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Department Store Bridesmaid Dresses

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Becky Sleachmour

I really struggle with the concept of the bridesmaid dress. I don’t like cookie-cutter bridesmaids dresses. I hate large bridal store chains. I hate being rushed, crowded and pressured into buying a dress that looks like a bridesmaid’s dress (oh, but you’ll wear it again!). I hate that the dress looks nice for a day and then inevitably falls apart if you do try to wear it again. I hate that the “inexpensive” bridesmaids dresses still cost more than I have ever spent on a dress in my life (until recently!). It’s a scam. Like everything else with the word “wedding” attached to it – it costs more than it’s worth.

My goal was to avoid all of the above.

My first plan was to have my bridesmaids buy any black cocktail dress they liked.

Photo credit: Our Wedding Day Blog

I love the mismatched dress look and allowing them to pick their own dress would hopefully result in buying a dress they loved, looked great in and would wear again.

Then my sister went dress shopping and found this red dress:

Department Store Bridesmaid Dresses Photo credit: my sister’s iPhone

She found it at Steinmart and they had tons of sizes and the ability to order sizes from other stores. The best part: they were just $40! For a fully-lined, semi-formal cocktail dress?! A dress that looks a lot like several I tried on at bridal salons, but better?! It seemed too good to be true, but it wasn’t! I went the next day, tried on the dress with my sister and put six dresses in each of the maids’ sizes on hold. Steinmart was kind enough to hold the dresses for a week (their normal policy is 24 hours). The local girls all went in, tried them on and loved them… so we went for it! I ordered three of the dresses myself for out of town girls. Steinmart’s return policy gave us plenty of time to get everyone a dress to try. The dress fit and looked great on everyone. It was too easy! I happily gave in to the matchy-matchy, affordable, wearable dresses.

Tips for Buying Department Store Bridesmaids Dresses

For those who want to try the non-bridal store route (which I highly recommend!), keep these tips in mind as you start shopping.

1. Know everyone’s “typical” dress size. If you have any plus-sized girls, it might be too complicated. My girls were all sizes 2 – 16, so we were all ok in the misses department.

2. Pick stores that have lots of locations and the ability to order online. Macy’s, Sears, JC Penny’s & Nordstrom all are great options for formal and semi-formal dresses. If you want a more casual look, try Target, Old Navy & Gap.

3. Flexible return policies are important. Make sure you have enough time to fit all your girls before the deadline to return the dresses. Steinmart gave us 60 days to return for a full refund. They were also able to order other sizes and ship them directly to me.

4. Bring two bridesmaids with you and try the dress on yourself. Bring the girls who may be more difficult to fit. Try to determine if the dress sizes run large or small and keep that in mind if you purchase for those not present.

5. Pick universally flattering shapes. A-line dresses are a safe bet. Fitted tops and fuller skirts are universally flattering. Avoid overly-trendy designs as they may not look good on everyone.

6. Bring coupons!! Most department stores have 10 – 20% off coupons regularly. We had several coupons for Steinmart and we used them on the dresses!

7. Be ready to buy right away. If you love the dress, buy one in everyone’s sizes plus a couple extras in between. The ladies can pay you back and you can return the ones that won’t work . It’s easier than expecting everyone to run in and buy a dress within a week.

Has anyone else purchased their bridesmaids dresses from someplace OTHER THAN a bridal salon? How did you make it work?

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Becky Sleachmour

is a bride blogger who got married in 2011. You can read her wedding planning posts here.