NEW YORK — Alison Kelly felt she had enough on her plate dealing with her own wedding gown and all the details of her mountain getaway nuptials without micromanaging how her bridal party would dress.
So instead, she asked her maid of honor — her sister — and the rest of her bridal party to choose natural tones to honor the informal Vail, Colorado, location that she and her husband had picked for their Sept. 2 nuptials, and to wear styles that made them feel good.
"I'm surrounded by women who make their own decisions and are strong and independent. There's no way I could tell any of them what to wear. It just wouldn't even work," Kelly laughed. "I know that they know their own bodies."
She was thrilled with the results, a soft mix of rose blush, light red, ivory and taupe that proved the perfect complement to her own white gown. The bridesmaids wore matching rings of flowers on their heads. The groom's party was also not matchy-matchy. He wore light gray, his best man was in black and the other groomsmen were in darker gray. Identical boutonnieres tied their looks together.
While brides have been giving their stand-up loved ones greater freedom from the constraints of more traditional — often hideous — matching confections, they now seem to be taking the mismatch bridesmaid trend a step further. Matching colors in different silhouettes or identical dye lots for different styles of dresses have given way to completely different cuts, textures and colors.
"They did so well," said Kelly, who lives in Colorado Springs, Colorado, and works as a librarian. "They kept showing me the pictures of what they were thinking. I thought that was really nice because I was just too busy doing my own thing and planning my own stuff. I trusted them, and it ended up being much better than I imagined."
The trend is well represented on the retail side. David's Bridal, with more than 330 stores in the United States, Canada, Mexico and the United Kingdom, has an online section of mismatched bridesmaids options with advice on how to make the concept work, from using the same color in different styles to choosing wildly different fabrics, lengths, silhouettes, colors, prints and embellishments.
One suggestion from the company: Select different shades of the same color, but include light, medium and dark shades to allow for an ombre gradation. For large wedding parties, mix in some pale neutrals that will offset the overall palette.
While mismatching is more visible these days, it hasn't completely taken over. According to the most recent Bridal Fashion Study by the wedding site TheKnot.com, done in 2015, 51 percent of bridesmaids still wear the exact same dress as others in their wedding party, while 33 percent wear the same color in different styles, 11 percent wear different dresses and 5 percent wear the same style in different colors.
Shelley Brown, fashion and beauty editor for The Knot, said the idea of mismatched bridesmaids dresses is picking up speed as more brides look for ways to personalize their weddings.
"Over the past few years, designers have picked up on this trend, adding new colors and styles and patterns so brides can mix and match," she said. "It's a really easy way to make your bridal party stand out."
It's also a great way for brides to be more sensitive to the shapes, sizes and skin tones of their bridesmaids, Brown said.
Complete freedom of choice can go wrong, so Brown suggests that brides provide some broad guidelines.
"Offering no guidelines can create a more stressful process for the bridesmaids," Brown said. "So don't just say, oh, buy a blue dress. Is it strapless, is it floor length, what material is it, what shade of blue?"
If it's a super-formal wedding, for instance, a short dress likely wouldn't work, Brown said. Nor would a more informal fabric like jersey, she said. Some brides who want to offer choice in color without losing control altogether may want to offer paint chips as a guide.
"One of my favorite ways to interpret this trend is to pick a really subtle, neutral color like blush or nude or even a very soft pewter and then let your girls choose what embellishments or silhouettes they like," Brown said. "They could do rose gold sequins if they want to, maybe someone else has a lace dress and someone has some kind of separates happening. That way your girls get to show some of their personalities. They're definitely spending a lot of time on your wedding. They're invested in the process. They want to look good, too."
Sydney Broadhead of Nashville, Tennessee, is a graduate student in public health and health policy. She was married in May 2016 in a historic home in Asheville, North Carolina. She went way out of the box when it came to her bridesmaids' dresses.
"I had several bridesmaids of varying sizes, different body types, and I wanted dresses that were going to make them feel more comfortable and weren't run of the mill," she said.
She wanted romantic tones but the overall vibe was eclectic. She went shopping with a couple bridesmaids who live near her. Out-of-town bridesmaids sent her photos and questions as they made their selections.
"I had one girl in gold and another in pink. One was in metallics. My sister was in red. One had a beaded top. It came together very organically," Broadhead said.
She set few guidelines on styles and fabrics but made it clear she preferred longer dresses. She was the final arbiter before selections were finalized, and she anchored the bridal party by putting groomsmen in the same suit with matching red ties and boutonnieres to help ground the mismatch on the other side of the aisle.
"It was more of a conversation than a free-for-all," Broadhead said. "The traditional everybody-matching idea felt a little uninventive. I was fine with trying something new."