Bride and bridesmaids with arms locked

How to Pick Bridesmaid Dresses: The Complete Guide

Dec 23, 2019
By Wedding Spot

Once upon a time, bridesmaid dresses were a running joke. If the bridal party didn’t laugh about the ruffled, matching styles, they might cry instead. Thankfully, today’s bridesmaid dresses are often on-trend, gorgeous gowns they’ll actually enjoy wearing. 

Follow our guide to find exquisite bridesmaid dresses that fit your wedding style, and the distinctive style of each bridesmaid. Learn when to shop, where to find trending styles, and how to streamline the process. And as you get started, remember that shopping for bridesmaid dresses should create fun and happy memories for all.

When should you order bridesmaid dresses?

Order the bridesmaid dresses at least six to eight months before the wedding date to allow for delivery, fittings, and alterations. All of these steps can take longer than you expect. 

How much does a bridesmaid dress cost?

The average cost of a bridesmaid dress is $150, but consider other Bridal Party costs: shoes, undergarments, accessories, fittings, and alterations are extra. Designer labels are more expensive than off-the-rack dresses.

Money-Saving Tip: ‘Sample sales’ offer opportunities to save money on discontinued styles or when stock rotates. Usually, only one sample dress is available—but your attendants may find mismatched styles in complementing colors.

Who pays for the bridesmaid dresses and accessories?

Traditionally, each bridesmaid pays for their dress and accessories. However, the bride may choose to pay all or part of the cost. Consider your bridesmaids’ other financial obligations when choosing dresses, and offer budget-friendly options if your wedding party has financial constraints.

Where to look for bridesmaid dress inspiration and ideas

Before heading out to try on dresses, browse current trends and up-and-coming styles. Run ideas by your bridal party as you explore—and hear their opinions, too. Wedding magazines and blogs are favorite options, but branch beyond them for creative ideas and inspiration. 

  • Pinterest makes the top of every planning list, for good reason: It’s a one-stop planning resource that’s easy to share. Create a shared board and let your bridesmaids pin ideas they love, too. Then share your favorites easily during a bridal shop consultation.

  • Ask the venue for photos of recent weddings so you can see some hyper-local trends. It’ll also give you an idea of what works (sparkling gowns play well with the lighting) or doesn’t work (sage green clashes with the wallpaper).

  • Sewing pattern books available at crafts stores are an incredible source of inspiration—even if you don’t intend to make the dresses yourself. Check out Vogue’s collection of bridal and evening gowns, or explore Burda’s catalog.

Other resources to explore: 

  • Wedding expos

  • Instagram & social media

  • Wedding photographer websites

  • International wedding blogs

  • Wedding books

  • Non-wedding style magazines

  • Fashion week trends

  • Celebrity look books (modern or classic Hollywood)

Where to shop for bridesmaid dresses

When shopping for bridesmaid dresses, you can begin your search online, at major bridal retailers, or in local boutiques. Large department stores, including Macy’s, Bloomingdale’s, and Nordstrom, offer curated bridal apparel for a variety of tastes and price points.

Think of your own everyday style and where you love to shop. Do you swoon over the boho-chic style of the Sundance Catalog? They have a weddings and celebrations line. Are you a regular in Anthropologie? Explore their BHLDN line of bridal party dresses.  

David's Bridal often has bridesmaid dresses under $100, perfect for tight budgets.

Don’t leave a pregnant bridesmaid out—explore stores like A Pea in the Pod for maternity dresses so mothers-to-be feel just as glam as the rest of the party.

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Explore Etsy or Revelry for made-to-order custom styles, or meet designers in your area for bespoke gowns.

Bring a throwback vibe to your fête: Explore vintage shops and ask each bridesmaid to pick a style they love. Guidelines for color or era can create a cohesive look, but there’s something to be said for the eclectic. Or shop the bridal department from retro-minded retailers like Modcloth or Unique Vintage.

Before you make your decision, have your bridesmaids try on a variety of options to see what they like, what looks great, and get an idea for styles. Your final choice may surprise you.

Money-Saving Tip: Bridesmaid dresses don’t usually make it out of the closet again after the big day, no matter how gorgeous they are. Consider letting your bridesmaids wear something they already own—they can accent their favorite LBD or party dress with matching wraps, shoes, or accessories for a coordinated bridal party.

