Bridesmaid dresses take on a new look, new role

Once, the most dreaded question was, “Will you be my bridesmaid?”

After all, only a good friend would buy an unflattering, expensive, formal dress, wear it once in front of everyone and then never wear it again.

But a trend that’s emerged in the past few years means that bridesmaids actually might be able to wear the dress again. Designers are offering collections of bridesmaids gowns that work visually together but differ slightly in styling.

Mia Isse, owner of Garnish Boutique in Mount Washington, explains that the bride picks a basic dress, color and fabric, but then the bridesmaids can opt for different necklines and different lengths.

“It’s not the dreaded strapless,” Ms. Isse says with a laugh. “What it does is allow each individual woman to purchase a dress they feel comfortable in.” Because the dresses take their inspiration from a cocktail-inspired look, they are much more wearable.

Since the silhouette, colors and fabric are the same, “there’s a pulled-together consistency,” Ms. Isse says. “What you get are beautiful photos because each woman is so comfortable.”

Even though the dresses differ slightly, they still qualify for the discount usually offered by designers for groups of three or more.

Ms. Isse notes that bridesmaids often ask if they can dye the dress black for later use as a cocktail dress.

But another alternative is to donate the dress to the Priceless Gown Project. Now in its fourth year, the project collects dresses and accessories all year. Then, right before prom season and with a donation of space from the Baltimore Marriott Inner Harbor at Camden Yards and some 90 volunteers, they hold a one-day boutique for girls in city high schools.

Last year, they gathered more than 2,000 dresses, and more than 500 girls from city high schools picked out a dress for prom.

Rebecca “Becky” Davis, one of the founders of Priceless Gown, attended St. Joseph in Cockeysville as a child and graduated from Notre Dame Preparatory School, Towson.

She got the idea for the program when she was mentoring an adolescent through the Big Brothers Big Sisters program. When it came time for the girl’s junior prom, the price of a ticket and dress simply put the event out of reach for the girl, who was living with an aunt, uncle and three cousins.

“I was trying to find her a dress and thinking maybe I could help her with the ticket, but it just didn’t come together in time,” Ms. Davis says. “I started researching and found other cities have the same problem.”

With help from Marriott and the Women’s Wine and Dine, she organized the Priceless Gown project. Some 90 volunteers act as personal shoppers for the girls, and they help the girls choose purses, accessories and shoes, too.

To find out how to donate dresses and accessories – the project does not accept donations of shoes that have been worn – or to volunteer, visit the Web site at www.pricelessgownproject.org.

Catholic Review

Catholic Review

The Catholic Review is the official publication of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.