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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: I am writing regarding your response to "Re-Fit to Be Tied," whose daughter has been asked to be a bridesmaid. You advised her that as long as a bridesmaid's dress is "identical," it doesn't matter where it is purchased. You went on to add that if the bride insists the dress be purchased from a particular store in her area, then the bride should foot the bill. I disagree.

I am a former wedding organizer. Dye lots are extremely important when it comes to bridesmaids' dresses. If the fabric isn't from the same dye lot, the chances of the "odd-dress-out" matching the others is very slim. In fact, it's recommended that the shoes be dyed all at once and that they be matched to an actual swatch from one of the dresses -- not a sample swatch from the bridal shop.

As to alterations, I have never seen a bridesmaid's dress that fit "off the rack." Alterations are par for the course.

When a woman agrees to be in a wedding, the costs can be prohibitive, but they are the responsibility of the person being given the place of "honor." I suggest that potential bridesmaids do the following:

(1) Make sure the bride knows how flattered you are to be asked, but consider your answer carefully.

(2) Don't be afraid to ask the bride if the maids' outfits are going to be moderately priced. By simply asking her in a tactful way, the bride will hopefully take the cost of this "honor" into consideration before making her choice.

(3) If you are distant, find a local bridal shop that sells that particular line of bridesmaids' dresses and have your measurements taken. Once you are certain about the size of the dress you'll need, based on the manufacturer's size chart, send that information to the shop ordering the dresses.

(4) Be prepared for additional costs such as alterations, pantyhose and shoes, and plan accordingly.

I'm not sure when the honor of being a modern-day "lady in waiting" got to be so expensive, but it did. Good luck to your readers, Abby! -- JENNIFER M., MANCHESTER, N.H.

DEAR JENNIFER M.: You are a sweetheart to lend your professional expertise on this one. I was inundated with similar letters. I suspect that the burden on bridesmaids increased around the time that brides began using their weddings as platforms to live out their fantasies. Read on:

DEAR ABBY: I read your column every day and usually agree with your advice -- but not this time. To get dresses that are perfectly matching, they must be ordered at the same time from the same dye lot. Otherwise, the shade can be noticeably different. Trust me, nothing looks worse in pictures than having three royal-blue dresses and one slightly teal. That bride is not being unreasonable. Thanks for listening, and keep up the good work. -- OFTEN A BRIDESMAID, ONCE A BRIDE IN ILLINOIS

DEAR OFTEN: Now you tell me! From the onslaught of letters I have received on this subject, I must remind readers that if you agree to be a bridesmaid, it is your responsibility to shoulder the cost of the dress and alterations. Otherwise, you should decline the honor because of financial hardship.

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