Pretty Maids All in a Row Bridesmaids' wear that goes well down the aisle and beyond aisle and beyond

April 29, 1993|By Vida Roberts | Vida Roberts,Staff Writer

We know why so many women cry at weddings. The wedding march tends to trigger relapses of bridesmaid depression -- memories of walking down the aisle in a puffy Little Bo Peep dress with a huge bow on the backside and a goofy hat-veil-flower thing perched on the head. Never mind the pain of dyed-to-glow satin pumps. These abuses were inflicted by our friend, The Bride. We've forgiven her, but we haven't forgotten.

As we move into the wedding season, we may notice that the women attending the bride are looking elegant, wonderful, beautiful. They may even be wearing dresses that could go out again -- understated and pretty, rather than leftovers from an "HMS Pinafore" production.

Of course, some brides are still opting for all-out fantasy, but more and more they are considering costs and their friends' sensibilities. Brides have matured and reality has entered the wedding picture.

Rachel Leonard, fashion editor of Bride's & Your New Home magazine, says the average age of brides today is 24, as opposed to 22 a decade ago, and the bridal-wear market has started accommodating more sophisticated tastes. "Manufacturers are introducing a variety of looks, designing dresses that can and are worn again -- sheaths, two-piece suits, even separates that are easier to fit."

She says the shift has been noticeable for the past five years, and it has been a major move in the right direction. "Dresses are moving into a modern world -- clean, simple, very little trim and beading. There is still some fantasy, which is appropriate to a wedding, but it does not take over.

"I think brides are a lot smarter now, more aware of fashion and finances, but they are still going to go for a real wedding. Some bridal houses have very good looks at a good price. There are plenty of dresses out there in the $200 range which are competitive with department store prices in terms of chic evening wear," says Ms. Leonard.

The working bride has accepted more responsibility. In these recessionary times, many parents are being rescued from the Big Wedding Money Pit by daughters who have going careers and appreciate the value of a dollar. And the working bride is reluctant to ask friends to drop the better part of a week's pay on a dud dress.

Enter the bridesmaid dress with a future. Kelli O'Reilly, a fashion staffer at Bride's magazine who was the attendant at her mother's second marriage, said her bridesmaid role was easy. "I told her 'You're dreaming, Mom, if you think you're going to stick me in some frilly taffeta number.' I chose a green velvet suit which I've worn to parties and lent to a friend who wore it to an inaugural ball." That's about as easy as bridesmaiding gets.

As brides get older and wiser, they gain friends in the workplace and a wider social network. Today's wedding parties are not necessarily the same-age, same-interest sorority gaggle they once were.

Susan Wells, 29, who works as an operating room nurse at Johns Hopkins Hospital, will have in her wedding a matron of honor, maid of honor, five bridesmaids and two little flower girls. That means finding seven dresses to suit attendants who range in age from 13 to fortysomething and in size from a 4 Petite to a 12 Tall. And that's not counting the flower girls.

Ms. Wells sorted out the ages and sizes, and her attendants will be wearing navy blue evening suits of silk Shantung. The jacket with a white organza portrait collar with two small pearl and rhinestone buttons as the only trim. Very lovely and very current.

From a designer's perspective, dressing the more sophisticated bridal party is a pleasure and a challenge. It gets them out of the frou-frou rut and into real fashion.

Modern and smart are qualities designer Vivian Dessy Diamond espouses. "Brides have it in their heads that they want a formal look, so we do long with an option to cut to any length -- some will like them mid-calf, others above the knee -- any which way they want," says Ms. Diamond.

She says the biggest problem bridesmaids face is the bride. "What if she wants a pink wedding? You haven't worn a pink dress in your entire adult life and you're not about to."

She has seen some really bad styles, but says an off color can really ruin the look of a dress. "We do gold, navy, black -- colors that are translated from ready-to-wear. The worst thing that could happen is a wedding party in lime or powder blue -- nobody's colors."

She advises brides to think in terms of wedding pictures when they choose color. "An ugly dress in an ugly color will ruin any photo."

Her answer is rich color. "Deep colors look better, even on a less expensive fabric. They have a richness the pastels lack. Color will always come up better in a real silk taffeta."

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