Pretty Maids All in a Row
Published Nov 18, 2008
My sister had a tight-knit group of seven friends in college. They were all great, fun, smart women. But when the first one got married, she kind of lost her mind.
I think what happened was that she picked wedding colors early on without thinking about how they would affect the bridesmaids’ dresses. That’s what I want to believe, anyway. It explains why my sister had to put on colors that no normally sighted human would wear, though it does leave a lot of questions unanswered. Even my mom couldn’t stop laughing when she saw it. There was no question of the bridesmaids being able to wear the dresses again. Not even to a prom. OK, maybe if they’d been invited to a prom and were trapped in a Tennessee Williams play, but that would be the only possible occasion.
This unfortunate opening salvo let to a series of what I can only describe as retaliatory bridesmaid dresses. “Fine,” you could almost hear the maids thinking, “You’re going to make me wear this? Just wait til you get yours.” It got ugly. I’m pretty sure one of them was a joke, but my sister, late in the lineup, wasn’t laughing.
The standard joke about awful bridesmaid dresses is a standard because it’s been true for so long. I don’t know if it’s because some brides lose perspective and end up thinking of their friends as accessories in the eventual wedding pictures, or if it’s just a hazard of trying to make different women look good in the same dress. But the fear that strikes every woman’s heart the moment she accepts bridesmaid duties is very real. Most just accept the fact that they will be spending an evening immersed in frumpitude and let it go.
It doesn’t have to be that way. New bridesmaid paradigms are breaking out all over.
I’ve been remarkably lucky with bridesmaid duties. My first bride just asked us to find dresses that were solid pastel colors and tea length. We ended up each choosing a different color and couldn’t have looked more perfectly coordinated if we’d had them made.
Better yet, since we each chose our own dresses, we each got to choose dresses that looked good on us. We each had a new spring dress that we wore again and again. I tried not to talk about it too much in front of my sister.
Lots of brides don’t have their bridesmaids match anymore [Over my dead body. – Bree], or at least not completely. The fact is that not every woman’s body will look good in the same dress. And unless you’ve been living in the America’s Next Top Model house, you’re probably going to have bridesmaids with different body types. (And if you have been living in the America’s Next Top Model house, quick, choose different bridesmaids! Those girls are not your friends!)
You can have a pleasing tableau at the altar and very happy bridesmaids by giving them a color – or, better yet, fabric swatches – and asking them to have their own dresses made. Many bridesmaids will want a little more guidance, such as length or how much arm to show, but most will be thrilled at the prospect of getting a flattering, usable dress.
Other brides make a pretty picture by choosing the same style of dress, but in a different color for each maid. It’s a unified look that you can coordinate with your wedding colors, but it won’t make your friends feel like a row of Barbie dolls.
If you want bonus bride points, you can think about the fact that dark colors look good on most body types. More and more brides are choosing black for their bridesmaids. It’s a tempting option: Not only do you look like a generous friend for letting your bridesmaids choose a little black dress, the most useful staple of any woman’s closet, but, well, when you’re the one wearing white in a sea of black, you do tend to draw the eye. Not that that would be a part of your considerations. But still.
If you want to really go for broke – not a phrase that your maids will want to hear during the dress selection process – you can give your bridesmaids free rein in choosing their dresses (well, maybe a few rules, like no white and only modest cleavage) and then unify the look by giving each a piece of matching jewelry as her bridesmaid’s gift.
Your bridesmaids may not look like perfect dollies if you follow these tips, but on the other hand, you might just save your self from wearing a candy-pink Scarlett O’Hara dress a few years down the road.