In the wake of the royal wedding gown, several articles have been published decrying the strapless gown, criticizing it for being unflattering and uncomfortable. Why then, does the strapless gown endure as the top choice for modern brides?
1. Modern brides consider sleeves dowdy
In bridal salons across America, the following scene plays out daily. A young bride tries on a dozen wedding gowns including one with gorgeous full-lace sleeves. It looks breathtaking. Her bridesmaids “Oooh and Aaaaah” over it and the sale is nearly closed – until someone awkwardly remarks, “Do you think it’s a bit too covered up?” After a discussion with the seamstress about the cost and practicality of chopping them off, she then chooses a strapless or spaghetti strap style.
And the bride is
right. With the average wedding gown being 7 yards of floor length fabric and
ruffles, small figures are easily overwhelmed. Once you add full sleeves and a veil,
you have a wall of fabric – a very fancy bridal burqa – the height of fashion
in the 1800’s.
2. Sleeves are hot
And I don’t mean “hot” in the Paris Hilton use of the word. Being a bride is hard work – being the center of attention for hours on end; trying to remain photo-ready while dancing the night away. No bride wants to worry about rivulets of sweat or armpit stains in her wedding pictures. For those magically poised beings for whom sweat is not an issue, enjoy the sleeves. For the rest of the universe, bare shoulders offer a bit more breathing room.
3. Heirloom Jewelry
Most brides are charged not only with the task of finding a gown they love, but also coordinating said gown with a family heirloom necklace. A strapless gown offers a gorgeous, bare canvas to highlight a sentimental locket or string of vintage pearls.
4. Sleeves are restrictive
Although we admire the grace and poise of Kate Middleton, for many American brides, her wedding day is the first time she will wear a formal gown. The cornerstone of American fashion is comfort, which often equals knits. As bridal gowns are usually woven materials, having sleeves – especially the cap-sleeve or off-the-shoulder style – means a bride cannot lift her arms over her head in the way she is used to. Modern brides are less likely to waltz stiffly across the floor, than to boogie to top 40 hits at her reception.
The sleeved gown
is beautiful, elegant – and different. Part of what makes fashion so fun to
watch on celebrities is the voyeuristic element; the ability to vicariously
live through runway models and royalty like Kate Middleton, without having to
shoulder the risk trying it and having it go horribly wrong.
Now we all
know truly bold, fashion forward brides, but the average bride sees a long-sleeved
gown as a backup option to hide less-than-stellar upper arm definition, rather than a
bold fashion choice to be rocked. Although there should be more long-sleeved options to serve brides who want to cover their arms for modesty and religious reasons, many brides who may have previously been ashamed of their curvy arms are now choosing to embrace their bodies and go bare instead.
So, although there will be an increase in long-sleeved gown options in the market going forward, for these reasons and many others, the strapless gown will remain the reigning champion of wedding day style.
Congratulations! You have met your perfect match and you are engaged. The date is set, the location is chosen, now it’s time to choose the Pièce de résistance – the Bridal gown. Shopping for the gown is the centerpiece of the wedding planning process. This is treasured bonding time for the bride, her bridesmaids, her mother and future mother-in-law.
Gown shopping can also unfortunately be a time of stress and confusion. Most women only purchase one formal gown in a lifetime. The choice of such an iconic, expensive piece of clothing can be daunting; the choices are endless, the sizing systems byzantine. The stress can be enough to make even the most cool and collected bride break a sweat.
In order to help, here are some tips to help you keep your inner “bridezilla” at bay:
Begin shopping as soon as you become engaged – a year or more in advance of your wedding date is not too early! Some brides are fortunate and find their gown waiting for them in the first salon they enter. Others will search tirelessly for months on end before even finding something “adequate”. If you put shopping on the back burner, you will discover that many popular wedding gowns have a 6-month lead-time from order to delivery. Many bridal salons will offer rush orders, which are a great option for those who start late planning. The downside is that it will come at a hefty extra charge, along with feeling rushed and overwhelmed during the month before your wedding. Start early unless you have no other choice.
