Buying Bridesmaid's Gowns

Bridesmaid Issues

Quite possibly, selection of bridesmaids and their gowns turns out to be the most daunting aspect of the wedding preparations, so it is best to go at this task with love, humor, and patience.

Who Participates in the Wedding Party

This is the first priority, deciding which friends and family members participate.  You'll need to speak to each one personally to see if she wants to attend and if she wants to stand up with you, as many out-of-state friends cannot afford to attend, nor do all relatives want to be an attendant.  This can be a ticklish subject when the groom has sisters who expect or are expected by other family members to be included.  Some don't know you well, and actually would rather not be included.  It is not necessary to have the same number of men and women in the bridal party, as one man can walk two women out (one on each arm), or vice-versa, one woman with two men (plan B).  This is your wedding, and no matter how close you are to someone, if you know from past experience that she will invariable not allow you to be the star, you must settle that issue before you select your final participants.  Those who won't co-operate with all your decisions can be involved in other aspects of the wedding and all will be happier.  There are ways to tactfully get your point across that will be satisfactory if you first present to that person that you care about her and her feelings.

"Karen: Just wanted to thank you again for all your help, patience and expertise while Melissa and I were looking for dresses. You were invaluable to us. We both loved our gowns and thanks to you, didn't have to spend a fortune. I was also surprised at how much you saved us on invitations, and the quality of the jewelry Melissa bought for her bridesmaids was wonderful. Our only regret is that we didn't go through you for the bridesmaids dresses --I know they would have gotten a much better price. I will recommend you to anyone I know who is even thinking about having a wedding. I'll be calling you when my other daughter gets engaged - which may be sooner than I think. Thanks, again - and God Bless. Have a wonderful rest of the summer. Barb Lege"

Colors and Styles

Wedding colors are next.  Research your options by looking at all the color choices a manufacturer offers.   I know of several that offer up to 44 colors for virtually all their bridesmaid gowns.  When you find the right color, then check out the styles in that color.  Involve your maids in the process, and if you can gather all of them together, let them discuss what they have liked and disliked at other weddings so you can understand some of their perspective, especially if you have never been a bridesmaid.   Email can accomplish the same thing, so use your communication resources to best advantage.  This year there are several length of skirts from which to choose, all the more reason to have your maids giving you their input.

There are several options for selecting the gowns: same style with all in one color, same style with two colors to set the maid-of-honor apart, same style with all different colors, same color with all different styles, or an all black and white wedding.  Quite a few bridesmaid manufacturers offer separates with multiple top and skirt options.  With separates, each one can decide which combination looks good on herself, and those that have different size tops from bottoms will be able to select sizes that fit best.  

Price Range

Believe it or not, some brides do not care how much their maids are required to spend on a gown, they just want their own choice of gown.  This is a matter that must be cleared with the person or persons paying for the gowns.  If the bride pays, she can spend as much as she wants.  If the maids buy their own gowns, it is possible to cater to several price ranges: under $100, $100-150, $100-$200, and over $200.  My recommendation is for the bride to pay for the gowns if she is able, or at least some aspect of their cost, such as alterations and/or shipping charges.   The average first time bride in this day and age is 28, so often the bride and groom are paying for their own wedding.  In such a case, usually the attendants pay for their own clothing, so it is important to attend to their budget needs as well as your own.  I altered 2 gowns for the same attendant in 2003, and she said she was to be in 4 weddings that year which all cost her at least $500 apiece.  Ask yourself if it is fair to ask someone to spend $400 on airfare plus buy a $300 dress and spend another $100 on alterations.  Silk gowns are lovely and a good formal-wear investment, but resentment will be present if it is a severe financial sacrifice put upon a maid who was not allowed any input into the price range.  Let me help with this challenging issue by pointing you to collections in each category.

Whom to Please

You are the bride, your desires should take precedence, but also your groom as well as both families will want to offer their wishes on what they would like to be included.  Your wedding may end up being bigger and more involved as it moves along in the planning.  If you are working on a strict budget, only allow those things that work within the budget to be included, and be firm on that point.  I have never heard that any couple was happy when the budget was overspent.  When someone asks what she can do to help, tell her about an area causing concern and perhaps that person will take it on as a special project and creative alternatives become the solution.  An Easter basket can be redecorated and double for a flower girl basket, wildflowers can replace expensive roses, a veil or slip can be borrowed, an artsy-craftsy friend can bead some matching jewelry for bridesmaids, and the list goes on and on.

Recently I was amused while watching "Steel Magnolias" when the bride resentfully implied that it was her mother who had made the final decision about who should be in her wedding party, as well as about many more details involved with the reception.  Early in the planning process, make it clear who makes the final decisions about these things.  A wedding is an opportunity for healing of past wounds, a place where mutual love of others supersedes the pain of the past and mends relationships.  Plenty of love and patience will help make this happen. 

Changing Sizes and Pregnancy

Don't select a size based on wishful thinking that someone will drop some weight.  I only do that if the maid is already on a program and has lost at least 10#.  It is better to cut down a larger gown than to wear something that is too tight and thus, unattractive.  Having said that, I know many ways to enhance curves in alterations and even have a slip choice that slims from above the waist to mid-thigh.  

If a married bridesmaid is planning to become pregnant, this is an area of uncertainty that must be discussed with me.  Often shawls are made to match gowns and they provide enough fabric to splice into a full-length gown on both sides.  Yardage can also be purchased from the bridesmaid company if needed, and the extra fabric can be incorporated in other ways into the wedding.  One area of concern to me is that you might want to release a friend or relative from the wedding party if she is to be 8-9 months pregnant at the time of the wedding.  Standing up with you is a lot to expect from someone in this condition, and it could draw attention away from the bridal party if there is an unexpected occurrence, such as passing out, going into labor, falling over, or just walking over to sit down.  Recently I watched an attendant become faint, walk over to sit down, then stepped on her gown hemline, and went down on her face.  It's better not to risk such an event, so talk it over with your pregnant attendant before you order her gown.  If she still wants to stand up with you, be sure the wedding site is ventilated and others alerted to potential problems.  If she decides at the last minute she can't do it, you will already be prepared for that eventuality and you can work with it.  A decorated stool on the stage area is also an option.  

Extra Size Charges and Shipping Costs

If a bridesmaid is over size 16, she may find herself paying from $10-$50 more for her gown than the other maids.  Several donít charge extra, so be sure to ask which ones they are. It would be a sweet and welcome gesture on the brideís part to pay for this extra fee and/or shipping charges.  I can and have shipped all of the gowns in one or multiple boxes, whatever is best for the maids and the amount of time they will have for alterations.  Most will need their dresses hemmed, so they should be locating their own seamstresses in advance of the gowns arrival and not be hard-pressed to find one at the last minute.  I can and will help with that process.

If you have any questions about this or other subjects, please write me and I will give you my perspective on it.  If I can't find a solution, I will email my network to see if they have suggestions.


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Karen Lockwood
4406 Dogwood Trail
North Olmsted, OH 44070
(440) 734-2680
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