For so many years, brides embarked upon the challenging task of finding a style of dress that would look good on all of their bridesmaids and inevitably zeroed in on solid-colored dresses in shades of pink and springtime yellow or wintry burgundy and black. That was all they saw in bridal gown shops, on designers' websites and in blogs.
But slowly, bridesmaid dresses in patterns began appearing in collections. They may have raised some eyebrows at first (Floral?), but now bridesmaids are thrilled to consider fashion-forward patterned dresses (Floral!). Today's floral-patterned cocktail dresses, so pretty in banners topping bridal blogs, are ever more wearable than a full-length peach gown.
Bridesmaids, after all, have two goals for their $150-plus gowns: They want to look terrific, and they want to wear that dress again -- and again. The Wedding Report, a bridal industry survey company, says that most bridesmaids wear their dresses an average of two to five times after the wedding, and a floral or patterned dress is perfect for repeat use as-is or cut down from full length to a flirty cocktail or mini dress.
Investment maximizing aside, patterned dresses can be very flattering. In its "Tip of the Day" column (written by yours truly), Bridal Guide magazine recently posted on its website the following beneath a photo of bridesmaids in stylish, vertical-lined soft green, gray and ivory cobra prints: "Allowing bridesmaids to wear ultra-trendy patterned dresses can deliver an added benefit: Vertical patterns are slimming! So look for longer pattern lines that your bridesmaids will love wearing."
Here are some of the top looks in patterned bridesmaid dresses:
--Florals: These bridesmaid gowns in white and pastels showcase hundreds of small flowers such as roses, lilies or irises along with greenery tendrils and leaves. In a bolder trend, floral patterns feature oversize blooms such as hibiscus flowers that are 1 foot or more in height and width. There may be several of these big blossoms around the skirt, with the top of the dress left a solid color to avoid being "too much." And for island-based destination weddings, tropical flower motifs are a hit.
--Hummingbirds: For a garden wedding, patterned bridesmaid dresses include flowers and the pretty little creatures who inhabit gardens, such as hummingbirds, which is a top motif for the coming year.
--Polka dots: Preppy polka dots also have a place in the patterned bridesmaid dress realm, with tiny white dots on a dress of any color. And a unique twist on the black-and-white wedding brings white dresses with little black polka dots. This is an immensely re-wearable style, especially in cocktail length. And for nautical weddings, navy and white dotted dresses are pure class.
--Stripes: Speaking of nautical themes, bridesmaid dresses in wide light-blue and white vertical stripes say nautical chic. Blues are best for this pattern because pinks can look a bit too girly and costumey. One bride looked at a pink-striped dress for her bridesmaids, and their response was, "Do we work in a candy store?"
--Ikat: Ikat designs with their detailed patterns add exotic flair to bridesmaid dresses, and the look is as trendy for these gowns as it is for your invitations and linens.
--Lace cutouts: Picture a dress in a beautiful, bright solid color with an overlay of black lace allowing that color to peek through, creating an elegant, chic pattern. The Dessy Collection offers this new ultra-trendy, ultra-popular look in more than 80 colors from burgundy to white to hot pink, citrus orange and more. It's pattern, but it's also lace, which is the No. 1 look in bridal fashion.
--Ombre: Ombre involves graduated shades of color from light to dark and is very trendy for 2014 weddings. Neutrals such as ivory to champagne to a darker tan and white to gray to black are especially popular. Island weddings could highlight bridesmaids in ombre dresses of coral to pink to fuchsia, and purple is also a top shade for the ombre look.
--Patterned skirts: Angelica Bragg, blog maven at "The Bridal Detective," says, "It doesn't get any more stylish than well-dressed bridesmaids in skirts with prints." Skirts patterned with swirls, florals, stripes or other motifs and paired with a solid-color top create a best-of-both-worlds look.
Of course, on reality shows you'll see bridesmaids in camouflage and leopard-skin patterns, which is fine if the group loves the look. The dramatic element of those choices simply supports the good news for bridesmaids: Patterned dresses are in.
Sharon Naylor is the author of "The Bride's Guide to Freebies" and three dozen additional wedding books.