Monday, June 15, 2009

Protect your Junior Bridesmaids and Flowergirls!

Junior bridesmaids in sexy, strapless gown to match the bridesmaids? Flowergirls being told 'that dress makes you look fat?' Pre-teens in terror over how they'll look in the spotlight at your wedding? I have the perfect expert to help you mind your child and teen attendants' comfort and well-being as part of your big day. Dara Chadwick, my lovely colleague and the author of You'd Be So Pretty If, answers a few questions here:

Q: Brides might be surprised to know that junior bridesmaids AND flower girls are worried about how they will look in their wedding day dresses! What are the signs that a young girl has concerns about this?

A: If she makes any comments about the fit of the dress or about her body – or if she keeps asking others how she looks – those are clues that she may not feel comfortable. If you know her well, you may already have a sense of her fashion preferences — she may like frilly, ultra-feminine styles or she may be more comfortable in a tailored style. A girl who dresses in surfer shorts and graphic tees might be extremely uncomfortable in a ruffled pink dress, so try to keep her personal taste in mind. Ask her if there’s a style she likes (or hates!), but keep it about the dress, not about her body; it’ll make her feel grown up to know that you value her opinion. You might also ask her mom if her daughter is at all uncomfortable with her appearance and let that guide your choice – but don’t talk to her mom in front of her. Girls this age are sensitive about sharing that kind of information.

Q: What should a bride avoid when it comes to choosing dress styles, particularly for junior bridesmaids who are starting to develop? I personally hate to see pre-teens in strapless dresses when it's so easy to have a seamstress sew on straps that still let them coordinate with the bridesmaids.

A: It’s best to avoid anything overtly sexy, like plunging necklines and extremely short lengths. At the same time, you want to honor the fact that she’s growing up and not dress her like you’d dress a five-year-old. I think it’s best to go with an age-appropriate version of what your bridesmaids are wearing (a good tailor can help with this). When I got married, I had my nine-year-old niece as a junior bridesmaid; she wore the same dress as my bridesmaids did, but hers was slightly less form-fitting and had a less-plunging back. The dress was similar enough that she felt part of the group, but it was also tailored to respect her age and her body.

Q: Should a bride just let the parents choose the dresses for the girls? What are your feelings about parental input?

A: As a mom, if a bride tried to put my daughter in a dress that I felt was too sexy or made my daughter feel uncomfortable, I’d speak up. But I wouldn’t expect that I’d be the one to choose what my daughter wore. I think it’s gracious to give parents input, but I’d suggest choosing a few dresses that you and her daughter are happy with and letting the parent choose from those. Watch out, though, for mother-daughter conflict; if the daughter loves the dress, but the mom doesn’t think it’s flattering, you’ve got a delicate situation on your hands. Talk to the mom privately about her objections; if it’s simply a matter of preference, but the daughter feels great in the dress and you like it, go with what makes your junior bridesmaid or flower girl feel great.

Q: What should you do if parents choose “too-sexy” or too-revealing dresses for junior bridesmaids? This one stuns me, but I have seen it before. A strapless dress for an 11-year-old? And when that dress inevitably fell down as the child was dancing, she ran off to the bathroom and cried!

A: Ugh – that poor girl! I think as the bride, you have to pull rank here. Simply say something along the lines of “that dress is lovely, but it’s not what I had in mind for her” or “It’s really important to me that everybody be comfortable so they can relax and enjoy my big day. I’m concerned that Susie wouldn’t be comfortable dancing in that dress.” If all else fails, throw yourself on the parent’s mercy: Choose another dress that you like and say, “I know you like that dress and it’s lovely, but I’d prefer to see her in this style.” It’s your wedding, after all.

Q: Being in the center of attention can be hard for a shy junior bridesmaid or flower girl. What’s the “right” way to make her feel comfortable about being seen by so many? What should you say? Not say?

A: If she’s uncomfortable, do everything you can to take the focus off appearance. Give her a special job to do and thank her for helping you on your big day. Tell her she looks beautiful once, then let her know how important it is to you that she’s there for you and part of your wedding. Make it about her participation, not about her appearance. If she’s truly uncomfortable about being stared at, a quick joke or whisper about how you “feel funny with everybody looking at you in this big fancy dress” lets her know that it’s OK to be nervous. Or, create a private joke between the two of you – maybe you and she agree to pretend you’re movie stars on the red carpet as you walk down the aisle. Anything that lets her know you understand her feelings helps take away the pressure to be “perfect.”

Q: Any final tips for brides when it comes to helping a junior bridesmaid or flower girl feel great?

A: When you’re shopping for a dress and trying things on, be careful with the words you use to talk about dresses you don’t like. Avoid language like, “That one makes you look hippy…or chunky…or [insert ‘body flaw’ here].” Always make it about the dress, not about her body, such as “I don’t like the cut of this dress” or “I don’t like the way this fabric drapes.” Remember, too, to downplay the importance of appearance whenever you can. Talk about the great time you’re all going to have at the wedding, rather than about how perfect you’re all going to look. And above all, let her know that you want her to wear a dress that she feels comfortable and happy in.

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