It's the bride's big day, but that doesn't mean her bridesmaids shouldn't be knockouts. Experts share their shopping advice, tell us what's trending and provide tips for getting the perfect fit.

It's the bride's big day, but that doesn't mean her bridesmaids shouldn't be knockouts. Experts share their shopping advice, tell us what's trending and provide tips for getting the perfect fit.

Gone are the days when a bridesmaid had no choice but to fake-smile her way through a dress fitting and grin and bear it as she made her way down the aisle in a candy-colored confection. Today, gowns are fashion-forward. Popular styles and trends favor the bridesmaid more than ever-ensuring she'll not only look fabulous but feel fabulous, too, as she supports the bride on her big day.

Trending

Bridal experts agree it's best to choose a color (or two) before heading out on a bridesmaid-dress shopping excursion. That's exactly what Whitney Smith did before she married Matthew on July 14, 2012. After deciding on strawberry-a vibrant, deep pink hue-she realized that Henri's Cloud Nine was the only shop within 50 miles that carried the shade. From there, she chose a Mori Lee dress that flattered each of the six girls in her wedding party.

For fall and winter, darker shades remain popular. And Diane Bond, co-owner of White of Dublin, says the Pantone color of 2013-emerald-is making an appearance. Also popular are deep colors like eggplant, navy, rich reds and charcoal gray, says Elegant Bride's director of fashion Greg Peyton. Abby Winland of Girls in White Dresses says she's seeing a lot of neutral colors even in the colder months. She notes that blushes and cashmere-a soft, creamy, golden neutral tone-are carrying over from summer.

Materials for bridesmaid dresses run the gamut, with chiffon a clear winner. According to Bond, chiffon translates well into cooler months when it's in a darker

shade like charcoal, burgundy or black.Of course, taffeta remains popular as well,

while satin has become more of a love-it-or-hate-it option that some brides avoid-

it's not always the most flattering fabric, and it wrinkles easily.

Silhouette trends tend to run the gamut, though longer skirts remain the norm for cooler months. A trend that continues to gain traction is that of allowing bridesmaids to choose different necklines, from halter to sweetheart, while keeping the dress color, material and length consistent. This way, "girls still get to select the best dress for their body types," says Joan Madison, owner of Joan's Bridal Couture.

Finding a Match

If you prefer to keep your bridesmaids in the same dress, select something that's flattering for all body types. Sweetheart necklines are considered flattering for most builds, though bustier girls may need straps for extra support. Winland says A-line skirts or empire waistlines are forgiving on all body types. For extra camouflage, Madison suggests pleating or ruching at the waistline.

Many shop owners suggest that brides come to their initial bridesmaid-dress shopping appointment alone or with a maid of honor. Doing so cuts down on dissent among the bridesmaids and allows the bride to do her shopping in peace. If she still wants input from her friends, the bride can narrow the selection down to a couple of dresses and then return with her entire wedding party.

A bride should look for bridesmaid dresses that complement her gown without being too similar. Winland suggests keeping it subtle. For example, if the bride's dress has a tulle floral detail throughout the skirt, the bridesmaid dresses can feature a little flower embellishment on the waist.

"If the bride's dress is soft and flowy and romantic, then bridesmaids should echo that," Peyton says. "The bride should stand out for the right reasons-not because her dress doesn't match [the bridal party]. For example, don't pair a floral lace gown with tight, sexy bridesmaid dresses."

Most bridal shop owners stress the importance of bringing visual representations of your wedding day-including images of your dress, the dress you envision for your bridal party and your color palette. "If you already have a dress style in mind, bring a picture," says Bond. "It'll help the salesperson find a silhouette." Peyton is thrilled with the number of brides who bring their tablets or laptops to show off their wedding Pinterest boards. "It's always better if we have a visual," he says. "A bride's verbal description might not be the same as what the consultant envisions."

Accessorizing

Many brides choose to keep with tradition and present their bridesmaids with wedding-day jewelry as a gift. Madison says she's seeing a definite trend toward dramatic accessories: big, chunky necklaces, big earrings and shoes with flower or jewel embellishments. But Peyton notes that more and more, brides are leaving hairstyling up to their bridal party-simply asking that they wear matching hair flowers or small rhinestones to tie everything together.

All Things Considered The location of your bridal party is an important detail to consider when dress shopping. If they all live in the same city, shopping at a small boutique shouldn't be a problem. But if your maids are spread out geographically, like Christina Wolfe's were, it presents a few problems. For her leading ladies, Wolfe chose a black, strapless, cocktail-length dress with pockets. "I liked it because it was simple enough to wear again," Wolfe says. It was important that she find "something in the budget" that her bridesmaids could feel comfortable in, and Wolfe didn't want to stick her party with an expensive dress they could wear only once. "Even though it's your day, people are in your wedding for a reason, and you want them to feel comfortable, too," Wolfe says.