Off the Rack ~ Shopping for Bridesmaid Dresses

A few weeks ago, I visited my longest friend to look for bridesmaid dresses for her wedding in Chicago next fall. I’ve been a bridesmaid only once before, when I was the maid of honor at my sister’s wedding. But she selected dresses from J. Crew so we all mail-ordered our dresses separately without ever meeting up or trying anything on. So this was the first time I’ve ever really gone shopping for a bridesmaid dress.

There’s definitely a reputation for this activity being awful, but I had a total blast! The group included a variety of body shapes, sizes, and heights, so everyone was sensitive to personal comfort and lingerie needs.

The wedding is a super fancy black-tie affair in September, so we were looking for long dresses in dark colors with “something special.” We went to two local boutiques. One had more conventional dresses but excellent customer service, while the other had what I thought were nicer offerings, but our consultant wasn’t very good. Additionally, the second shop didn’t allow photography, so I only have real photos from the first place.

I’ll give an overview of some of the styles I tried on and then share my final thoughts. I think this first group was all dresses by the brand Dessy:

The rack from which we were selecting.

The rack from which we were selecting.

The top of this tulle dress has some nice detail, but the skirt portion seemed boring by comparison. Plus the bustier was waaaaaay short. My actual waist is several inches lower than the seam.

The top of this tulle dress has some nice detail, but the skirt portion seemed boring by comparison. Plus the bustier was waaaaaay short. My actual waist is several inches lower than the seam.

I was not a fan of this look at all, but the other girls seemed to really like it. It’s actually two pieces—a shirt and a skirt. But the top has such a high neck, and once again it’s too short. It is definitely not big boob-friendly.

I was not a fan of this look at all, but the other girls seemed to really like it. It’s actually two pieces—a shirt and a skirt. But the top has such a high neck, and once again it’s too short. It is definitely not big boob-friendly.

Finally! This one was definitely my favorite. It fit really beautifully. It’s not a necessity, but I love that you can wear a regular bra with it.

Finally! This one was definitely my favorite. It fit really beautifully. It’s not a necessity, but I love that you can wear a regular bra with it.

I liked it so much I took two photos! So nice to finally have a waistband that actually sits at my waist.

I liked it so much I took two photos! So nice to finally have a waistband that actually sits at my waist.

I also thought it had the perfect amount of cleavage.

I also thought it had the perfect amount of cleavage.

Here, I played with the contrast and shadows so you can see the construction of the bodice. Instead of your conventional crossover top and wide waistband, one side of the bust goes all the way down to the waistband. I think this was a really figure-flattering detail. Additionally, the waistband featured gathered layers of fabric instead of just a flat panel.

Here, I played with the contrast and shadows so you can see the construction of the bodice. Instead of your conventional crossover top and wide waistband, one side of the bust goes all the way down to the waistband. I think this was a really figure-flattering detail. Additionally, the waistband featured gathered layers of fabric instead of just a flat panel.

This one was fairly similar to the previous, but with SPARKLES! And also spaghetti straps.

This one was fairly similar to the previous, but with SPARKLES! And also spaghetti straps.

However, the cleavage was a little inappropriate for a wedding this time.

However, the cleavage was a little inappropriate for a wedding this time.

Lastly, we have this one, which is again following the tank top shape. But those straps drove me nuts. It’s like they can’t decide whether to be on the shoulder or off.

Lastly, we have this one, which is again following the tank top shape. But those straps drove me nuts. It’s like they can’t decide whether to be on the shoulder or off.

Additionally, it gave a weirdly flattened look to my chest. But the sparkly lace beneath sheer tulle was super pretty!

Additionally, it gave a weirdly flattened look to my chest. But the sparkly lace beneath sheer tulle was super pretty!

Takeaways from the first excursion: Modern tulle is amazing! Instead of being stiff and tutu-esque, these days it’s soft and flowy, with just a single layer over an opaque liner. All of these dresses used tulle in this way. Second: I think proportion is probably even more important than construction. Construction that disagrees with your body shape can be altered, such as sizing up to fit your boobs then having the waist taken in, but nothing can be done when the bodice length is way too long or way too short.

As for the second shop, sadly I have no photos of myself or even mannequins. But these were the two dresses that ended up being everyone’s favorites, both of which are by Bari Jay:

One of the other girls and I made a beeline for this dress when we saw it on the mannequin. This photo does not do it justice. The navy blue was very rich and the sparkly trim on the straps was eye-catching without being too gaudy or tacky.

One of the other girls and I made a beeline for this dress when we saw it on a mannequin. This photo does not do it justice. The navy blue was dark and much richer, and the sparkly trim on the straps was eye-catching without being too gaudy or tacky.

Plus look how gorgeous the back was! Note that it’s got “back interest,” but was still high enough to cover a strapless bra. The drapey fabric also meant plenty of room for boobs. One of the heavier bridesmaids said it was the first dress she’d put on all day that she felt good in.

Plus look how gorgeous the back was! Note that it’s got “back interest,” but was still high enough to cover a strapless bra. The drapey fabric also meant plenty of room for boobs. One of the heavier bridesmaids said it was the first dress she’d put on all day that she felt good in.

Another sparkly choice! It’s hard to see here, but the sequins were actually matte, not nearly as reflective like they look here. It was the classiest use of sequins I’ve ever seen. And once again it’s bra-friendly!

Another sparkly choice! It’s hard to see here, but the sequins were actually matte, not nearly as reflective as they look here. It was the classiest use of sequins I’ve ever seen. And once again it’s bra-friendly!

Also note that both these Bari Jay dresses had POCKETS! I was seriously ready to take home the navy blue one that day. It comes in a short length too, so one could conceivably buy it and wear it to fancy events all year long, right?

As you can probably tell, the tank top shape was highly favored by all the girls. In fact, the bride has since tried a couple more dresses, and another top pick she sent me a photo of is a tank top shape with more detailed, thinner straps.

After watching the show “Say Yes to the Dress: Bridesmaids” and the movie “27 Dresses” perhaps one time too many, I was nervous about what dresses were going to be out there. But I’m really impressed with the modernity, restraint, and attention to body shapes and lingerie needs that designers are offering these days. I’m really looking forward to wearing whatever my friend eventually settles on!

 

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Comments

  1. Oh my goodness – the construction on your favorite dress from the first place is amazing! I love that detail. The whole dress emphasizes your long, lean figure in an amazing way. And the navy blue from the 2nd place is AMAZING! Pockets, even!!! Can’t wait to see what you end up with 🙂