The road to bad bridesmaid dresses is paved with good intentions. No bride sets out to make her attendants look unattractive, but, well, you know where we're going with this. Although the bride should get what she wants, there are ways to convince her to pick a dress that's bearable (and wearable), without totally shattering her original vision.
Since it can be tough to change the mind of a bride who's found her—if not necessarily your—perfect bridesmaid dress, it's best to make a preemptive strike. "The important thing is to create a positive climate," advises Gerard Nierenberg, president of the Negotiation Institute in New York City and founder of the Web site Negotiation.com. Peruse bridal magazines or Brides.com's Dress Finder with the bride, ooh and aah over outfits that you like, and volunteer for dress-shopping duty. Jennifer Muller, a wedding planner and owner of A Simply Elegant Affair, in Mount Airy, MD, recommends that bridesmaids let the bride see them in the dresses she has in mind. Tagging along on every shopping expedition might be a bit much, but "at least go and try them on once the dresses have been narrowed down," says Muller, who points out that a catastrophic dress will be easier to spot in-and on-the flesh.
Simpler styles and looser rules mean that it's definitely possible to find an ensemble everyone can live with. As you're offering your two cents about bridesmaid dresses, don't bother trying to change the bride's style. Instead, guide her to outfits based on the kind of bride she is.
Runway trends mean nothing to this bride. She's high on tradition, and is planning a by-the-book wedding. She wants your dress to scream "bridesmaid"—and you want an outfit you can wear again.
To get a traditional look that has more than just one wearing in it, keep in mind that less is more: Pared-down, simple gowns are probably the best way to go. Ruffles, bows, and trains will all but guarantee that the dress will find a permanent home in the back of a closet.
You might point the bride toward an A-line cut. Megan Dofflemyer, manager of Bridal Impressions, in Harrisonburg, VA, says an A-line is a good choice, because it flatters most bodies, from slender to full-figured, and looks classy. A popular and practical style is an A-line, solid-color dress with spaghetti straps and a two-inch shiny satin band across the neckline, Dofflemyer says. The band will flatter bigger bustlines, and the cut will work for any body type.
To double your chances of wearing your gown again, try steering your bride toward a two-piece dress. Although the two-piece style has become hot, it doesn't have to look trendy. Dofflemyer says many of her traditional customers go for two-piece dresses with cap sleeves. Sherry Cohen, a sales executive with the bridesmaid dress manufacturer Bari Jay, recalls a bridesmaid who was able to wear the top later with pants and to match a simple T-shirt with the skirt.
This bride keeps up with the latest trends. She knows where her bridesmaids are coming from. She wants you to be able to showcase your individual style without looking disjointed as a group. While this bride still wants a say in your attire, she still has an open mind.
The possibilities are endless with this situation. The bridesmaids could all wear the same dress in a trendy style like strapless or strappy-back dresses. If the bride doesn't mind taking personal preferences a step farther, offer up the idea of each attendant picking her own style in the same color. This can result in a look that's fairly uniform or very distinctive. Most manufacturers have several styles in each color. Dofflemyer remembers one customer who gave her bridesmaids a choice of eight Bari Jay dresses in an identical shade.
Styles influenced by regular evening wear are becoming more common—good news for bridesmaids who want to wear their dresses again. You might suggest chiffon and glitter-knit fabrics, Dofflemyer says. According to Cohen, solid-color skirts paired with understated, metallic-striped tops are an up-and-coming style, as are two-tone shawls.
When You Hate the Dress
If, despite your best efforts and a wellspring of ideas, the bride makes a disastrous pick, you'll need to maintain perspective. Keep in mind that the bride has probably been envisioning her wedding for years. In other words, as Muller says, "A bride's going to do what a bride's going to do." Only if you're truly horrified by her choice should you consider protesting—but be subtle ("That dress isn't the most flattering one." "I'm concerned that I won't be comfortable in that gown."). Nierenberg suggests presenting the bride with a few similar but more appealing options. If the outfit is too sexy, too low-cut, or physically uncomfortable, "Ask if you can modify it," Muller says. Adding a wrap or shawl will help, although many brides will reconsider their bridesmaids'-dress selection if it's inappropriate for a certain kind of wedding.
Beyond that, it helps to remember that the biggest issue is the bride's happiness. As Dofflemyer says, "Most bridesmaids realize that it's the bride's day." So keep an open mind and respect the bride's opinion—and hopefully she'll do the same for you.