Know what looks good on you
Very often the gown that catches your eye in a bridal magazine will not be the one best suited for your body type. The options are endless and overwhelming. Once you arrive at the bridal salon, most of the gowns on the rack will be in sizes of 4-12. If you are larger or smaller than that, your heart will sink as the salesperson goes to pull “one that fits” – often old, ratty and unfashionable. The good news is that you can order just about any gown in any size, and have a professional seamstress fit it to your frame. The bad news is that you will have to rely on your imagination to figure out what it will look like on you until then.
So what do you do? Walk into your closet. Pull out your favorite dress. Browse through old photos where you look absolutely stunning. What dress garners you the most compliments when you wear it? What outfit makes you stand up straighter and put a little swagger in your step? Do you look great in a “v” neckline? Go to the mall and try on evening gowns. Take notes and take pictures.
Don’t Forget The Details
The difference between an acceptable gown and a stunning one lies in the details. The best gowns are made from the most high quality fabrics. Looking beyond luxury silks and brocades, take note that even polyester comes in luxe and cheap qualities. The fabric should move gracefully when you walk. Note the subtle changes in colors, from stark white to diamond white, to ivory, blush or rum. Look for yellow or blue undertones and see which looks best against your skin tone. Take note of the lace and trims. Sometimes you can order a yard of extra material from the manufacturer to create a matching handbag or heirloom hankie.
Take your time with the seamstress. Fit is the single most important feature of any garment. Multiple fittings by a professional can transform your gown from average to red-carpet-worthy heights. No bride wants to spend her wedding reception awkwardly hiking up an ill-fitting strapless gown, when she could be dancing with abandon in comfort!
Know Your Options
Although going to a bridal salon is by far the most common option, it may not be the right choice for every bride. If you want something completely unique, or are simply on a budget, you will be pleased to discover that there are other choices.
Something old - Handmade couture gowns of the most sumptuous materials can be found languishing on racks in vintage and thrift stores. If you are willing to roll up your sleeves and dig a bit, a designer gown can be had for near nothing, plus the price of cleaning and alterations. Search in low-traffic vintage stores in small towns, as opposed to overshopped designer consignment stores in big cities for the best deals.
Something new – Have you always dreamed of an authentic Victorian gown or something uber-modern? Do you have a hard-to-fit figure? Working with a fashion designer to create a custom gown may be the answer for you. Not only will it look fabulous, it will fit you perfectly and be one-of-a-kind. Although there are a few situations where a custom gown may cost less than a salon gown, in most cases expect to pay a designer the same amount or more as an off the rack gown to get exactly what you want.
Something borrowed – Take a look at the bridal albums of family, friends and acquaintances that have been married for decades. Many have had their bridal gowns professionally preserved, and they are now sitting in an attic. Most bridal designs are classics, changing very little from year to year. Besides the joy of finding a great gem of a gown for the cost of alterations, this is a great opportunity to share sentiment across the generations.
Something blue – Color is a great option for the modern bride. Many designers are beginning to offer gowns with splashes of color, but why stop there? Modern brides can buy a stunning evening gown in royal blue, ruby red, or sunshine yellow – any color that looks good on your skin tone. Although the symbolism of the white bridal gown has long since faded, it’s popularity persists because white is a color choice that looks great on most skin tones. Additionally, the day-to-day impracticality of wearing white elevates to the ultimate luxurious color choice for a special event. Whatever color you choose, this is the time to express your personal style.
Take A Moment of Silence
As you shop for your wedding gown surrounded by your loving friends and family, recognize that everyone has their own unconscious agenda. All of their input can be overwhelming and contradictory. Bridesmaids may push for you to wear something more daring in style than they were brave enough to try. Mothers of the bride may be concerned that your dream gown may be too expensive – or may encourage you to buy the gown they always dreamed of.
Leave family and friends at home for both your first and last appointment trying on wedding gowns. Ask the salesperson to leave you alone with the gown for a few moments. You need time to clear your head and separate your thoughts and feelings from the chorus of well-meaning friends and family. Don’t be afraid to take a few days to think it over before committing to your final purchase. And don’t be afraid to change your mind and choose something radically different than what everyone else expects. It’s your wedding day, lead with your heart!
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