Make an Entrance
Fall in love all over again when you find the dress of your dreams.
So many details make your wedding day complete. There’s the venue, the flowers, the food, the decorations. But the one detail that won’t go unnoticed by a single person, especially your groom, is your dress. Finding just the right dress is a rite of passage for every bride. To get you started, we talked to bridal fashion experts and brides who have plenty of advice on the latest dress trends and on making your look yours and yours alone.
In preparation for her July 30, 2011, wedding to husband, Michael, Sarai Meyer browsed online before hitting the boutiques, just so she had an initial idea of the styles of gowns she preferred. It took her a couple of months to narrow her choices down to just two, she says, and when she made her final decision, she brought her bridesmaids along to help her choose. Having the luxury of time could make the difference between finding a dress that’s beautiful and finding your perfect dress.
Terri Misener, a store manager at Universe Bridal in Coshocton, has decades of experience helping brides find their dream dresses, which often turns out to be one of the most important parts of planning their weddings. Universe Bridal is the largest bridal and prom store in Ohio, and there are plenty of options for brides-to-be as they begin their search. “We have 1,800 wedding gowns here. I always tell girls to be open-minded,” says Misener. She adds that it is important to try on dresses you see that you think you may not like. Also, don’t just go for white. Try on the pearl and candlelight colors, too, for example. Misener says until you see the dress on, you don’t know if you will love it or hate it. With so many gowns available, there’s something for every personality, figure and body type. Even brides who think they know exactly what they want may find more enticing options once they begin browsing through the store.
Christopher Widdoes, director of operations at Henri’s Cloud Nine, prefers to sit down with each bride for a one-on-one session to discuss her goals for the dress. “We are getting to know the bride, understanding her wants and needs,” he explains, adding that he also likes to know the month of the wedding, location and which other dresses she has tried on or seen that she has liked. “We train our bridal staff so they understand the fabric and fits of different companies,” Widdoes says. “We have an idea of what will look best on every bride.”
Abby Winland, manager at Girls in White Dresses, says it is very helpful if brides know what kind of look they want on their wedding day. “Whether it is romantic, classic or modern, this is a good starting point,” she says. After brides search through gowns on their own, stylists pull dresses they think would be suitable for the bride’s body type and wedding venue. Winland encourages brides to trust the stylists, because they want you to look your best. “Brides should find comfort in knowing they are in good hands.”
Liz Kemmerer of Perfect Weddings says sometimes less is more when considering your shopping companions. “For the appointment, bring people you trust. Try not to bring a big entourage because this can create too many opinions and just frustrate you. Bring the people who know you the best,” she says.
Stylists agree: The hottest trend this season is lace, lace and more lace. Wafa Abulaban, owner of Elegant Bride in Dublin, says the most popular styles in her shop this season are vintage-look ball gowns with ruffles and perhaps an open back. “I call it the romantic dress,” she says. Abulaban also says that lace is striking enough on its own and does not require heavy makeup or accessories to complement. The season and location of the wedding are just as important as style when choosing a gown, Abulaban says. The three should work together.
“Silhouette is key,” says Dan Rentillo, design director for David’s Bridal. “Whether it is a dramatic mermaid gown or a fashion-forward peplum, we are all about amazing shapes this season.” The 2013 David’s Bridal collection features the Melissa Sweet for David’s Bridal line, which is composed of seven gowns featuring tulle and lace detailing, staying true to the designer’s ethereal, romantic and vintage design style. Gowns range from ballgowns to slim-flitting dresses with flares. Other collections at David’s include elegant dresses featuring gold embellishments and modern coverage made of lace, as well as gowns with illusion necklines and fabrics such as lace and dot tulle. Misener, of Universe Bride, echoes Rentillo’s take on full shapes and statements. “I never thought we would sell a ruffle again, but we are seeing more fit-and-flare and big traditional ballgowns.”
Kathy Kruse, owner of Trumpington Bridal, says while strapless gowns may always be around, a lot of brides are “tired of seeing strapless.” She adds, “When I go to shows to purchase gowns, I am buying dresses with straps and pretty fit-and-flare gowns with three-quartered, beaded sheer sleeves.”
Speaking of sleeves, stylists agree cap sleeves are wildly popular this season.
Kemmerer also says a 1960s style is emerging in shorter gowns. “These new short gowns have full skirts, higher necklines and no sleeves … just simple straps,” she says. “The short, fun styles have a sophisticated but sassy air to them. They are a great trend for a no-fuss but elegant bride.”
Some brides are opting to expand their wedding wardrobes even further: Stylists say one trend they’ve seen take off the past few seasons has been brides who buy not one, but two dresses for the big day. A more elegant dress is donned for the ceremony, followed by a simplified, often shorter version for the reception. “Brides want big, traditional, beautiful gowns for the ceremony but something more manageable for the reception to dance, party and have fun,” Misener says.
