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Claudia Maittlen-Harris Headshot

Is It Easier for the Bride to Pick the Bridesmaid Dresses?

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With barnyard, backyard, and beach weddings, DIY mania, Pinterest, and blogs, wedding traditions are falling by the wayside. Something changing are bridesmaid dresses. I remember when I was younger seeing an episode of Friends with Rachel in the stereotypical pink, taffeta number, and I assumed that's just what bridesmaids wore. But no matter how many lovely dresses are out there, one episode of Say Yes to the Dress: Bridesmaids will tell you that a lot of bridesmaids continue to wear said stereotypes.

I've been in ten weddings. I'm no 27 dresses, but I have a decent collection. From full length and formal to cotton and casual, I've worn it. These days the brides that let their bridesmaids choose their own dress gush with pride at being the easy going, cool bride. I'm sure it is certainly their intention to allow their friends to choose a dress that suits their body type and budget, but have you ever tried shopping for a dress after being given requirements to it's color palette, length, and material? It's not easy.

Prepare to visit an endless stream of department stores and boutiques on a mission to find a stylish, appropriately priced, perfect dress in a wide array of random colors (think pale pinks, deep blues, mustard yellow, forest greens, lavender, etc.). After scanning racks for every version of a dress in your hue, you'll be ready to buy whatever you can find. Is it really easier to go on a hunt for a mythical dress than just being sent a link to J. Crew or David's Bridal? When I was told to pick out a bridesmaid dress, the bride told me her colors were neutrals, so color descriptions like mahogany, caramel, sepia, and chocolate came up. Basically I was on a search for a brown cocktail dress. This is not a common color for a cocktail dress. Brown boots, brown jackets, brown winter dresses, yes. Brown cocktail dresses? Much more difficult than I imagined. Two of the bridesmaids just went to a wedding store and bought bridesmaid dresses in brown. Because the bridesmaid must find a dress that works a delicate balancing act; a dress that makes her happy, makes the bride happy, fits into the bride's idea of what she wants her to wear, and also somehow looks cohesive with four or five other women. This balance can lean in different directions, like the one bridesmaid who chooses the sexiest, most Vegas-looking dress in the color palette, or the girl whose color looks incredibly different from the other bridesmaids.

I found an appropriate brown dress for my friend's wedding. It was on sale, and it checked every box in terms of color, material, and style. Win-win. But it was still a dress I would never have normally bought, and I never wore it again. Are there women out there in a bridesmaid dress they picked out that they love and wear all the time? Sure! I've just never met one.

Historically bridesmaids dressed similarly to ward off and confuse evil spirits away from the bride -- so I'm not so sure why we think bridesmaids dresses looking great was ever an option. Luckily times have changed and bridesmaids aren't fair maidens or ladies-in-waiting, they are close family and friends. Each bride does try to choose a dress that looks good on everyone (I hope!). I have nine bridesmaid dresses and I've never worn a single one again (unless you count when I used one to make a Halloween costume to be a 18th century vampiress). I've never had a Christmas party or New Year's Eve party where I thought "Hmmm, I do have that brown strapless cocktail dress or that cobalt blue, floor-length gown." Nope, it's never happened. Even when I came home for Christmas and my mother surprised me by shortening all the long dresses so they were what she described as, "a wearable cocktail length," I've never worn any of them again.

To the brides out there, do what works the best for your style and wedding choices. Your friends will understand. A traditional bridesmaid dress or individual dresses? You may be splitting hairs on what is easier or better for the bridesmaids. To all the future bridesmaids out there, don't worry about the dress. You are going to look great. Why? Because you're supporting someone you love. Whatever you are wearing is telling the bride and groom's family, co-workers, old friends, new friends and everyone at the wedding that you are someone very dear to the wedding couple. That dress, be it a full-length tangerine silk chiffon concoction or a lime green halter-top dress signifies that you're a very special part of the day, and the bride wanted you standing next to her above others. But even if it's not your favorite dress ever, know you'll have fun memories, great pictures and you're wearing a part of their wedding history. And that is something to feel proud about wearing.