15 January 2008

The most gracious gift a bride can give

What do the following body characteristics have in common?

- broad shoulders
- 32AA chest
- 38EE chest
- untoned upper arms
- back acne
- tan lines
- armpit fat
- short neck
- undefined clavicle
- uneven breast size

Not sure?

Well, let me interject, as there are actually two critical points I'd like to make here.

The first is that the vast majority of women's bodies, be they attached to a 22 or 42 year-old, fall into one or more of the above categories.

The second is that any one of these has the high potential for causing "oh dear" disaster when it comes to a strapless neckline.

Which now brings us to that lovable group of white-wearing women and their penchant for opting not just for themselves but also for their 1-10 closest friends the very difficult to wear neckline known as straight-edged strapless.

Now, I'm well aware of this new-fangled idea that brides aren't just allowed but expected to be total taskmasters and that it's considered more adorable than objectionable for them to be six steps above the highest of high maintenance, but there's a world of difference between being a bride who requires her grad student girlfriend with no disposable income to go into credit card debt so she can attend -and bring offerings to- the engagement party, bridal shower, bachelorette party and wedding reception and being a woman who forces her of-varying-size friends to all wear the same style of bridesmaid dress.

Unless the 1-10 closest friends who are to flank this bride have identical figures (as was the case in my brother's wedding, so I do acknowledge that exceptions exist), thrusting the same dress upon each of them is, in my opinion, asking most of them and maybe all of them to commit a major figure-flattering offense.

And not just on that one day but forever in those wedding albums of theirs.

Now whether we're talking about strapless, halter, t-shirt sleeved, low-back, tea-length or any other kind of specialty cut, I think we can all agree none are universally flattering. What will look best on a petite woman with a large chest and skinny legs is bound to look awkward on a taller, broader girl with muscular calves.

I know I'm hardly the first person to recognize the injustice of forcibly wedging both a size-0 and a size-12 into the same empire-waisted strapless goddess gown, but considering that I'm still to this day shown windfalls of photos where all 1-10 women are wearing the same dress, I have to wonder why the modern bride hasn't become more...well, modern?

My advice, if you're not willing to be as hands-off a bride as Charlotte in her second walk down the aisle (Carrie, Miranda and Samantha each wore whatever they wanted), is to choose the color, outline the parameters (e.g., knee-length, matte fabric, no cleavage, etc.) but grant your bridesmaids the freedom to find the specific style that most flatters their figure. If one doesn't know how to make that determination, have your most attuned-to-proper-fit bridesmaid accompany her. Make clear to them you'll have the final say, perhaps even require an in-person fitting or a high-res photograph before the tags are cut, but at least in the beginning, give them the retail reins.

So there you have it, what I consider a bride's most gracious gift -- the gift of her friends' confidence intact.

If you're wondering how a topic like this landed on my usually anti-wedding radar, well, you've gotta do something while you're waiting in line for 40 minutes to buy a small container of guacamole and half-full bag of organic blue-corn chips at Whole Foods.

Why not eavesdrop?

(two women, mid-20s)

"Have you tried yours on yet?"

"Yeah, have you?"


(apprehensive) "What did you think?"

"What do you think I thought?"

"I have no idea why she chose that dress. It's so awful."

"It's beyond awful, it's ridiculous. It's a f**king ridiculous dress."

"It's one day, and then we can..."

"But the point is, for me to feel comfortable in that thing, I'm gonna have to lose like, five pounds. At least."

"Come on, it can't be that bad."

"When was the last time you remember seeing me wear a sleeveless anything? Anything? When??"

"Come on, it'll be..."

"The answer is 'never,' because I know my body and my body wasn't meant for something tight and strapless. Why, why would she do this to us? We're her best friends. I just don't get it."

"Because she's the bride and that's what brides do."

After this last sentence, I wasn't sure what I wanted to do more - run and kiss BridalBird for her decision to have only one, sisterly bridesmaid or to ask these two ladies for their friend's contact information so that she and I could have a serious sit-down.


Anonymous said...

Ok, I never comment (I left my Google reader page for you, Johanna!) but I have to say, why not go a step further? I got married this year and skipped the whole attendant thing entirely. I'm 30 years old, I don't need a bunch of women in matching dresses parading around to know they love me and support my marriage. Worked out fab, we all spent the day at the spa together, then I went and got ready with only my mother for company, and we all had a blast that night. Highly recommend for anyone on the verge of "going bridal!"