For the bride who wants two distinct styles but not two different dresses, designers are even offering convertible dresses. These dresses have the look of a ball gown, with removable skirts that transform them into shorter dresses for the reception. This may fulfill a bride’s dreams for a fairytale wedding look as well as her desire to dance easily with her friends later in the evening.
Stylists say brides are playing with color, too. Ivory remains the color of choice for wedding gowns because it complements most complexions, but brides are expressing their personalities through the wide range of white shades available. Diamond, champagne and true ivory are subtly different shades that can have strong impact when applied to yards and yards of silk or chiffon. Some brides worry that an off-white shade will be difficult to match with the groom’s tuxedo shirt, but wedding professionals say most tux shops have kept up with the trend and stock several shades for the groom and his party to wear.
Kemmerer, of Perfect Weddings, has even seen soft hues of blue and pink incorporated into gowns this season. “The colors are soft accents, giving the right amount of fun and uniqueness to the gown.” Willing to make an even bolder statement? Misener says black trim and blush colors are popping up in gown fashion this season.
There will always be trends that stand out each season, but the greatest trend Kruse sees is brides ultimately doing what they want. “A lot of our girls are buying the big, lace dresses for outdoor barn weddings,” she says, which, in the past, may not have been considered stylish. “I like to think that in the end, there are no rules for brides. I really just want them to be happy.”
Icing on the cake
Brides can create an endless array of ensembles once accessories are taken into consideration. Jewelry, headpieces, veils and shoes pull everything together and help a bride inject personality and individuality into her overall look.
If the gown is beaded or otherwise embellished, understated or minimal accessories are a good choice, since they won’t force the eye to choose between the details on the dress and an abundance of jewelry. Dresses with architectural details, like ruffles or ruching, or floral embellishments also call for more simple accessories.
Some brides like to let their accessories stand out, so they choose statement pieces such as bib-style necklaces, cocktail rings and oversized chandelier earrings. Classic jewelry—rhinestones, crystals, pearls—will always have a place in the bridal wardrobe. Some brides opt for an aquamarine, sapphire or topaz piece as their something blue or incorporate a family heirloom into their ensembles.
One easy way to customize your look is with a belt or sash, which can be beaded, floral or fabric and provide a transition from one part of the wedding to another. Widdoes of Henri’s Cloud Nine says belts are huge this season. “Brides are using belts on their lace dresses to accentuate the waistline and add a little extra bling, floral detail and a beaded applique look.”
For shoes, David’s Bridal is showing strappy sandals and platform pumps in metallic hues with coordinating handbags. Abulaban of Elegant Bride says some brides are matching their shoes to the color of bridesmaids’ dresses to add a pop of color and continue the color theme. Kruse of Trumpington Bridal says cowboy boots, which complement the growing rustic, homestead decor trend, are also popular. “I had a bride who bought a big ballgown with a completely ruffled skirt, and she put a pair of cowboy boots with it for an outdoor wedding, and it was pretty cute,” she says.
While traditional veils will always be popular, they’re getting an update, too, with new trims and embellishments such as gold threading, Misener says. Stylists agree the birdcage veil is becoming more popular every season. “We are seeing more polished and contemporary looks. It’s not just vintage, but very clean, elegant, simplistic looks,” Misener says, adding, “For years, I couldn’t get tiaras big enough, so this is a nice change.” Michelle Honer, vice president of Lady M Ltd. and Paper Occasions, says the romantic look is coming back for veils. “Brides are going to be wanting longer veils,” she says. Honer adds the bride could wear a beautiful headpiece with the veil and wear just the hairpiece at the reception. She has also seen crystal headpieces worn with romantic-style hair. Another popular look: Carrying the theme of the dress through to the hair accessories, making reference to rosettes or fabric details on the dress. Adds Abulaban of Elegant Bride: “I love the romantic look. I love for people to look at the bride and never stop. If people follow her all the way down the aisle, she did a great job on her look.”
On the go
For some soon-to-be-wed couples, eschewing the traditional local ceremony and reception in favor of getting away from it all is the epitome of nuptial bliss. But a destination wedding doesn’t necessarily mean jetting off to Jamaica for a ceremony on the beach—now it could just as easily mean a celebration at a nearby lake, family farm or a cabin in Hocking Hills.
Brides who opt for destination weddings, whether near or far, have many fashion options, since designers have recognized the need for dresses that go beyond the traditional format. Many have destination lines specifically created for outdoor, backyard and garden affairs.
