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red bridesmaid dress

Bridesmaids: Ultimate Dress-Buying Guide

Avoid dress stress with our easy how-tos for choosing the perfect bridesmaid attire.

Photo: Kristine Dittmer Photography

The date is set, the reception hall is booked, and now you’re starting to focus on the details that will really make your wedding day unique. Standing next to you will be the best support group you can have -- your bridal party. Don’t torture them with ugly dresses. We’ve devised a step-by-step guide to help you keep your girls happy and glowing all day.

Set the Scene

Although it may seem like a no-brainer, decide on the formality of your wedding -- day (casual) vs. evening (formal) -- before you start choosing any important details. The time of day play huge roles in the bridesmaid dress selection. These days it’s really the fabric, not the length, that dictates the formality of the dress. Tea-length (just above the ankle) dresses are quite versatile with the right choice of fabric. Pick a dark color in a rich satin for a formal wedding, and opt for pastel chiffon or printed organza for a daytime ceremony.

Knot Note: Start thinking about bridesmaid dresses about six months before your wedding to allow enough time to decide on, order, and fit the dresses. It takes two to three months for the dresses to arrive, and four to six weeks for alterations.

Start the Search

First, select a dress or dresses that you like. Start by choosing a style or a color, whichever is more important to you. Be sure to pick your own wedding gown before beginning the search for bridesmaid attire. Your gown and their dresses should coordinate but don’t have to be an exact match. If yours is strapless, don’t put the bridesmaids in long sleeves, or if your dress is ultra romantic, you might not want thoroughly modern maids.

Take Shape

Think about the body types and individual styles of your bridesmaids. If you’d like them all to don the same dress, choose one that will look great on the most hard-to-fit girl. The others can always get the dress altered to fit their shapes. Or allow each maid to choose a different dress style in the same color scheme or fabric to tie the look together. Remember, you can't please everyone, so don't stress yourself out. And be confident in your choices.

Hone in on Hues

If color is key, there are a few ways to approach choosing the right one. First, keep in mind the color schemes at your ceremony and reception sites, as well as your palette. If your wedding will be at a rustic inn that has burgundy and dark green decor, rule out fuchsia bridesmaid dresses. Second, decide if you’d like everyone in your bridal party to wear the same color, or if you’d rather choose a color scheme. Don’t be afraid to experiment with different shades of the same hue to add some variety.

Finally, let the season be your guide. Rich, saturated colors -- such as deep plum and chocolate -- work well in the fall and winter months, while lighter shades such as celadon and iris are perfect for spring and summer.

If you’re still at a loss for which color to choose, go with one you love -- pick a shade that you used when decorating your apartment, for example, or one that shows up frequently in your wardrobe.

Knot Note: If opting for prints instead of solids, keep the rest of the look simple -- think monochromatic bouquets paired with sweet and simple hairstyles and jewelry.

Decide on a Dress

Once you've found your favorites, finalize the dress with your bridal party. Email photos to the group for their opinions. And, don't feel you have to bring everyone to the store with you. Your girls will appreciate that you want their input, but they might be happy to skip the chaos of cramming into a small shop.

Size It Up

If possible, ask everyone in your bridal party to get measured by a professional seamstress or tailor at a department store if they can't make it to the store where you're ordering the dresses. Warn them that bridesmaid dresses tend to run on the small side, so each girl's usual dress size might not apply.

Place Your Order

Looking for the seemingly effortless way to find and finalize your bridesmaid dresses? Here’s a simple checklist to make sure you don’t miss any of the important details:
  • Order all the dresses at the same time so they are from the same dye lot.
  • If many maids live out of town, collect all the measurements and money and coordinate with the dress shop yourself, or enlist your maid of honor's help.
  • Allow about two to three months for the dresses to come in, and add four to six weeks for alterations. Alterations typically take only two weeks, but a second fitting (if necessary) will add a few weeks. Also, don't assume that every girl will be able to get to the tailor the day the dress arrives -- be considerate of your maids' busy schedules.
  • After the dresses are ordered, send a quick email or letter to everyone in your bridal party with info about the timeline and their responsibilities with regards to the dresses. Be sure to follow up with them about a week before the dresses are due to arrive so they can plan their arrangements accordingly.

Knot Note: Don't get frustrated if your maids don't deal with the dresses right away. They know how important your wedding is.

Find the Shoes

Even if you fall in love with the perfect pair of fuchsia four-inch stilettos to match the ribbon trim on the dress, don’t subject your girls to the torture. If you’re choosing the shoes for them, comfort should be the top priority. Then find a color that will complement the dress -- metallic hues are a great option if classic black won’t work. Another option is to tell your bridesmaids the specifics (color, open- or close-toe, for instance) and let them find the perfect pair -- some might already have it in their closets.

Do Everything Else

A few little extras can go a long way. Use pins, scarves, belts, and jewelry to dress up simple ensembles, or to give each dress an individual flair. But all the details tend to add up, so if it’s not in your budget to spring for them yourself, don’t ask your girls to. Just think: A beautiful brooch for the dress would make a perfect bridesmaid gift -- and one less thing you would have to worry about right before the wedding!

-- The Knot

See More: Bridal Party Fashion