Brooke said...

Am I the only one who secretly dreams of being a bridesmaid but it never happens for me? So far my friends have had "sisters only" or no bridesmaids at all. To be included in something so special I would even wear an ugly dress. Paying for the ugly dress would be unfortunate though.

cynthia s. said...

if I could do it over again, I'd totally do it this way. or not have any as anon 1:52 did. I didn't find out until after the ceremony just how uncomfortable 2 of my 6 bridesmaids were. bless them, they grinned and beared it but years later, they told me (jokingly) how bad the dresses really were.

Anonymous said...

I could not agree more with anon 1:52 for skipping the whole bridesmaid concept in general.

N said...

Brooke, I think you really might be the only woman who dreams of being a bridesmaid. I was in three weddings in one summer and have the straight-edged strapless dresses in a palette of pastels in my closet to prove it.

Great post. I completely support choosing a color and letting the women choose the style that fits them best.

DC Newlywed said...

Apart from the dresses, I can't understand the women who have massive bridal parties. Do you REALLY feel THAT close to ten other women? And even if you do, don't you think it's a little tacky to have that many people crowded up front with you? We had 3: my sister, his sister, one friend. There's elegance in simplicity and minimalism!

jackie said...

Every time I pick up a face-up penny, I always wish for one thing:

to not be asked by another friend or family member to be a bridesmaid.

Brooke, you're all alone on this one.

Anonymous said...

Speaking of weddings, I saw the advanced screening of the "27 Dresses" and I nearly died laughing!

Brooke said...

I guess we always want what we can't have. When I first heard about the movie "27 Dresses" my first thought was, "Wow, she is so lucky! How does she have that many close friends?"

Ironically when I was married I didn't have any bridesmaids.

Kiki said...

I love my sister even more for allowing us to wear different styled dresses to her upcoming wedding. We're all incredibly different shapes and she gaves us 5great styles to choose from, all in a very flattering re-wearable dark blue color. Plus, the dresses are knee-length rather than long.

She even went a step further for me (the maid of honor) by allowing me to "Kiki-up" my dress by adding a sash with a cameo, just because it's more my style.

I know that I will be sure to return the favor when it's my turn.

dara said...

I'm in shock that there are four other women out there with your same figure and you were all in the same wedding! What are the odds?

I've been a bridesmaid on 5 occasions and crossing my fingers, I'm DONE. In addition to the headache of wearing (and paying for) a dress I hate, it's also such an expensive role to play. I've reserved one more walk down the aisle for my younger sister, but that's it.

junebride said...

I went for the: pick a dress in this color from jcrew.com approach, which worked well, but I wish I had just let them choose their own dresses entirely. My lesson: just because I have a "WASPy" figure doesn't mean my bestests aren't curvaceous Jewesses, whose lovely bossoms don't fit into jcrew's dresses. ANYWAY...

Brooke, you're not alone, I was just Matron of Honor in my bf's wedding and it really was one of the happiest days of MY life, too. I was so honored to be included with her sisters and other friends.
I can see how it can get out of control pretty quickly, though...

The bottom line on bridesmaids dresses, though, is the bride's going to like looking at her photos a lot more if her friends and family look happy and comfortable.

let this be a lesson said...

I was one of those girls who blew the doors off the barn with a stupidly huge wedding with 500 guests and 11 bridesmaids, and now I'm divorced.

At 28.

Let this be a lesson.

Next time, I'm doing it simple, simple, simple just like "dc newlywed."

ay said...

Brooke, you are so not alone. I have always dreamed of being a bridesmaid, as have a few of my friends. And I thought the same thing about 27 dresses.

Bridal Bird said...

It was one of the easiest decisions ever: all friends bitch about being bridesmaids + I generally like to keep my friends happy + I've never really seen the point of having a chorus line at the altar = ask only my sister to do the honors.

Plus she's a retail/fashion exec and makes more money than God, so she's the only person on the planet to whom I could say "Oh, whatever, just hit Chanel and come back with a dress," and not be murdered by eye daggers.

kathryn said...

junebride, my sister did the jcrew.com approach and I am also busty. My mother spent the entire wedding picking at my neckline; if she hadn't, I doubt anyone would have noticed it didn't fit well.

Anonymous said...

I actually like the dresses pictured in the post, particularly the variety of necklines. Where are they from?

Teek said...

