We have a lot of opinions — strong ones — about "The Bachelor," and you probably do, too. Even if you don't watch, chances are you have a firmly held reason for not doing so. (I've tried to get unnamed family members to watch the show for several seasons now, and their response is always along the lines of: "That garbage?" To which I say: "If only you had witnessed the masterful editing in the last season of "The Bachelorette" when JoJo and Chase made out to a live rendition of 'Don't Cry for Me Argentina' while Derek loudly wept in the backseat of a car!") We often march into the office on Tuesday with the energy of a thousand Chris Harrisons, prepared to recap the previous night's episode. And with us being professional fashion writers on the internet, you can bet your *TV bleep* ass that our hot takes extend to the clothes — especially those worn during the climactic, end-of-episode Rose Ceremonies.
Rose Ceremonies are, for lack of a better word, iconic. They're also problematic, because they literally mandate that up to 25 women compete with each other to get a man's approval. From a fashion perspective, they're incredible. Clothes are a direct reflection of how we'd like to project ourselves to the world, and the dresses worn during a Rose Ceremony are all that and then some. Contestants use their gowns like a peacock does its plumage, to make one last sell to the interested party before a mating ritual commences.
But there are guidelines, albeit unofficial ones, that dictate how the women of "The Bachelor" get dressed, and they're pretty much what you'd expect: What looks good on camera?
"You want something that's flattering," says Jaclyn Swartz, a franchise veteran who first appeared on Season 16 of "The Bachelor" and later returned for spin-offs "Bachelor Pad" and "Bachelor in Paradise." Swartz explains that she swore by solid colors, strapless dresses and garments with cutouts because, in the case of the latter, "it makes you look thinner on camera."
Stripes, however, do not; listen, do not try and wear stripes at any point, to any Rose Ceremony. "There was this Parker dress I wore during a challenge that had orange, blue and white zigzags on it and it ended up looking fine on camera, but they had to test it before they approved me to wear it," says Swartz. But barring any stripe-related catastrophes, producers won't interfere with the contestants' wardrobe. "The only time they'll come and tap you on the shoulder is if they're noticing that it's not working on camera," she says. "They would never be like, 'Oh, that's ugly. Take it off.' They would say, 'It's just not translating well on camera. You should change, but that's to benefit you.'"
The procedure is much more stringent for the first Rose Ceremony, when contestants haven't been introduced to each other yet. "You're by yourself in a hotel room and you come with a dress and probably a backup dress," explains Swartz. "The [show's] stylist Cary Fetman and a producer will come around to [your] room and they'll approve the dress for the first night. That's usually to make sure no two girls are wearing the same dress."
Caila Quinn — who made it to the final three in Season 20 and is now the founder of fashion and lifestyle blog "With Love, Caila" — tells me that she primarily looked for pieces that were "sexy and formfitting," and appropriate for a "make-or-break" occasion. "I looked for things that showed skin on some part of the body, whether it's the legs or the cleavage," she says. "It's a flirty moment, and it's just that kind of show."
Season 17 winner Catherine Lowe (né Giudici), who has an online stationary brand called LoweCo. with now-husband Sean Lowe, opted to keep her dresses colorful so to pop on screen. "I wanted to focus on color a lot, because I like to think I can wear every color except for mustard," she says, referencing a dark turquoise Robert Rodriguez one-shouldered piece. "I'm pretty casual, so when I have to wear cocktail or evening, I definitely keep everything else very muted."
Meanwhile, Ashley Iaconetti took her first franchise appearance on Season 19 as an opportunity to wear anything and everything she couldn't get away with otherwise. "I think super-princessy, super-formal, really dramatic — because how often do you go to a ball?" she says. "I've never been able to wear a dress like that... other than formal nights on a cruise." Iaconetti notes that producers have been working to make the move from fussy, fairytale ballgowns to more contemporary cocktail dresses. "With my season, they said that they wanted to tone down the dress," she says. "They didn't want the dresses I ended up wearing, but I was like, screw that, you know? I'm going to wear as fancy of a dress as I can get my hands on."
Contestants aren't afforded the luxury of shopping around for their gowns with any sense of leisure; they only find out they've been cast three to four weeks prior to the start of filming. "The second I was cast, I went to this dress store, Coco's Chateau, and I went ham," says Iaconetti. "Thank you, Mom and Dad, for [your] generous dress gifts for that month." Of the gowns Iaconetti bought at Coco's Chateau (which has two locations in New Jersey), three were from prom giant Sherri Hill because, she says, "apparently I wanted to be in a pageant."
