Shopping for bridesmaids’ dresses shouldn’t be an afterthought, our experts warn. You’ll need plenty of time to pick out the perfect gown or gowns for your favorite women, the experts say. Why? Because in addition to shopping for a look or looks that flatter several different women’s bodies, sense of style, and hair and skin tone, you’ll also need to allot enough time for said dresses to actually be made. So, when should you start the search?
According to Sandy Palenschat, owner of Bella Bridesmaids in Cleveland, Ohio, the best time to start the shopping for bridesmaids’ dresses is as soon as you’ve found your wedding dress—which means shopping as early as nine to 12 months before the wedding, she explains. Ideally, you’d have chosen your wedding venue at this point, too. “The wedding dress and venue both help to set the tone of the wedding,” she says, adding that the bridesmaids’ dresses should complement and enhance that vision.
What’s more, the average production timeline for a bridesmaid’s dress—one that’s not bought off the rack, that is—is in the neighborhood of 12 to 16 weeks, she says. Palenschat therefore recommends having your attendants order their dresses no later than six months before the wedding, which will ensure they arrive with enough wiggle room for production or shipping delays and to have any necessary alterations made.
And while you can certainly bend this suggested timeline within reason, your options will become slimmer at designer boutiques the longer time goes on—and you could pay a higher price, Palenschat warns. “Most designers offer rush options varying from two to 10-week production,” she explains, for wedding parties who’ve been delayed. “The faster a dress is produced, the higher the rush fee.”
If you’re just months away from your big day and still haven’t started shopping for bridesmaids’ dresses yet, don’t despair: You still have a few options. “Shopping in-store at sample sales and off the rack is much easier to do for bridesmaid dresses than bridal gowns,” says Valarie Falvey, owner and wedding planner at Kirkbrides Weddings in Cleveland, Ohio. Plus, some designers even offer in-stock options that can be sent immediately. Those have their drawbacks, though: “This option does not allow for the usual made-to-order production, so a bride will be choosing from limited colors, styles, and sizes,” Palenschat says. Nonetheless, they can arrive in weeks.
Lastly, if you’re waited too long, consider allowing your bridesmaids to pick their own ready-to-wear dresses. (And they’ll love you for it, because they may actually be able to wear the dresses again.) “My favorite go-to style and color for bridesmaids is black,” says Falvey, “and you can always just ask your women to all wear their own black dress” that they own or want to buy.