Runway ‘Maids

The "Cameron" dress from Jenny Yoo features an of-the-moment one shoulder sleeve.

The "Cameron" dress from Jenny Yoo features an of-the-moment one shoulder sleeve.

Last year’s hit chic flick 27 Dresses portrayed a dizzying, delightful, and extremely outdated picture of the wedding scene. No, I’m not talking about the number of odd themed weddings long suffering Katherine Heigl attended, or the speed at which characters went from acquaintances to soon-to-be-weds. I’m talking about the titular 27 dresses themselves: the epitome of fugly bridesmaid dresses gone Hollywood.

In truth, I’ve never actually attended a wedding where the bridesmaid dresses were outlandish. Girlfriends everywhere can relax: the day of the atrocious bridesmaid dress has passed.

Current trends that make bridesmaid dress shopping so user-friendly are the variety of fashion-forward styles, the emphasis on rich, skin-flattering colors, the rise (literally!) of the shorter hem, and my personal favorite, the new popularity of putting each ‘maid in a different style dress.

Taking their cue from the runway, bridesmaid designers are offering more upbeat, hip styles. While plenty of plain, A-line satin dresses are still to be found, more often than not, a new bridesmaid dress collection

This curve-hugging gown from Love features a chic flower embellishment.

This curve-hugging gown from Love comes with a chic flower embellishment.

features an array of silhouettes. Designers have caught on to the fact that not all ‘maids are shaped alike. And not all ‘maids want to don a matronly gown that makes them look like they’re shaped alike. From slinky to voluminous, there are gowns to fit every body shape, and every personality.

Detailing used to be reserved to seed pearls and crystals sewn onto bridal gown bodices and hems. No more. For years, bridesmaid dresses came adorned with irridescent beading. But when the bridal industry made a push toward spiffying up brides’ gowns with more imaginative flourishes, poor bridesmaids were left behind with old school sequin-y detailing that screamed “bridesmaid dress!”

In recent years, though, fresh embellishments on bridesmaid dresses have become standard among the leading wedding fashion designers, and it’s beginning to trickle down to the less expensive brands as well. Appliques, unique stones, covered buttons, ribbon detailing, and lace are popping up on dresses from designers as far-flung as David’s Bridal, Lazaro, Love, and  Vera Wang

Bubble hems, like the one on this dress from David's Bridal, offer flirty, feminine, fashion-forward fun.

Bubble hems, like the one on this dress from David's Bridal, offer flirty, feminine, fashion-forward fun.

Similar to embellishments, fabric texture is becoming hugely popular for bridesmaid dresses. In fact, I chose to have my bridesmaids wear JLM Couture tissue taffeta dresses in part because I loved the emphasis on tight ruffles, architectural shirring, and draped fabric. Two girls who graduated from college with me last spring got married in March, and they each chose to have their bridesmaids wear soft, girly dresses overlaid with eyelet.

Open any bridesmaid catalog today and you’ll immediately see tiers of chiffon, cotton flowers, organiza crumbcatcher necklines, shantung bows, charmeuse bubble hems, and taffeta box pleats replacing the so-smooth-it-looks-like-fondant satin of yesteryear. Texture adds interest and makes bridesmaids stand out from the same-hued table clothes. For interesting takes on texture, check out Amsale, JLM Couture, Lela Rose Bridesmaid by the Dessy Collection, and Love.

Fresh summery stripes enliven this Kaithlin Argiro "Tiffany" dress.

Melon-hued stripes enliven this Kathlin Argiro "Tiffany" dress.

Just as texture is reshaping the landscape of the bridesmaid dress world, color is repainting it. Gone are the days when bridesmaid dresses came in staid shades of ice blue, pale pink, and mint green. Gone are the
days when red was just red and green was just green. Now most designers offer a full spectrum of colors to choose from. Alfred Angelo, for example, has ten variations on standard pink: pink, pink sorbet, dusty rose, tea rose, sugar plum, lipstick, coral, spice, shrimp, and peach fizz. With so many choices, a bride could ask her ‘maids to all wear the same style dress — but select the shade of pink they each like best. 

