We've all been there: Your friend gets engaged and asks you to be a bridesmaid. What an honor! Until you remember that you'll be marching down the aisle in a bridesmaid's dress, and suddenly images of Fritz Bernaise dance through your head.
Breathe easy--it doesn't have to be that way.
"The biggest, overarching trend is that brides these days are wanting their bridesmaids to not look cookie-cutter," says Melissa Colgan, senior style editor for Martha Stewart Weddings. "They are allowing them a little bit of say in what they wear."
Thank God. In fact, bridal experts we spoke to agree that the trend of having individual bridesmaids styles will continue to grow over the next five years. Brides pick one unifying factor--a fabric, a length, or a color scheme--and allow their bridesmaids to find the dress that best suits them.
"It depends on how strict you want to be about it," says Rachel Leonard, fashion director of Brides magazine. "Once I went to a wedding where the bridesmaids wore their own evening gowns, and she gave them all their own white mink stole." [ed. note: Um, how can we join that wedding party?]
"Basically you want something that's going to unify the wedding party so everybody knows that they're the bridesmaids," she adds.
Simple enough. Of course, you could snap up one of J.Crew's many super stylish bridesmaids dresses and call it a day. But if you're really looking for a dress you can wear over and over again, we combed the web for some chic picks that you'll still be able to wear beyond the "I dos."
(P.S.: Before you buy, show it to the bride! "The key to all of these looking great is for the bride to retain final veto power," Colgan insists. "If you are getting married on the beach you wouldn't want one of your friends in a sequin mini dress, even if it is in the right color, nor would you want a cotton voile sundress preceding you down the aisle of your black tie affair." Noted.)
Whites & Neutrals
"We are seeing so many bridal parties in shades of white, which used to be such a taboo," says Colgan. "In execution, it can be so elegant and it really shows that the bride has a lot of confidence."
"[Another] big trend we are seeing is a mix of neutral dresses with a pop of color via accessories," Colgan adds--perfect for expressing individual style through accessories.
Still, since you don't want to out-shine the bride, shy away from full length:
1. Zara, $79.90
2. Suzi Chin for Maggy Boutique, $158
3. Z-Spoke by Zac Posen, $590
4. Theory, $285
5. Tadashi Shoji, $345
Pinks & Reds
"We love when brides look to ready-to-wear to dress their girls,"says Colgan. "Designers like Shoshanna, Tracy Reese, and Milly make great party dresses at reasonable prices that girls will definitely want to wear again."
"Keep an inspiration board with runway or product shots of the different styles to make sure that all the dresses work well together and stay away from anything too trendy," she advises.
Color schemes don't get more classic than pink:
1. LABEL by five twelve, $129
2. Amanda Uprichard, $275
3. Nanette Lepore, $368
4. Halston Heritage, $495
5. Calvin Klein, $128
"Probably the hardest [trend] to pull off well is to pull inspiration from a palette in nature and dress the girls in the range of colors," Colgan notes.
"A great example of this is Lauren Santo Domingo's bridesmaids; she was inspired by the colors of the sunset in Cartagena. But perhaps you are getting married in coastal Maine and you have the girls in shades of blues and greens--sending your bridesmaids paint chips or fabric swatches is key to successful execution of this."
If your bride picked a citrus-y theme, here are some gowns that won't leave you with a sour taste in your mouth:
1. Banana Republic, $130
2. ASOS, $68.08
3. J.Crew, $350
4. Lauren Ralph Lauren, $139
5. Tadashi Shoji, $295
Blues & Purples
Leonard says another trend is to pick a family of colors, allowing each bridesmaid to find a shade most flattering to her. "So when the colors vary, they're light pastels or jewel tones," she explains.
If your bride is going through a blue period, try one of these:
1. Madewell, $150
2. Rebecca Taylor, $295
3. French Connection, $248
4. Tibi, $475
5. Milly, $395
Blacks & Greys
Leonard had just one last piece of advice: "I think the most important thing is try not to fight over it, and they should feel pretty themselves, so they don't feel like they're stuffed into something they don't want to wear."
"But hopefully everybody can be happy enough. You want it to harmonize with the whole wedding scheme."
If you're lucky, the bride has picked a sophisticated and simple black-and-white palette so you can snag one of these:
1. Ann Taylor, $295
2. Diane von Furstenberg, $285
3. Mango, $79.99
4. J.Crew, $395
5. Isaac Mizrahi New York, $118