Tete-a-tete Archives

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Tete-a-tete: Seeking the Holy Grail of a universal bridesmaid dress

For many women, being asked to be a bridesmaid in a friend’s wedding stirs up a bipolar cocktail of emotions. Joy over your friend’s happiness and excitement at participating in her special day mingle with the dread of shopping for bridesmaid dresses, especially if the bride wants everyone to wear the same dress.

This sense of dread is from the nigh-irrevocable Murphy’s Law of Bridesmaid Dresses: If it has to look good on everyone, it’s not going to look good on anyone.

My best friend chose to let each member of her bridal party select whichever style dress was the most comfortable for them, provided that the dresses were long. Having this degree of fashion autonomy, however, produced a most surprising result.

During our fitting, I gravitated toward dresses with lots of embellishments; Sister of Best Friend – who is the maid of honor – searched for styles with a Greek goddess-inspired feel; and first-time bridesmaid Younger Sister stuck close to my side, asking me what on earth she should be looking for.

I admitted that I had no clue. My last bridesmaid experience was in college, with all of us clad in stiff, unyielding satin dresses. I remember the seamstress who did my alterations informing me that I could be comfortable or I could look nice – she couldn’t do both.

Having previously chosen the “look nice” option and spending the wedding feeling like an overstuffed sausage, I was determined to find a more comfortable style this time. Younger Sister, however, just turned 15, and doesn’t mind suffering for the sake of fashion.

Spaghetti straps and strapless styles seemed to suit Younger Sister best, but every dress we found was of the shorter variety. The long dresses that Sister of Best Friend and I had selected for ourselves all had thicker straps that didn’t look quite right on Younger Sister.

We enlisted the aid of a consultant, who found several long dresses for Younger Sister to try. And we hit the jackpot with a strapless chiffon number.

The dress boasted a ruched, drop waist bodice with a sweetheart neckline. A gathered ruffle, adorned with the occasional rose, trailed down the front of the bodice to the hem of the mermaid skirt.

It was, we all agreed, breathtaking, and Best Friend pronounced it absolutely perfect for Younger Sister.

On a whim, I decided to try on the dress as well. I had initially balked at the prospect of anything strapless – why invite the possibility of a wardrobe malfunction? – but the dress looked so pretty, I couldn’t resist.

To say I was pleased with the results would be an understatement. This dress single-handedly restored my faith in formal attire – it fit, it flattered, it had optional straps, and best of all, I could actually move in it.

While I was looking at the dress in the full-length mirror, Younger Sister asked me if I thought the style made her hips look too big.

Younger Sister is a multi-sport athlete with well-balanced proportions and legs that go on for days. She has no need to have body image issues, and I was determined to nip anything even remotely like that in the bud.

So I asked her, “Does the dress make my hips look big?” because I could see that it didn’t. My intention was to follow up with, if the dress didn’t make my hips look big, it certainly didn’t make her hips look big and that she should have confidence in her body.

Younger Sister’s reply? A very appreciative, “No, and your butt looks amazing. You’re smokin’.”

Her comments were received with general amusement and agreement from Best Friend, Mother of Best Friend and Sister of Best Friend. And now that I had taken the plunge, Sister of Best Friend decided to try on the dress as well, with similarly smokin’ results.

Though we had permission to choose whichever dress we found the most appealing, all three of us ended up buying that same dress. It was youthful enough to suit Younger Sister, it had the Greek goddess flair that Sister of Best Friend was seeking and the embellishments and freedom of movement that I found so desirable.

I believe this is the key to finding a single bridesmaid dress that really does flatter everybody (and every body, for that matter). Just like Shangri-La or El Dorado, you can’t set out to find it intentionally; you have to stumble upon it. If you don’t put too much pressure on yourself and you’re open to the unexpected, you may just happen across the dress equivalent of paradise.

And as for Murphy’s Law of Bridesmaid Dresses – well, some rules were meant to be broken, don’t you think?

– Teresa Santoski


Originally published March 6, 2014.

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