Great Gowns: Bridesmaids' Dresses Your Friends Won't Hate

We all have seen and heard about horrible bridesmaid dresses and swear that when we get married, ours will be perfect. Right. Easier said than done. We asked iVillagers to tell us their most memorable bridesmaid dress disasters and then asked an expert, Victoria Hadden, to tell us how these situations could have been avoided. Hadden is managing partner of the New York-based company Serafina, which makes classic, elegant, bridesmaid dresses.

Hadden's top advice for brides stressing over their attendants' gowns: "Do not choose the dress with everybody. Choose one or two of your bridesmaids and go shopping with them. And don't try to coordinate it with every single aspect of your wedding. If you're matching your bridesmaids' dresses with napkins, stop. Also, don't get caught up in matching your attendants' outfits with those of your mother and mother-in-law. Having everyone in the same color looks weird!

Here are her solutions to the most-common bridesmaids-dress problems iVillagers told us about:

Problem: Dresses that don't fit
"The vows were said, the rice was thrown, and shortly thereafter, eight people from the bridal party crammed into the back of a very, very small limo. Everyone piled out, and I was left. My mother had to get in to help me get out -- the zipper had ripped straight up my back." --Molly D.

Ask around before you choose the company that will make your dress. Certain companies have better reputations for creating good fits. If you go to a more upscale place, it will make a big difference in the long run. The cheaper ones will go through half the fittings, and they will not have done all the research and development that went on somewhere else. When we start with a new style we have a model with a normal figure come in at least six or seven times. We make sure you can dance, sit down and move around in it. If a company has a beautiful anorexic model showing the dress, you need to try it on to make sure that it fits a normal figure.

Problem: Bridesmaids with vastly different figures and coloring
"My cousin picked lavender organza over lavender, satin shirtwaist-style dresses with an oversized belt. Can't you just see it? Never, ever, put a chubby girl in a short-waist skirt with an oversized belt. And don't forget the large lavender headpiece that we had to wear. It went just GREAT with my red hair. That was the first and last time that I ever wore the same dress as other women. Not unless they're my clones!" --Chaya

If the problem is skin tone or hair color, the best solution is to get the same style and coordinate colors with the bridesmaids' complexions. If your bridesmaids' figures vary greatly, we tell people to use the same fabric and choose different styles. For instance, a very good style for large figures is "empire," which is fitted on top and loose over the rest of the body. If your bridesmaids are short, don't pick anything poofy, because it will only accentuate their diminutiveness. Column dresses are a better choice in these cases. If your attendants are busty, avoid high necklines; try v- or scoop necks instead. Slim, flat-chested women can wear something that comes up over the bust; high necklines are great.

Problem: Bridesmaids scattered across the country
"In order to save money and help out with the wedding, the women of the family offered to make the bridal party gowns. All of the bridesmaids lived on the other side of the country from where the dresses were being manufactured, so we were unable to have any fittings and had to totally rely on the skills of the seamstresses." --Theresa R.

If your bridesmaids live far away, try to use a company that has a catalog and Website. For instance, we send fabric to each bridesmaid and have each one measured so that the dress gets as close as possible to their actual figure. It helps if you pick a designer who's represented in stores across the country so they can try them on. If you are trying to cut costs, don't get them made at an inexpensive company; the quality will not be the same. Go to a regular store, and go for something that just hit the stores so there's a lot of sizes. You can find something really nice for $150-200.

Problem: Poor alterations
"The day of the wedding when the dresses were delivered, we found that the seamstress had mixed up the measurements with the exception of length. They could not even switch gowns. We had to do a quick pinning job, and one friend couldn't breathe very much or eat at the reception." --Andrea Kitajo

When choosing a seamstress, go with somebody you know or who has been referred to you. If they've done a wedding for someone you know, then find out all the specifics about how it went. Try to look at and try on the actual dress they made. If not, ask for an example you can look at. Find out how adaptable they are; see whether they can create dresses that will work for different body types. Call the women who've actually worn the dresses; they will often tell a very different story from the seamstress.

Problem: Dresses that don't suit the weather
"We had to pay $300 to have our dresses custom-made; they were in a royal purple brocade with a full-length skirt and a jacket (this was a late-June wedding in a beach town). The jacket had three-quarter length puffy, shirred sleeves -- the top was off the shoulder but stood way up from the body. There were rhinestone buttons down the front! Last Halloween, as a costume, I went as a disgruntled, tacky bridesmaid." --Anna P.

Unless your wedding's in Alaska, velvet or thick satins are not a good choice for a summer wedding (although if it's evening and inside you can do everything except velvet for summer.) Popular summer fabrics include shantung (a raw silk that is flowy, thinner and a little shiny), duppioni (raw silk, which looks nubby) and lighter satins and chiffon. Silks are great because they're airy and light. In terms of colors, neutral is beautiful; we use a lot of silver, ivory, light pinks and light sage. Champagne is very popular. For winter, we use Duchess satins or brocades and thick luxurious satins. The colors we commonly use are deep cranberry, dark steel blues and a lot of bright pinks.

Problem: Breaking the bridesmaids' budgets
"A good friend of mine is having her wedding this coming weekend. They have had NINE showers or parties. Including all of the showers, dresses, manicures, accessories and gifts, each bridesmaid is spending nearly $1,000. The bride is a special person, but come on!" --Kathy Dailey

Don't skimp on the dresses if you're going to spend a lot of money on your wedding. On the other hand, the costs add up for your bridesmaids. Consider subsidizing the cost of the dresses. See how much the dresses add to your wedding budget; chances are the extra $800 won't make a difference, On the other hand, if you can't afford to pay for the dresses and are looking to cut costs, look for high-quality synthetic material. For instance, try file (a very fine ribbed material) or a thick, high-quality synthetic satin. Brocades can also be less expensive, but it depends on how much research you do and how much time and effort you can put into customizing the dresses. If you are looking for a less expensive fabric, always have the company send you a swatch; they will tell you their material is high-end when it's not. Finally, avoid decorations, because they have to be hand-embroidered or sewn on.

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