Everything You Need to Know
In movies, bridesmaid dresses get a bad rap. Thanks to writers and costume designers, most of the time they look like oversized bonbon-colored dresses that the chosen bridal party does not particularly like. But that’s rarely the case anymore. More and more brides are taking their closest friends’ personal styles and body types into account in the hopes that they might want to wear their bridesmaid dress again some day. (Whether the bride’s well-intentioned guesses are correct is another story.) In real life, bridesmaid dresses are typically quite elegant, stylish dresses that can often be worn again—and are an integral part of conveying a wedding theme.
If you’re looking for bridesmaid dress ideas for your wedding, we’ve got you covered. Our wedding library has thousands of weddings that you can filter by color, style, or season to see bridesmaid dress ideas that will match your own wedding theme. Then get in touch with the designers and boutiques behind your favorite bridesmaid dresses. And if you’re wondering about the etiquette surrounding dresses for your wedding party (who pays for what, how to choose them, etc.), read on…
What is the history of bridesmaid dresses?
Bridesmaids dresses are for women in the bride’s party that attend you on that special day. You typically choose them from among your circle of close friends. In the not-so-distant past, bridesmaids actually wore wedding dresses that resembled the bride’s. A famous example is Queen Victoria, who pioneered the tradition of white wedding dresses, and while she asked that her guests avoid wearing the color, she actually designed her bridesmaids’ white wedding dresses herself.
Since that time, the bridesmaid dress has undergone quite an evolution. From the post-Jazz age full skirts of the 1930s, to the sleeveless shift-dresses of the 1960s, to drapey Tudor sleeves and ruffled skirts of the 1970s, bridesmaids have seen (and worn) it all. Right now, trends favor a less is more approach in terms of silhouette, but floral bridesmaid dresses and mismatched bridesmaid dresses are all the rage. The long bridesmaid dress has become the wedding standard—whether the more formal ball gown version or a bohemian maxi dress—and once-frowned-upon black bridesmaid dresses are now fully acceptable and actually quite popular for modern weddings.
What should you consider when choosing bridesmaid dresses?
Step one is to look at some excellent sources for all types of bridesmaid dresses to understand what is out there. Should you select a long bridesmaid dress because of current trends, or opt for the short bridesmaid dresses to mix it up? The best way to decide is to see photos of real bridesmaids wearing both short and long, taking into account the formality of the wedding and setting, and deciding which you like better or will better match your wedding vibe.
As you map out your wedding budget—or maybe you’re a bridesmaid-to-be—you may be wondering, who pays for bridesmaid dresses? How much do bridesmaid dresses cost in the first place? What affects the cost? Does something that looks more expensive, like gold bridesmaid dresses, actually cost more? We’re here to help you navigate and understand the awkward etiquette and average cost of bridesmaid dresses.
What about selecting winter versus summer bridesmaid dresses? Seasonality makes a difference both in what will feel appropriate to the setting and environment, as well as what your bridesmaids will feel comfortable in. No one wants to wear long-sleeved velvet on a tropical beach! You should plan to factor in the season when selecting bridesmaid dress materials.
How much input do the members of your wedding party have when you are selecting bridesmaid dresses? Do you want to choose your bridesmaids dresses for them, which is the traditional process? Or do you want to give them a color palette—or even total free reign—to let them choose their own?
Fortunately, we are here to help you answer all of these questions and more. Ultimately you just want your bridesmaids to look and feel their very best, which you are guaranteed to do when you work with trusted wedding vendors who can design custom bridesmaid dresses, or shopping at some of the best wedding dress boutiques that also sell gorgeous gowns for bridesmaids.
How do you find bridesmaid dresses?
A great place to start your search is in our wedding library where you can view thousands of real wedding galleries, filter by style, season, or color, and begin to collect ideas of what type of bridesmaid dresses you might like. Once you’ve found a few of your favorites, you can directly get in touch with the bridesmaid dress designers who created them, or the boutiques where they came from so that you can see them in person. So if you’re getting married at a mountain lodge in the middle of winter with a modern wedding theme, you can view weddings with those exact parameters and see what the bridesmaids wore. (We’re guessing with those filters you may see a lot of black bridesmaid dresses with red touches and fur shawls!)
