You whittled down your social circle into the perfect wedding party and now it’s time to decide what everyone’s going to wear. While it’s not necessary for the wedding party to wear matching outfits, many couples like to achieve a cohesive look. Traditionally, bridesmaids wear the same dress or outfit. This helps the bride stand out, makes for cohesive photos, and also helps other wedding guests identify the members of the wedding party. However, many couples are loosening the reins and even letting bridesmaids choose their own dresses. There are a few benefits to this—and, of course, a few downsides. Here’s everything you need to know to achieve the look you want.

Why would I let my bridesmaids choose their own dresses?

We get it: It’s your wedding and it can feel easier to maintain control and just put your girls in the same dress. There are some pluses to giving your bridesmaids this freedom, though.

  • Comfort. Anyone who’s ever been a bridesmaid (or dress shopped for that matter) understands that being assigned a specific dress isn’t ideal. What works for one body doesn’t necessarily work for another and the potential resulting discomfort of a unified bridal party look can leave your bridesmaids feeling meh. If they can choose their own dresses, they can seek out styles and cuts that flatter their figures.
  • Confidence. In that same vein, when you look good, you feel good. Let your bridesmaids choose dresses they love (or at least feel comfortable in) and they’ll radiate confidence, not discomfort on your wedding day.
  • Price. Money is often one of the biggest pain points for bridal parties. It’s expensive to be a bridesmaid! You don’t have to worry about settling on a price point that fits into everyone’s budget (or feeling guilty for choosing expensive dresses) if you let your bridesmaids choose their own dresses.

Couldn’t this go a little off the rails?

Definitely. Offering your bridesmaids free rein to choose their outfits for your wedding is nerve-wracking. You don’t want to end up with an entirely mismatched situation (unless you do!). There are some cons to letting your bridesmaids choose their own dresses.

  • Cohesion. Obviously, if you let your bridesmaids choose their own dresses they won’t, well, wear the same dress. If you really want a traditionally cohesive look, maybe reconsider this route.
  • Confusion. Too much of anything isn’t great—the same is true for bridal party freedom. Without any guidelines at all, you may find yourself answering a lot of texts about what’s OK and what’s not—from materials to color to price to length and more.

INLINE LillianPrincePhotography 1080x720 Rachel&Joey Photo Credit // Lillian Prince Photography

Guidelines for Letting Bridesmaids Choose Their Own Dresses

Make the dress hunt easy for your bridesmaids and yourself by being clear about what you really do and don’t want.

Do: Be specific.

Sure, you told your girls you wanted everyone in seafoam green. Great! No, not great. When we say be specific, we mean be specific. If you have a look in mind, be clear about that. Here are some details you may want to be extra clear about:

  • Dress color. If you have a dress color in mind, that’s great. However, what looks mauve to one person may be more pale violet to another. Picking a single color can make it difficult for bridesmaids to find dresses in the exact same shade from different vendors. Consider putting together a color palette of 3-4 complementary colors for your bridesmaids to choose from. or offer up a few vendors you’d like for them to order from.
  • Length. Some brides don’t mind a variety of hemlines—floor-length, knee-length, mini, midi, etc. If you want all of your bridesmaids in the same length dress, let them know. Alternatively, if you really don’t mind different lengths, let them know that, too.
  • Material. Satin, chiffon, charmeuse, taffeta—the world of dress materials is vast. If all of your bridesmaids are wearing the same exact color, dresses in different materials can be a nice way to add some dimension to the look. However, too many materials can also be a bit distracting. If you don’t want anyone in a jersey knit, make that clear.
  • Style. By this, we mean the level of formality. If you’re having a black-tie wedding, you may not want your bridesmaids in semi-formal dresses. Be sure to outline the dress code clearly.

Clarity is key. Before you tell your bridesmaids they can choose their own dresses, come prepared with your own suggestions and requirements.

Do: Make it a group activity.

Why not make a day out of dress shopping? Go to brunch and then hit the stores. Keep it simple and have a couple of boutiques picked out for the shopping expedition. Note: This may involve making appointments ahead of time. This way your bridesmaids can choose a variety of dresses and you can be there in person to share immediate impressions. Not only is this just a fun wedding party activity, but it also helps busier bridesmaids find time to shop and nudges along any that err on the side of procrastination.

If your bridesmaids don’t live in the same area or can’t make the shopping day, that’s OK. Consider scheduling a Facetime with them as they shop. You can also create a dedicated group chat (if you haven’t already) to dress shopping.

Do: A final check-in.

There are the hair and makeup trials, the catering and cake tastings, and, of course, the bridesmaid dress check-in. It’s always a good idea to get on the same page before anything is finalized. Make sure your bridesmaids run their final dress choices by you before they purchase. This way you can see if it fits into your ultimate vision or theme—and you eliminate any surprises and last-minute stress.

Give your bridesmaids an absolute deadline for their final dress check-in. It sounds like a bridezilla move, but, trust us, it benefits them, too. You want everyone to have ample time to either find a new dress or get any necessary alterations. We recommend scheduling your check-in for about seven months ahead of the wedding.

INLINE Inspiration&DesignPhotographu 1080x720 Ceasarine&Anthony Photo Credit // Inspiration Design Photography

Don’t: Forget about cost.

We like the idea that letting your bridesmaids choose their own dresses may remove some of the financial strain. We also like the idea of a bride providing a shortlist (3-5) of dress vendors for the bridal party to choose from. If you go this route, considering selecting some options you love in a variety of price ranges. Be considerate of your party’s financial situations—and be open to discussing it with any bridesmaid who may be in a tough spot.

Don’t: Disregard shoes and accessories.

Bridesmaid attire doesn’t end with the dress. Accessories are everything, especially if you’re going for a mismatched bridesmaid dress look. Choosing a pair of shoes or a specific shoe style and color is an easy way to bring cohesion to your bridal party. If you don’t have a shoe in mind, be sure to be clear about style. This way you avoid one girl in heels and another in flats. (If one of your bridesmaids needs to wear flats for a personal reason, though, we recommend hearing her out on that, of course.) Alternatively, you may want your bridal party in flats or sneakers. Again, just make sure you’re aligned.

Similarly, let your bridesmaids know what jewelry you do or don’t want them to wear. Traditionally, brides will purchase and then gift the jewelry they want their bridesmaids to wear. If you want to let them choose their own, that’s cool, too. Be sure, as always, to be clear about style.

Don’t: Get complicated.

Above all, letting your bridesmaids choose their own dresses shouldn’t be too complicated or stressful. In fact, it should potentially make things a little easier for you. These girls are your bridesmaids for a reason and they want to make your special day go smoothly. Trust that they’ve got this under control and really, truly, let them take the reins on this one. (Don’t forget to thank them for their hard work in the planning process, either.)

Who knows, they might even pick a dress they like so much, they’ll wear it again. Isn’t that the best-case scenario for any bridesmaid dress?