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Beautiful Bridesmaids!
Written by Lisa Merton

So, you’re getting married, and you’ve asked your best friends and sisters to join you on your big day – but what will they wear? There are so many different options when it comes to bridesmaids’ outfits these days … here are some helpful, stress-free ideas to get your bridesmaids looking superb on your wedding day!

The First Step
Without a doubt, you need to select YOUR outfit first … no matter what anyone says, you are DEFINITELY priority number one in the fashion stakes, and until the bride has selected her gown, the bridesmaids should wait their turn! I have often seen brides get carried away or distracted by their bridesmaids’ enthusiasm, excitedly buying their dresses first, only to discover they have to compromise with their own wedding gown in order to match the bridesmaids! Don’t let this happen to you! Before you and your partner even begin to look for wedding outfits, sit down together and discuss the “look” and “feel” you both want for your wedding, with location, ceremony, reception, music, food and wine, entertainment, as well as fashion and colours. Talk about your ideas in depth, so you both know what sort of theme, mood or setting you are aiming for. This helps immensely once you have a direction to head in when it comes to bridal gowns as well as bridesmaids attire… formal and traditional, relaxed and casual, exotic or eccentric, colourful or subtle?

Once you have thoroughly researched, looked around and tried on at least a few different gowns, make your decision and if you wish, take your bridesmaids along so they can see your gown and understand the look you will have for the big day. Try to get a photo or sketch of your wedding gown, plus a small cutting or swatch of the fabric so you have a record of colour and texture. Once your gown is confirmed, you are ready to start looking for your bridesmaids! Have an informal meal together as a group to brainstorm your ideas, together with your girls, before you hit the stores. Arrange a few Saturdays when you can all go and look, at least 3-4 months before the wedding when possible.

Matching bridesmaids or individual styles … that is the question! Aussie actress Rachel Griffith was recently quoted as saying “Grown women should never wear matching frocks!” There is a lot of truth in that statement, and these days traditions can be changed to suit the mood of the day and the taste of the bride and groom. If your bridesmaids have drastically different figures, heights and colourings, I thoroughly recommend NOT to dress them in matching outfits, as it looks old-fashioned and does not do any favours to the less attractive girls in the group. Instead, you can use the same colours and/or fabrics, but allow each bridesmaid to choose a style that suits her personality, figure and hair colour. Metallic colours are super-hot right now, so selecting a range of pale gold or shimmery silver evening dresses in various shapes and sizes would look fabulous on a group of different-looking bridesmaids. Alternatively, each girl can be in a different colour, for example a mix of complimentary pastels such as lilac, pale blue and soft mint green. For a more exotic beach wedding, bridesmaids in a mix of bright tropical colours such as hot pink, deep purple and vivid emerald green can work magic against a sunny blue sky and sparkling ocean backdrop. Try to think outside the square, and consider multi-cultural looks such as Asian Cheong-Sam dresses in rich oriental brocades, or bridesmaids outfits made from ornate Indian saris … these can work splendidly when mixed with a well-planned theme that is carried through to the food, music and decorations. If the bride is wearing a bold coloured gown, why not dress all the bridesmaids in white or ivory for a creative, contrasting look!

Strapless bodices and long A-line skirts have become almost a uniform for bridesmaids these days. For a different look, try bias-cut satin slip dresses with floaty crushed wraps, or lace skirts teamed with cute camisoles and fresh flowers in the hair. Cocktail dresses that fall below the knee or above the ankle, rather than full-length, can look funky, modern and fresh, as opposed to the much more formal full length dress or skirt. Sexiness is always glamourous, and does not have to be too raunchy … do not over-do the hair, make-up or accessories and keep it simple to achieve a classy look. Fifties-style dresses that are strapless and cinched in the waist, flaring out to mid-calf length are very “in vogue” right now, and look fabulous done in pretty colours, worn with pointy-toed sling-back heels and cute clutch bags. Velvet is another look that works well for bridesmaids, especially in Autumn and Winter, with “vintage” styling and accessories to evoke a romantic edge. And for the truly innovative, perfectly fitting tailored pants with sassy strapless bustiers and smart cropped jackets create a feminine “tuxedo style” that works in just about any colour imaginable!

