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Style on the aisle: Bridesmaids' fashions moving away from the horrors of yesteryear

Alicia Greenleigh The Salt Lake Tribune
Mary Paulos peruses a rack of bridesmaids' dresses from Mary's Bridal at a recent bridal expo at the Salt Palace. (Leah Hogsten/The Salt Lake Tribune)

Mary Paulos peruses a rack of bridesmaids' dresses from Mary's Bridal at a recent bridal expo at the Salt Palace. (Leah Hogsten/The Salt Lake Tribune)

Someone call the fashion police. The bridesmaids' dresses are aiding and abetting styles inconsistent with civilized society.

If you've attended a wedding in the past 20 years, chances are you've felt like making that call. Just like the gowns Katherine Heigl's character, Jane, is forced to wear in the movie "27 Dresses," which opened this weekend, bridesmaids' dresses have earned a reputation for being over-the-top at best and hideous at worst.

Katherine Heigl and James Marsden star in "27 Dresses." The title refers to a collection of
unfortunate wedding-attendant wear.

    That doesn't have to be the case, according to Alicia Richmond, wardrobe stylist and founder of the Utah-based fashion consulting firm Chic On a Shoestring.

    "The time of ugly bridesmaids' dresses is over," she said. "What we're seeing now is a return to classic, elegant dresses, like in the '40s and '50s. Less is more."

    That's not to say an '80s-looking prom dress won't pop up once in a while, but the idea behind this shift in bridal fashion is to find a dress you won't be ashamed to wear again after the wedding.

    "Brides [are] being more practical in terms of what fits and looks good on their bridesmaids," said Catalina Maddox, style expert for David's Bridal. "Now bridesmaids' dresses are functional; they fit the body well, the fabrics are very friendly, comfortable, and they are meant to be worn again."

    Eleni Calevas Billick, a former L.A. Laker Girl who now lives in Murray, is one who could
have benefited from this new bridal fashion consciousness: She has been a bridesmaid in 14 weddings and has the dresses to prove it.

    "I still have nine [dresses], but the ones I didn't like I got rid of," Calevas Billick said. "But, to be honest, I've never worn any of the dresses after the wedding.

    "For me, it was always an honor to be in someone's wedding," she said. "There were times when a bride picked a bad dress, but there isn't really anything you can do about it. You still have to wear it, so I did what I could to feel comfortable in it."

    Now married with two children, Calevas Billick said the stress of being a bridesmaid was finding one dress that everyone liked and looked good in.

    Fortunately, the bridal industry has taken that into consideration as well. The trend is for brides to choose the colors and length of the gown and let their bridesmaids choose the style and cut.

    "Different dress styles give weddings some dimension. When everyone is wearing the same thing, it's like they're clones," Richmond said. "Brides are thinking more about their bridesmaids and choosing the dress more carefully, which is why we're seeing a movie about it."
    Bridal attire is also picking up some fashion tips from the red carpet and runways.

    "The functional aspect [of bridesmaids' dresses] is related to what's happening in the fashion industry today," Maddox said. "For instance, dress lengths are getting shorter - midcalf or above the knee - and bridesmaids' dresses are now reflecting what you might see or buy for something not wedding related."
    Fashions that flatter

    Even though bridesmaids' dresses have become more fashionable, that doesn't mean finding one will be a piece of (wedding) cake. Here are some tips to find flattering styles and fabrics that fit all body types:
    * A-line dresses, fitted at the waist and flaring slightly at the hipline, look good on any body type.
    * Sheaths fit through the torso, curve around the hipline and stay straight to the knee or midthigh. Sheath dresses work well with curvier bodies.
    * Fitted tops paired with A-line skirts allow for more options for different body types while maintaining a similar look or color.
    * Dupioni silk and satin move naturally, hang and drape well over the body.
    Trends in color and dress lengths
    * Bubble hems, fuller skirts or dresses coming off tighter fit in the torso.
    * Dresses above knee or tea-length (midcalf).
    * Bright colors such as pink, blue, green and canary are popular for spring and summer bridesmaids' dresses. Seasonal neutral colors such as champagne, chocolate, navy, grays and black create a classic, elegant look any time of the year.
    Make it personal
    * Bolero jackets add an element of modesty to thin or strapless dresses.
    * Pairing dresses with a different-colored sash at the waist stylizes elegant but simple gowns.