How to Select the Best Bridesmaid Dresses

How to help a bride with imperfect taste choose a dress you'll both love

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.

Traditional Bride

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.

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