It is also possible that the store where you get your wedding dress may sell bridesmaid dresses as well. Even if the bridesmaids dress rack is smaller than the wedding gown selection on-hand, they may be able to help you choose bridesmaid dresses that will complement your dress and wedding theme. Plus you can do your fittings at the same time!
Many of the top bridesmaid dress brands sell their collections online. Brands like Vera Wang, Jenny Yoo, and Asos are all great resources for bridesmaid dresses at a variety of price points. Whether you are looking for long or short bridesmaid dresses, strapless or long-sleeved, blue or pink, you will certainly be able to find options online.
When choosing a bridesmaid dress designer, you may want to think first of your wedding color palette, and then consider the variety of colors and fabrics that the designer offers. Some solid colors, like gold bridesmaid dresses, champagne bridesmaid dresses, and blush bridesmaid dresses easily complement most wedding themes. But if you are having a garden wedding and love the idea of a bolder look, floral bridesmaid dresses may be the perfect fit.
Nowadays many brides opt for non-bridesmaid bridesmaid dresses. Meaning, you don’t have to limit yourself to manufactures who exclusively produce bridesmaid dresses, but may be able to find ready-to-wear dresses in department stores or boutiques that could be amazing bridesmaid dresses. Just make sure there are enough units in stock in the necessary sizes before you fall in love!
For this reason, many ready-to-wear brands have started designing capsule collections of bridesmaid dresses where they offer the same color or print dress in a variety of styles, like Reformation, Forever 21 and Show me Your Mumu. (A very popular bridesmaid dress trend is to have the bridal party wear the same color or print dress but in a variety of silhouettes, from strapless to one-shoulder, wrap-dresses, etc.) The result is a newly appreciated versatility of the bridesmaids dress. Rather than buying a garment that can only be worn once, most couples choose bridesmaids dresses hoping that their friends will want to wear them for future special occasions—which is sometimes more likely when the dresses come from ready-to-wear brands the individuals already know and love.
How much do bridesmaid dresses cost?
According to recent figures, the average cost of weddings in the US ranges from $15,260 to $37,827, depending on your location. And, on average, wedding dresses cost between $1,089 and $1,429. Of course, you can spend a lot more than that, depending on your taste.
Having that larger context helps put the typical bridesmaid dress cost into perspective. Experts recognize that there is a broad range of price points when selecting bridesmaid dresses. Typically, an average-priced bridesmaid dress cost is about $150.
However, several factors point the bridesmaid dress cost upward or downward:
Bridesmaid Dress Brand
For the fashion brides who want their bridesmaids in the latest trends or luxury designers, that may end up costing a bit more. Much like wedding gowns, the more celebrated the designer, the higher the cost will likely be.
Bridesmaid Dress Materials
Bridesmaid dresses come in about every fabric you can imagine, and which you choose should depend on the formality and the season of the event. Summer bridesmaid dresses are typically made with more lightweight fabrics, like cotton and airy silks, versus winter bridesmaids dresses, for which velvet, brocade or satin would feel appropriate (and more comfortable than in peak heat). Occasionally these heavier fabrics can mean that they are more expensive, but it really depends on the quality more than anything else. Synthetic materials, like polyester and rayon, cost less for the manufacturers than high-quality silks, velvet, even cotton. To some extent, the average cost of bridesmaid dresses is higher for long gowns than it is for short bridesmaid dresses, due to the amount of material used to make them. But really the quality of the material affects the price point more than anything else.
Bridesmaid Dress Alterations
Most of the time, whatever style you choose will require some sort of alterations—especially long bridesmaid dresses, which will need to be hemmed according to each individual bridesmaid’s height. But alterations could also include adding or shortening straps, taking in the bodice or waistline, etc. Depending on the material and the extent of the alterations, the cost for alterations can add significantly to the overall expense of bridesmaid dresses (regardless of who pays for them).
Wedding Dress Cost
This has more to do with the engaged couple’s taste level, but surveys show that typically the more brides spend on their own wedding dress, the more expensive the bridesmaids dresses are likely to be.
Renting Bridesmaid Dresses
Up until recently, your only option as a bridesmaid was to buy whatever unflatteringly-poofy long bridesmaid dress your friend chose for you, and then you were stuck with it for life (or until you got rid of it.) Fortunately the more bridesmaids are given free reign or a color palette within which to choose their own dresses, that opens up the option of renting a bridesmaid dress from vendors like Rent The Runway. Renting a bridesmaid dress for the window of the wedding is always going to be less expensive than purchasing the same one.
