I began my wedding dress search two weeks ago by browsing casually at a beautiful shop down the street here in Lincoln Park. The owner gently informed me that, in fact, to achieve delivery for my spring wedding date, time was of the essence. I then heard this at another shop… and again at another… and before long it became clear to me that it was time to batton down the hatches and give this task my full, undivided attention.
Those of you who’ve been through the wedding process know about the long lead times; for me this was news. Many designers only order the fabric from the mill for the dress when they get the order from a bride. From there, it can take 4-6 months to construct the gown and then a further month or two for fittings, depending on the tweaks requested and complexity of the gown.
What elements of my personal style should I want reflected in this dress? What will feel extraordinary but also still feel like me? What silhouette would I want to float across the dance floor in? What requirements of season and venue had to be met? What first glimpse would I want my fiancée to see in his mind forever? I set sail on an epic Magellan quest to reconcile these questions into one perfect dress.
My hands glided over hundreds of gowns and fabrics during the last two weeks. For a fashion lover like me – this was ecstasy. The racks were my oyster. But the business of elimination must take place: you start with a buffet of confections and have to narrow down to a single dessert. Despite working in the fashion industry for my whole career this task felt overwhelming. So in order to sort through all the options, I organized a series of questions to help guide me through the process.
Fresh on my mind, I wanted to share my tips on simplifying the selection process with you brides-to-be and future brides out there. Accompanying images are some of my favorite gowns that I came across.
And yes, I did find my one and only gown. And no, it’s not one of the below :)
AISLE STYLE GUIDE
1. Decide your shape first: Fitted or A-Line. From there you can experiment with the varying degrees of each. For example, if you decide A-Line, then only try on the range of ball gown skirts to soft A-line skirts and decide what exact silhouette looks best among those. Congrats, you’ve just cut down the boutique’s assortment by two-thirds.
J. Mendel, Marchesa, Vera Wang, Angel Sanchez
2. Next, decide whether you want your fabric to be textured or solid. Do you envision yourself in an all over Grace Kelly lace or a Carolyn Bessette pure, unadorned silk?
Oscar de la Renta, Pronovias, Dee Hutton, Valentina Kova
2(A) If you want texture, ask yourself what kind? Large scale lace looks more modern:
Partial, placed lace/embellishment can have a softer effect, especially on someone quite petite:
If you want more traditional laces, ask for Chantilly (romantic, floral – think Princess Kate), Alençon (needlepoint lace which has a heavy corded outline to create definition), or Guipere/Venise (large series of motifs connected by few threads).
If you want texture that says “vintage” more than “traditional” try beading for it’s deco feel. Hand sewn silk petals or flowers are another alternative to lace, providing allover texture that’s more whimsical and artful. Sequins say PARTY BRIDE. You will see tons of variations of texture: ask yourself what attitude do you want to project?
Badgley Mischka, Jenny Packham, Claire Pettibone, Mira Zwillinger, Minoque L’Huillier
2(B) If you choose to go the solid fabric route, pay extra attention to the fit and fabric. The goal with a solid gown is to show off YOU: the cut has to absolutely flatter your shape (hello, Pippa!). Ask about the fabric. It needs to be rich and lustrous. Stay away from synthetics. Simplicity can often be more head-turning than an overly-embellished gown, but look for something that still feels special. You don’t want to look like a bridesmaid.
Half Penny, Austin Scarlett, Peter Langner
3. Neckline (& sleeveline). This is an important one. Stick to your guns here. For some reason, the majority of dresses these days are strapless and so the shops will try to steer you in that direction. This is convenient if you want strapless, but if you don’t, push them to accommodate you. Before you try on a bunch of strapless gowns that you are told can be “tweaked” – look at the dresses first and judge for yourself whether adding a strap will look intentional or irrelevant (and bizarre). Spare yourself the strapless try-on time by editing ahead. Neckline is an important aspect in creating the most flattering fit for you. How it relates to the waistline is a ratio that professional stylists always consider. Try lots of different necklines. Most importantly, take photographs. Looking later, you will immediately get a sense of which necklines make you look longer, shorter, broader, narrower, bustier, less busty, etc. I found that most places are in fact allowing pictures these days. If they don’t allow photos, your stealthy bridesmaids are there to bend the rules.
3(A). Lastly, do not dismiss a long sleeve. They’re demure and ladylike and sexy at the same time! A unique choice.
Ashi Studio, Rue De Seine
5. Surprise factor. Do you want to do something unexpected like wear a colored or printed gown? Or go with a short dress? A two piece? There’s a lot of fun to be had if you’re willing to open your mind to the possibilities. Of course, consider how it will jive with your venue.
Krakor Jabotian, Le Spose Di Gio, Delphine Manivet, Carolina Herrera, Elizabeth Filmore, Claire Le Faye, Anne Barge, Sareh Nouri, Houghton
My last piece of advice: trust your instinct. Don’t overly invest in the store owner’s opinion, the magazine trends, or your friends’ favorite. If you love something that comes in under budget, don’t be persuaded to spend more. If you’re a shoe lover and want to build your dress around the shoes, DO IT! Use other people’s feedback for inspiration but ultimately this is your independent decision to make.