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I haven't ever been a bridesmaid, unfortunately (no sisters or close cousins/aunts, and I'm just now getting to the age where friends are getting married)!
I AM obsessed with weddings though, so I can help you with some suggestions. I really like J.Crew and The Limited's wedding lines, but they can get a little spendy depending on the budget.
I also really like when brides pick dresses from unexpected retailers - Forever 21 has some really cute, solid dresses that can work well and you can dress your whole party for less than $100! Also, Victoria's Secret has a short, multi-way, covertible dress that would look AWESOME on a bridal party.
I don't think you should count out David's Bridal, either - sure, there are some UGLY dresses there, and maybe the customer service doesn't match up with Klienfeld's, but if you and your 'maids are on a budget, you can't beat it.
Another thing I'd like to suggest is to think outside the box - 'maids in patterned dresses are really modern and unexpected, and I've always loved it when I've seen bridal parties in seperates (and your party can ABSOLUTELY wear those again!). Think of the retailers you naturally gravitate towards and check them out - just because a store doesn't have a bridal line doesn't mean you can't just pick a dress you (and your 'maids) love and buy in bulk! Anthro (on sale!), Ruche, and Modcloth might be good places to check out.
If you want some specific suggestions, email me a color pallette and some guidlines (less than $100, strapless only, etc) and I'd LOVE to help! (ashleygettingdressed at gmail dot come).