E-commerce sites like Revolve and Shopbop are popular shopping destinations, as are larger retailers like Nordstrom, Forever 21 and Topshop. "Before I went on the show, I did not know how glamorous things were going to get," says Quinn. "I went to three favorite designers that seemed like a good fit no matter where we were going for the Rose Ceremony." These included Derek Lam and Dress the Population, the latter of which donates 50 percent of proceeds from one dress style per month to charity.
But due to budgetary constraints and lack of time, contestants can also get thrifty. Lowe recommends vintage or consignment stores, which she frequented prior to filming. "When I was in Seattle, I went to some vintage places [that didn't have] super-old stuff, but designer pieces that may have been used," she says. "I knew that buying something and being strapped for cash when you don't have a job for potentially three months, you [have to] make resourceful choices."
Becca Tilley, who appeared on both Seasons 19 and 20, borrowed dresses from friends and family; Lowe did the same. "The first night on Chris [Soules]'s season, I wore a dress that was my sister's that she'd had for about three years," says Tilley. "The sleeve was safety-pinned together and I used a shoestring to cinch the waist. Every time people ask about the dress, I laugh to myself!" For her return on Season 20, Tilley was able to reach out to brands to send her pieces, which happens with those higher-profile contestants. ("When you make it to the end, the final two, those dresses are gifted and styled," says Swartz.)
Quinn also explains that once the women became friends with one another, they shared each other's dresses if they didn't bring enough. "If you saw Amanda Stanton, Leah Block and Lauren Bushnell all wore the same dress three different weeks in a row," she says of a black and gold sequined bodycon from Dress the Population that originally belonged to Stanton. "If it's a good-fitting dress, why not share?"
Prior to the start of show, contestants are given an intentionally vague packing list that includes 10 Rose Ceremony dresses, should you go as far as the finale. But in addition to the Rose Ceremonies, cocktail dresses are worn quite often, so it's not uncommon for girls to run out of dresses by mid-season. "I pretty much brought the exact number I would need if I was there until the end," says Tilley. "As long as I had a dress for each possible situation where one was needed, I was happy."
To combat the risk of a dress shortage, several former contestants recommend that you plan out an order in which you'll wear your dresses before filming begins. "The mentality you really have to go with is [that] you wear your favorites first," says Iaconetti. "I know you want to save the best for last, but you have to be realistic and think, 'I'm probably not going to be here last.'" Quinn fleshed out her strategy as she went along: "I definitely had favorite dresses, but depending on whether I had a rose already and was safe, those nights I'd wear really boring dresses and save the rest for later."
But producers don't make it easy for contestants, ruling that women arrive with no more than two suitcases. Swartz brought six. "I think that's something girls made a mistake of [when] they follow the rules of packing, but they're going to pay for your bag fees," she says. "Then once if you make it to a certain point, you store one of your suitcase. Once you start traveling internationally, that's when things get complicated. They make you go down to one suitcase."
Even harder so, Rose Ceremonies often take place in different venues besides the Bachelor Mansion, and it's important that contestants plan accordingly. "What if it's windy out up on an outdoor patio [or] on a rooftop cocktail lounge? Those are things that you want to take into account," says Swartz. "If the camera gets you with the dress flowing up and your ass shows, they could show it."
For all of the the ruthless competition upon which Rose Ceremonies built, there's no judgment passed regarding labels or brands. "Websites where you can buy cute, trendy dresses for an affordable price are really nice when shopping," says Tilley. Iaconetti mentions that she didn't even realize the brands the other contestants were wearing. "It was just like, do you like it, do you not? Sometimes I like something at Forever 21 better than I would like at Dolce & Gabbana," she says. "That's life."
Though Quinn, who budgeted for her appearance on the show, recommends heavily investing in those dresses that will highlight your own personal style. "Whatever you intend on spending, I would spend double," she says. "You can always return the dresses if you don't make it very far."
She ends on a note that the show's producers could've written themselves: "Feel free to splurge, because you should do whatever it takes to get that rose."
Homepage photo: "The Bachelor" and "The Bachelorette"'s Becca Tilley and Jojo Fletcher attend Ryan Seacrest's Purse Party in Huntington Beach, Calif. Photo: Phillip Faraone/Getty Images