Your bridesmaids aren't the same. Should their gowns be?

This story first appeared in the Spring/Summer 2019 issue of Columbus Weddings, published December 2018.

Creating a cohesive look for your wedding is easy when it comes to picking venue decorations, a cake design or just about any other inanimate factor. But where things get a little more complicated is the living, breathing people in your wedding party.

More than likely, your bridesmaids aren’t identical clones—some are taller, others shorter; some smaller-framed, others fuller. So along with picking a bridesmaid dress that fits the look of your wedding, you’re charged with the task of finding a dress that also fits the many different bodies of your bridesmaids. Is it even possible to find a dress that can do it all?

This is a rather common concern for brides, says Beth Rocks, store manager for David’s Bridal in Easton. “That comes up daily for our bridal parties that are coming in.”

Caitie Couper, who wed Yeahwa Hong on June 1, 2018, was no exception. After realizing two of her bridesmaids would be pregnant—one at eight months, the other at four—for the wedding, she had to shift her original image for her bridal party. “The original style that I liked, I realized it was not going to be nice for a pregnant woman,” Couper admits. She opted instead for a variety of gowns from Bill Levoff’s #Levkoff collection.

But while the task of finding one dress that looks good on many bodies might sound daunting, the process can be made easier by adhering to some fail-safe styles—and avoiding others.

For silhouette, opt for an empire waistline. “Anything that has an empire waistline is always going to be pretty flattering,” says Rocks. The style is a bridesmaid classic for a reason: the higher waistline is sure to look good on a wide range of body types … including pregnant ones.

Turning to necklines, sweetheart necklines are a similarly safe—and fashionable—option that is sure to flatter many, according to Maria Vietmeier, store manager at Henri's Bridal. “A sweetheart neckline is gorgeous on anyone, any shape,” she affirms.

A V-neck, Vietmeier adds, is another option that will both flatter and look appropriate for a range of body shapes. Rocks also notes that a V-neck—or tank strap—will be appealing to bridesmaids because it will allow them to wear their own, everyday bras.

But, if you’re looking for a universally flattering bridesmaid dress, Vietmeier cautions against options with high necklines. “If you get up into something with a super high neck, that’s kind of where it gets a little bit difficult,” she says.

Vietmeier also recommends, when it comes to choosing a fabric, to stay away from satin. Satin tends to be used for more fitted dresses, she says, and that look can be particularly hard to pull off for shorter bridesmaids.

But the tried-and-true fabric of bridesmaids dresses, chiffon, will never disappoint. “Chiffon looks good on a lot of people,” Vietmeier explains, “and that is definitely something, no matter how tall [or] short you are, you can get a nice hem, and it will have the same consistency for all of the bridesmaids.”

But picking one flattering dress for all of your ’maids is actually only one option. The other? Ditch the one-dress-for-all mentality completely.

This was the route Couper decided to go. She picked out three different dresses for her six bridesmaids. The dresses were all the same soft-pink color, sleeveless and with a halter neckline. Two of the three dresses had a defined, empire silhouette—which differed from each other in straight or curved waistlines—but the third option was a loose peplum with an undefined waistline.

This is a trend Rocks sees brides favoring of late. “I have noticed recently—and this has been a trend for the last couple years—where the bride is giving the bridesmaids much more flexibility in choosing their own dresses,” she says.

Having multiple dresses for your bridesmaids can take many different forms: They might wear different colored dresses, dresses with different necklines or dresses with completely different silhouettes. Brides can stipulate who wears which dresses, or have their bridesmaids pick from a range of options. But be careful not to give too many choices. The risk of going this route is losing a cohesive through-line among your bridesmaids. To combat this, Vietmeier and Rocks both recommend ensuring your ’maids have consistency in their gowns’ length and fabric.

For fabric, Rocks warns that different fabrics will not only look different, but photograph differently, too. To ensure consistency even within the same fabric choice, Vietmeier recommends sticking with the same manufacturer. “A lot of people are wearing different styles within the same bridal party,” she explains, “so [the manufacturers] make corresponding styles to that.”

Even with keeping length and fabric the same, though, there are still several variables to choose from: color, silhouette, neckline, sleeve. For a more dramatic difference, have your bridesmaids wear different color dresses—the trick here is to limit the options to shades of one color or colors within one family—think blush and burgundy, or eggplant and lavender. No matter what you end up choosing, Vietmeier says the foolproof rule to having bridal party variety is to stick to one variation.

In some ways, this seems the easier of the two solutions: allowing variety in what bridesmaids wear can alleviate some of the burden on the bride to pick The One Perfect Bridesmaid Dress. Couper also adds that allowing some flexibility can limit the amount of alterations bridesmaids will need. “Giving my bridesmaids options helped,” Couper says, “rather than giving them a dress and then having to get a ton of alterations, which can be expensive.”

But whether brides pick one bridesmaid dress or five, Vietmeier reminds that there’s no right or wrong route. “I like my brides to be happy,” she says. “It’s up to them.”