“Destination gowns are as big as ever,” Misener says. “They are becoming more travel-friendly every year.” Designers often make these gowns of fabrics that are easy to ship or carry on the plane.
Brides opting to tie the knot amid ocean breezes should pay attention to fabric when picking their gowns. Look for flowy chiffons, light layered silks and soft organzas. Experts say chiffon travels well, doesn’t wrinkle and breathes, making it the perfect fabric for beach or other outdoor weddings in steamy temperatures.
For beach weddings, lightweight georgette is a safe bet. Its matte finish produces less glare in the sun than shiny fabrics such as satin. In fact, if you’re heading for a hot climate, you may want to stay away from satin altogether. It can show sweat more than other fabrics and has a tendency to cling to your body—and neither is flattering nor comfortable. Flowing gowns with empire waists are an option, and tea-length and short dresses are still top choices. Gowns with low-cut or interesting back detailing look particularly stunning on the beach.
Some destination brides prefer “nearly” formal rather than informal gowns, and designers are catering to them, too. Bridal experts say more gowns made for destination weddings also work well for second marriages or older brides who don’t want that low-back beach look. These brides also may opt to wear classic bridesmaids’ gowns in white or ivory.
The destination bride also needs to consider her flowers, jewelry, headpiece and shoes. For beachgoers, bright blooms and sparkling accessories look striking against sandy backgrounds, and highly adorned sandals are available at most bridal salons—although bare feet may be just the look you’re after.
No matter where the wedding is held, a veil readily identifies a bride. Be careful with long veils in windy spots, though: You wouldn’t want it blowing in your face during the ceremony.
Brides who are having trouble finding just the right look may prefer to have a dress made especially for them. If you’re going the custom route, consider visiting a fabric shop to familiarize yourself with bridal fabrics, and bring photos of gowns you like to your meeting with the dressmaker.
After a design is created and fabrics are ordered, the dressmaker creates a muslin version of the gown, which serves as a prototype of the actual garment. After this cotton dress fits perfectly, it’s used as a pattern to make the real gown. Because it’s being made specifically for your body, it will probably fit better than anything you’ve ever owned.
You’ll be asked to be at multiple fittings, where you’ll spend a lot of time standing still. But the work is worthwhile to some brides, since a custom gown allows them a virtually limitless choice in colors and fabrics, as well as a chance to veer from mainstream styles.
Brides opting for a custom-made gown will likely pay more for it than a ready-to-wear gown; prices often start at several thousand dollars.
As with most wedding decisions, earlier is better when it comes to working with a dressmaker. At many design shops, a final decision is required at least seven months before the wedding for custom work, meaning brides should begin discussions with a tailor no less than nine months before the wedding date.
Even if you aren’t in the market for a custom gown, you should find a tailor you trust. Most ready-to-wear gowns require some adjustment, from hemming and bustling of the skirt to nips and tucks to ensure the bodice fits properly. Make sure the tailor you select has experience with the fabrics that make up your gown.
One more note on fitting: Be careful about losing extra pounds or dramatically increasing muscle mass between dress fittings and the wedding day. Brides who get in shape for the big day may find their hard work for naught if their dresses won’t zip or stay up. As a precaution, a final trip to your seamstress a few weeks before the wedding should ensure all is still well with your gown.
It’s about time
How soon after the proposal should you start searching for that dream dress? Most experts agree that six to 12 months in advance of the wedding is a good time frame. As soon as you’ve booked the ceremony and reception sites, you should focus your attention on your attire.
Allowing yourself plenty of time to shop for the dress could end up having a positive domino effect on your entire wedding timeline. If you find your dress early in the process, many of the questions that pop up later—what the flowers or bridesmaids’ dresses should look like, for example—will be easier to answer, since the bride’s attire sets the tone for the whole event.
To simplify the gown-buying process, consider looking for accessories and bridal party gowns at the same shop. This gives you the chance to set the scene and put all the dresses together before the big day. If you don’t buy all the dresses at one place, take along a photo of your gown when shopping for the bridal party.
Dresses often take anywhere from four to six months to receive once they’re ordered, and you should allow yourself at least a month for alterations. If you’re ordering during the busiest bridal-buying time—April through early June—dresses can take even longer to arrive.
Just don’t be too surprised if, after trying on various styles, your ideal dress ends up being different than what you expected. Trusting in the expertise of bridal professionals and the heartfelt input of family and friends will help lead a bride to her ultimate look. “This is an important day,” Misener says. “This is not like buying a pair of jeans. You want to look like a bride. 2013 is a great year to get married. Love is alive and well.”
Photos courtesy of Shutterhead Studios, Nicole Dixon Photographic, B&N Photoart, Julian Allen Photography and Hillary Ferguson Photography