Head to Oxford St in Paddington to begin your bridesmaids search … visit Lisa Ho, Alannah Hill, Charlie Brown and La Bella Donna, to name but a few boutiques, then wander through Paddington markets on a Saturday morning before exploring the many smaller boutiques nearby, such as Chic and Sarah Jane. Then head into the city, and check out the huge range at David Jones Elizabeth St store, before visiting the Queen Victoria building and surrounding malls and arcades. For bridesmaids on a tighter budget, “Kiss” boutique in Sydney Central Plaza offers a selection of well-priced separates and dresses, whilst the bigger chain stores Harts and also Hiltons have good eveningwear basics (both of these found in suburban malls).

Every wedding is unique, and budget plays a big part in determining how far you can go when it comes to your bridesmaids’ outfits. Your bridesmaids will be contributing financially throughout their involvement in your wedding- such as hens’ night, shower teas or lunch parties, engagement and wedding gifts, plus devoting their precious time to help you in every way they can, so consider their financial positions when you think about budgets. It is highly recommended you discuss the proposed budget with your girls BEFORE you start looking at dresses, to avoid stress, confusion and disappointment.

Generally speaking, most brides contribute to their bridesmaids’ outfits by around 30% to 50%, sometimes more. Accessories such as jewellery, shoes, wraps, gloves, etc should also be added to the fashion budget. And don’t forget about the beauty elements: hair and make-up on the day, correct lingerie, fake tan or waxing, facials, etc….these extra costs can really add up! Most brides give their bridesmaids a gift on the morning of the wedding, as a thank-you for all their help and support. This gift could be jewellery to go with their outfit, or covering the cost of professional make-up or hair styling…it’s up to you!
As a general guide for the prices of bridesmaids dresses (not including accessories), the following categories are helpful:-

HIRE- simply hiring dresses for the day… costs around $100-$350 per bridesmaid. Outfits need to be returned on the next business day. Prices usually (but not always) include dry cleaning costs.

OFF THE RACK- this means purchasing ready-made dresses in boutiques or department stores, or at markets such as Paddington, Bondi or Balmain….costs from $100 to $1000 plus, per girl, depending on budgets. Remember that if the girls are not standard sizes, alterations may be needed, and can cost around $30 to $100 extra per bridesmaid.

LOCAL DRESSMAKER- find a ready-made pattern from Lincraft, or pictures from a magazine, and get a dressmaker, Mum or friend to copy it. You generally supply all the fabrics and linings, and give strict instructions on what you want. The bridesmaids then attend a few fittings to ensure the dresses are made correctly… costs from approx $300 to $600, including fabrics, per bridesmaid.

COUTURE- have a designer make the bridesmaids’ dresses, either using a style from their existing range, or by designing exclusive outfits especially for you. The designer would generally supply all fabrics and trims, offer a wide range of colours, and the finished dresses would be of very high standard in quality and fit. The bridesmaids would need to attend approx 4 or 5 fittings to ensure a perfect fit… costs from $600 to $1200 plus, depending on fabrics, styling and amount of labour involved.

As a rough guide:-
Shoes: $75 - $150 per bridesmaid.
Jewellery: $30- $100 for reasonable necklace and earrings, per girl.
Wraps or scarves:- if needed, around $40- $100 per bridesmaid.
Lingerie: approx $50 per girl.
Hair styling: from $40 - $100 per girl on the wedding day
Make-up: from $40- $90 per girl on the day

With a bit of creativity, lots of research and most of all, thoughtfulness and consideration to everyone involved, selecting dresses for your bridesmaids should be a fun and stress-free experience. Don’t be afraid to try something new and different, as it is always much more memorable and could make the difference between a “nice” wedding and an “outstanding” one!

Lisa Merton
Culture Shock Bridal and Eveningwear (Sydney)
Ph: 02 9569 0551

This article has been reproduced on Wedding Central Australia with permission. © Lisa Merton 2003. All Rights Reserved.



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