Being a bridesmaid is an honour. But what exactly are you expected to do? And who funds your dress? Nicole Conner seeks advice from fashion and wedding-planning experts to help keep you right
I got to experience the joy (and stress!) of being a bridesmaid when my cousin married earlier this year. I helped find a dress that would suit both me (five foot tall) and another of the girls (who’s nearly six foot). I celebrated wildly at the hen do, I cried my makeup off as I welcomed the newest member of our clan. But I know there’s no universal bridesmaid experience, and sometimes it’s good to consult industry insiders for guidance, particularly on grey areas such as ‘what actually is my role?’ and ‘who pays for what?’. Three bridal experts and two wedding planners weigh in with their thoughts.
How to choose a dress that suits all of your bridesmaids
If, like my cousin, you have four bridesmaids of totally different body shapes, you may be looking for styles that are flattering for all. “Trying to keep everyone happy and confident with their outfit is a stressful part of the bridal journey,” confirms designer Carolyn Baxter.
She recommends separates: all the girls could have the same skirt, but paired with slightly different tops (one could have sleeves, another a low back, for example). “Another option is to choose a different dress style for each girl but in the same colour and fabric. That way you let their personality show and keep people happy,” she adds.
This is something Megan Carberry at Kudos Bridal Boutique in Dunfermline echoes: “Each bridesmaid will feel great on the day, and since all of them are wearing the same colour, you will still have a cohesive look.” Kudos stocks bridesmaid designer Sorella Vita, and has all its styles available in 31 shades.
Over at Kudos Bridal Boutique in Edinburgh, meanwhile, the most popular bridesmaid dress styles are those with crossover bodices, drapes, ruching and soft, floaty skirts, since these suit most bodies. Slinky satin styles are on the rise, though, notes owner Michelle Scott. “Brides nowadays typically give their ’maids a lot more say over what they wear, while retaining the right to veto any unacceptable picks!
“If you want everyone to wear the same style, my advice would be to make that clear at the start to avoid any disappointment.” Do you have a maid of honour? If so, it could be nice to dress her in a slightly different style to set her apart from the other girls.”
Trending bridesmaid styles
So, what are the hottest hues to dress your gals in this season? According to Megan Carberry, the answer is black. “We were obsessed with Sofia Richie’s wedding to Elliot Grainge this summer and it seems that a lot of our brides were too! It’s a clean-cut aesthetic and definitely helps the bride stand out from the crowd,” she says.
Carolyn Baxter agrees, noting that the black-tie theme means both black and ivory bridesmaid gowns have been hot property of late, although champagne and sage tones also remain firm faves.
For some more inspiration, we’ve put together a selection of gorgeous bridesmaid dress styles.
Take your bridesmaids dress shopping in person
According to the Kudos Edinburgh team, the best bridesmaid shopping appointments are those where all the gals attend, making a little Team Bride party of it: “In most cases the ’maids are really good at giving each other positive feedback about the styles that suit them,” notes Michelle Scott. If it’s not possible to get everyone together on the same day, the bride should decide carefully who comes with her on that initial trip, as they’ll be scouting looks for the others to choose from.
When do I need to buy bridesmaid dresses?
As with all things wedding-related, it’s best not to leave things too late. Dressmaker Carolyn Baxter suggests starting shopping a minimum six to seven months in advance, and to do a final fitting a few weeks before to avoid any last-minute issues.
Megan Carberry also suggests six months: “Sorella Vita gowns generally take around 16 to 18 weeks to arrive in store.”
Who pays for bridesmaids dresses?
All three fashion experts agree that the bride typically buys her gang’s gowns, but that bridesmaids usually pay for their own shoes and perhaps even their makeup.
However, wedding and events planner Lavinia Stewart-Brown believes there are no hard and fast rules when it comes to money and that it’s down to personal preference. “If you’re joining the mismatched trend, with all the girls wearing different gowns, for example, you could ask them to source and pay for their own looks – as long as you are open about this from the beginning,” she suggests.
Money is an unromantic topic, but let’s face it: weddings are expensive. Industry expert Lauren Goodman of Bluebird Creative says that brides should be mindful that sometimes their bridesmaids may not have the budget for hen weekends and outfits. “If your girls can’t afford to attend events, be understanding about it,” she says. “If they are more important than where you go on your hen, tweak your plans to become more budget-friendly so you can all celebrate together.”
Get your bride tribe on the same page
If you have friends from lots of different areas of your life that you’re bringing together in your party, Lauren Goodman suggests organising a few get-togethers in the lead-up so that everyone is acquainted (hen dos normally help with this!).
But what if – gasp! – some of them don’t get on? “I’d like to think that your friends will behave on the day because they love you and that trumps any drama. But if that’s not the likely situation, perhaps consider having a quieter wedding morning, so you can relax and enjoy yourself without feeling any tension,” she advises.
What should bridesmaids do on the wedding day?
Once the big day is here, what are your gals expected to do? Lavinia Stewart-Brown notes that giving the bride a general helping hand is the main objective: keeping her calm, assisting her in the loo and making sure she always has a drink in hand are top priorities.
“One secret tip from someone who has attended hundreds of weddings is this: ahead of the big day, select a bridesmaid to be in charge of making sure the bride’s bag is ready to leave with the couple at the end of the evening.” Good idea!