Q: How can I avoid making my friends spend a lot on one-shot bridesmaid dresses?
Congratulations on not sticking them with poufy polyester pastels! One strategy: Pick a color and let everyone choose a dress that suits her. (I've heard of horrifying "bridezillas" who exclude heavier friends—so unfair, since there are styles that flatter all body types.) Or pick a basic shape and order it in different colors; you can even vary the styles (sleeves, no sleeves) to meet individual needs. Either way, a nice, classic dress for $300 or less isn't a mission impossible.
Cute dresses they'll want to wear again:
A simple boatneck comes in modern colors (J.Crew, $260). Rich jewel tones (David's Bridal, $145) are cheerier than black yet still formal. Satin shoes in sophisticated shapes (Lela Rose for Payless dye-to-match slingbacks or pumps, $45 each) provide an affordable shot of color.