Here’s How to Choose Those Bridesmaids’ Dresses (and Come Out Smelling Like a Rose)

A couple years ago, I went to two weddings that demonstrated polar opposite philosophies about bridesmaid’s dresses. You didn’t know that choosing a dress for your bridesmaids was philosophical? Well, now you do.

At the first wedding, the brides were all dressed in a very plain, form-fitting dress. Now, I’m a guy, so I can’t say anything especially brilliant about the particular dress style, other than it was “okay.” But the color, a sort of mocha (I told you I’m a guy — this color’s probably called Venetian Arrivista), truly looked awful.


After all, this was a Sicilian wedding, and the bridesmaids were dark-skinned. The bride looked great, but the bridesmaids sure didn’t. The color didn’t suit their skin tones, and the style didn’t flatter. As harsh as it sounds, this bride thought of her bridesmaids as props.



At another wedding, instead of the traditional dress, the bride chose an elegant pantsuit. While the color wasn’t ideal for every single bridesmaids, there were enough hues and subtleties in the sequins to soften any mismatches. Better yet, since the pantsuit consisted of separates, the bridesmaids could pair the sparkly top with a pair of jeans and sexy heeled boots for a hot night on the town. These bridesmaids thanked the bride repeatedly for choosing an outfit that they could wear to other formal (or even not-so-formal) occasions.

Of course, the most important dress at any wedding is the bride’s. But after that, the next most important is the bridesmaids’ gowns. They’re important because there’s a number of them being worn at the same time, so they make a big visual statement. Quite often, the flowers are keyed to the ‘maids gowns. And finally, those gowns vividly reflect your tastes.


Picture this: the groom and groomsmen are dressed in dodgy tuxedos — the groom’s wrists are peeking out from the sleeves, and the men are all wearing pink floral cummerbunds even though the wedding’s at 8 pm. Most people would just chuckle and chalk it all up to the groom. If the bridesmaids look similarly neglected, everyone wonders why the bride chose such ugly dresses. Don’t let this happen to you!

When choosing those dresses, in fact, it’s best to involve your bridesmaids from the start. In fact, in this age of the internet and photo-swapping by email, there’s really no excuse not to. Your first thought’s probably color, and while you probably have a favorite in mind, it may not suit everyone. In fact, each of your bridesmaids probably has a different skin tone, and it’s not easy to find one color that flatters everyone.


It’s true, your wedding’s not a democracy. But this is one area where it’s really good to compromise. This is doubly true if your bridesmaids are paying all their own costs. Find yourself getting stuck on color? Try these strategies to mix things up: choose two colors, dividing your bridesmaids down the middle. Have three buy a red dress and three buy a cream-colored one. (If you go this route, make absolutely sure that you’re grouping your maids by shortest to tallest, or they’ll look funny.) Or single out your maid of honor with a dress in her own unique color. Being creative can go a long way toward the solution.

Once you’ve nailed down colors, styles are your next choice. As with colors, this is a good one to throw out to the group, because each of your bridesmaids probably has a different body type. Smaller, willowy bridesmaids will usually be comfortable in a strapless or spaghetti strap design, but larger girls often want more coverage. A terrific modern way of addressing this problem is to ask each girl to pick out their own favorite dress in your wedding colors. The only trick is getting the manufacturers’ dye lots to match. This tactic’s safest when you choose neutrals, like black or champagne — but it can work with other colors, too, because manufacturers tend to copy each others’ color choices.


Price is key, too. Since most ‘maids will never wear that dress again, it’s unfair to have them pay an arm and a leg for it. Making sure it’s affordable will make you popular. Along those lines, many brides are trying harder to find dresses that the bridesmaids might wear to other formal occasions. Others are driving a deal with a local seamstress and having the dresses custom-made — or occasionally, driving a deal with Mom. Thanks, Mom.

You’re the bride and it’s your day, so the final choice is yours. But if you’re able to relax your grip and let a little give-and-take into the proceedings, your bridesmaids are sure to thank you. Choose two or three dresses that you can live with, and let the girls vote on their favorite. This way, you know you’ll like the dress because you picked the options, and the bridesmaids will feel they had some say over where their money went.

Most women who’ve served their time as bridesmaids can share horror stories of some pretty unflattering dresses. By following these guidelines, you can make sure your bridesmaids belong to happily-ever-after stories instead!