bridesmaids in gold
The Camera Wedding Photography & Cinematography

Thinking of letting your bridesmaids wear whatever bridesmaid dress they want? Read this first.

Asking a friend to be your bridesmaid may seem innocent enough at first, but as the wedding planning wears on, both bride and ‘maid will likely discover that there’s a lot more expected of the position than bustling a gown before the dancing begins. Parties to throw, mothers to soothe and meltdowns to mediate over Gchat, for example. You may feel overwhelmed asking your friends to sign their lives away for this level of apprenticeship. I know I did. So to prevent anyone from complaining right off the bat, I decided to give them the option to wear whatever bridesmaid dress they wanted. It felt like a genius way to circumvent any accusation of Bridezilla-ness. And a cure-all for the stereotypical Pepto-pink topiary frocks that stalk every ‘maid’s worst nightmares. What could possibly go wrong?

I gave my girls a liberal color palette (“dusty pastels”), told them whatever they chose should be floor length, and turned them loose. In turn, every 'maid would look and feel her best, and most importantly, they’d all love me for being so chill. Only, it didn’t work like that. My girls were overwhelmed by choice, and stressed because I’d passed onto them one of my own huge planning responsibilities. Heavy anxiety, frantic emails, and a whole lot of purchasing and returning ensued.

Thinking of trying the choose-your-own-look trend for your own crew? This isn’t to say that they don’t have any interest in it, or that it’ll never work. What I am saying is that now that I’m on the other side, I’d do things a little differently, so my friends could enjoy their freedom, not freak out over it. Some pointers:

Feel out who wants more direction, and who wants less.
Some of your ‘maids might love shopping. To others, it might be as pleasant as a trip to an igloo gyno. Not to mention, shopping for formal wear is a very singular type of hell. If this is really meant to be a personal experience for each woman, treat it like one. Give the shopaholics a looser leash and let them go wild on ASOS.com, but shepherd the fearful through a mimosa-fueled afternoon at BHLDN, complete with your own mild-mannered stylist named something forthcoming, like Emma.

Start a Google Doc with inspiration.
Even if you’re giving them all this freedom, it’s still a gracious gesture (and sort of your job, sorry!) to get them started with some options, both to show them your vision and to just plain help them out if they feel stuck. My brilliant friend Sophia had this idea late in the game, when we were approaching my wedding day and half my maids were liable to show up nude due to my laissez-fail. Soph took charge by rounding up affordable dresses, separates and jumpsuits in all the right colors, annotating them with descriptions and compiling them into a group email. It helped get everyone moving in the right direction. My reco? Start one of these before you even ask your bridesmaids at all! The shock of “Go your own way!” will be less crazy-sounding if they have a treasure-trove of inspo links to peruse right out of the gate.

Don’t say “I don’t care.”
It is SO tempting to use these three words liberally as your bridechilla get out of jail free card when the going gets tough. I said it a lot to my maids when they asked for certain outfit permissions (“Is this too shiny?” “Can I wear pants?”). I didn’t mean it in a mean way, but to say: “You have ultimate freedom because I love ya!” Still, it definitely didn’t come off that way. In all cases, “I don’t care” comes off like you don’t care. Your bridesmaids care enough to ask questions to make sure they’re doing what you want, and it’s your job to care back. This is your wedding, and it’s about you. You have to care. That’s why anyone is doing any of this at all, girl!

Don’t forget your ‘maids have lives.
You wanted to give them free reign to seem laid back, right? So why is dress hunting for your wedding turning into a second job for your friend Jess and giving her an ulcer? Remember—the upside of matching dresses that you choose is that your bridesmaids don’t have to even think about them. Or spend weekend after weekend hunting for one in the perfect shade of greige. When asking your girls to pick their own look, be sure to be available 24/7 to offer assistance, opinions, store recos, and anything else that can streamline the process and get them back to their lives. They care about what they wear, but they want to please you more than anything. And in as little time as possible.

Scrap it if it isn’t working.
Like so many parts of planning your big day, you had a big, wonderful, sunshine-y idea on how this whole thing would go down: Your ‘maids would have the best time picking their outfits, be amazed by how chill you are, nominate you for an actual Nobel Peace Prize, coordinate flawlessly on your wedding day, your wedding day would be 75 degrees and sunny and you’d get on every blog! But here’s something to remember during your planning journey: So many things will not go as you planned them. And if the choose-your-own-fashion-adventure thing implodes on day 14, and seems like it’ll be an uphill battle from then on, just… ditch it. That’s OK! You’re the boss! That doesn’t mean everyone suddenly has to dress like a Disney princess. There are still lots of very cool coordinating bridesmaids options out there, and everyone will breathe a chiffon-fluttering sigh of relief once the dresses are ordered and they’re one step closer to that glittering promised land: Open Bar.

All joking aside—this can work out, and should work out, because the results are beautiful! At my wedding, seeing my bridesmaids’ looks come together as a group for the first time was one of the most exciting moments. Everyone looked gorgeous, and I felt confident knowing they felt confident. My maid of honor wore pants, and people are still talking about how stunning she looked. And in my photos, each woman shines in her own spectacular way.

So, you want the real takeaway? Your bridesmaids are actually your friends. Your sisters. Cousins. College roomies. Forget your “Must never be bridezilla!” obsession, and make it a priority to always treat your bridesmaids like the friends and family they are. If you keep that in mind, you’ll make no mistakes at all. And on your wedding day, everyone will look (and feel) absolutely perfect.