For decades, bridal parties have looked like they stepped out of a '60s girls' group -- matching dresses, matching shoes, even matching headpieces, jewelry and gloves. At last, that bridal fever is subsiding. A more modern approach: forgoing the matchy, one-dress-doesn't-fit-all look in favor of subtly coordinated but different frocks that complement each attendant's figure and style. Think the Kardashians, not The Supremes.
"Everyone has a budget, and doesn't want to spend $500 and never wear it again -- they want something fun, funky and different, something they haven't seen before," says Danielle Hasenbein, co-owner of Bella Bridesmaid in Manhattan.
While it takes a bit more effort, the result can be effortlessly chic -- and maybe even re-wearable. For brides who want to have fun finding flattering styles for their 'maids, Hasenbein suggests choosing a specific color -- turquoise, for example, or purple -- and letting attendants pick a dress in any incarnation of that shade, from any designer. "The colors all go together, so you can have different dresses and it still looks good," she explains.
Or, for more of a rainbow effect, some bridal parties are blending a range of colors -- the approach is much like pairing paint swatches. And don't stop at color. Mix the styles, too, blending popular silhouettes like sweetheart, strapless, V-neck and one-shoulder.
"A lot of brides have girls of every shape and size in their bridal party," says Eva Dunn of Bella Bridesmaid. "The beauty of mix-and-match is, everyone walks away feeling beautiful in something that fits them well." For fashion inspiration, see how these Long Island bridesmaids created their own gorgeous mosaics:
For her September wedding at the St. James Church in Seaford and reception at the Riviera in Massapequa, Elizabeth Scoula of Oakdale thought it perfect to play off the pretty fall foliage. She settled on sienna, a sensational shade of red that would make any girl glow. But when it came to choosing a silhouette, there wasn't a universal formula for her five bridesmaids.
"So many women are so many different sizes and shapes -- my sister-in-law was eight months pregnant when we were looking for a dress -- but I wanted them to feel comfortable in what they were wearing," she says. After discovering that three designers -- Jim Hjelm, Alvina Valenta and Lazaro -- offered dresses in her chosen chiffon fabric, she told her bridesmaids they could each choose any long dress they liked out of perhaps 100 options. "We had fun with it," says Scoula, who accompanied her friends on shopping trips. The result: everything from a sexy Grecian one-shoulder to simple spaghetti straps.
On the day of her "I dos" to Craig Mare, Scoula slipped into a gown by Marisa, made of organza with a satin chiffon bodice; she finished the look with red shoes to complement her attendants'. Rounding out the foliage motif: rose bouquets in shades of soft cream and orange and vibrant yellow and red. The groom and groomsmen were autumnal, too, in matching chocolate brown suits.
"Everybody loved the dresses," says Scoula. "Everyone looked well uniformed, but got to express themselves in their own style and personality and what they felt comfortable in."
7 bridesmaids, 7 dresses
Though she's never been a bridesmaid herself, Diana Abrishamian of Roslyn Heights sympathized with bridesmaids' plight. "I've heard stories where women were not happy. I didn't want that." And so, for her August wedding to Ben Shamsian of West Hempstead at Crest Hollow Country Club in Woodbury, she decided to break away from the uniform and give her seven attendants the power to choose any dress they fancied, provided it was long and had a bright, summery feel.
And bright they were -- gowns ranging from vibrant green strapless to pretty in pink. To keep the bride in the shopping loop, the women texted her pictures and sent updates on their color choices. "I wanted to give them freedom to pick the best dress for their body, something they would love," Abrishamian says. "Everyone got to show off their own personality." Another benefit: "They could each stay within their own budget."
While the bride dazzled in a lace Maggie Sottero gown, the groom and groomsmen slipped into sleek black suits, a "simple look so they didn't clash with any of the bridesmaids," Abrishamian said. The dress hues also complemented the wedding's abundance of pink, purple and green flowers, a glorious focal point for the chuppah, bouquets and centerpieces.
Despite her unorthodox approach, Abrishamian never doubted her friends' taste in fashion. "They all dress nicely to begin with, so I knew it would be OK." Plus, a bridesmaid never knows whom she might meet in a room of 350 guests: "All of them are single, so they wanted to look good."
As a wedding and lifestyle photographer with a background in fashion, Twah Nguyen had a specific look in mind for her August wedding to Timothy Dougherty -- and she found it at a private vineyard estate in Mattituck. And when it came to the decor, the Rockville Centre couple chose gray as the foundation of their color story. "That's my favorite color," Nguyen explains. "I wanted organic, laid back."
In the spirit of relaxed elegance, she gave her eight bridesmaids carte blanche -- with a few caveats: Dresses had to be a neutral tone, like gray or champagne, and cocktail-appropriate. "Everyone has their own personal style and taste, and I wanted them to represent that," Nguyen says. "Plus, I wanted them to feel fabulous."
The result was a wide range of stylish ensembles in shades from charcoal to champagne to cool blue-gray. "The girls were concerned about fitting well together," Nguyen says, "but being in fashion, I understand the layering of offbeat, contrasting colors"
The bride encouraged her friends' selections, which reflected their tastes and budgets, from Herve Leger to homemade. "One girl made her own dress, one bought hers online, another bought it at French Connection. One bridesmaid was on a business trip in London and saw a dress. There was a lot of text messaging pictures while they were shopping."
When it came to shoes, each wore a different pair in an electric shade like pink, purple or blue. "Gray is so neutral, so it needed to be fun," Nguyen says. The groomsmen added another jolt of color, mixing J.Crew pants, seersucker vests and different-tinted ties (the groom even donned shocking pink socks).
The bride, who changed from a sleek Reem Acra wedding dress to a slinky J. Mendel champagne mini, says her friends' custom selections were a hit. "Someone said each bridesmaid was prettier than the next."
Just a twist
When it came to their June wedding at Carlyle on the Green in Bethpage State Park, Amanda Halpern and Keyur Parikh had no doubt they wanted to be surrounded by bright colors. The Washington, D.C.- based couple returned to the bride's Long Island home (Amanda hails from Levittown) for their Hindu-Catholic nuptials, and they wanted a look as fiery as Indian spices. "Especially because it was two cultures coming together, we knew we wanted bright colors," she says.
An initial idea of orange morphed into a sweet, summery coral for the bridesmaids, who included her four older sisters and best friend. "I didn't want everyone to have to spend a lot of money," says Halpern, who found the perfect silk chiffon style online at J.Crew -- on sale, no less. To individualize the looks, Halpern gave each attendant a traditional Indian scarf she purchased during a visit to Keyur's grandfather in India and had dyed to match the dresses; inspired by a wedding blog, she added pretty cantaloupe-colored parasols.
The wedding day began with a Hindu ceremony, for which Halpern wore a traditional Indian sari in red, white and green. For the Catholic ceremony that followed cocktails, she changed into an ivory strapless Jim Hjelm gown. And while the bridesmaids looked peachy in their coordinating frocks, the maid of honor stood out in a striking red sari ("It's rare you get the opportunity," the bride notes). The flower girl, Halpern's 3-year-old niece, also wore an orange outfit purchased in India, while the groomsmen sported spiffy tan suits and navy-and-pink-striped ties.
Of her off-the-rack find for her bridesmaids, Halpern enthused that they weren't just pretty. "They were relatively inexpensive, and didn't need alternations. I think appreciated the shorter length, which was more comfortable for a June wedding."