Can you rent bridesmaid dresses?

Yes. Renting bridesmaid dresses is a great way to save money. Check with your local bridal shop or tuxedo rental business for available styles, or go digital with online designer rental companies like Rent the Runway. Have your dress delivered a few days before the event (RTR includes a free backup size!), wear it for the wedding, and return it by mail with a prepaid shipping label—easy!

Good to know: You can’t alter rented dresses, but backup sizes help you get the perfect fit. Get professional measurements at the tailor’s before ordering your rental.

Styling your bridal party: How to pick bridesmaid dresses

Keep the wedding venue, your theme and color palette, and the season in mind from the start of your search. Strapless gowns, for example, are better suited to summer weddings than winter affairs. If you’re set on strapless dresses for a winter wedding—consider adding faux fur shrugs or satin shawls. Floor-length dresses may be out of place for a rustic barn wedding, and short dresses usually don’t suit black-tie events. Explore photos of real weddings to see what styles match specific themes and venues.

While some women love slinky dresses, others may prefer more modest options. Consider their preferences—and don't require them to wear something that makes them uncomfortable. While it's your wedding, it's their body. Compromise can please all parties: Allow your bridesmaids to choose cap sleeves or an illusion neckline instead of a sleeveless dress, or add coverage with shawls, wraps, or modesty panels. Elegant doesn't have to mean revealing or form-fitting.

Good to know: Look at color swatches in daylight for an accurate idea of the hue—store lighting can cause colors to appear different than their actual shade.

Should the Maid of Honor wear a different dress?

Your Maid of Honor can wear the same style dress as your bridesmaids, but you may choose to let her stand out with a dress in a different color, cut, or length.

Does a junior bridesmaid wear the same style dress?

A junior bridesmaid usually wears a dress in a similar style to the older women in the bridal party, but keep it age-appropriate: cap sleeves, A-line styles, or princess dresses are all great choices.  

What do male bridesmaids wear?

Is a Man of Honor or bridesman attending in your bridal party? Don’t leave him out: He can wear a tux or suit to match the groomsmen but signal that he’s with the ladies using a bowtie or vest to match their color scheme or match his boutonniere to the bouquets. To help him truly stand out: have him wear a suit in a different color than the groomsmen.

Popular bridesmaid dress styles 

Choose among these popular silhouettes and pair it with a flattering neckline or sleeve-style for a stunning bridesmaid dress. 

Bridesmaid dress silhouettes:

  • Empire

  • A-line

  • Wrap 

  • Princess

  • Column

  • Long and maxi

  • Short and tea length

  • High-low hem

  • Bridesmaid pantsuit or jumpsuit

Bridesmaid dress neckline styles: 

  • Halter top

  • Illusion

  • Jewel

  • High-neck

  • Bateau

  • Keyhole

  • Plunging

  • Straight

  • Sweetheart

  • V-neck

Bridesmaid dress sleeve and strap styles: 

  • One shoulder

  • Off-the-shoulder

  • Sleeveless

  • Spaghetti straps

  • Strapless

  • Cap sleeves

  • Butterfly or flutter sleeves

  • Three-quarter sleeves

  • Long sleeves

  • Bell sleeves

Creative ideas for how to pick bridesmaid dresses

Looking for ways to let your bridesmaids’ personalities shine? Here are some tips to help them flaunt their style.

  • Let them choose their dresses. Coordinated doesn’t have to mean matching. Set some ground rules on color, silhouette, or length, and let them select a style that puts their best self on display. Or, offer up a variety of styles you like and let them choose the dress they prefer. Retain veto-power in case their choices don’t match your vision. 

  • Mismatched bridesmaid dresses look fantastic no matter the wedding style. Add your own spin with mix-and-match textures, fabrics, silhouettes, necklines, and colors.

  • Create an ombré effect by having each bridesmaid dress in a different shade of the same color, from dark to light. Plan ahead by the order you expect them to stand at the altar for a perfect gradual progression. The groomsmen can mirror the effect with bowties or vests to match.

  • Wearing white to a wedding used to be a faux pas, but it’s a gorgeous trend we’re behind—if done right. Mix silhouettes and textures for a gorgeous effect.

