your big day. If you feel the need to ping me about a change in plans with the color, price point, or retailer, please do! I’d much rather be kept in the loop—even if that means emailing me three times in a row—than be unpleasantly surprised by a last minute change. In the past I’ve been kept in the dark about the dress selection, and I’ve had both good and bad surprises with this. Having a discussion with the bride definitely would have helped prepare my expectations.” Lierin, 24

Give us plenty of time!

“I’m currently on the hunt for a bridesmaid’s dress for my close friend’s wedding, and I’m so appreciative of the lead time she gave us. Eleven months before the wedding date, she gave us all a list of criteria (black, floor length, no sparkles or shiny details) and told us she’s happy to look at pictures while we’re shopping. I love that she’s letting us choose our own dresses so long as they fit her needs, and having her guidance throughout has been so helpful.

I’ll text her while I’m out shopping, and she’ll sometimes—very politely!—mention that maybe a gold zipper down the entire backside of the dress I had on wasn’t quite wedding appropriate, which is true! It’s nice to be able to shop at my own pace without worrying that I’m stressing her out by not having a dress yet or that whatever I find won’t be good enough.

The women you chose as your bridesmaids are probably just honored to be asked, so it’s a safe bet that they won’t let you down by choosing a crazy dress or not getting one in time. They probably care about your wedding as much as you do.“ Ashley, 25

Always consider the bigger picture

“My sister is getting married in a modern, open art gallery venue. It’s all white and very city-chic. Her venue and theme is very elegant and classic white and black, so she chose long chiffon grey dresses. This was a good reminder to me to pick a dress that not only compliments the bride, but also the venue.

A floor-length chiffon gown looks great in an elegant space, but maybe not so much for a DIY barn wedding. When you look back on your photos, you’ll be glad you were thinking of a bigger picture for every detail.” Audree, 23

Don’t pick something that’s on sale

“It may seem like a great plan to give your bridesmaids a bargain when it comes to the dress, but picking a dress that’s on sale runs the risk of low inventory, so the bridesmaid that procrastinates (yes, there’s usually at least one) might not be able to get it in her size.

This happened in a wedding I was in, and the amount of stress it caused all of us was zero fun. Even if it’s not on sale, just make sure to ask the store how long they plan to make the dress available. If it’s for a limited time only, give your bridesmaids a deadline to make the purchase.” —Theresa, 25

Go shopping in-person, together

“I was a bridesmaid in a wedding with a maid of honor who was really worried about how the dress would look on her, due to the fact she was several sizes bigger than the rest of the bridal party. The bride was hoping everyone would wear the same dress (or very similar dresses) so she decided to take her maid of honor solo shopping for options first. The maid of honor tried on a ton of dresses and together they narrowed the list down to two styles that the rest of the bridesmaids could choose from.

I thought it was such a smart move because it gave the maid of honor the chance to find something she felt good in (without getting pressure from any other bridesmaids to pick a certain dress they liked better). As one of the other bridesmaids, I still felt like I had some choice in the matter, which was nice. Plus, I hated the idea of trying on 1,000 dresses, so I was grateful to the maid of honor for doing all the legwork for us!” Andra, 29

Bridesmaid wearing a sequins dress

Marta Locklear | Stocksy United

Consider a convertible option

“I love when my bride friends choose convertible dresses. A couple of girlfriends have gotten married or are currently planning, and since everyone’s shape and preferences are always so different, these things are a must for bridesmaids on a budget. The bride can choose a color and length of a convertible dress, and then each woman can choose her own top.

There’s literally an option for everyone: halters, cross neck, single shoulder, low-cut backs. You can even find options that give your bridesmaids a cocktail-length dress for the reception!” —Lindsey, 25

Level the playing field

“Pick a dress that is reasonably priced, which could mean choosing a dress that technically isn’t a bridesmaid dress. It’s thoughtful when brides consider their bridesmaids’ ages and stages in their careers when selecting a bridesmaid dress. A 30-something attorney bridesmaid can probably afford a $300 dress, but a 22-year-old grad student most likely cannot, so it’s most considerate to give everyone the same budget as the grad student!” —Molly, 26

Put together an inspiration board

“My bride was my best friend, and she wanted all of her bridesmaids to have the freedom to pick whatever we wanted. Since we were all in college at the time and working on extremely limited budgets, she put together PDFs of inspiration for us, including a couple of links to buy just in case we saw something we liked.

It was so easy being able to pull these boards up and reference them while we were shopping, and what was even better was that we all looked great and felt comfortable, which totally showed in the pictures.” —Chloe, 25

If you’re going to have specifics, we love having examples!

“For the last wedding I was in, the bride did the homework for the bridesmaids dresses for us. She knew exactly what she wanted for every element—color, length, beading, cut—and she gave us options of styles that she chose, which was great. I didn’t have to go shopping and guess for a dress that she may not have liked. She knew what she wanted and she got it.

It made the bridal experience convenient for everyone since we were all not in the same state and I think it made it easier for the bride, so there was no drama between bridesmaids.” —Gretchen, 23

Please don’t worry about speaking your mind.

“I’m going to be in my cousin’s wedding this summer, and I actually really appreciated that she picked out the exact dress that she wanted us to wear. It was less work on my end, and she already did a great job of making sure it would be universally flattering and budget-friendly. After all, when everything is said and done, this is your day and I’m just happy to be there with you, no matter what I’m wearing.” —Emily, 25

Allison Berry
Allison Berry
Allison is a New York City-based writer and editor who enjoys covering all things women's interest. You can find more of her work at allisoncberry.com, or see what she's up to by following her on Instagram.

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