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Bridesmaid Dresses – 15 Rules and Tips

Author: Hollie Bond

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Everything you need to know about bridesmaid dress shopping, etiquette and budgeting to ensure your bridesmaids look and feel their best on your wedding day.

Once you’ve chosen your own wedding dress it’s time to turn your wedding planning attention to your bridesmaid dresses. With multiple personalities and styles to consider though, buying bridesmaid dresses can be much more difficult than picking your own dress.

There’s a huge amount of choice for bridesmaid dresses these days, with many online retailers selling gorgeous gowns for your bridal party, as well as high street stores and specialist bridal or occasion dress shops.

On average, UK brides tend to have between two and four bridesmaids, so as well as considering your own fashion tastes and wedding theme you’ll likely to have to take into account a few other opinions. There’s also your budget to consider and whether you’re buying the full bridesmaid outfits, including shoes and accessories, or allowing your best girls to have some say in the look or provide their own.

To help you navigate this sometimes tricky and emotional aspect of planning and to ensure your bridesmaids are still your best friends at the end of the dress buying process, we’ve rounded up our 15 top bridesmaid dresses rules and tips in this ultimate guide below.

1. Pick your bridesmaids

This might sound like a bit of a no brainer, but it’s important to know exactly who your bridesmaids are going to be before you even think about looking at bridesmaid dresses. When you’ve asked your maids (check out some lovely ways to ask them here), you’ll have a much better idea of what style and colour of dresses will suit them as a group.

2. Buy your wedding dress first

Prioritise your wedding dress shopping before you get carried away with what your bridesmaids are going to look like. Remember your bridesmaids will be next to you in lots of photos so it’s important they complement your look. Once you’ve bought your dress you’ll know what sort of sartorial style your bridal party should be. Perhaps you’ve chosen a floral vintage number so figure-hugging gold sequin gowns for your bridesmaids just aren’t going to work.

Try and pick out elements in your dress that you can use as a starting point for finding bridesmaid dresses. For example, your dress might have a certain colour in it, maybe it features a bow or perhaps it has lace on. All of these can be used to help you find bridesmaid dresses that go nicely.

3. Work out your budget

The boring, but very essential part of any wedding planning decision is deciding on the budget. The bridesmaid dresses are no exception and you’ll have to ensure you know exactly how much you can afford to spend on each dress before you start shopping. Remember to take the overall allocation and divide it by the number of maids you’re having, factoring in some extra for any alterations that might be needed or accessories you might be buying too.

4. Decide what you're happy to pay for

At this point you need to decide if you’re paying for the bridesmaid dresses or asking your best girls to wear or buy their own dresses. The general rule is that if you’re not able to buy your bridesmaids their dresses (although try to if you can as it’s a lovely gesture), then you can’t dictate what they wear. If you’re asking them to contribute to their own dresses it’s really important to consider what they can afford and not put any pressure on them to pay more than they’re comfortable with. You could say something along the lines of “I’d love you all to be in navy dresses, but I’m very happy for you to decide on the style and cost.”

If you’re paying for their dresses, you can be a lot more involved in the choice, cost and style. Although remember to always ask your friends for their opinions and don’t be offended if they have reservations about any of your choices.

5. Consider the season

You don’t want your bridesmaids sweltering in a thick floor length gown with sleeves in summer or shivering away in a thin backless dress in mid winter. Think about the material carefully, especially for summer weddings. While silk slip dresses look elegant, they’re not very forgiving when it comes to sweat! At winter weddings you’ll want to ensure you’re not only providing suitable dresses but something to keep bridesmaids warm too, like a pashmina or faux fur stole.

6. Consider the wedding look and theme

Try and match your bridesmaid dress choices to the overall look and feel of your day. If you’re going for a romantic country garden vibe then long floaty dresses in pastel colours would work perfectly. On the other hand, if you’re planning a black tie city celebration, elegant red carpet style dresses in darker colours would look brilliant. Remember though that you don’t have to settle on just one cohesive look. Mismatched bridesmaid dresses can look absolutely amazing, while the same dress but in a range of colours can be really striking too.

