After Years of Bridesmaid Hell, I was Determined to Pick A Dress to Flatter All 9 of My Bridesmaids

When I started planning my wedding, I didn’t want to put my bridesmaids in the same situation I had been in multiple times.
Publish date:
June 1, 2015

I need to talk about bridesmaid dresses openly and honestly. Remember those awful magenta getups from the movie Bridesmaids? I always wondered why none of those girls, Rose Byrne's character in particular, didn’t say a word about the bride’s choice. Did a scene where they talk about how hideous the dress is end up on the cutting room floor? For a movie abut female friendship, they certainly didn’t get the message across that friends don’t let friends wear magenta peplums.

Why are so many bridesmaid dresses so bad and why do brides insist on making the women who they should theoretically care about the most spend so much money to look so awful? And yes, if it’s your wedding, you can do what you want, but there’s a way to do this without being a bridezilla.

The first bridesmaid dress I ever wore was for my sister Kate’s wedding. She chose the designer, as well as the color and gave us a choice of several styles. This would have been completely ideal if not for the color Kate chose, which the designer called champagne. I had to drink champagne to deal with the fact that the color was hideous on me. No really, I was in 10 or 11 grade and got completely wasted at her wedding.

The dress did not resemble the color of what people drink to celebrate, so much as what that scrape looks like a week after you fall down drunk. Furthermore, does anyone wear champagne-colored clothing when they aren’t being forced to? Is champagne ever a color you think of when trying to choose formal or casual wear? “Black, pink, champagne?”

Whoever invented the term “champagne” was clearly just trying to make a color that flatters no one sound fancy or like something people wouldn’t cringe at when they found out they would have to wear it.

Senior year of high school was my cousin Kelly’s wedding. Kelly actually has good taste, but allowed my cousin Ashley (her future husband’s little sister), to choose our bridesmaid dresses. Yeah, I can’t understand why either. I wish I could find a picture of this dress, but I am pretty sure I destroyed all the evidence.

The dresses (which were all the same) were light blue taffeta. And no, this wedding did not take place in the 80s. The pearl beading on the bodice was designed in a chevron-like pattern, which if stared at too long could give you at best a migraine and at worst a seizure. When my date was checking out my cleavage, I warned him he could end up in the hospital and it wasn’t because my father was going to beat him up.

Some years later, Ashley really managed to outdo the damage she did for Kelly’s wedding with the dresses she chose for her own. They were quite possibly the most hideous option David’s Bridal had to offer. Look, I’m not the biggest fan of David’s Bridal, but for many brides, the number of locations and the seemingly endless selection of styles and sizes, makes it a great option. Some of the dresses they have are very wearable, so it is really beyond me why she chose those dresses (we had a choice of three terrible options) in that color.

I think we need to acknowledge that some brides make these choices because they feel insecure and threatened by their bridesmaids, believing they will be outshined on their own wedding day. But really, how could a bride be outshined on her wedding day? (Or maybe I’m just naive…) Furthermore, I think when brides intentionally make their maids look awful, it takes attention away from them.

Did you see those dresses the bridesmaids were wearing?

Yep, they were the worst.

What did you think of the bride’s dress?

I can’t remember what it looked like.

Why can’t being a bridesmaid be a happy, pleasant experience? Why can’t we end dress drama? When will ugly bridesmaid dresses stop being a punch line and start being a thing of the past?

When I started planning my wedding, I didn’t want to put my bridesmaids in the same situation I had been in multiple times. It’s not that I felt my bridesmaids would all of a sudden hate me or not want to be my friend, if they didn’t like the dress, but I felt a responsibility to find a balance between my personal style and the styles of nine other women. And yes, I know nine bridesmaids are a lot, my fiancé and mother have reminded me many times.

For a brief moment, I thought about choosing Lilly Pulitzer dresses because I’m getting married in Palm Beach. But, as much as I love Lilly (I still have a Lilly skirt from 8th grade I can’t bring myself to throw out), I can’t say the same for most of my bridal party. Plus, Lilly isn’t really formal enough for my evening wedding. It just wasn’t going to work. However, I’m still considering Lilly for my flower girls. My nieces are too young to complain!

How do you find a bridesmaid dress that will flatter nine women? The answer is, you don’t. So, I started with a color. I asked a sales associate who was helping me what most bridesmaids thought of pink. She said, “Don’t choose pink. Your friends will hate you.” So, that was out.

After not much deliberation, I chose navy blue because it’s a universally flattering color. It’s also a color that can be easily be worn again (unlike orange or magenta), so if one of my bridesmaids wanted to wear the dress to another formal event, it wouldn’t scream, “Recycled bridesmaids dress.”

On the other hand, I’m a bridesmaid in my maid of honor’s wedding and I helped her choose her dresses. She wanted us to wear purple, which frankly, can go horribly wrong. However, we had a choice of three shades. Multiple colors are something a lot of brides are choosing today and while it wasn’t right for my wedding, I think it looks beautiful. As a bridesmaid, I was really happy to have been given a choice.

In terms of style, both of us also went the same route as my sister did, giving everyone a selection of several dresses to choose from. The designer I chose had 40 dresses available in the color and fabric of my choice (crinkle chiffon) and after trying on several myself (I wasn’t going to tell anyone to wear something I wouldn’t), I picked fifteen. Choosing more dresses than maids meant no one would be stuck with the last one. Unless all of your bridesmaids have the same body type, it’s difficult to find one universally flattering dress.

You can’t discuss bridesmaid dresses without mentioning cost, so I tried to consider that in my choice. If you want to be a considerate bride, look for the dresses well in advance of your wedding, so there’s time to get a discount. So many dresses from J.Crew, BHLDN and Ann Taylor (yes, they have bridal line now) go on sale, so you can always ask a sales associate when those sales will be. If you are going the designer route, you can always get a discount during a trunk show. If you have a lot of bridesmaids, don’t be afraid to ask for a discount because you’re buying in bulk. I ended up saving my bridesmaids 15%, which roughly ends up covering tax and shipping. Also, don’t be afraid to shop different stores for the same dress. Most major designers don’t have an exclusive retailer.

You can also tell your bridesmaids to buy a previously worn dress from sites like Tradesy or Preowned Wedding Dresses. This is best if you are choosing multiple colors or don’t care if the dresses are from the same dye lot.

So, did my bridesmaids like their dresses? I went with a few of them to their fittings and I really believed they did. I mean, we all lie to our friends sometimes, but everyone seemed really happy with my choices. While trying on sample sizes isn’t the best way to see if something is going to look good or fit, I really think my maids appreciated their flattering Spanx-optional choices.

Of course my wedding will be the real test. But at the very least, I know even if I chose pink, they’d still be there to celebrate one of the most important days of my life with me.

*Names have been changed to protect the identities of those with questionable fashion choices.