Bridesmaids dresses from Frock n Fabulous, Dublin

The Vow

The new style rules for dressing bridesmaids

'Bridesmaid'. Two syllables that are likely to have one of two effects on you: pleasure, as you take on the role with relish, or utter and complete dread at the thought of being shoe-horned into a dress you would never, ever choose yourself.

If you fall into the latter of those two groups, there's good news ahead, because the new rules for bridesmaid dressing state that, well, there aren't really any rules. Anything goes (just about), as the desire for a chorus line of identical bridesmaids rapidly abates.

With 11 years in the business Aoife Collins, owner of Irish design studio Dresscode (dresscode.ie), has seen a definite shift in what bridal parties are looking for. "What we are seeing is people choosing the same fabric but in three different styles," she says. It's something her label caters to perfectly - Dresscode designs and makes all its garments in its Dublin studio offering an array of simple, elegant gowns in a wide variety of colours and fabrics. The result is a tonal, aesthetically pleasing bridal party that isn't forcing a square peg into a round hole, or a pear-shaped figure into a frou-frou frock.

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The trend for mixing style or colour was undoubtedly popularised by the ubiquitous multi-way dress. For those not familiar, these dresses have a slinky skirt that drops simply from the waist with two long pieces of fabric that are twisted and tied to create a myriad of styles over the bust, including a Grecian-style draped gown, a halter neck, asymmetrical straps and even a strapless bustier. It is technically the same dress but with the ability to be styled differently for each body type. It is hardly cutting edge, but remains a perennial favourite of brides, with most retailers continuing to stock it for its sheer versatility.

Alongside mainstays like the multi-way, catwalk-inspired pieces are continuing to infiltrate the bridal sphere. Just a few seasons ago two-pieces were de rigueur and, unsurprisingly, the style has been a hit in bridal circles. Dresscode has a collection of two-pieces in its upcoming collection, while over at trendy boutique Folkster (folkster.com), owner Blanaid Hennessy see separates as a stylish solution when dressing a range of body types.

"Dressing different body shapes sometimes means one style of dress isn't going to suit all involved - however choosing separates or a mix of styles in a tonal colour range will make life a lot easier," she says.

Taking things one fashionable step further is the rise of the mix-and-match bridal party, wherein you might find one bridesmaid in a top and skirt, another in a cocktail dress, and another in a full-length gown. If this sounds confusing, it isn't, because the garments are made in the same fabrics. The result is more like a cohesive fashion collection rather than traditional bridesmaid party, and it's a trend that's set to only get bigger.

Boutique Frock 'n' Fabulous, based in Dublin city centre (frocknfabulous.ie), is one of the places stocking this popular style for the season ahead. "This spring/summer we have done some beautiful pieces where we kept the bronze and rose gold in the full sequin dress, and then mixed and matched a blush pink skirt with a sequin top, or a soft chiffon dress with a chiffon skirt and top," says owner Kara Maher. "That's a real mix and I think it's going to be big."

The popularity of separate mix-and-match pieces is obvious; rather than having another formal frock stashed in the back of the wardrobe, the two-piece gives you a dressy skirt you can wear out at night and a smart top you can pair with jeans. It's indicative of a wider trend retailers are seeing for versatility in bridesmaid attire: it's becoming a priority when looking for a dress that the bridesmaids can wear it again.

"You want a dress that isn't going to hang in a wardrobe afterwards," says Jillian Bolger, editor of Irish Brides. She points out that 'wear again' factor is leading to bridesmaids dresses now being bought in high-street stores. "There is such a fabulous selection of off-the-peg bridesmaid dresses on the high street," Bolger says, adding that "go back 10 years you really only had Coast, and you'd go in and there was the risk that your guests might end up in the same dress."

So why would a bride want to take that risk now? "What you're getting is more of a party dress, so it's the kind of dress you could even wear to somebody else's wedding as a guest after wearing it as a bridesmaid, or you could wear it to a Christmas party or an awards do," says Bolger.

There's no doubt high-street dresses are both stylish and can be more budget-friendly, but often it's the level of service bridal parties get from independent boutiques that keep these retailers busy. "We consider our team to be stylists and concierges to our bridesmaids groups," says Hennessy. "We've been so lucky to have received wonderful feedback for the time and energy we show to our customers, and we take a lot of pride in making sure they are happy."

At Dresscode, Collins sees their level of craftsmanship as paramount to the service they offer. "We offer our clients a service that you just can't get on the high street," she says, adding that with Dresscode gowns "there is so much work done even before it's made that often at the very end there's very little left to do."

At Frock 'n' Fabulous, with their dedicated appointment-only bridesmaid boutique downstairs, it's the overall experience they offer clients that sets them apart from chain stores. After all, there are few times in a woman's life she will be shopping for such a special dress, and often it's the lead up to the day - including the time spent trying on frocks with your nearest and dearest - that's as special as the wedding itself.