Another factor to consider is the number of bridesmaids. If you are getting married and you are considering covering the cost of your bridesmaid dresses, then no matter which dress you choose, the more of those blingy gold bridesmaid dresses you have to buy, the more it’s going to cost you overall.
Fortunately, the range of bridesmaid dress prices really runs the gamut, so you can make this a low or high priced item in your budget, depending on your financial capabilities, or those of your bridesmaids. Which brings us to…
Who pays for bridesmaid dresses?
The question of who pays for bridesmaid dresses is a hotly-debated topic. Ultimately, it always depends on the bride and her overall wedding budget. Most often, it is the bridesmaids’ responsibility to cover the cost of bridesmaid dress purchases, alterations, and accessories. And, with the average cost of bridesmaid dresses off the rack being reasonably inexpensive—and hopefully a bride who takes her bridesmaids’ financial circumstances into account when choosing their dresses—it is not typically a large inconvenience.
That said, there are some extreme cases of bridesmaids who have gone into debt due to the various costs associated with being a bridesmaid, including the dress. Because most of the time, the bridesmaids dress is just one of a myriad of costs: Other expenses include travel costs to and from the wedding, accommodations for the wedding, bachelorette party expenses (which can, again, include travel and accommodations), bridal shower expenses (especially for the hosts), and wedding gifts. Before long, the honor of wearing a bridesmaid dress is easily up to $1,000.
Depending on you and your closest friends’ financials, this may be too much to expect. Therefore, some couples now pay for all of their bridesmaids’ dresses as a courtesy and thank you for being a part of the wedding, especially if the bridesmaids dress cost is higher than average . In fact, there are times when you should absolutely foot the bill for a bridesmaid dress:
Higher Than Average Bridesmaid Dress Costs
If you are a bride who has fallen in love with epic, long bridesmaid dresses that are just as spectacular as some wedding dresses, or perhaps a collection of ready-to-wear dresses the price tag will likely be high. In this situation, you should plan on factoring in, at the very least, a contribution to the bridesmaid dress cost, as part of your wedding budget.
Pink Bridesmaid Dresses
No, we don’t specifically mean pink dresses (pink dresses can be great!) But if you have a rosy color scheme, and you’re asking your only-wears-black-New-Yorker friend—or maybe a friend who never wears dresses at all—to purchase a shocking pink gown, you’re really asking them to spend money something that is only for you that they will never wear again. If the bridesmaid dress colors or style is such that your bridesmaids will not wear them for any other occasion ever again, consider paying the bill. It is a lot to ask for bridesmaids to pay for a dress they will only wear once.
Bridesmaid Dresses That Require Extensive Alterations
Long or short bridesmaid dresses that need a lot of alterations. You might love the look of the strapless bridesmaid dress, but several of your attendants would need significant alterations to pull off this look. In these cases, consider paying for the bridesmaid dresses, the alterations, or both.
Bridesmaids with Financial Hardships
At the end of the day, your group of bridesmaids should be made up of your nearest and dearest friends or family. You may, therefore, be aware that one or more of the bridesmaids is having financial difficulties, and that asking them to purchase even a versatile black bridesmaid dress would be an imposition. In this situation, your friendship matters most, and you and your spouse-to-be should discuss privately and quietly paying for that friend’s bridesmaids dress.
Junior Bridesmaids Dresses & Flower Girls
A junior bridesmaid is often a teen or pre-teen friend or relative who is part of your bridal party. Whether you have junior bridesmaids or flower girls or both, you should offer to pay for their dresses rather than expecting their parents to—especially if their mother is already in your bridal party and paying for her own bridesmaids dress!
No matter what option you choose for meeting the expense, be conscious and respectful of each bridesmaid’s personal budget and insist that they purchase a dress that they cannot afford.
How do you choose bridesmaid dresses?
Champagne bridesmaid dresses, or rose gold bridesmaid dresses? Long bridesmaid dresses, or a short bridesmaid dress? Floral or solid? How do you even begin to choose a bridesmaid dress?
