We’ve all seen the movies.
In “27 Dresses,” Katherine Heigl parades around in a series of truly hideous bridesmaid dresses, each one puffier, shinier and more ungaptchka than the last. In “My Big Fat Greek Wedding,” the well-intentioned cousin reveals a sky-blue taffeta monstrosity with a mermaid frill and a plunging neckline.
So I knew when I was planning my wedding that the bridesmaids’ dresses would be a challenge. I had six women to please — my mother, three sisters and two best friends — not to mention little ol’ me. And it was a challenge, a challenge with a creative solution.
My search for the perfect dress had certain parameters:
1) It had to be pretty. I wanted my loved ones to feel beautiful. I didn’t want to punish them for being in my bridal party.
2) It had to be modest. My husband, Joel, and I got married in Lower Merion Synagogue, a Modern Orthodox shul near Philadelphia. That meant everyone had to wear hemlines past the knee, sleeves and no cleavage. (I put notes to that effect on our website and in our invitations.) Moreover, my sister Hannah who lives in the Israeli town of Beit Shemesh is more religious, so I had to be mindful of her comfort level.
3) It had to be affordable. My mom was buying my sisters’ dresses, and my friends were concerned with the price tag as well. And who could blame them? I had a friend, a fellow journalist, who was a bridesmaid at a swanky Connecticut affair. The bridesmaid dresses were $400 a piece — and the bride wanted each of them to kick in for $200 shoes. I wanted to be a tad more considerate than that.
4) It had to be readily available. My ’maids were scattered to the wind: My sisters Hannah and Aviva were in Israel, and my sister Zoe was in Philadelphia. My friend Hindy is out in Seattle, and my friend Paula is in South Jersey. I needed a dress they could all buy, so I turned to the Internet.
I quickly made myself cross-eyed trying to meet my own criteria.
The biggest obstacle was modesty. I looked at beautiful, affordable dresses all day long on sites like Nordstrom.com. But I realized that if the dresses had sleeves, they had a deep V-neck that showed off everything to the bellybutton. If the front actually covered your front, the dress was backless; and if the dress had sleeves and a proper neckline, then the hem was sky high. Lastly, if the hemline hit below the knee, then the gown was inevitably strapless …
On and on it went. It was as if all designers had the same set amount of fabric that they moved up or down. No matter what, plenty of skin was exposed.
I tried to think creatively. What about a bolero? (“What’s a bolero?” Joel asked when he oversaw the word in an e-mail. “It’s a fancy word for a small jacket,” I said.) Maybe the ’maids could wear them over strapless dresses — except for Hannah, who would have to wear a unitard to cover up the expanse between dress and neck.
Hannah said she was cool with that, so I considered a pretty adorable ’50s-style A-line, tea-length dress with a matching bolero at David’s Bridal, but it wasn’t quite my style. There was also a stunning Suzi Chin — pleated silver chiffon with a jeweled belt — that could be worn with a black jacket, but then my mom started insisting that floor-length is more elegant.
The hunt continued.
I stayed up late on the phone with Hannah in Israel or Hindy in Seattle, scouring the Web for the perfect dress. We compared fabric, cut and color for weeks, but we still had bupkis.
So I started Googling random terms: What about “Modern Orthodox bridesmaids dresses?” The gowns were too modest. They covered everything from clavicle to wrist to ankle, plus they were too expensive at $400 each. So, no and no. Same went for “Jewish bridesmaid dresses.”
“Tasteful bridesmaid dresses” were no better than the usual schlock.
But then Joel asked: “Why don’t you just Google ‘modest bridesmaid dresses’?”
And then it happened. Right at the top of my Google search was “Modest Bridesmaid Dresses: Latter Day Bride & Prom.” I clicked on it and almost cried. There were 13 pages of gorgeous, flattering dresses that managed to have sleeves, high necklines, backs and hemlines that hit below the knees every time. I was awe-struck.
It was so simple: Of course Mormons would have similar standards of modesty. Of course they wanted to feel pretty. And, apparently, they didn’t want to pay more than $250 for a dress. Hallelujah!!!
So I closed in. I got each of my bridesmaid’s eyes on the site, helping me pick a design. I called Utah and got free fabric swatches delivered to my house. Each dress comes in about 21 vibrant colors, and when I got the tiny squares in the mail, I couldn’t pick just one so I picked six.
On my wedding day, Aug. 12, 2012, my sisters and friends looked perfect.
The women wore cobalt, periwinkle, sky blue, dark purple and orchid, and my friend Ben (my honorary bridesmaid) wore a lavender tie. They coordinated beautifully. And because the women were all wearing the same dress, it all came together. The Latter-Day Bride even sent extra material to lengthen Hannah’s sleeves.
I know some brides just pick a color and let the ’maids take care of the rest. I know other brides like everyone in uniform. But for me, mail-ordering dresses from a Mormon website was the bizarre thing that pulled it all together. ✦