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A case for pick-your-own bridesmaid dresses

By Megan Isennock, Special to The Baltimore Sun

2:23 PM EDT, May 8, 2012

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For the most part, horrifying bridesmaid dresses are a thing of the past. It could be our over-exposure to them now (with Pinterest, Facebook, and the rest of the internet, we have more access to pictures of bridesmaid dresses, and statistically, the more we see, the more likely we’ll come across acceptable fashion, right?) or it could be that because we’re in a recession, people just can’t afford all that magenta toile.

I’m in a few weddings this year and am coming out relatively unscathed. Some are a bit pricier than I anticipated, but with some creative accounting, I’m making it work. And brides sourcing locally can usually give their bridesmaids the added bonus of paying in installments. For co-blogger Lauren's wedding, we headed to Betsy Robinson in Pikesville, where we picked out a dress and were given a 10 percent discount, since Lauren also purchased her gown there. We were able to put down half when we ordered, and we’ll pay the difference at the final fitting. Breaking up the cost has made a huge difference.

For my bridesmaids, I want to keep cost down, keep them happy and keep me happy. Dream the impossible dream.  

This led me to the decision to let them pick their own dresses. I gave them a color, and have sent emails with images of dresses that are in line with what I envision. We’ve all agreed (and so far have kept up our promise) to be honest with each other about what each bridesmaid decides. When I get out of hand  —I spent a week telling my Maid of Honor sister to find something white, which would clash horribly with my ivory dress — they gently tell me to consult a color wheel. When one bridesmaid sent a link to a short, pink, bandage dress, I kindly reminded her that this is a wedding, not a girls weekend in South Beach. 

 Before you decide I’m crazy for putting the fate of my bridal party in the hands of the bridal party, let me make my case.

 One of the bridesmaids is my 12-year-old sister, Gracie. It would be difficult to find an age-appropriate dress for both her, and say, my 23 year-old-sister. With only a color scheme as a guideline, they can both find something they feel pretty in, and I won’t have to worry about Chris Hansen showing up to ask us why we’ve put a pre-teen in a short cocktail dress.

 My second reason is cost. If one of my bridesmaids can find a killer dress on sale, I’ll be thrilled. This way, no one has to feel uncomfortable paying for a dress they can’t really afford, and I won’t have to feel anxious and terrible about forcing a cost on a friend.

 Thirdly, I’ve always been a devout follower of my step-mother’s style mantra: things should go, not match. I don’t think there’s a dress in the universe that I would want to see five people wearing at once. It’s been fun seeing what my bridesmaids have found, and I love that each dress they send is exactly their personality, while still reflecting my overall theme. 

And lastly, I can always throw the Absolute Ruler card and banish all their choices if they have sudden lapses in taste. I'm certainly not above swathing them in magenta toile if they get out of hand...