keith beaty/torstar news service


The model’s tulle gown is by Badgley Mischka, $410; cashmere cardigan by Kumari’s, $350; Carole Tannenbaum Vintage Bridal Collection earrings, all available at White Toronto, 19 Hazelton Ave.


They are often the ugly stepsisters in a wedding fairy tale. Forced to wear a garish gown and ghastly makeup, hair piled in crunchy curls, bridesmaids must stand and smile next to a vision of perfection — the bride, the princess of the day.

Though every other detail of the special day is planned and executed to precision, why is it that the bridesmaids often end up looking like a frightful fashion moment?

Bridal magazines aren’t much help; those currently on the newsstands show a lack of style and fashion advice for matrimony’s supporting players. Cover lines breathlessly address everything for the big day regarding decoration, cakes, flowers, napkin folding and chairback covers.

Even the groom, that other supporting player, can find an array of sartorial info, from advice on choosing the right tux to whether berries make good boutonnieres.

This curious lack of editorial attention to bridesmaids is a reminder that they are mere pawns who should do and wear as they are told. Even the adage “always a bridesmaid, never a bride” seems designed to reinforce their inferior status.

With that in mind, local wedding experts have some style advice to ensure these essential secondary characters look their best on the big day, too.

The dress is often the most contentious issue, since bridesmaids are expected to pay for the dress, yet they often have no say in the style or colour and most likely will wear it only once.

“Bridesmaid dresses should be approached as fashion — as you would evening dresses. People always associate lots of rules and preconceived notions of what bridesmaids should wear,” says Andrea Anastasiou, owner of the bridal boutique White Toronto.

The tony Hazelton Avenue store has a bridesmaid department called The Loft that stocks dresses from labels such as Badgley Mischka, Thread, Jenny Yoo and Nicole Miller.

Anastasiou, a former fashion stylist, says some of the hot trends in maids’ dresses this season are the same ones that came down designers’ ready-to-wear runways: bubble hems, red carpet-like evening gowns and vintage looks from the ’20s and ’40s, all of which can be worn more than once.

Dressing all the bridesmaids in the same gown is a typical but unfortunate bridal decision.

It has a long history, dating back to Roman times, when the bridal party all wore similar clothing in the belief that it would confuse evil spirits.

“It’s rare that you will have seven girls where one shape looks great on all,” Anastasiou says.

If it’s the bride’s wish to go this route, Anastasiou says a classic, clean silhouette such as a strapless, A-line dress with a natural or drop waist works best.

“A girl size six or 16 can wear this style. It’s when you get into sleeves, straps and empire waists that it becomes tricky to find a dress to suit every shape.”

Black dresses are sometimes chosen in the belief that they are a safe choice and can easily be worn again.

But Anastasiou recommends this dark choice for venue-driven weddings.

“It works in the context of a black tie or very elegant wedding that might be at the Four Seasons, the AGO or at The Carlu.”

The flip side, white dresses for bridesmaids, is not only destination-driven but seasonal.

“White works for summer weddings in Muskoka or on beaches.”

But a white dress needs texture, she adds. Ruching at the waist, eyelet or other novelty fabrics differentiate it from a bride’s gown, she says. And metallic shoes, such as gold ones, can give it a strong finish, she adds.

Giving attendants a chance to pick some of their own fashion choices is also helpful, she notes.