Bridesmaids wore a variety of styles at the wedding of Tom and Melissa Sedeyn.  Photo courtesy of Capturing Memories Photography by Bre Jefferis.

Melissa Sedeyn had quite the task in front of her as she began to plan her June 2014 wedding to her fiancé, Tommy – finding a bridesmaid’s dress that 11 women could wear, and maybe even like.

Melissa, a self-professed laid-back bride, decided to go a different route. Instead of having a bridal party matching head-to-toe – a wedding trend that goes back decades – she decided to let her bridesmaids choose their own dresses.

One bridesmaid opted for a halter-top while one wanted sleeves and another chose a strapless style. Still another wanted a more loose-flowing skirt, while the younger junior bridesmaid chose a pale pink dress with a white sash. A few women, but not all, ended up choosing the same dress.

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The result was a happier bridal party.

“Everybody has different comfort zones, different styles (they prefer), different shapes,” says Melissa, 24 who lives in the Cedarville section of Lawrence Township, Cumberland County. “They loved it, because they didn’t have to worry about fitting in the same dress. It was simple and easy.”

The bridesmaid’s dress – sometimes a reflection of the particular color and style trends of the moment, and not always a reflection of what a bridesmaid herself would necessarily wear  – has often served as the butt of jokes in movies and television shows. The jokes tend to have a common theme: exaggerated choices that are ridiculous, over-the-top confections of chiffon and lace, often in hues that a woman would never choose to wear to any other occasion, let alone a good friend’s wedding.

Lately, that tradition is changing. As weddings become more personal and dress styles have evolved to accommodate a wider range of body types, more brides are opting to let bridesmaids make their own decision when it comes to what they want to wear.

“I think the brides are trying to make it more conducive for the maids,” says Leslie Stringari Ferrari, manager at Rienzi Bridal in Vineland. “Let them use (the dress) over again, to make them feel like they’re not spending so much money on something they don’t like.”

Cost can be a big factor for bridal attendants, with gowns that often come with price tags of $150 to $200 or more, depending on the dress designer. Still, Stringari Ferrari says cost is not the biggest motivator behind the trend.

“I don’t know if it’s even a price matter at this point,” Stringari Ferrari says. “People really want to be their own person. Letting them dress in their own style really gives them their own individuality.”

Patty Ogrodnek, head bridal consultant and store supervisor at Dress 2 Impress, a bridal and formal boutique in Linwood, says the reason for the trend is straightforward.

“I feel that the bride just wants to be nice to her girlfriends,” she says. “They think it’s a sweet thing for them to do.”

“It’s like 27 Dresses,” Ogrodnek says, referring to the romantic comedy about a perennial bridesmaid. “You think you can always wear this again – and you really can’t. (Bridesmaids) pay a lot of money for a dress… and they never wear it again. That’s where I think this trend is coming from.”

Before embracing the trend, however, there are a few dos and don’ts to keep in mind. While allowing bridesmaids to choose their own dresses certainly makes for a more comfortable bridal party, a few guidelines can avoid a look that might end up clashing in those pricy wedding photos.

The first, consultants say, is to try to stick with one dress designer. Many dressmakers now offer multiple styles and options within a certain color palette, allowing bridesmaids a choice, but still keeping the look neat and somewhat uniform.

“It’s our strong recommendation to choose dresses from the same company or designer,” Stringari Ferrari says. “Most of the brides do want a wedding party to look like a wedding party. If (bridesmaids) are just grabbing gowns from anywhere across the country, it’s not always what the bride envisions.”

“When they do this, they have to stick with the same designer,” adds Ogrodnek. “Every (designer’s) colors … could be a little off. A different designer will have a different dye roll and fabric … and the color won’t be the same.”

Material should also remain consistent, Ogrodnek says. If one bridesmaid wears satin while another wears chiffon, the look may not work, she says.

There are also a few variations on the trend. Ogrodnek has seen some brides go so far as to have a rainbow wedding party, with each bridesmaid wearing a different color. Others may put all bridesmaids in black, for example, but let each woman choose their own brightly colored heels as a unique accent. Still other brides like an ombre look, with bridesmaids wearing all the hues of blue or pink.

For Melissa, the end result was even better than she expected.  A few wedding guests, who noticed the different dresses, made a point to comment on how much the liked the look.

“I was wondering how it was going to look,” Melissa says. “I just went with it. It was all about having fun. They (the bridesmaids) couldn’t believe how great it turned out.”

Bridesmaids, Ogrodnek says, seem very happy to have some choice in the matter.

“I truly believe that this way, they actually get to choose the style that they think they look good in,” she says. “And they do want to look good.”

 

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