Bridesmaid dress shopping is no easy feat—chances are, you're dealing with different budgets, body types, and style preferences. And while it's a challenging process, it doesn't have to be a stressful one. Read on for expert tips for how to shop for bridesmaid dresses without any controversy, complete with advice for both the bride and the bride tribe.
Bridesmaid Dress Shopping Tips for the Bride
Start with Online Research
"Know what type of look you're going for before you start making appointments at salons and it'll make the process so much easier," says Claudia Hanlin, founder of The Wedding Library. "Every style of bridesmaid dresses can be seen online so research is easy (and fun!) to do and will save much time later."
Meet the Expert
Claudia Hanlin is the founder of The Wedding Library, a resource with everything from wedding planning and stationery to bridesmaid dresses and registry gifts.
Talk Openly About Budgets from the Start
Weddings can sometimes feel like an etiquette minefield, and your bridal party members' budget is one of those sensitive topics that can disrupt even the most meticulously planned process. Don't put off having that conversation, advises Hanlin. It will help determine where you should shop. Luckily, bridesmaids today have a variety of gorgeous options at any price point, whether they choose to buy off the rack or opt for custom designer frocks at high-end salons.
Don't Forget to Factor In the Cost of Alterations
Don't forget to factor in costs for alterations when setting your budget — and make sure to tell the bridesmaids upfront that they'll probably need to get their gowns adjusted so they can factor that cost in, as well. "Almost 75 percent of bridesmaids need to have their dresses altered," says Hanlin. "That cost can be anywhere from $25 to over $100."
In addition to hemming and size adjustments, a tall bridesmaid might need extra length added to her dress. "If your bridesmaid is 5'8" or above, she might need extra length if you're wearing a long dress, especially if she's wearing high heels," says Hanlin. "Bring accessories to the initial fitting and know that there's often an additional cost associated with extra length."
Start Shopping Way Ahead of Time
"You should start shopping for your bridal party at least seven to eight months before the big day," says Hanlin. "Not only is this less stressful for everyone, but you're also more likely to be able to hit a sale (if you're buying off the rack) or find a quarterly trunk show (where you can get a 15 percent discount) to order the dress and still have enough time to get it delivered without any last-minute rushes."
In addition to getting better deals, starting early leaves plenty of time to place orders. "Unless you are buying off the rack, you need to budget at least three months from when you place the order to when you get it," warns Hanlin. "Many designers have their dresses cut overseas so it's actually impossible for the boutique to expedite the process beyond a certain point." Orders for the entire bridal party are also placed at the same time to ensure quality control, she explains. Translation: Those perpetually late bridesmaids can delay the entire process!
Always Have Measurements Done Professionally When Placing an Order
Even though many bridesmaid dresses are being made to order, the customer is not getting a custom dress. Instead, 'maids are measured and then fit into a preexisting size (usually two to 24). Because each designer sizes differently, it's important that each bridesmaid provide correct measurements in order to prevent problems later. While many boutiques might have their sales staff measure bridesmaids, they are not seamstresses, Hanlin says. "Ultimately the customer is on the hook for providing her correct measurements, so it's very important that she also goes to a professional seamstress to get them taken."
Bridesmaid Dress Shopping Tips for the Bridesmaids
Have an Open Mind
Repeat this mantra: "It's not my wedding." Before you get anxious or defensive about what your engaged friend is looking for in her bridesmaid dresses, whether it's a style or color you're not partial to, keep your mind open and give it a shot. Best case scenario, you put the dress on and it's totally fabulous on you. Worst case scenario? You come out of the dressing room in something that's just not working — and, hopefully, the bride realizes maybe it's not the best choice.
Follow the Bride's Lead
If she's asking you to pick whatever you like, or to browse the racks and help her get inspired, ask for a little guidance first. Does she want everyone in chiffon, or is she open to multiple fabrics? Is there a length or detail she'd prefer? Don't grab a mini-dress if the event will be black tie, but if she wants some new ideas, feel free to look toward complementary colors or a silhouette she may not have considered.
Give Constructive Feedback
Wearing a dress that you totally hate? Keep any strong feelings to yourself. Instead, find a helpful way to vocalize what you don't like, whether it's a shade that's not working on your skin tone or a neckline that's way too revealing for your liking. If you can explain what you don't love, you might either be able to find a way to fix the situation with alterations or helpfully guide the bride in a new direction.
Wear the Right Undergarments
If you know you're heading to a bridal salon to look for bridesmaids' dresses, make sure you're wearing nude underwear and tuck a strapless bra into your purse. This way you'll be able to try on any color or neckline with relative ease, and won't be distracted by bright red boyshorts or a lacy bralette that sticks out in all the wrong places.