Bridesmaid Dress Colors
Start with your wedding style and color palette and think of what bridesmaid dresses would complement that. Black bridesmaid dresses are sleek and elevated for modern weddings, but can also be quite bold. Rose gold bridesmaid dresses are ideal for just about any palette. And while fuchsia and bright blue bridesmaid dresses are gorgeous, popular choices, they run the risk of overshadowing floral arrangements—or even the bride! So make sure the color saturation and vibrancy is balanced throughout. Floral, lace or all-over-sequined silver bridesmaid dresses do have the potential to overshadow simpler wedding dresses, so only consider them if your wedding dress will still stand out.
When you start to ponder what kind of bridesmaid dresses might look nice with your wedding decor and theme, start by thinking of your bridesmaids individually. What bridesmaid dress colors and styles would most flatter them? In general, champagne bridesmaid dresses, rose gold bridesmaid dresses, and blush bridesmaid dresses are complementary to warmer skin tones, while silver bridesmaid dresses and blue bridesmaid dresses are better on cooler complexions. But there are also warm blues and cool pinks, so there really are no rules! It may just take some imagination—and maybe some Pinterest-board puzzling—to find a bridesmaid dress color that will complement each person in your wedding party. Or you can present them with a color range and let them choose their own!
Bridesmaid Dress Styles
If you are choosing a specific style of bridesmaid dress for your wedding party, be considerate of what each of your bridesmaids will feel comfortable in. Will some of your friends be uncomfortable wearing strapless bridesmaid dresses? Are there attendants who might be self-conscious in a super-fitted silhouette, or an extra short bridesmaid dress that shows off the legs? You want your bridesmaids to not only look, but feel beautiful, so it’s important that the dress styles flatter their body and respect their modesty.
Mixed Bridesmaid Dresses
In general, it is becoming less common for couples to choose one bridesmaid dress for every one of the bridesmaids to wear, versus giving them a color or style suggestion and letting them choose their own. In this way, you might have a wedding party with short bridesmaid dress choices, strapless bridesmaid dresses, and one-shoulder bridesmaid dresses all in the same color. So if you pick the same material and shade of gold bridesmaid dresses for your wedding party, you could let each person select the style she favors. Or you could have a variety of floral bridesmaid dresses in complementary colors—say, shades of blue or all on a white background. You might choose to have your bridal party choose their own summer bridesmaid dresses where each of them is in a different color selected specifically for the wearer. The mismatched bridesmaid dresses trend may not be the easiest to achieve, but when done well it looks stunning.
Vetting Your Bridesmaids’ Dress Choices
If you are asking your bridesmaids to choose their own dresses, be sure to allow enough time to look at photos in advance to make sure that they will look good together. A short, strapless bridesmaid dress may look great on one friend, but if everyone else wears long, formal bridesmaid dresses, it will look out of sync. Set parameters, either in color, style, or formality, so that everything looks cohesive. Beware of having them all choose their own black bridesmaid dresses from different designers, because some may end up reading as more navy or purple when standing side-by-side. Whatever your guidelines, be sure to give a clear deadline long before the wedding for each bridesmaid dress to undergo your vetting.
Your Wedding Venue
Next, there is the location consideration. Floral bridesmaid dresses look idyllic in a Botanic Garden setting. Alternatively, if you are getting married on a snowy mountaintop, winter bridesmaid dresses with lace sleeves will look elegant and complementary, unlike strapless bridesmaid dresses or a short bridesmaid dress which would look out of place. If you are unsure of what type of bridesmaid dresses would look best at your location, take a look at your wedding library to see photos of wedding parties at your venue or at similar venue types.
What are the most popular bridesmaids dress colors and styles?
As mentioned, mix-and-match bridesmaids dresses have become more popular, such as a variety of floral bridesmaid dresses that complement each other, or a selection of blue bridesmaid dresses in assorted shades and tones. While each might have a slightly different print or color focus, when combined they create a cohesive color palette and visual theme.
Some of the most popular colors for a bridesmaid dress are:
Pink Bridesmaid Dresses
From bright fuchsia to blush bridesmaid dresses, pink is pretty popular. Also in this color family are rose gold bridesmaid dresses, for a little more formality. Because pink tones make your skin look vibrant, they are flattering on most skin tones in photos. If you choose pink bridesmaid dresses, you may want to pull back on pink in your overall wedding theme or you could end up with a Barbie Valentine’s Day wedding.
Gold or Silver Bridesmaid Dresses
Perfect for the most formal of wedding occasions, gold and silver bridesmaid dresses are undeniably celebratory. Gold may also refer to champagne bridesmaid dresses. Just make sure that all that bling isn’t going to overpower your wedding dress in pictures.
