Why Are Bridesmaid Dresses So Ugly: A Cultural History

Why Are Bridesmaid Dresses So Ugly: A Cultural History

March 4, 2022
By Erin Clark

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We are going to start this article by saying two things. First, to the brides: don’t feel attacked. We love you and want all the happiness in the world for you. So understand that we say this with love. Second, to the bridesmaids: we know what you’ve been through. And we are here for you.

Now we need to ask a question: why do you hate us?! We are your best friends, and we hold your dress when you pee. Why did you put us in seafoam green with a hoop skirt and bows?

Kidding. We are kidding. But let us not forget the infamous line from The Wedding Planner: “teal, the color of gangrene.”

When the tradition of bridesmaids started out, it was for survival. Seriously, there are real reasons why brides need their girls (we’ll be getting into these a little more later). Over time, the tradition has evolved. Bridesmaids still take care of their bride, but brides are doing those bridesmaids dirty.

So let’s address that wedding elephant in the room: those hideous bridesmaid’s gowns. Settle in, this is going to take a while.

What Good Are the Maids?

The tradition of bridesmaids has been around since ancient Rome. Today, bridesmaids dress alike to help the bride stand out. Then, brides wore the same exact dresses as their bridesmaids. Why? To confuse evil spirits and would-be wedding spoilers. Most weddings at that time were arranged by parents, so any jealous potential suitors needed to be fended off.

Want to know why he’s called the best man? It was the man the groom picked to help those maids in case any rival suitors came calling. He was considered the best fighter or shooter in case a battle started. Really gives new meaning to the term ride-or-die, doesn’t it?

Why Has It Gone So Wrong?

The 70s, 80s, and early 90s brought some questionable fashion choices anyway. But none so questionable (and funny) as those about dreading that bridesmaid dress. Raise your hand if you remember that scene in Friends when Rachel’s dress gets caught in her underwear. Now raise your hand if you laughed at the panties but cringed inside because you had flashbacks to your own bridesmaid moment.

Most of us have been there and some of us are getting ready to be there for the first time. Either way, if you’ve been personally victimized by Regina George a bride, we know your pain.

What Do We Think?

We know that the day is all about the bride. She’s the most important person in the room, and we love this journey for her. But was it too much to ask not to parade us around and thoroughly embarrass us too? For decades, the whole idea was that the bride needed to stand out and look the best. So naturally, that meant making the bridesmaids look a little lackluster.

The tradition of dressing bridesmaids in crazy outlandish garments stemmed from the necessity to help the bride look their best. It’s their day and we just want to be good friends, we feel the same way. So just remember that plastic pink floor-length ball gown when it comes time to plan your own wedding.

How Did This Happen?

Our biggest question remains: why are you doing this to us? What if all of the bridesmaids are single? How will they ever meet their soulmate at your wedding when you have dressed them in head to toe lime green? They look like Kermit the Frog. Unless someone comes dressed as Miss Piggy, we don’t expect to see any sparks flying.

We all can’t help but wonder about the day brides everywhere get their pictures back. Will they notice how bad their girls look? Will they actually stand out from the sea of electric blue taffeta standing behind them? If you have any memories of wearing horrible bridesmaid dresses, please let us know. We want the photographs that prove this actually helps brides look the best at their wedding day.

From our point of view, we worry about the day some innocent child gets ahold of a wedding photo and asks what those women were wearing. In fact, because that would be so funny, we encourage some more questionable choices from the brides.

Kidding ladies, but you can see why that would be funny right?

What’s Also Going On?

The tradition of dressing bridesmaids in crazy outlandish garments stemmed from the necessity to help the bride look their best

We aren’t defending these style choices by any means, but some of these dresses aren’t that bad. The problem comes when you choose that same gown about six times over to accommodate that many bridesmaids. One long sleeve high-neck green gown might be ok. But when you parade out woman after woman wearing the same dress, it becomes a little less than appealing.

So what do we think is happening? We think brides are searching the racks for that perfect gown to compliment their own. She finds it, falls in love with the style, and tells each girl to pick theirs up. But what isn’t she doing? Have all the women get together and wear them first.

That scene in Bridesmaids when all the women come out and model their choice. If more brides had a moment like that you might have seen less heinous fashion catching on through the years. While the moment a bride finds her dream dress has always been one shared with friends and family, many times the bride was left to just pick something for the bridesmaids. It was good practice to just let her choose.

So What Do We Really Think?

