Bridesmaids: Frumpy to party-perfect
IT USED to be that being a bridesmaid was an honour requiring loyalty, friendship, patience and the willingness to wear a frumpy dress.
Bridesmaids today have it significantly better.
These days, bridal designers have spawned sophisticated bridesmaid collections offering attractive, rewearable designs that can occasionally usurp even the bride. Particularly, designers have given wedding parties flexibility in materials, cuts and colours.
Senior strategist Angela Craig, 29, is a nine-time bridesmaid (she calls her wedding-party duties a "second career").
"I've had some really hideous bridesmaid dresses," she said, recalling an "ugly cranberry dress, floor-length, made of cheap fake silk."
Ms Craig, who works at a marketing consultancy, said she was luckier at a wedding last month.
The bride was adamant about having no taffeta for her wedding party. The party then agreed on an empire-waist knee-length plum-coloured chiffon frock by Donna Morgan (US$178, or S$222).
Bridal designer Lela Rose also uses chiffon in her bridesmaid collection, which she introduced shortly after her bridal-line debut in 2006.
The line has details borrowed from her ready-to-wear line and wedding gowns, some with upscale fabrications like silk gazar.
"Often, there is one detail that brings them all together," she said. Women can choose among different cuts to suit their body shape, but in the same colour.
That uniform look of yore, when bridesmaids had to wear the same dress in the same shade, is not very modern, Ms Rose said.
Nor is it nice.
She said: "Some girls look great in anything, but not everyone does. Your bridesmaids will be in your pictures, so why wouldn't you want them to look great?"
Ms Ilana Stern, a former buyer at Bloomingdale's who founded wedding-shopping site WeddingtonWay.com, said a big headache for the bride is how to choose outfits for her bridesmaids. The process is a balancing act: Keeping bridesmaids happy while accomplishing a cohesive aesthetic.
Ms Stern, 30, is now planning her own wedding. Her 11 bridesmaids have varying body shapes. The group has settled on flowy dresses in a coral palette, but with varying shades to suit different skin tones. There are also five different dress styles that suit their body types.
"I really want them to feel good," Ms Stern said.
Mr Tom Mora, head of women's design at J. Crew, noted that a relatively new development is this mix-and-match approach.
In a single bridal party, "there are some who really step out with mixed colours and mixed dresses", he said. For example, bridesmaids might be togged out in differing pastels.
The traditional sweetheart neckline is still popular, but one of J. Crew's best-selling styles is a one-shoulder design in silk chiffon.
"It's just a new way of thinking," he said, noting that people are looking at fashion magazines for inspiration, rather than just bridal publications.
Ms Craig noted that while shopping for dresses, she and the bride visited both bridal and nonbridal departments.
"You often can't tell the difference between a bridesmaid dress and a party one," she said. "You just have to be sure that it doesn't show too much skin."
Renowned designer Alice Temperley, who plans to start a bridesmaid collection in October, said white is a good colour not only for the bride, but also for bridesmaids. It can work for all ages, she said.
In Britain, the prohibition of wearing white unless you were the bride has waned since Kate Middleton's royal wedding in 2011, when her sister, Ms Pippa Middleton, made headlines in a snowy Alexander McQueen gown.
Temperley said she has even attended weddings in Europe in which guests were required to adopt the milky dress code.
But, in the end, the choice of a bridesmaids' dress is not a democratic one.
Ms Craig said: "It really depends on the bride."
The job description of being a bridesmaid, after all, requires giving up negotiating power.
"I'm there as her wingwoman," she said. "You're there to support your friend and to be prepared for whatever she needs. You just hope it's not a frumpy dress."