Picking a dress your ladies will love!

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For a more coordinated look, establish a color, length and fabric, then let your bridesmaids have fun with the neckline. Katie Karlberg Photography

How to pick a bridesmaid dress they’ll wear more than once.

By Leigh Harrington / Newport Wedding 2021

When Heather Pierce’s childhood friend asked her to be a bridesmaid in her Newport wedding, she was ecstatic.

The Middletown resident remembers going to Alexandra’s Boutique in Fall River to pick out dresses with the wedding party, and absolutely loved the selection they made: a dark blue satin dress with a black petticoat underneath.

“I haven’t been a bridesmaid in a ton of weddings,” Pierce says. “This is one of my best friends from forever; I would have bought whatever she wanted me to buy.”

Pierce says she wasn’t concerned about whether she’d wear the dress again, but the choice was taken from her on the day of the wedding, when the zipper broke and she had to be sewn into the outfit.

“At the end of the night, we basically had to rip it to get it off me,” she says. “My dress was ruined — not that I would rewear it.”

And that sums up the sentiments of many women who have been bridesmaids. Even if they love their dress, they’ll never wear it again.

Unless you’re in the prime of your wedding years, where all your friends are tying the knot, or you regularly find your way to Newport charity galas, it’s unlikely you’re in the market for formal attire.

So when you have to spend more than you wanted on a bridesmaid dress for your bestie’s big day, you may find yourself wishing you could get more than one wearing out of it. “Because girls are spending a lot of money on the dress, they want to wear it again,” says Lucia Aguiar, the owner of Lucia Aguiar Bride in East Greenwich. But most bridesmaid dresses, she points out, don’t have the stylish, modern look that young women are seeking.

To address the problem, we asked wedding professionals for guidance on choosing a bridesmaid dress that will look smashing at the wedding — and for years afterward.

For a casual look, give your bridesmaids a set of colors, prints and/or fabrics, and let them choose a style they love. Love, Lucas Photography

4 tips to picking a dress they’ll love

1. It’s all about the fabric

When it comes to bridesmaid dresses, the most popular choice is chiffon, with its ethereal vibe and a draping ability that flatters just about any figure. Unfortunately, those same light and layered characteristics make it easily identifiable as a bridesmaid dress.
“On some level, you can always tell,” says Kayla Thompson, proprietor of Melissa Ashley Brides in Westerly.

If you’re looking for a bridesmaid dress that can be worn again, avoid shiny fabrics like chiffon or satin and opt for something more matte, like cotton or crepe. Lucia Aguiar suggests checking out designer Jenny Yoo. “She’s one of the best right now,” she says. “She has a big variety of styles and fabrics, different looks.”

If you’re planning a late fall or winter wedding, Thompson recommends a velvet dress. “They’re a little bit more expensive,” she says, “but they’re great, because it’s not a traditional bridesmaid look. If you had another formal affair to go to, like a fundraiser, it would be really easy to wear that dress again.”

2. Pick a neutral color

Poppy, emerald, lavender — they’re all gorgeous, rich colors. But outside of a wedding, bold colors are simply not your friends.

Instead, seek out a neutral shade like black, navy, nude or light pink. “Navy matches everybody,” Thompson says. “Nobody ever looks at someone in navy and is like, ‘Oh, they shouldn’t have worn that color.’”

A neutral color transitions more easily into everyday wear. Kate Dailey Photography. Dresses: Show Me Your Mumu

3. Select a less traditional look

Move over spaghetti-strap sheaths and sweetheart necklines — there are some new girls in town. Bridesmaid dress styles are branching out. According to wedding website The Knot, some rising trends include two-piece mix-and-match outfits, tiered midi dresses, bold patterns, long sleeves, and even jumpsuits.

Bridal designers from Vince Camuto to Dessy have embraced the jumpsuit, which can go casual or dressy and is modern and comfortable. And what bridesmaid doesn’t want that? Besides, you can definitely wear a jumpsuit again.

4. Consider the length

When the bride-to-be in the 2008 film 27 Dresses told her bridesmaid, Jane, “The bridesmaid dresses look great. You can shorten it and wear it again,” women across America let out a collective groan.

Tell that to the two-dozen-plus getups stuffed into Jane’s closet.

We feel your pain, Jane. Brides everywhere offer this superficial solace to their wedding parties to make it easier to swallow the high cost of a dress the bridesmaids pay for but don’t get to pick out.

But according to Thompson and Aguiar, shortening a dress is a viable option if you really like it. “Short also gives it a less formal look,” Thompson says. “So if you go to somebody else’s wedding, you don’t look like you wore a bridesmaid dress.”

Aguiar agrees. “You can always make more of a tea-length dress,” she says. “You can re-cut them for different lengths later on. Small dresses are very popular to wear, especially in the summer.”

Not to state the obvious, but you can also prevent the problem by choosing a shorter-length bridesmaid dress from the start, which avoids the additional cost of hemming it later.

A basic black dress can transition from a bridal party to a New Year’s party. Allison Markova Photography.

Stuck with a bridesmaid dress you’ll never wear? Transform it!

So what are your options if your bride didn’t follow this advice, and you’re a bridesmaid saddled with a dress that isn’t your style?

Whether you’re talking hair or fabric, chopping something up can give you a real sense of empowerment, and can allow you to inject your personality into a style that, well, might not have been to your taste.

Find a seamstress who is used to working with bridal couture or dresses, like Aguiar or Harper Della-Piana, a classically trained draper, pattern maker and fitter who works on everything from Broadway and Hollywood film costumes to bridal gowns, and owns Seams Couture and Custom Bridal Studio in Providence.

Such experts can help you cut up your dress, possibly making it into two items like a top and a skirt. “Sometimes we take the sleeve off, sometimes we cut the dress,” Aguiar says. “We can redesign the dress for a reasonable price, and you can wear it again.”
Don’t overlook the power of accessories to transform the look of a dress in a modern, funky or fun way. Try a large beaded necklace, or Doc Martens. “You can always just throw a belt on it,” Thompson says, “or even wear a pashmina scarf.”

If there’s just no way you can wear the dress again …

Let’s face it. Whether it’s due to a lurid color, a taffeta skirt, or something else entirely, you may find yourself in a situation where you know you’re never going to be able to wear your bridesmaid dress anyplace else.

So what do you do with it? You’ve got options.

Help another lady look fabulous for a formal event by donating it to an organization that supplies girls and women in need. There are a few such programs in Rhode Island, including Jordan’s Furniture’s Belle of the Ball, Jen Carter’s Aquidneck Island Prom Dress Drive, and Providence Princess, organized by the Providence Teachers Union.

If you want to make back the cash you spent on the dress, you can rent it online through a website like Rent the Runway. Or, you can do what Heather Pierce did. She knew someone who made wristlets out of different types of fabric and sold them at farmers markets and craft fairs. “I gave her the dress,” Pierce says. “She made wristlets out of the blue fabric, and then put a strip of the lacy black petticoat to decorate it. It was really cute.”

Pierce gave out the wristlets to her fellow bridesmaids, and saved one to give to the daughter of the couple who had gotten married. “I thought it would be nice for her to have something from her parents’ wedding,” she says.

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