Color began brightening dresses in a whole new way during the past few years. Print fabrics — an early ’80’s staple — are back and splashier than ever. Fresh florals have bloomed at David’s Bridal and Priscilla of Boston; Kathlin Argiro‘s latest designs are awash in stripes; several designers have turned to plaid in recent years; After Six‘s newest collection features a watercolor-esque ombre dress available in three color combinations.

Even more than texture or color, the rise of the hem has changed the way we see bridesmaid dresses. Instead of being one-time-only gowns, complete with pick ups and a wrap shawl, there’s the option to turn short cocktail or tea length dresses into favorite party frocks or theater outfits.

Short dresses are ideal for beach weddings, destination weddings, casual outdoor weddings, and daytime weddings — and for dancing the night away.

Short dresses -- especially with pockets -- are simultaneously hip and practical.

Short dresses -- especially ones with pockets, like this Lazaro dress -- are simultaneously hip and practical.

The shorter skirts set a relaxed vibe, as well as keeping the ‘maids in them cool and comfortable. Not to mention that the hundreds of available styles range from sweet and summery to sultry-sexy. Shorter dresses are also frequently a bit less costly than their longer counterparts.

 Also gaining momentum is the inclusion of pockets in bridesmaid dresses. J. Crew, JLM Couture, and Priscilla of Boston feature pockets in many of the dresses from their Spring 2009 collections.  

When I went dress shopping with my girls for the first time, they oohed and aahed over two styles with cleverly hidden pockets — which can either keep chilly fingers warm at an outdoor reception, or hide lip gloss for a quick pre-photo retouch. On well-made dresses, pocket seams lie flat, so they don’t distract from the lines of the skirt.

Boleros are beginning to show up on bridesmaid dresses, like this dupiono gown from Sarah Danielle.

Boleros are beginning to show up on bridesmaid dresses, like this dupioni gown from Sarah Danielle.

In addition to pockets, more bridesmaid dresses are beginning to come with  extra bits of fabric: boleros are transitioning from being sole property of brides and mothers of the brides to a not-unheard-of novelty in the bridesmaids’ realm. Boleros can offer a crisp, polished look, make a strapless dress respectable enough for even the fanciest cathedral, and, at its most basic, keep a ‘maid from shivering through the ceremony. Badgley Mischka, Jordan, Lazaro, and Sarah Danielle offer a few styles that come with boleros.

There are more options and inspirations for brides and their ‘maids than ever before — which means it might be harder for you to settle on just one dress than ever before.

That’s what happened when I was a bridesmaid a couple years ago: the bride found one Alfred Angelo dress she loved, but decided to take her ‘maids shopping. We each fell in love with a different dress (although one girl did want the dress the bride liked best). The uniform color but varying styles made it look like a mini fashion show had descended on the church when we all glided down the aisle.

And so I knew from the beginning that I wanted my brides to each wear a different style, if only so we could squeeze as many dresses as possible into one wedding!

Former First Daughter Jenna Bush Hager's wedding party wore gowns inspired by the colors of Texas wildflowers.

Former First Daughter Jenna Bush Hager's wedding party wore gowns inspired by the colors of Texas wildflowers.

Something else to consider is the idea of outfitting your wedding party in a rainbow of complimentary colors, as former First Daughter Jenna Bush Hager did for her May 10, 2008 wedding in Texas. You could dress each bridesmaid in the same style dress, or keep them unique but uniform in length.

My maid of honor dreamed up a beatiful twist on that idea: she suggested putting all the bridesmaids, as well as the bride, in white, and giving each bridesmaid a different colored sash. The bride’s bouquet, she said, could be tied with a ribbon of each color.

I hopes these ideas can serve as a springboard to get you thinking about your own bridal party’s look! I can’t wait to see how mine turns out.

~ Laura

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