I've just found out that my dear friend Rachael's sister Crystal is engaged, and Rachael will be a bridesmaid at the wedding. As I have recently been through a wedding myself, I wish to impart my wisdom to her, and the general masses:
Bridesmaid dress shopping is a nightmare. Finding a dress for two to five girls of completely different body types and that would match the colors and styles of the rest of the wedding things is a feat that only someone who is truly in love and must get married should put herself through. A search for modest bridesmaid dresses comes up with things that look like these:
They are often either a) the "I'm trying to be unique so my dress has some sort of weird feature" dress, b) boring and shapeless, or c) the most hideous colors imaginable. My suggestion: stay away from anything that is actually called "bridesmaid dress", because 90% of them are repulsive. And definitely stay away from anything that looks like this:
(Sorry, I just had fun looking at bridesmaid dresses and couldn't trim down my selection of ugly ones to post.)
Search for "cocktail dresses" for the best results, though you can also find good stuff if you look for "semi-formals" or "party dresses". This will always find cuter things than "bridesmaid dresses", though you do have to wade through a lot more, if you're looking for a modest dress. While there are dozens of sites and stores dedicated to modest bridalwear, there isn't much out there for modest party dresses. It's still worthwhile to go this avenue, though. Not only will the dresses you find be more stylish and more easily worn to other events (who wants to buy a dress only to wear it once?), but they are generally less expensive as well.
And don't settle for something halfway decent because after hours and hours and lots of sweat and blood and tears shed, I found bridesmaid dresses that I absolutely loved (and somehow this is the only picture featuring them that I have on this computer, and I know it's not especially good at showing off the dress, but here's at least an idea of how they go), and I know you can, too:
It worked out really well to do wrap-style dresses, because they look good on every body shape and you can fudge a little on sizes since you can wrap them as tight or loose as they need to be (my sisters didn't try on their dresses until the night before the wedding, because I purchased them in Provo, but we knew sizing wouldn't be too difficult).
I know it's in vogue to do the different-dress-cuts-in-the-same-color thing or the same-dress-cut-in-different-colors thing, but I don't really agree with it. The same dresses in different colors is just tacky, it looks like you tried to give each bridesmaid her own personal style without actually giving them a different style whatsoever. It also makes things too colorful (I'm probably not the best consultant on color, we all know that my favorites are brown and gray and that my wedding colors were gray and gold and I'm just generally anti-too-much-color, but still...).
The same color dress in different cuts is a better way to go, but the trouble is getting them to match well enough that you know they go together and are part of the wedding party. Finding four dresses that are all the same color is near impossible, unless you trek into dresses that are actually meant to be bridesmaid dresses, which, as we have already discussed, is dangerous territory. And it's tricky, because often you'll have something like two dresses that look almost exactly the same with slight differences and then one that's completely different, or something like that.
In my opinion, just letting the bridesmaids do their hair/makeup/jewelry (oh man, the worst thing EVER is when all the bridesmaids have the exact same makeup...) how they want it but keeping them all in the same dress is the best way to go. It adds enough personal style that they look like themselves, but they'll still look like bridesmaids and belong to the wedding party. My bridesmaids also all wore their own closed-toed black shoes, and we had three very different styles there, but it wasn't a distracting difference, just one that gave each girl her own bit of style in her outfit.
I realize this post sounds a little "you should do it exactly the way I did", and I didn't want to sound like that. So here are my actual suggestions to the potential brides and bridesmaids out there: Think about what you like and have something definite in mind when you are looking. Be prepared to spend a lot of time to find something good. Think about each bridesmaid and how she will individually look in the dress and what she will think of the dress. Don't make it look like you tried too hard; good fashion should always look effortless.
Oh, and here's my suggestion to those potential grooms out there: Pretend to be interested when your bride discusses/agonizes/raves about bridesmaid dresses, and tell her that they are very pretty when she does settle on something. Trevor did this well and it was appreciated.