The ugly bridesmaid dress is a long-running joke among most women who have been in a wedding at some point or another. For me, the words generally conjure images of some bad 1980s-style get-up (much like an '80s prom dress), with big sleeves, pink lace, and lots of tulle, or, if I'm thinking about a specific dress, I usually harken back to my cousin's wedding, where the bridesmaids wore dresses with black velvet bodices, basque waists, poufy taffeta skirts that were shorter in the front and longer in the back in a teal/black color that changed as the light hit them, big teal butt bows, and sleeves that may have been stuffed with tissue paper. And of course, these dresses scream bridesmaid and could never, ever be worn again.
The obvious solution to me has always been to say no bridesmaid dresses at all. I'm not married, so I've never had a wedding, but it seems perfectly reasonable. After all, why force your friends or relatives to all wear the same thing? My friends are all perfectly capable of dressing themselves on a daily basis, it feels strange that if I decided to get married they suddenly wouldn't know what was appropriate. And it certainly seems wrong to dictate that adult women should have to wear the same clothing despite the fact that this never happens in real life and they have different body types, tastes and coloring.
Realizing that many modern brides find the tacky dress idea unpalatable, stores like J. Crew and Ann Taylor have come up with an alternative. Instead of having your bridesmaids trek to a bridal shop, try on one sample dress that isn't in any of their sizes, order dresses that take two to three months to arrive and get said dresses altered, these stores are offering off-the-rack styles that can be bought right at the store, or ordered online to arrive in a few days, rather than a few months. And to satisfy the brides who want to be "progressive" they offer a number of styles in the same color and fabric, so that different bridesmaids can wear different styles, but still compliment each other.
It's a great move, and one that I think has been pretty successful for these chains. However, it does worry me a little. Because I really like dresses.
These dresses are sold with the idea that they can be worn again. But now that they have become "bridesmaid dresses," can they really? Or has the definition of a bridesmaid dress now changed, meaning that these cocktail-type dresses are now bridesmaid dresses, and therefore can't be worn to other occassions? Does this mean that I can't purchase the the short Sophia from J. Crew or the Chloe strapless from Ann Taylor? Will everyone know it was really intended as some uniform in a wedding party?
I'm hoping not. Otherwise, it will be a lot harder to find cute dresses to wear to events where one is expected to dress up. And perhaps most people don't look at the websites of these stores as often as I do, and won't even realize it if I am wearing something from the Ann Taylor "Celebrations" line. But every time I consider buying one of these for myself, there is a small fear that I will walk into a wedding as a guest and realize I am wearing the same exact dress as the bridesmaids.