  • Little Black Dresses are always in style. A custom-fit LBD could be one they wear again. Keep the palette to a sophisticated black and white, or add pops of color and shimmer with accessories and vibrant bouquets. 

  • Prints are making a splash. Botanicals, oversized blossoms, and mini florals add a dreamy touch to the party. Or, make a bold statement with stripes.  

  • Reversible 2-in-1 dresses are a new trend: This dress turns inside out after the big day; an easy way to swap the color and cut for wear-again convenience.

  • Convertible dresses—also called multiway or Style-Your-Way dresses—are versatile options popping up in formalwear shops. Pick a silhouette and let your bridesmaids adjust the neckline and straps as they see fit. They’ll appreciate the flattering options; you’ll be happy with matching hues.

Money-Saving Tip: If you find off-the-rack dresses you love, grab them while you can: They may sell out, unlike on-order boutique dresses. Call other locations to track down the right sizes if necessary; they may ship the dresses to you.

Getting the perfect fit

Allow time for alterations: professional tailoring ensures a comfortable, flattering fit.

Good to know: Dresses are typically ordered a size larger because it's easier to size down than up. Always go by professional measurements and trust the boutique on sizing when placing orders.

What do you bring/wear to a bridesmaid dress fitting?

For an accurate fit, ask your bridesmaids to bring:

  • Undergarments they plan to wear the day of the wedding.

  • Any shapewear they intend to wear.

  • The shoes they’ll wear at the wedding—if they don’t have them yet, wait on the hem until the shoes are available.

  • Accessories they’ll wear, even earrings and necklaces, to ensure everything works together and none of the jewelry catches or is hidden.

  • Positivity!

How long does a bridesmaid dress fitting take?

The first fitting can take about an hour, but subsequent fittings take less time. Allow four to six weeks for fitting and alterations—they may need to go back more than once.

What alterations may be necessary for bridesmaid dresses?

The most common alterations include:

  • Shortening the hem

  • Adding length

  • Taking in at the waist

  • Shortening straps

  • Adjusting gaps in the bodice

Optional adjustments may include adding sleeves, beading or other embellishments, or adding built-in support.

Money-Saving Tip: Check as-is sales on off-the-rack dresses. Is there a gorgeous (but torn) gown you can have shortened? Or a style with a split seam you can have taken in easily enough? Alterations may fix the issue—and your ‘maid gets a discount.

Should my bridesmaids wear the same shoes?

Bridesmaids’ shoes can match, but this isn’t a requirement. Your ladies will appreciate the option to choose shoes that are comfortable for dancing and within their budget. Give general guidelines for color, material, and heel height for complementing footwear that’s not identical.

What accessories should bridesmaids wear?

If your bridesmaids are selecting their accessories, pick a theme: Choose a metal, request specific gems, limit accessories to a pair of earrings or hair accessory, or limit the sparkle.

Consider these ideas:

  • Use fresh florals in up-dos, rather than hair clips.

  • Give a necklace and earrings set as your bridesmaid gifts—they can wear them for the wedding.

  • Customized jewelry adds a personal touch: Initial pendants or bracelets can make a beautiful statement.

  • Take a group trip to an antique shop to find gorgeous vintage accessories together.

  • Skip the jewelry entirely and accessorize with chic wraps or beaded clutch purses.

What do you do with bridesmaid dresses after the wedding?

Choosing a dress they'll wear again makes this easy; they’ll wear it again for formal events or nights on the town. 

If it’s not their style, they can sell or donate their bridesmaid dresses. Crafty bridesmaids have upcycled their gowns to create a new dress from the material—for themselves or even as a gift for the bride. 

Pro Tip: No matter their plans, remind your bridesmaids to have their dresses professionally cleaned after the wedding.

In the world of modern weddings, many couples are taking an ‘anything goes’ approach to their wedding planning. While this is a welcome evolution, it’s helpful to set a few parameters for the bridesmaid dresses. Your wedding party will appreciate the guidelines, and your ‘maids will all look and feel fantastic.

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Wedding Spot

The Wedding Spot blog is designed to help couples navigate every step of the wedding planning journey. From before the engagement to after you say “I do,” our goal is to give you the tips, ideas, and inspiration to prepare for your big day — and all that comes with it.