How to pull off a polished look for your wedding party with ease.

Picking one dress that fits and flatters your entire bridal party isn't a simple task. And many brides are tempted to turn their bridesmaids loose, allowing them to pick their own dresses, shoes and even accessories. But what sounds like a stress-free idea doesn't always turn out that way. One bridal consultant said she cautions her clients to set clear style guidelines for bridesmaids to avoid ending up with a clashing, unpolished look.

"Some brides say they don't care, but in the end you do care," said Lil Stalnaker, general manager of Wendy's Bridal in Dublin. "You don't want a little summer sundress that looks like a garden setting with an evening, sophisticated gown. You want the style of the looks to go together."

To ensure the looks mesh, Stalnaker suggests picking out your bridal gown before browsing the racks for your bridesmaids' attire. "It's a pretty easy way to do it," she said. "You want it to look good with your dress and you want it to look good on your girls."

Careful coordination doesn't have to be boring, though. Many designers offer bridesmaid dress collections in varying styles and fabrics that can easily be mixed and matched.

Color doesn't have to be uniform, either, as long as the tones are complementary, said Lindsay Fork, owner of La Jeune Mariee bridal boutique in Worthington. She advises against setting your sights on a specific color too early because it limits your choices. Search for a style you love first, she said, then find the perfect palette.

Shopping Tips
Avoid inviting your entire bridal party to go dress hunting. "Start shopping with a maid of honor, somebody whose opinion you care most about," said Lil Stalnaker of Wendy's Bridal in Dublin. "Once you've established what you like for her, you can see whether that same dress could work for everybody." Consider the season of your event when choosing a fabric. Chiffon and other light fabrics work best in warm weather, while silk or satin are appropriate for cooler months. If you allow your brides-maids to style themselves, give them guidelines. Trendy Touches

Go short: Cocktail-length gowns always look chic, even for formal affairs. Bored by strapless styles? One-shoulder designs are making a comeback. For a modern look, choose cool or muted tones, such as gray, silver or champagne. Customize with accessories. Jewelry and hairpins add a little sparkle-and make a thoughtful thank-you gift.