I like being in weddings too, Brooke. I spent a freaking fortune on being my bestie's MOH but I would have been crushed if she didn't ask me to. I'd probably turn it down if it was someone I didn't love like a sister, though.

She was kind enough to say "something strapless and not-floor-length" in a specific bridesmaid designer color. (Which I kind of manhandled her into.) But it wasn't too much of a challenge as all of her 'maids were between a 2 and a 10, 5'6 or taller, and all pale white girls with brown hair. My dress was pretty flattering for a bridesmaid dress, but I still think it's too red and shiny and satiny to ever wear to a cocktail party.

I am totally doing the "eh, buy a x-color dress you love that isn't skanky and isn't from a bridal shop" when I get married.

BerryGirl said...

Brooke, as someone who has been a bridesmaid 7 times (and only 3 are still together), you really aren't missing out on too much. Here's another tip. The last one I was in, she let us pick from 5 different tops, so we could at least wear what looked best on us (her larger friend wore a shawl to cover her arms). Plus, she paid for them! Woo hoo!

Anonymous said...

I really hope some engaged brides to be are reading this post and these comments...

Righteous (re)Style said...

I think the wedding industry in the US is just ridiculous. All the expectations, all the comparisons with others' ceremonies, etc. It makes normally rational, intelligent women act like spoiled, selfish 10-year-olds. It seems such a waste, esp. when half the marriages end. The best wedding I ever went to was on a beach and had, like, 45 guests. Totally casual. Everyone knew everyone else. Best wedding. Ever.

Anonymous said...

I'm so sick of this idea that a bride has the right to be as bitchy and demanding as she wants simply because it's *her* big day. Those shows really glamorize it. This is a brilliant way for a bride to demonstrate her kindness, or graciousness as you put it.

freckledk said...

I've only been a bridesmaid once. Went right to the top as the "Maid of Honor." We were lucky enough to choose our own dresses. Our instructions were to find a black, long, evening gown.

Every bridesmaid looked her best, and had a dress in her closet that could be worn again and again.

Shar said...

I had my two bestfriends and two sisters-in-law-to-be as my wedding party. I chose the color and fabric, they chose the dress and shoes that they wanted. It worked out pretty well. I only had about 60 guests. To be honest, I would have preferred having about 15 people there total.

PS After 6 weddings, I hope never be asked to be a bridesmaid again.

Lady Tiara said...

i told my bridesmaids long and black. they were all grateful, and they all looked great. and not one of them chose strapless (in addition to being hard to wear, it's really boring in my opinion).

Anonymous said...

This is actually the first thing that's ever driven me to comment here, but I'm getting married this fall and had totally planned on going the everyone-choose-the-style-of-their-own-dress route. Since I'm the laziest bride ever, I'm glad for the chance to both make sure my bridesmaids have dresses they actually like and avoid the effort of finding a single dress that remotely works for everyone. I'm probably having everyone choose dresses in a specific color from http://www.ariadress.com/, which has lots of cute, non-fluffy styles.

Anonymous said...

Who makes the dresses pictured?

Johanna said...

If you can believe it, they're all the same dress!


Meg from The Bargain Queens & All About Appearances said...

When I got married, I told my bridesmaids that they could pick their own dresses, so long as they were long, formal, and hunter green. I think it worked out great. Plus, I know that at least one of them was able to wear their dress elsewhere.

I was almost a bridesmaid for a friend, but decided to decline the invitation because of the expense. Of course, the dress she had picked did make the decision easier.

Dave said...

Hunter green?

Meg from The Bargain Queens & All About Appearances said...

Yeah, that was our wedding color (with a few purple accents). It looked lovely -- and was so much more wearable than pink, orange, or baby blue.

Maxie said...

Ugh, I wish someone had told my sister this before she made me wear that horrid, unflattering thing she called a bridesmaid dress.

love the dresses but.... said...

Don't worry Brooke, I have always wanted to be a bridesmaid too!

Also, while I think the dresses pictured are beautiful (they were featured on DailyCandy awhile back), there is NO WAY that they fit everybody sized 0-16, especially those for whom a bra is not optional.

Anonymous said...

My wife and I each only had one person stand with us (both women), and they were both told to wear what they wanted (appropriate for a cocktail party).

I feel horrible for women who get sucked into this machine. That includes my wife both as a bridesmaid and for our own wedding. I had a tux made for me. Easy as pie.