Always a Bridesmaid: Dress Debacles

When the bride leaves the dress decision up to her bridesmaids, it might mean extra work—but it might also mean happier friends.

Ducky, left, and Katie, second from right.

I should’ve known that the bridesmaid dress my friends picked out might not be the same one that I would. When I received the e-mail from the bride and company asking for my expert maid-of-honor opinion, I wondered how that strapless number was going to support the large-chested women of the bridal party (myself included).

Because my dearest high-school friend, Ducky, would rather that we bridesmaids just choose a dress ourselves and make her job easier, I figured this was an appropriate time to offer my assistance. I didn’t want to go with an “eh” dress just to avoid putting in any work, and I knew that the bride trusted my opinion. But how do you respond to friends of ten years with a “Great, but I’m going to keep looking?”

Having a bride who understands that you don’t want to wear something horrific in front of a crowd of people—even when it’s her day and she knows you will—is pretty great. I may take it upon myself to worry about losing 10 to 15 pounds before the wedding, but I won’t have to worry about looking like a big bottle of Pepto Bismol or a dancing doll from Disneyland’s It’s a Small World ride. But with the privilege of helping to select a gown also comes a little more work on the bridesmaids’ part. And, in my case, a little concern about clashing tastes.

I worried that while Ducky wasn’t worried about our dresses today, she might be annoyed five to ten years from now when she looks at her wedding photos and realizes that cropping the photo just right results in a picture of a flower with six pale white petals—her head surrounded by three sets of boobs. I know what it’s like to double up on sports bras; I ought to be able to find a dress that’s classy and conservative—just like the bride. So I expressed my concerns about the first dress in a polite e-mail to all the bridesmaids (I’m the only out-of-town bridesmaid) and told them I’d pitch in by looking, too. They were of course cool with it, so now I just had to find a dress that they’d like enough to forget about me dissing their first suggestion.

For my friends in the Midwest, the bridal industry—boutiques included—isn’t quite the behemoth it is here in Washington. I wondered how I could suggest a classier dress without breaking the bank, causing fights, or becoming some frightening version of wedding-crazy Charlotte from Sex and the City. Turns out there are plenty of affordable styles at many bridal salons. I just needed to search a little harder and save my sanity by limiting that search with some boundaries.

Thankfully, the bridesmaids had many more opinions than the bride, so a few stipulations helped me limit my search. Nothing that shows off knobby knees, one bridesmaid requested. Nothing tight around the butt, two of us agreed. None of us hippy girls can pull off the Ariel look well enough for the mermaid-style dress the petite bride is planning on wearing. And I was the one to draw the line about excessive cleavage.

I set out to hunt for gowns on my own, not wanting to subject any of my other Washington friends to the task. But as I watched the women there oohing and aahing over their brides and modeling bridesmaid gowns for the bride’s appraisal, I wondered if I was missing the key element to my hunting party: the rest of the wolf pack. Should I adopt these strangers as friends for the day so that I’d have a second opinion on my dress selection? Naw—instead, I snapped photos in the mirror with my cell phone to text them off to the most critical eye I know (fortunately, Mom finally learned how to text). Then I’d try on a dress I really liked and walk around the store, trying to use my peripheral vision to note any disgusted looks about my selection (bonus points if the saleswoman walked up to me and asked if I was ready to place an order). Finally, to assess dress durability, I’d do the fitting-room Footloose dance, jumping around to determine if there was enough support for the ladies and making sure no seams would bust open. Unfortunately, my brilliant strategies worked only with the dresses that fit. It’s tough to try on a size-6 dress when you’re a size 12 and say to yourself in the mirror, “Hey good looking, if this did zip up, it’d look amazing.” (There were a lot of dresses that looked hypothetically amazing on me.)

Good news—the last place I looked at on one exhausting Sunday, I found the perfect dress. The bridesmaids all responded to my e-mail with enthusiasm and rushed to try on a sample in the bridal boutique near them. Then the deal was sweetened when they found the dress was on sale. Luckily for me, it all worked out in the end. Bringing up uncomfortable topics may not be the best bar talk to have with dear friends you hardly get to see, but I’m glad I broached the subject. I feel good about my sole contribution so far—let’s see if I can keep up my record in the months to come!


Katie, a local bridesmaid-to-be, writes occasionally about planning for and being part of three (and counting) friends' weddings in one year. To follow her adventures from the beginning, click here.

To read the latest Bridal Party blog posts, click here.