Image: One Love Photo


I have expanded this blog into a website that deals with similar themes (Balance, Beauty, Balls!), but addresses life beyond wedding planning. Click HERE to check it out. See you soon!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Ugly Bridesmaid Dress Phenomenon

So Oprah is looking for guests to be featured on a future episode called "The Ugliest Bridesmaid Dress Hall of Fame". (You can submit an application and photo here, if you are so bold.) And it got me thinking: 

Why are there so many ugly bridesmaid dresses in the world? What is it about weddings that moves brides to clothe their sisters, cousins, and best friends in such frightening frocks? Obviously, part of it is that all outfits look embarrassingly dated after a while. But there's more to it than that, otherwise bridesmaids dresses wouldn't have such a bad reputation.

I'm guessing that instead of viewing a bridesmaid dress as a piece of clothing, it is, by some brides, viewed as a piece of fabric whose primary purpose is to make a bunch of very different looking women match the tablecloths and boutonnieres. Not every bride is like this, of course - most of us want our favorite females on the planet to feel comfortable, confident, and attractive at our weddings.

And yet, the Ugly Bridesmaid Dress Phenomenon still persists. Why? Because we try to accomplish too much with the dress of choice. It must (1) look good on various body types and skin tones; (2) match our decor; and (3) look visually stunning in group photos. (Because uniforms are the only way to accomplish this, or so we've been told.) And as a result of asking so much from a single dress design, we fail to reach the simple goal of helping our bridesmaids to look pretty by their own standards.

This is why I'm personally a fan of having bridesmaids choose different styles, but with a common denominator of the bride's choice, like color, pattern, fabric, or accessories. Like this:


What I love about this image is that the look of the bridesmaids is so "effortlessly" pretty (or at least as "effortless" as a crew of models, a wardrobe team, and hair/ make-up people can be). A uniform is not needed to make these women look like they share a special bond -- their locked arms, big smiles, and loosely related outfits pretty much say it all. And that's all you really need for a fabulous bridal party photo.

So how about thinking outside of the box when selecting the dress? Skip the bridal salons and shop at stores whose clothes you (and your bridesmaids) generally like!

For example, I really like Mod Cloth. Below are some dresses from this online clothing store that I would have chosen for my bridesmaid had she not fallen for a little J.Crew number.

My Favorites:

Universally Flattering:

Casual & Charming:


  1. love your suggestions, i'm the same way. my mom wore the most absolutely horrendous bridesmaid dress for my aunt's wedding...completely peach...her skin is the same color as a blatantly peach dress...she said she looked like a naked peach pit. it was awful.

    for my mom's wedding, she let me pick out my own dress entirely..she helped me out with color and everything, but she figured i would pick out something she'd like anyway...which brings me to my point..why do brides assume that these women they've chosen to stand with them on their wedding day...don't know enough about them to not completely screw them by picking out disgusting or inappropriate dresses??

  2. I obsessed about the bridesmaid dresses. I think the reason? I had a certain unspoken theme that I wanted to keep with (that is, zupporting small and/or local businesses), and I had two bridesmaids who wanted to "lose weight" before the wedding (neither of them did, and while I didn't care what they looked like, I was annoyed that they wanted to wait until the last minute to purchase a dress). So, I selected JCrew, and I instantly regretted it, and then OBSESSED.

    They ended up getting dresses off of Etsy, which they were both happy with; I just wish I had been more honest with myself. I didn't care if they wore the same dress (just the same color), and I wanted something that was affordable for them, but I really had very strong feelings about how the dresses were purchased.

  3. Thanks for the ideas...I need a bridesmaid dress soon...I was given the choice to pick my own! I was once told that the reason why bridesmaids had to wear ugly dresses was because the bride didn't want them to look good or stand out...hahaha kind of a negative opinion I guess.

  4. I think the phenomenon goes deeper than that - though the out-datedness definitely makes for ugly dresses (hey, they were trendy at the time!), and the same-style same-color means they're invariably going to look bad on someone.

    I also see a lot of assumptions about the sort of styles one "should" choose for bridesmaids...if you look at an online bridesmaid's dress site, you'll see that the dresses often look freakishly similar. I don't mean same cut or fabric, I mean that there's an odd generic sameness to them despite being of varying color and style. I'm not sure how a manufacturer manages to make so many different dresses all look so scarily identical - to the point where often, people can spot a bridesmaid's dress out of a full formal lineup. (Ever been shopping for formal clothes and rejected something because it looks 'bridesmaidy'? There ya go).

    With so much generic sameness, of course bridesmaid dresses will get a bad reputation. Anything that so effortlessly conforms to stereotypes will. And of course you can never wear them again - they look 'bridesmaidy'! I remember when a friend of mine picked out BM dresses for us, and picked the bridesmaidiest thing out there...and said "I picked this because I love it and think you can wear it again!" Err, I love you dear, but no, we can't.

    I'm actually a fan of taking it one step farther than you, Kim, and forgetting all semblance of "matching", or creating a very loose definition of it. I told my girls "wear jewel tone. Any jewel tone. It's best if your dresses are all different colors". They looked fabulous! I know people who went further and didn't have any dress code, and the women who stood by them were no less real bridesmaids than a group of girls who matched. (One person I know brought them all together with matching corsages).

  5. @ Lizzie - Haha, you're right, you'd think a woman would know when she's screwing her best friend with an awful dress choice. Sheesh.

    @ irisira - Love the "theme" for your bridesmaids dresses. Sucks that it didn't pan out that way, though. Booo.

    @ mslissie - You are certainly one lucky bridesmaid! I'd love to see what you end up picking. :)

    @ Jenna - You're totally right about being able to spot a bridesmaid dress from a mile away! It'd undoubtedly be the formal one that lacks any sense of style- kind of like a song without soul or emotion. And no accent colored sash can make up for it. (Eww, I could totally hear myself saying that in a more-fashionable-than-thou tone. Eeek. I should wash my mouth out with soap!)

    And I love the jewel tone idea! Had I had more than 1 person in my bridal party I would've done the same thing. I'm sure it looked awesome at your wedding.

  6. I would love a blog called "frightening frocks" all about horrid bridesmaid dresses.

  7. maybe you just not get the right one! hoping you can get a suitable one here:Buy WeddingCountdown bridesmaid dresses online

  8. My bridal party is going to consist of my beautiful best friend and my two teenage daughters. My bestie is a gay woman. She would never choose to wear a dress to my wedding as a guest so it would be ridiculous to ask her to wear one as an attendant. We are having a summer wedding so she has picked a spring pants suit with a slightly feminine cut jacket that looks fantastic on her and fits with her personal style. She has already test driven it at a job interview.

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