How to Look Smashing in Modest Bridesmaid Dresses

It’s not unusual to be loved by anyone, as Tom Jones wisely sang – and it’s not all that unusual to be asked to dress modestly to serve as a bridesmaid, especially if one of the friends you love will be married in a church. Never fear – and never bow to that cringe-y “church mouse” stereotype, either.  You don’t have to suppress your sense of style, go custom, or shop at a specialty store for modest bridesmaid dresses.  It’s just as easy to create a gorgeous look with a conservative or temple-ready dress. bridesmaids in charcoal grey dresses

Tandem Tree Photography

Why Plan a Modest Wedding Party?

Some religions require a church venue for a marriage to be formally joined, and often there are rules about dress for ceremonies and worship in the church building.  Traditional chapels (especially if they’re the childhood church) are becoming popular wedding venues again as bridal trends turn toward the intimate and the personalized. Some brides and grooms enjoy the time-old tradition of church and temple weddings – even if they’re starting a marriage that won’t be otherwise traditional.  And some members of the wedding party might be more comfortable showing less skin as they walk down the aisle – especially older ‘maids and matrons of honor. Anyway, the soft light in churches tends to be perfect for getting flattering photographs of the festivities. If you’re not accustomed to dressing for church settings, here are a few points to keep in mind while you’re planning your look:

Bridesmaid dresses with sleeves

Many churches and temples ask celebrants in a wedding party to at least cover their shoulders.  Opting for a long-sleeved gown is the safest choice; short, blousy sleeves can be pretty, too.  In a less conservative venue, bridesmaids might layer on a wrap over their spaghetti straps.
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Higher necklines

Basic rule: no cleavage.  Opt for jewel or bateau necklines to be safe. (This is a fabulous opportunity to wear an on-trend illusion neckline, but make sure the opaque layer cuts high, too.)
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Higher backs

It’s usually safest to choose a dress that sits above the shoulder blades.  This is easier to fix with a shawl or bolero than a plunging neckline, but just as important; bridesmaids are seen from the back by most of the wedding guests.
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Longer, fuller skirts

Modest bridesmaid dresses should cover at least to the knee (and that includes slits!).  Make sure the bride has checked with the venue, though, as the requirements may call for a much longer gown, depending on the reason for the more conservative choices.  And as for fullness: mermaid silhouettes won’t fly in some settings.  Fortunately, A-line cuts are universally flattering.
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Undergarments totally covered – even on the move

Letting slip a lingerie strap is a faux pas in any wedding, but it’s really a problem on the dance floor.  Make sure any required undergarments (or the lingerie you’re planning to wear under your festive frock) are completely hidden by your chosen style.  Again, sleeves are your friend here. Oh, and one more thing: Check the style on everyone.  It’s probably occurred to you that a dress that hits just above the knee on an average friend may leave a tall, leggy maid of honor violating a venue’s modesty standards. Differing body types can also change how necklines sit (some women’s breasts are placed higher than others) and, to a lesser extent, where the back of a dress falls.  Curvier ‘maids may look inappropriately sexy in a snug bodice; petite ones may find a loose one falls off their shoulders and shows skin. Making sure every bridesmaid’s body is flattered by your chosen style is important for any wedding, but doubly so when you’re dressing to rigid standards.  If the bridesmaids flying in for your dream temple wedding live all over the country and can’t try on their frocks before the final selection is made, it might be a good idea (and save everyone tailoring fees) to opt for a church-friendly take on the mismatched bridesmaid dress trend.

How to Accessorize a Modest Gown

So, you’ve chosen your bridesmaid dress for its full coverage.  Now what? We’ve got a few on-trend ideas to get brides and their bridesmaids brainstorming the perfect conservative wedding party look.

Something vintage

Long hems, interesting sleeves, full skirts – all the traits designers use to make their more conservative wedding party lines feel glamorous – add up to a wonderfully timeless picture.  Play that up in your overall look. wedding party in modest dresses

One One Photography

Go natural with makeup – or really, really don’t

A soft, natural, shimmery makeup look will be perfectly classic above the high neckline of a bridesmaid dress with sleeves.  That choice is foolproof – and can make the most phenomenal pictures. Depending on the reasons for the more covered-up choices, though,  you might be able to get away with something a touch more theatrical.  Experiment with bold colors and broad lines in your makeup look; the lines of an understated gown will balance a thoughtfully overstated eye or lip. bridesmaids wearing modest lace bridesmaid dresses

Poly Mendes Photography

Heads up for headpieces

Jeweled hairpins, Buckingham Palace-worthy hats, even a fanciful flower crown or three can look absolutely amazing with the demure lines of a sleeved or high-necked frock.  (Just avoid the peacock feathers with a modest bridesmaid dress unless you’re consciously going for irony.)

Clutch a bouquet alternative

When the attendants walk down the aisle holding something other than the classic flowers, the pretty surprise can help a long, flowing bridesmaid dress feel more modern – and more true to your style. Patent-leather clutches or painted hand fans?  Button posies, kissing balls, or paper cones of petals?  Lanterns or parasols?  The options are endless, and every look brings something fresh to help keep traditional wedding party silhouettes from feeling tired.  (It’s a great way to nod to the couple’s cultural backgrounds, too.)

Layer it on

Adding a cardigan, a wrap, or even (for a fall or winter wedding) a smart coat on top of the dress guards against accidental immodesty caused by enthusiastic bouquet-chasing or differing bridesmaid body types.  These accessories are helpful when you can’t find a long-sleeved bridesmaid dress that suits your taste, and they can come off for the reception hall if your ladies are too warm. winter wedding bridal party wearing scarfs

Brian Bossany Photography

Structural integrity 

There’s plenty of middle ground between skintight and shapeless.  Get your dresses tailored beyond the basics of making them fit, and invest in a tailor who can make them hang just right. Once the dresses are chosen, accessorize on top – and underneath.  If you’re wearing a full, tea-length skirt, invest in the twirly tulle petticoat to give it shape and swing.  And choose structure-enhancing accessories: a sash or belt at the waist and a nicely tailored crop jacket make a simple dress look sharp (and oh-so-customized). bridal party in pale blue bridesmaid dresses

Val Marlene Photography

Regal romance

If crisp lines aren’t your style, modest bridesmaid dresses give you all sorts of options for getting a subtle, graceful fantasy look.  Look for long sashes, chiffon drapery, and layered skirts to get a floatier look, then accessorize with a loosely draped sheer stole, a dainty jeweled circlet, and nude ballet flats (open toes won’t be allowed in some settings) to bring out the fairy-tale quality of a highly traditional gown. Of course, these are only a few of the many possibilities for a dress that’s more classically cut!  Do you plan to have a temple or church wedding?  Do you agree with our list of what makes a bridesmaid dress modest – or have a fabulous idea for accessorizing a gown that fulfills them?  Comment to let us know!

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