Always a Bridesmaid, Never a Woman with a Flattering Dress

Here's how to fix the inevitable Bad Bridesmaid Dress problem.

Last month, as we here at Monthly sat in the conference room brainstorming story ideas for the bridal section you now hold in your hands, we found that three words seemed to especially animate the ladies in the room: Bad. Bridesmaid. Dresses.

Many of us have seen them, some of us have worn them and all of us know that they've affected, in some way, weddings all over the globe throughout the history of time. And that got me thinking where such a strange, universal phenomenon could have come from in the first place, and how it could be demolished forever.

It is the singular plight of women everywhere to want—nay, need—to look their best at all times, especially in those extra-double-important public appearances with photographers all over the place. Luckily, we know our figures, and we know how—or at least how to try—to dress them correctly. But when that decision is taken out of our hands, when that all-important call is left to people who are also busy wondering if salmon is an acceptable entree and whether they should go with light-blue or sky-blue or light-sky-blue, that's when things start to go pear-shaped.

Often literally. The problem is quite simple: Trying to dress a group of often very different women, figures and personalities in the same wardrobe ranges from really difficult to physically impossible. When I think of my three best friends, I know for certain that they wouldn't all fit into the same strappy blue dress.

There could be adjustments, and there could be altering, but all things being equal it just wouldn't work and at least two of them would end up hating me a little bit. That said, one-size-fits-all bridesmaid dresses are not the way to go in solving this crisis, unless you're planning on staging an impromptu sack race at the reception. Nor are multiple petticoats, floral prints or unusual color schemes; hearing a friend once describe her seven-layer, orange-brown flowerprint number actually left me questioning the goodness of mankind. But believe it or not, the thought of being a bridesmaid doesn't necessarily have to induce dress-based night terrors. Yes, you may have been humiliated in the past. Yes, you may long to exact revenge via your own wedding.

But please, think twice about carrying on this nonsensical "tradition." Consider your sanity, your bridesmaids' self-images and what I assume is your need to keep a steady hold on your number of Facebook friends. My suggestion is this: Offer your bridesmaids a selection of dress styles (halterneck, strapless, strappy, etc.).

Unify them with a running theme, using fabric, shape or color. Give your bridesmaids loose style guidelines that will harmonize with your wedding day color scheme, and let them shape those guidelines to their own bodies and personalities as they see fit. And when it comes to thank-you gifts for your indispensible helpers, remember this: A necklace that causes your BFF to break out in a skin rash doesn't say "Thank you" nearly as effectively as a spa voucher.

Alison Crawshaw is a Monthly intern. This story may or may not have been based on real-life wedding tales, and by "may or may not," she means "it totally was."

by Alison Crawshaw