Some say that the bride purposely picks unflattering bridesmaid dresses to be sure that none of her 'maids look better than she does. Well, that's one explanation for the collection of ruffled, flounced, stick-straight, shiny, clingy, and flat-out bizarre bridesmaids dresses that many of us have had to wear. (Another is just plain old bad taste.)

The fact remains that you have no choice but to wear the dress that she assigns, for better or for worse. Remember that this is her big day so put on a smile and take comfort in the knowledge that everyone knows that she picked the dress. Look below for some helpful hints to make buying and wearing this monstrosity as pleasant as possible.

If the bride is ordering the dresses en masse through a bridal shop, you'll probably have to provide the shop with your measurements. Don't try to do this yourself-go to a tailor and have them taken as soon as possible. This can be a disheartening experience as it's a bit of a shock to see your body measurements laid out on a piece of paper. Take heart, who's to say what a good shoulder measurement is, anyway?

If you go to a bridal shop to try on the dress, don't be alarmed if the sample dress doesn't fit. Bridal sizes are more like pygmy sizes-they're cut notoriously small and most shops only have one sample for you to try on. The dress may not close in the back: the salesperson may hold the zipper together from behind while you look in the mirror. Know that you're not really fat, it's just that these dresses are cut for Nicole Ritchie-sized women, not real life women who maybe go to McDonald's every now and then.

Try on the dress immediately. If you need alterations, have them done as soon as possible and try the dress on again at the tailor to be sure they were done correctly. Be careful about the dress length and try to wear the wedding shoes to the tailor. Remember that floor length means that the toes of your shoes are barely visible.

Sometimes the bride will ask you to have your dress made from scratch. She may have a pattern or suggest you design your own. You can bring a dress that you like to show the dressmaker what you have in mind. You should plan to spend $150 to $300 for a custom-made dress and will have to go for several fittings. Have the bride approve your design beforehand. You don't want to make a faux pas by wearing a slinky strapless number to an Orthodox Jewish wedding.

The bride may let you pick a dress according to certain specifications, i.e. a black floor-length dress. For an off-the-rack dress, stores like AnnTaylor and all major department stores offer good selections. You can also look at bridal shops. Another good place to start is the internet. (Click here for links to dress buying sites.) You can order dresses right off the site and then have the alterations done yourself (see ALTERNATE PLANS above). But remember that the thrifty bridesmaid can always try to borrow a dress or wear something she already owns.

Be sure you have the appropriate underwear for the dress: bra, underwear, stockings, slip (if needed). Head to a good lingerie shop or a department store with a large selection. Ask the sales people for assistance-frequently they know what you need even if you don't. Don't expect a miracle, but there are a variety of body contouring/sucking/smoothing devices that can give you confidence as you sashay down the aisle. Some tried and true items that actually make a difference are Nancy Ganz Body Slimmers, DKNY Body Toners, and AnnTaylor Body Shaper stockings.

Beware! You will probably need to find a special bra for the bridesmaid dress. For those who think they can get away without wearing one at all, just remember that churches and reception halls tend to be cold. Think about it. Or, you can try a product we just heard about called Diva Dots. The self-adhesive stickies, which come in different colors and styles, "prevent perky nipples from garnering a bridesmaid unwanted attention," as the company puts it. We're all for that!

For you small and perky gals, department stores or Victoria's Secret should suffice. Natori makes a great strapless bra in small-to-average sizes. For the well-endowed, this can be a major challenge. Try On Gossmar, available at better department stores, or go to a specialty shop. You may want to invest in a bra with convertible straps that can be hooked in different ways to create a halter-top, a backless bra, or a strapless bra. Braza Bra makes self-adhesive stickies that claim to be as supportive as a bra and have the advantage of no visible strap marks. Disadvantages include frightening your date at the end of the night when you take your dress off and the pain of ripping large pieces of tape off of your sensitive areas. Ouch!

Sometimes you can have bra cups sewn into a custom-made dress. This solves most of the aforementioned problems but larger busted gals may find not find these supportive enough.

Try on the dress in bright light and be sure that it isn't see-through. If so, get a slip. Even with stockings, it is important to be sure that there are no VPL's (visible panty lines). Remember that nude foundations are least likely to show through a light color or become visible in direct light.

If you must have shoes dyed to match, do so early to allow for mistakes. Chains like Payess and Bakers sell lines of inexpensive dyable shoes ($35 - $50) and they will even dye them for you. Kenneth Cole offers a line of more expensive ($100+) dyable shoes and for you truly dedicated bridesmaids, Charles Jourdan ($150+) and Peter Fox ($150+) offer more upscale lines of dyables.

You may have to order the shoes without trying them on and just hope for the best. If they’re too big, add pads to make them fit better. If they're too small, have them stretched at a shoe repair shop. Either buy no-skid pads to place on the shoe bottoms or scuff the bottoms outside on a street or sidewalk. Wear them around your house for a few hours so that they are at least somewhat broken in. All precautions aside, these shoes will probably be uncomfortable and you may end up taking them off at the reception. And you'll never wear those gold toe-pinching pointy high-heeled torture devices again; so don't worry if they get scuffed.

You'll probably want a small purse to take to the reception. You can also buy dyable purses at the above-mentioned stores (Kinney, Thom McCann, Kenneth Cole, department stores). Dying a bag is probably going above and beyond what you're expected to do, but hey, when you donate your dress and shoes to the Salvation Army, you can throw in a matching purse!

You can hide an embarrassingly unflattering dress by throwing a nice shawl, wrap or cardigan over your shoulder at the reception. If all else fails, get completely intoxicated so that you don't care how you look, have a good time, and feel superior as you vow never to force your bridesmaids to suffer such in such a manner.


Lots of you have written to Penelope to ask what to do if you are a pregnant bridesmaid. The bride may advise you, but in case she doesn't, here are your choices: 1) you can buy the dress fabric to have your dress made at a maternity store or by a tailor; 2) you can buy a dress from a maternity store which is similar in color and style to the bridesmaid dress (hey, this is your chance to look a little different!); 3) you may be able to get a maternity version of the dress the bride has chosen (ask at the store); 4) or, if you've totally lucked out, the dress is a style which accommodates you and your growing middle! Bottom line: Make sure you're comfortable and don't worry too much if your dress looks a wee bit different. Oh, and make sure to get the dress altered close to the Big Day, since your measurements are changing on a daily basis!


Here are some fun ways you can put that old bridesmaid dress in your closet to good use:

·  Make pretty sofa cushions

·  Make curtains (like a reverse Scarlet O'Hara!)

·  Give it to your nieces to play dress-up

·  Wear it every year on the couple's anniversary and show up, unannounced, at their doorstep to remind them of your misery (Thanks to a visitor for sending this one in!)

·  Throw a Cheesy Wine Party with your friends...invite everyone to show up in their worst bridesmaid dress and to bring a bottle of wine and type of cheese. Drink up and commiserate about being fashion victims. (Thanks to another visitor for this one!)

·  Our favorite: donate it to charity. Check out a great program called The Glass Slipper Project that will give your dress to a disadvantaged girl to wear to her prom. Or, donate it to a nursing home (where they use donated dresses for "senior senior proms" and "Queen for a Day" activities) or a local theater company or high school drama department (they certainly LOOK like costumes, right?).

Have any advice? Send your recommendations and words of wisdom to and share with your fellow bridesmaids!

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