Like Lady Gaga, my coworker got engaged on Valentine’s Day. I am now forced by circumstances to listen to her plan her wedding. My coworker, I mean. Not Lady Gaga. While this has the potential to become very, very boring, right now it’s sort of interesting to listen to her debate the merits of this florist versus that caterer.
She has a couple of sisters, and they’re dying to know what kind of bridesmaid dresses she’s going to pick. I’m sure Lady Gaga’s potential bridesmaids are also curious, and probably rightly so. Pretty sure they’re going to end up dressed like grilled cheese sandwiches, wearing traffic cones on their heads. All designed by McQueen. I guess that’s the chance you take when you sign up to be in Lady Gaga’s wedding.
I’ve been in a couple of weddings, and had my own, so when it comes to bridesmaid dresses, I have Thoughts. This is an area where you should tread carefully: you are picking out what someone else will wear, and unless your bridesmaids are Rockettes, it will be something that has to look good on a range of body shapes and sizes.
This is notoriously hard to do, and you risk epically pissing off at least one person. There will always be someone who looks horrible in what you choose, and you have to decide if you can live with what they could to do you dress-wise if they ask you to be their bridesmaid one day. It isn't necessarily the worst idea to make sure anyone who looks awful in your dress is already married.
I have some friendly advice to share from my own experiences and conversations with friends through the years.
Don’t try to get something “everyone can wear again!”
This is easily the most persistent myth about bridesmaid dresses—that what your girls wear will be sufficiently un-bridesmaid-like that everyone will be able to wear it to a fancy party down the road. I’m pretty sure Eve said that about the fig leaves she picked out (she might also be the only woman who was ever right).
I promise, no matter what, there is no way anyone will ever think this dress is anything other than exactly what it was. I had a friend who even went to the department store and bought dresses off the rack from the fancy department for her attendants. It made no difference. Once a dress is worn in a wedding, it’s like it picks up an odor that emanates from it for the rest of time: anyone who gets near it immediately knows what it was originally. Don’t ask me why, but it’s true. The last thing anyone wants to hear at their company holiday party is, “Cute dress—did you wear it in a wedding?”
Skip the excessively twee accessories
I had a friend who got married on rainy day, and had to provide umbrellas for the wedding party. She found someplace that would rent umbrellas, and got cute ones that matched her flowers. This is fine. If you need to provide something functional, and you can do it in a fun way, great.
I’m talking about dressing everyone up like Little Bo Peep and giving them shepherd’s crooks, or worse, actual sheep to herd, with darling floral garlands around their fluffy necks—and in case you read this and thought, “Ooohhhh…heyyyy…” let me just say right now, NO. Your guests will not thank you if they step in sheep poop in their good shoes, and the sheep will eat the garlands off each other’s necks.
If a bridesmaid dress reminds anyone of anything worn at the Wilkes’ barbeque, the box social dance in Oklahoma!, or something from the Royal Ascot scene in My Fair Lady, skip it.
Filter based on price
Traditionally bridesmaids pay for their own attire. Try to remember this when you’re shopping. No one wants to pay $800 for something they’ll never wear again. If it were me, $200 is about as much as I’d be willing to pay. If you just cannot let go of the $500 dresses, it’s nice to offer to pay the difference. Yes, they get to keep the dresses, but really, they will never wear them again. Unless like one of my friends they’re invited to a, “Come in your old bridesmaid dress” party.
If you can relinquish control (not one of my strengths, but everyone is different) and give everyone a color or a pattern and tell them to find a dress, it can work. One friend told us to wear black dresses—she didn’t care what they looked like, or what style, as long as they were all black. The result was three women wearing dresses they already owned, that flattered them, but matched after a fashion.
It’s challenging to exert your will over others—in a situation in which you are completely within your rights to exert your will—without turning into Kim Jong-Il, demanding everyone have the same haircut or whatever. But remember that as much of an honor as you’re conveying on them, asking them to be in your wedding, they’re honoring you by agreeing to do so. And if I’ve managed to convince you of nothing else, remember: they will never wear it again. I swear.