Figure It Out

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When I became hitched to Mr. Press in 2006, my four bridesmaids—including designer Marnie Skillings—wore whimsical ready-to-wear dresses from Marnie’s summer collection. They looked exactly as I’d hoped: fashiony, fabulous and a little bit Sofia Coppola’s Virgin Suicides (without the depressing death bit). My bridesmaids bought their own accessories on a bonding shopping spree: strappy Lanvin sandals. I wanted some myself. Those shoes were hot.

When I look back at our wedding photographs, I feel just the same about their dresses as I did on the big day—proud as punch. My bridesmaids share similar styles in real life, so it worked for them to match. They looked their beautiful selves. I know for a fact they’ve all worn those dresses since, which is how it should be.

Yet I’m pretty sure the 27 Dresses syndrome is still rife. I recently watched Katherine Heigl’s 2008 romcom again. What struck me most, more than Heigl’s great skin (so great by the way), was how hysterically bad those 27 dresses are. No wonder Heigl’s character was never the bride. She didn’t deserve to be settling for that get-up: gaudy pink and yellow tiered tulle, spangly orange saris, hideous drop-waisted green satin horrors, matching parasols. Yikes!

We laugh at 27 Dresses because it cuts so close to the bone. Bridesmaids’ dresses can be scary. Hands up if your cousin made you wear sleeveless when you hate your upper arms, or short when you usually cover your knees. Who has been persuaded into purple or spaghetti straps that made them cringe?

Now that you’re the bride, it’s time to take revenge. That was a joke—the last in this piece. Choosing stunning bridesmaids’ dresses that flatter your besties, express your wedding vision, and work in photographs years down the track is a serious matter.

Where to start? Are you set on the idea of everyone looking the same? That can work if your bridesmaids share similar tastes and body types. If they don’t, you will need to choose an easy style that flatters more than one figure. Embrace the sleeve, the lower neckline, the circle or A-line skirt.

Begin by asking your bridesmaids how they feel about it all. What are their loveliest features? Which colours do they look most gorgeous in? Are there bits they’d rather hide?

Traditionally, bridesmaids goes back to Roman times when a bride chose attendants dressed in copies of her own gown to act as decoys to evil spirits. Today, a bridesmaid’s role is not to sacrifice herself to angry gods but to be near and dear to her engaged friends; to lend support emotionally, spiritually and sometimes even physically when, for example, she helps the bride with her train in the grander sort of ceremony. While we want them to fit in, there’s nothing about their modern purpose that demands they match.

Complementary rather than carbon copy can be a smart way to go. If you’re having dresses made, you might stick to the same colour and fabric but opt for distinctive alterations such as sleeves, ruffles and straps, lower and higher necklines and hems. If you choose ready-to-wear, consider different dresses by the same designer, with matching accessories—the same silver shoes, or ribbon belts.

Another option is one design worn in different ways, allowing each girl’s personal style to shine through. Hate strapless? Pop on a sequined bolero. Petite? Chop the hem off above the knee. I recently styled a runway show for a wedding fair and got to play with jersey dresses by the Two Birds label; tie them into halters and cap-sleeves, bandeaus and plunge fronts. Fab when your maids are a chocolate box of shapes and sizes. Who else makes great bridesmaids’ dresses? My label of course (we’re obsessed with bridesmaids at Mrs. Press). I love Lisa Ho for long gowns. Fleur Wood’s range is super-cute and Lover’s lace party dresses are dreamy. Net-A-Porter has opened a wedding department where you can shop for inspiration from the runways.

Generally though I’d be leaving tricky trends alone. You might love pleated vinyl this season, but bet you don’t love it ten years from now. I will, however, let you in on a secret: so sweet are bridesmaids in cocktail shorts or even jumpsuits, as long as they flatter the wearer.

Never say never.

Carly Tia
Mitchell J Carlin - Wedding Photographer

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