Bride's Maid Shopping Rules
Shopping for Bride's Maid's dresses is a separate matter from the bridal gown. Though all the rules on the bridal gown page do apply there are several others to consider.
For hundreds of years it has been a firm tradition for all bride's maids to wear the same dress. I have no idea where this started but it is the source for much dissension in wedding planning. Take 6 women who have been relatives and best friends all their life and ask them to were a dress of the bride's choosing and you are asking for trouble. Either the color is not good for some of them or the style doesn't flatter their figures. One size does not fit all.
Many brides try to solve this predicament by letting the maids decide on the dress. OK, now you have 6 differing opinions of what dress they should wear. Instead of one person imposing on the rest, all are trying to have their wishes win because it's expensive to be a bride's maid and each would like to invest their hard earned money in a dress that isn't going to be trashed as soon as the reception is over.
There are other options.
One that I have seen many brides use is to choose a fabric and/or color and then let each maid pick her style of dress. Many bridal salons can help you with this easily because the dress companies are set up to use the same fabrics for several lines of designs. This makes it rather easy to choose from a good range of styles using the same fabric.
And if that isn't a wide enough choice for you, there's the option of purchasing fabric and making dresses of various styles. You can sometimes even have the option of various types of fabric in the same color when special ordering fabric. That could lead to some interesting options.
There is also the option of picking a simple dress design and letting each maid pick a color. Rainbow weddings were quite the style a bit ago. I haven't seen one recently, but it's worth thinking about.
The neatest wedding I have attended recently was an evening wedding where the bride went with the pick-a-fabric option. She picked black velvet. I know many of you are cringing right now, but black has become a perfectly acceptable color, and very elegant too. For the wedding I attended, each maid picked a dress to flatter her figure in the black velvet. It was absolutely lovely.
The style of dress has many options too. You do not have to get long gowns from a bridal salon. A big trend I have noticed lately is brides finding lovely special occasion dresses at stores like Talbots that have options for getting many dresses in varying sizes from their network of stores. This option is great because the dress has a higher chance of reuse to the maid. Many bridal designers have also noticed this trend and have started putting out shorter hem length designs that are less formal and multi use.
The options listed above apply here too with these extra ideas:
Option #1 - Avoid them.
I've gotten in a lot of hot water for this opinion, but it is a valid option. You can avoid choosing a lady who is either trying to or already is pregnant for a bride's maid, even if it is your closest friend or your favorite sister. There are other honorable places your dear friend can be in your wedding without the hassle of fitting her pregnant body into a bride's maid dress that is not designed to either fit or flatter her. It's hard enough fitting several figure types that are fairly stable without throwing in a wild card. Besides, most maid's dresses are designed for a teen figure. Even trying to fit a mature non pregnant women in them is a problem.
If you need this dear friend in your wedding, give her the honor of being your Hostess and let her choose a dress of her liking that will both blend well with your color scheme and flatter her figure.
I get asked all the time about planning for pregnant maids. What is the best size to order? How should I time the alterations? The bridal salon said that all I have to do is order a yard of extra fabric and alterations will be a breeze? I can't say this strongly enough - You can not plan for pregnancy. You can only guess and cross your fingers. There is no way to predict how a woman's body is going to react to this pregnancy, even if it's not her first. And it's not just a female's stomach that is a concern here. Everything changes. Bust size can change from the first month.
In recent years the bridal industry has become kinder to this situation and designing gowns that can be more easily altered. Just this year I have seen a few customers with convertible gowns from companies who offer one style for the maids and a similar style for pregnant matrons. It is a very welcome sign that mature figures are not being ignored by the industry as they used to be. Some day, we may see that the problem of a pregnant brides' maid is not a problem at all.
Option #2 - Re-designate Her.
If you feel you just really, really need to have this dear friend/sister be a maid, make her a Matron of Honor and let her choose a different dress from the other maids, maybe the same color or fabric. Even if you have a Maid of Honor, you are allowed both. The idea here is to give her a place that both honors your relationship to her and her very real physical need to have a different dress from the other maids.
Option #3 - All maids wear a style that flatters a pregnant
OK, lets say you already have a Matron of Honor that is a sister to your groom and you do not wish to create a huge rift in the already shaky interfamily relationships you are both trying to build. Your pregnant friend has to be a maid. And lets say you or your maids all want the same dress, so that choosing different styles so your one pregnant maid can wear a dress that works for her, is out. Your last option is to choose a dress that works for the pregnant maid, but does not look horrible on the others. It's not a bad option for many pregnant dresses are quite stylish, just fuller fitting than most young non pregnant ladies like.
The good choice you can make here is an empire waist dress with either gathers or some other kind of fullness at the waist. These are not really in style right now but can be found. A better choice would be to find something that also has give in the bust area.
Option #4 - Extra Fabric
You also have the option mentioned above that many bridal salons offer. Buy a yard of fabric when ordering the dresses so that it is the same die lot as the dresses. This allows the making of gussets (a piece of fabric sewn into seams to make them larger) that match well and therefore look better because they are of the same fabric as the dresses. But I do not recommend this option because gussets, even when they are the same fabric, simply look awful, and only advertise - "Hey, this lady is too fat for her dress".
You really don't need a yard of fabric to make gussets, but you can't order less. A better option would be to order enough fabric to make a whole new front panel for the dress. This works best with the empire waist discussed above and you probably won't need more that 2 yards for this alternative.
Option #5 - Order a size up
Most bridal salons advise this one and it's a great idea if you know you are pregnant when the dress is ordered and you will be 4 or more months along at the time of the wedding. Depending on the design of the gown this option has worked nicely for many maids I have done alterations for.
Option #1 - Re-designate Her.
This is the same as option #2 above, but here you also have to figure out what to do with her dress that is not returnable. Simply finding another friend who is close to her size to be a maid works. Or you can eat the cost of the dress for your pregnant maid and be thankful you are not in her shoes - pregnant brides don't have this many options.
Option #2 - Alter the dress to fit her.
There are several things that can be done to alter dresses, some better than others. I have been able to fit pregnant maids in several ways, but it does nothing to help the nerves of a bride or the pregnant maid. If the situation warrants it, yes, most any dress can be made to fit, but the cost is high in labor for me and tension for my brides and maids. I don't like this option and it should only be used if absolutely no other way can be found.
Since writing this section many years ago I have received many angry letters from brides thinking I am cruel and uncaring to suggest that they can not have their sister in their wedding just because they are pregnant. I don't believe I said that anywhere on this page. What I am saying is that a bride has options that can make the whole situation less stressful for everyone. Everyone has heard of bridzilla stories. There's even a TV show about them. I have hoped that the pages of my site would be a source to brides and their families to help people avoid these situations with straight forward talk about the difficult subjects that weddings create.
I am sticking my neck out here to give these options a voice. Not many bridal people will dare to say these things but I think need to be said. If you find something helpful in my opinions I am very happy. If you think I'm just a nut case who has no heart than I suggest you examine yours before you take these vows.
Isn't love the point of why we are doing this in the first place? I have worked with many differing situations with brides and their maids over the years and the smoothest, happiest experiences have been when the bride cares enough for her friends and family to listen to options that might not have been in her original vision of her perfect dream wedding but that could make her dream vision an even better reality.
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