What do we think actually happened to spark an ugly dress trend? We assume, maybe hope, that the trend started out of innocence. Someone out there found some crazy, wild, over-the-top gown and actually liked it. Thought, this is what my girls should wear on my big day. Then bought four of them in matching colors and handed them out with pride. We wish we could have been there for this moment.

We can only assume that someone attending their wedding must have been horrified at first watching those women file out slowly in those gowns. Can you imagine the shock and awe of that day when those dresses saw the light of day for the first time? Someone didn’t just see something surprising. Someone out there saw something revolutionary and inspiring.

One guest must have been engaged herself or close to it. Saw how terrible these dresses were, but saw how great the bride looked and thought, brilliant. She was given the inspiration that day then and there to have her own gang of poorly dressed women waltz down the aisle in front of her.

Where Did It All Go?

Thankfully, we’ve come out the other side of this trend. Bridesmaids are no longer dressed up to look like Bo Peep at weddings. Brides are realizing two facts. One, that no matter how gorgeous your friends are, everyone at the wedding is there to see you. Second, you have to hold onto these memories forever, you might as well enjoy the evidence (ie: those pictures you display all over).

Brides have come to realize that the gowns they choose for their friends will be worn all night and shown off throughout the wedding. Why not give your wedding some better aesthetic with gorgeous bridesmaids’ gowns?

With the styles getting better and better over the years, we all sleep better at night. We know that eventually our friends will get engaged and we are up for one of those coveted bridesmaid positions. So thankfully for us, brides now compete for the best bridesmaids’ dresses instead of the worst.

If You Need Some Clarification

We are just going to spell this out for the brides in the back: we want better! If you are thinking of having us in your wedding, please don’t make us look like gremlins. We want to stand behind you with genuine smiles on our faces. Seriously, those fake smiles look terrible in your pictures.

We are just going to spell this out for the brides in the back: we want better!

Please don’t do to us what some other bride might have done to you. We promise to return the favor when it’s our turn to get married. Whatever that favor might be is up to you now, but there could be a nice dress in your future if there’s one in ours!

If You Need Some Help

Maybe you’re a bride that just doesn’t know what looks good, or you don’t know what your girls want. Well, you’ve come to the right place. This section is all about giving brides and bridesmaids some styling do’s, so none of us end up with don’ts. It’s not easy picking styles that match the vibes of all our best ladies, so sit back and take notes.

Don’t Assume You Know Best

This is a hard one. It’s your wedding so yes, the final say should be in your hands. But just because you fell in love with a sheer high neck gown doesn’t mean every girl will look good in it.

Do Ask the Ladies Their Opinion

Getting the girls together for some celebratory brunch is a great way to break the ice about dresses. You can find out what they like and what they don’t like. It’s not easy finding one dress to rule them all, in case you weren’t sure what we mean, see Lord of the Rings. Those different realms tried it and, well, it didn’t go over too well.

By engaging the bridesmaids in a conversation about their own gowns, you’ll find out how everyone feels about what they want to wear. We aren’t saying you have to give overall control to them, but hear them out so everyone feels good about the choices.

If you do have your heart set on one specific dress, maybe see which girl likes it as well. It could be something that makes the maid of honor stand out by wearing it, or you end up with each girl wearing a different dress in the same color. While we do recognize it’s your day and you should ultimately be happy and get the final say, let your ladies have a voice too.

If you need a place to start, here are a few styles we love:

Don’t Just Copy What You See

Just because you saw an article with a “fashion-forward” bridesmaid dress trend in it doesn’t mean you should copy it. Sometimes editorials are a little wild for the artistic direction. It doesn’t always translate to real-life as well.

The same goes if you attend a wedding and a bride has gone really avant-garde with her outfit choices. It might not look the same if replicated because your personality and those of your bridesmaids don’t fit as perfectly into this narrative.

Do Take the Inspiration

What you should be doing is taking those ideas as inspiration. Take note of the styles and colors and find gowns that work better for you and your bridal party. The goal is to be original, so copying exactly what you see might come off as inauthentic. It’s your wedding day, showcase your true personality through your style and decor. And make sure to do the same for your bridal party.

Here are a few unique styles to get the creative juices flowing:

Just Say No to Ugly Dresses

Even if it’s tempting, we hope you had fun today and learned a thing or two about bridesmaids’ dresses. Remember that you won’t exactly stick out for the right reasons by making them dress wild, so dress everyone well to ensure that your wedding is flawless. We don’t want to throw out the word bridezilla, so don’t make us!

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