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I made 4 dresses for my son's wedding for around $20 apiece. Walmart sells a CHEAP pattern and it was a very simple, strapless A line. I hadn't sewn in years but it worked out fine. The secret to making bridesmaid dresses is not to be extravagant about the material you choose. Shoes were from Payless. The cost for each girl about $35.
Don't make the cost of the dresses keep friends from being able to have a part in your wedding. After all, the dresses (LIKE MINE) hang in the closet never to be used again. Incidently the $35 was the cost of BOTH the dress and shoes.
This is a photo of my Daughter in hers. The bouquets were also made by me.
Sharon--what a great idea for your son's wedding! I think you express the true spirit of what is actually being celebrated. It's not the money spent that's important, it's that your son and his wife were able to include their friends without putting financial pressure on anyone to participate. And I just bet that your "homemade" bridesmaid gowns looked every bit as good or better than the alternative. The simple pattern you describe sounds a lot better than some of the fussy, unflattering styles. I'm sure the bridesmaids were happy with the result!