A wear-it-again bridesmaid dress used to be as rare and mythical as a golden unicorn, and the source of unending frustration. Thankfully, many dresses now are more casual and do actually allow for a wear-again option, and many brides are allowing their bridesmaids choose their own dresses, which vastly increases the odds that you can choose something with a wear-it-again possibility.
I picked a red strapless dress for this “before” look, because red is a popular dress color for weddings especially in fall and winter (Fun fact: I wore red in nearly every wedding I was in). This strapless style is a very common bridesmaid dress silhouette.
Dress style D616 by Alfred Sung in Garnet at Weddington Way |Jeweled Pearl Earrings from J.Crew | Carollee Gold Pearl Necklace | J.Crew Metallic Leather Gold Sandals| Bouquet via Brides Photographed by Yasu + Junko Floral Design by Nicolette Camille Floral Design
If your goal as a bride is to choose a wear-it-again dress for your bridesmaids, I suggest you start with the end in mind, and pick a dress that isn’t labeled as a bridesmaid dress. Choose a dress you can see your friends wearing to many events with some slight modifications. ModCloth and places like Nordstrom excel at this, but you can also find some great styles at bridesmaid shops. Here’s one idea from Weddington Way, and another that I can see having a long life as a go-to-cocktail dress for any event, I also love this one from BHLDN. Here are few more ideas that come in several other colors:
Fabric is a huge consideration when assessing a wear-it-again possibility. Silk, satin, and some types of chiffon are inherently special occasion fabrics, but colored lace, eyelet, cotton, seersucker, jersey, or rayon can live other lives. Picking a dress with a print and texture is another way to make sure the dress will have a life after the wedding. Color is also a big factor, since a little black dress or navy dress can go places that a custom shade of lavender cannot. Style and length are is also something to observe, because there are just some silhouettes that seem bridesmaid-y like satin strapless or empire waist gowns. Naturally, there will be more opportunities to wear a cocktail dress again than a formal gown, and dresses with cap sleeves, long sleeves, and flowy modern shapes always seem more likely to be worn again. No matter what, there are some dresses that just won’t lose the air of having been in a wedding. For those, I suggest you donate them to either Goodwill, to places that seek prom dress donations, or sell it on eBay. Perhaps another bridesmaid somewhere is looking for that exact dress, wishing she didn’t have to pay full price!
If you’re not there yet, and really want to repurpose that bridesmaid dress, here are my guidelines to get you closer to that goal. Here are two examples, that I thought were reflective of common bridesmaid dress styles. I’ll show you how to rework one by one with dressing it up for a holiday party or winter semi-formal event, and the other by taking a black tie bridesmaid look and making it suit a beach wedding guest.
After the wedding. This red bridesmaid dress styled this way, can now go to a holiday party. You could even add a black shrug and sash to make it lose all traces of wedding-wear. Details:
Dress style D616 by Alfred Sung in Garnet at Weddington Way | Tom Binns Dumont Noir Crystal Earrings | Sabine Black and Clear Flower Necklace | Schutz Floralite Pump | Urban Originals Ella Striped Sequin Clutch
I’ve seen some suggestions that you can wear it again simply by “dress down” your dress by throwing on a cardigan sweater or denim jacket, with casual accessories. While I agree with some of this theory I’m not sure I know many people who would wear such a disparate mix of casual and dressy, or would have the kind of social engagements that would allow for it. I’d suggest that you embrace the idea you may not be wearing this bridesmaid dress out for weekend drinks; instead, you’re going to have to wait it out and wear your dress to an event that is almost as dressy as the wedding you were originally in.
What kind of event would that be? For starters–another wedding, a holiday party, a dressy work or charity event, or a special date for Valentine’s Day or festive social event.
If you don’t mind making a little more investment, or are handy with the sewing machine, you can also tailor away some of the bridesmaid dress giveaways. Perhaps your tailor can take the hem on your strapless dress and use it to make some spaghetti straps, or take in the skirt so that it isn’t as full. Another option is to change the neckline; add a deep-neck, or turn a squared off neckline into a more open scoop. If it just isn’t working, perhaps you can have the seamstress add an overlay of some sheer fabric over the bodice to change the look (like this), or lop off the top and make the lower half a party skirt. Is there a big brooch, belt, or sash you can add that minimizes some of the cookie-cutter bridesmaid qualities? Can you dye the fabric? Keep thinking of ways to rework it, and you might surprise yourself!
You might be asked to wear this look as a bridesmaid in a formal wedding. See below for how you can wear it to a beach wedding as a guest later!
Jim Hjelm Chiffon Gown Style 5379 in Cobalt at Weddington Way | Givenchy Hematite Earrings at Macy’s | Crystal Necklace by J.Crew | Blue and White Bouquet via Brides Photographed by Diane Fields Zeze Flowers | Strappy Stella Sandals by Ann Taylor
Even if you don’t do a thing structurally, accessories can go a long way. While it can be easy to assume that you should dress down the accessories, I actually think dressing a dress up more can also work. Once your ditch the bouquet, at least some of the bridesmaid effect wears off, but you also need to counteract other “wedding standard looks” to remove any trace of bridesmaid-ness. By this I mean, if you were wearing small pearl studs, a pearl necklace and gold pumps, now pick the exact opposite of that : bold statement earrings, statement necklace, non-dyed to match shoes. Try some tights with closed toe pumps or flats. Adding an edgy geometric piece or layered necklaces, bracelets and rings can also take away from the softness of the look and make it more everyday.
With some beaded jewelry, dangling earrings, and a big, bold necklace, this dress is on its way to being less formal and more appropriate for wedding guest wear. Add some casual sandals, and a woven bag and this look is ready to take this former bridesmaid and make her a well-dressed beach wedding guest.
Jim Hjelm Chiffon Gown Style 5379 in Cobalt at Weddington Way | Alexis Bittar Golden Vine Earrings | Panacea Fringe Beaded Turquoise Necklace | Bamboo Stacking Bracelets from The Limited | Weave Around Blue Print Clutch | Snakeskin Wedges by Rachel Zoe
My last tip is about hair and makeup. A well-coiffed up-do is so often a part of a bridesmaid look, so if you can, wear your hair in a relaxed way, and keep your makeup more casual too. If all else fails, just throw on that denim jacket and work the mixed textures, but otherwise, I hope a few of your bridesmaid dresses might find a new life!
Until next time, Bayside Brides!
Sukey at Dress for the Wedding