No matter what style of dress a bride wants, however, there is one thing that will inevitably decide where she shops - her budget. Finding a dress that is both stylish, good quality and easy on the pocket can be tricky enough when shopping for yourself, but doing so for a group of women with different body shapes is often what makes the task of bridesmaid dress shopping so daunting. So, just how much are we willing to shell out on a bridesmaid frock?

Dresscode gowns are priced between €250 and €330, including custom fitting, and it would be easy to spend more than that on the high street for a dress that might still need alterations. Frock 'n' Fabulous dresses are priced between €160 and €450, with Maher adding that "60-70pc of our dresses would be in the €250-€300 price bracket because that would be the most budgeted figure that we would be given from our brides."

As the economy continues to creep upward, Collins notes the size of bridal parties are also burgeoning. "Five years ago it was one to two bridesmaids but now, it's absolutely four or five. I think it's a trend we are seeing from America."

Perhaps Solange Knowles' iconic bridal party photo with no less than 10 women, including big sister Beyoncé, has some influence here? While most won't have a Beyoncé-sized budget, Bolger has no doubt that post-recession weddings are bringing back bling - she predicts the return of the black-tie wedding for 2017. "I think we are going to see black tie back again because the economy has picked up. Black tie went out of fashion really with the economic downturn and it was maybe a little bit flashy."

And with black tie inevitably comes the black frock. Black and navy were big hits this season. Hennessy says: "It's certainly a growing trend here in Ireland - though it is already huge in the States. We see it mostly for either a black tie or Christmas wedding. It's an incredibly elegant look, and the bridesmaids love that they will more than likely get to wear the gown again for other events."

If you are surprised by the popularity of black at a wedding, then sit tight, because Bolger predicts the rise of all-white or cream bridal parties. Yep, that's right - bridal's last taboo has been broken.
"Traditionally you wouldn't dare to try and upstage the bride as a guest, it was frowned on if you wore white to a wedding," she says. "But nowadays there's been some really beautifully styled weddings where there's two or three bridesmaids in a cream or a white or a neutral. It's not the same colour as the bride's dress but it's on the palette. It looks so striking and classy in the photos and I think it shows a real confidence on the part of the bride."

Accessories have traditionally played support to the dress, and there is no indication that big, bold accessories are about to take over. Jewellery remains simple, perhaps a pearl-drop earring or gold chain. Metallic still reigns supreme when it comes to shoes, with bronze, rose gold and silver popular choices.

Perhaps the most surprising trend to emerge is bridal parties ditching their bouquets for bags. "Bridesmaids are carrying clutches now. I've seen weddings where they haven't had bouquets at all, they have really cool bags," says Bolger. "It's much more practical. The thing gets dumped straight after the ceremony, it's not like it gets tossed. The clutch is much more useful."

So there you go. In 2017, anything really does go when it comes to bridesmaid dressing. Rather than focussing on creating an identical line-up of bridesmaids, versatility, comfort and individual style is the order of the day.

And if you still have any doubts about dowdiness, then Bolger's favourite bridesmaid look of 2016 should put any fears to rest. She describes three bridesmaids in floor-length, princess-style tulle gowns, each paired with a boxy silver sequin T-shirt and a hint of midriff, proof that bridesmaid dressing has officially become fashionable and most importantly, very, very fun.

5 top bridesmaids looks for 2017

Mix and match

It's predicted to be one of the biggest trends for the year ahead, and the best news is you are guaranteed to compliment every bridesmaid's figure. Choose one or two fabrics and go for a mix of short and long dresses plus separates for the whole bridal party. Dresses, pictured main,

frocknfabulous.ie

Rustic rose

 

It's shabby chic for the 21st century. Forget doily-esque lace and go for fresh, crisp cut-outs with warm rustic tones like deep peach, rose gold, bronze and cream. Pink dress, €320, Three Floor at Arnotts.

White or cream

 

Don't be afraid to create an all-white or cream bridal party. It's one of the most striking looks to emerge and it's bound to be the next big thig. Go for a colour slightly different to the bride's dress and get ready for some seriously stunning results. Cream dress, €157, Biba at House of Fraser.

Black tie

 

You can go all-out glitz with this one, so opt for full-length gowns in bold jewel colours or seriously decadent embellishment in short, red-carpet worthy frocks. Gold dress, €155, Monsoon.

Midi length

 

Ideal for a more casual wedding aesthetic, short dresses can be just as elegant as floor-length frocks.

Midi-length gowns take inspiration from the catwalk, à la Victoria Beckham, while Self Portrait does some beautiful midi-lengths in modern lace. Blue dress, €295, Self Portrait, Brown Thomas.