7. Look at real weddings for inspiration

When you’re thinking of how you want your bridesmaids to look on your big day, it can be really helpful to look at real weddings online and in magazines for inspiration. Brides who have planned similar weddings to the one you’re dreaming of will often have similar fashion taste to you and you may even discover some different brands and labels to look at during your own search.

8. Allow plenty of time

With multiple opinions, sizes, body shapes and locations to consider, you need to make sure you allow plenty of time to shop for your bridesmaid dresses. You may have to do several rounds of ordering, trying on and sending back if you’re shopping online, while any in person shopping trips aren’t guaranteed to be successful.

On top of this you need to allow enough time to find a dress in a size for every bridesmaid, think about delivery times and factor in any alterations. This means that you need to do your own wedding dress shopping nice and early too, so that you’ve got that sorted before you embark on this next sartorial quest.

9. Involve your bridesmaids in the shopping

These days it’s so easy to just buy things online and have them turn up instantly, however choosing bridesmaid dresses is (usually) a once in a lifetime occurrence so it would be a shame to not make it special. Gather all your friends together and plan a day of shopping, cocktails and eating and really enjoy the experience. Even if you don’t find the dresses of everyone’s dreams on that shopping trip you’ll get an excellent idea of what each bridesmaid’s style preferences are and what they look good in. Plus, it’s a really lovely chance to get excited about the big day together and to discuss any bridesmaid duties you might need them to do to help you.

10. Ask your bridesmaids what they feel comfortable in

As well as making them feel special by planning a girl’s day out, your friends will really thank you for considering their comfort. As a bride you need to think about more than just how you want your bridesmaids to look in the photos. You need to consider your friends’ feelings towards their different body shapes, their personalities and their usual style.

While you probably think they all look amazing in their clothes, many girls will have insecurities about certain parts of their bodies, so have a candid conversation about what they might like to avoid. For example big busted or flat-chested bridesmaids might not feel good in a strapless dress, some girls might hate the idea of a tight figure-hugging dress, while others might think tea length hems do nothing for their legs. You’ll also need to make sure the dress style you choose allows them to fully partake in all wedding day activities from eating a big meal to dancing the night away on the dance floor.

11. Consider any special requests or needs

The final thing you need to consider when it comes to ensuring your bridesmaids feel happy and secure in your dress choice is any special circumstances such as pregnant or breastfeeding maids. In this case it’s important to speak to the individual bridesmaid and see what they are happy to wear and whether they might need alterations made. Empire line dresses work particularly well for pregnant ladies and will allow their bump space to expand in the run up to the wedding without major alternations having to be made.

12. Give your bridesmaids choices

Now you’ve got an idea about the budget, bridesmaid style, fabrics and personal preferences, it’s time to come up with a shortlist of dresses that you think would work best on your special day. Then you can ask your maids what they think of each outfit and hopefully, there’s a clear winner. Even if you have a favourite, asking your friends’ opinions at this final stage will go down very well and make them feel very honoured to be part of your wedding party.

13. Have a group fitting

It can be a lovely idea to try and get together again in the lead up to the big day for a group fitting. This will allow you to see what your bridesmaids look like stood next to each other and you and will really get the excitement levels up for the wedding itself.

14. Arrange any alterations

Make sure your maids’ dresses all fit perfectly by arranging any alterations. The bride usually pays for these, however it’s not bad etiquette to ask your maids to, as long as you’re honest from the start that you don’t have room in the budget for this.

15. Discuss the finishing touches

When you’ve decided on the dresses, you can finish off the look with accessories like shoes and jewellery. You can ask your maids to wear their own accessories or you can buy them if you want them all to match. You’ll also need to let your friends know if you’re paying for them to have a hair and makeup artist on the wedding morning or if this is something you’d like them to do themselves.


Written by

Hollie Bond

Hollie is a lifestyle journalist with over ten years’ experience working in the wedding industry as Lifestyle Editor for You & Your Wedding magazine Also a Regional Editor for Muddy Stilettos, Hollie has written for Square Meal magazine, Family History Monthly, BBC History magazine and Homes & Antiques. In her spare time you can find Hollie in a dance studio practising ballet…

Learn more about Hollie Bond

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