Red Bridesmaid Dresses.
Red is a daring color, but for a short bridesmaid dress or several strapless bridesmaid dresses in a deep burgundy, it can work. Soften the look by selecting a few darker shades of red for a beautiful, tonal red wedding theme.
Green Bridesmaid Dresses
An increasingly popular fall bridesmaid dress color, deep emerald green is beautiful for outdoor mountain weddings and ballroom weddings alike.
Blue Bridesmaid Dresses
Especially popular for summer weddings by the water, blue bridesmaids dresses are one of the most flattering options for your bridal party. From pale pastel to royal blue, there are so many shades that feel timeless and elevated in just about any setting.
Black Bridesmaid Dresses
Black bridesmaid dresses, once taboo wedding colors, are now increasingly popular and incredibly chic. They are particularly elegant for a winter wedding with pops of red lipstick and flower bouquets, or furry shoulder shrug.
Of course bridesmaid dress popularity isn’t only about color—it’s also about seasonality and silhouettes (strapless bridesmaid dresses vs. one-shoulder, short vs. long bridesmaid dresses, etc.) The biggest bridesmaid dress style trends right now include varied necklines (v-neck, halter, strapless, etc.) and satin bridesmaid dresses (particularly for winter). And there are definitely trends, both in color and style, that are more popular for certain seasons—such as wine-colored bridesmaid dresses for fall and winter, whereas summer and spring bridesmaid dresses are more likely to feature brighter colors. Some trends, like rose gold bridesmaid dresses, pink bridesmaid dresses, muted grey tones and sparkle work year-round.
There’s also no rule that bridesmaid dresses have to actually be dresses. Especially as bridal parties are becoming more mixed-gender and inclusive, it’s not uncommon to see a bridesmaid pantsuit or other dress-alternative. Embracing creativity and the individual styles of your bridal party are what ultimately are going to make for the best experience—and photos!
Should your bridesmaids all wear the same accessories?
Whether or not your bridesmaids dresses match, it’s customary to provide some guidance as to the style and/or color of complementary accessories like shoes and jewelry so that they all look put-together and cohesive in photos.
If they are wearing strapless bridesmaid dresses in various colors, prints, or styles, tie the looks together with a coordinating necklace. Alternatively, if every bridesmaid dress has the same silhouette and color, you may want to consider giving them some freedom to accessorize as they see fit. As a general rule of thumb, you can be a little splashier with silver bridesmaid dresses and black bridesmaid dresses. Here are a few thoughts on common accessories styles for bridesmaid dresses:
Neutral colored shoes in gold, silver, white, beige and pink work with most any bridesmaids dress—and your bridesmaids may already own shoes in those colors, or if they need to buy them they’ll be more likely to wear them again. That said, if your bridal party is wearing short bridesmaid dresses where the shoes will be in the spotlight, it’s best to keep the shoes totally uniform and choose one style for all of them.
It can be nice to give your bridesmaids a pair of earrings or a necklace as a “thank you” for being a part of your wedding, and to make the gift part of the bridesmaids outfit for the day. You don’t necessarily have to choose the same exact jewelry for all of them—if you’ve chosen simple, versatile styles like navy bridesmaid dresses, black bridesmaid dresses, or silver bridesmaid dresses, it may be fun to choose special, unique jewelry for each individual member of your bridal party.
Even though your bridesmaids will be carrying bouquets, not handbags, down the aisle, an evening clutch that complements their dress is another nice idea for a gift to say thank you. Similar to shoes, these should feature a neutral, versatile color, so they are more likely to be carried again.
While not technically an accessory, remember that some brides choose to select a specific color of nail polish for their bridesmaids’ manicures and pedicures. If you are going to do this, it is customary to offer to cover the cost of their manicures and/or pedicures, and can be a fun thing to do with your bridal party a day or two before the wedding (if there’s time).
How do you get started?
With over 10,000 weddings in our library, you can peruse all styles and colors of bridesmaids dresses at every time of location around the globe. Browse through weddings with strapless bridesmaid dresses, silver bridesmaid dresses, and everything in between, then get in touch with the bridesmaid dress designers who created your favorites. CaratsandCake.com is the trusted wedding resource that connects couples to expert vendors to build their dream weddings.