Black and white image of Vera Wang sitting in a chair.
Bride wearing a strapless ballgown dress by Vera Wang
Nothing speaks more to convention in the design of a wedding gown than structure. Certain fabrics have become synonymous with this type of gown, providing form yet still able to be manipulated with precision to the desired design. Duchess satin and satin-polyester blends are the most well-known of structured fabrics and are ideal for A-lines, full or gathered skirts, mermaid shapes or a structured bustier. Some of my brides seek more volume, so I recommend they choose taffeta (which looks lavish in off-white) or organza. One of my favorite fabrics for structured looks is tulle, which is no longer relegated to the underpinnings of a gown. Tulle is charming and beautiful, expressing a sense of youth and femininity; it is not ideal, however, for dancing or moving about.
Once cherished as the ultimate wedding fabric because of its delicacy, scarcity and cost, lace is now the realm of the more traditional brides. Symbolizing fragility and timelessness, nothing communicates tradition more than lace. There are numerous varieties of lace, each with its own weave and look. I love the delicacy of Chantilly lace and the elaborateness of Alencon or Venise. I recommend lace for morning or day weddings as it adds texture and adornment without the glitz of beading or shine. Lace can also be coupled with fabrics such as silk taffeta or satin to provide an element of tradition but not in an overwhelming way.
For many women, sensuality is expressed through the choice of a neckline, but how much is too much? Anything too obvious is seldom appropriate. The neckline of a wedding dress frames the bride's face and shoulders, and is critical to emphasizing (or deemphasizing) her bosom. For a small bosom, a deep V-neck is always flattering and a carved racer-front or narrow halter creates a sleek, sexy look. For a full bosom, choose a neckline that can hold extra stays or an additional layer of stretch lining for support. I recommend a crumb-catcher neckline as it flatters all sizes. In all cases, err on the side of discretion—even high necklines can be provocative if combined with an element of surprise, such as a low back.
The shape of the skirt is what determines the look and movement of your wedding dress. There are a few key shapes to choose from: Make a grand impression with a full, gathered skirt or elongate your silhouette with a classic A-line. If you are tall and thin, a circular skirt can be incredibly graceful particularly in a chiffon fabric. If you are curvy, a mermaid shape is extremely flattering. Finally, I highly recommend a narrow column for a skirt shape that is a sophisticated alternative to a full gown. A floor-length sheath is a nod to eveningwear and is considered quite avant-garde for a wedding dress.
The back of a wedding dress gets its fair share of attention and therefore should be conceived with this importance in mind. The charm of an artfully designed back lies in the intersection of cut, drape and detail (such as intricate seaming). I connect the back of the dress to the time of day of the wedding. For morning ceremonies, the back should never fall below the level of the bra fastening and should be adorned with traditional details such as tiny bows or ribbons. For late-day and especially evening weddings, a softer, lower drape and more bare skin is alluring and adornment can include sequins, beads and crystals to reflect light and add glamour. Remember, a bride's exit is as noteworthy as her entrance. Choose the back detail of your wedding dress accordingly.
A train that is integrated into the design of your wedding dress must be bustled. A bustle is achieved by lifting up the fabric of the train and fastening it to the rest of the dress with delicate buttons, loops, hooks, eyes or snaps—the bride can then move freely and comfortably among her guests. So you don't worry about the bustle coming undone, make sure the stitching of the fastenings is reinforced. I also recommend rehearsing the bustling process several times before your wedding day to avoid any last-minute challenges. Before you choose a wedding dress with an integrated train, take note that the bustle might add unwanted volume to your backside.
I always remind my brides to pay attention to what lies beneath. Your choice of undergarments is critical and should relate directly to the construction of your wedding dress as well as your body type. (A strapless bra does not work for a bride with a full chest, for example.) Choose bras and slips that are seamless to create smooth lines under your gown, and be sure all straps are covered. I recommend packing an extra bra on your wedding day in case one gets misplaced. For lavish ball gowns, some brides add more volume by wearing a second petticoat underneath. Remember this will shorten the skirt of the gown, so additional fabric will be required for the hem. As this is your wedding day, consider white foundations instead of skin-colored to celebrate the mood of the occasion.
I feel the bridal veil is one of the most symbolic and transformational accessories a woman will ever wear. The donning of the veil is a ritual that exists in every culture around the world, creating a moment that is both sacred and seductive. In choosing your veil you must consider many factors, from the location and nature of the celebration to your facial structure and height to how the veil will fit with your hairstyle or headpiece. Veils come in a variety of shapes, lengths and decorations so work with your wedding consultant to find the best one for you and your wedding dress.
Not sure how to handle the bridesmaids dresses? Practically speaking, the bride's attendants will vary in shape and size so choose a common thread to capture the element of pageantry that their role brings to the celebration. I recommend a uniform color or fabric in different silhouettes to flatter each figure and maintain individuality. Another approach is to ask each attendant to select her own gown (perhaps in a certain color range) to be as inclusive as possible, and create a connection through a finishing touch such as jewelry, hair or makeup. If color is your connector, remember that pale colors work best for summer weddings and dark colors for winter celebrations.
Children bring a youth and element of joy to any wedding. If you decide to include flower girls, their attire should reflect that of the bride's while remaining age appropriate. Modest necklines and ankle or mid-calf hemlines work best. Hair ornamentation is ideal for the flower girls—tailored bows, headbands or tiny rhinestone flowers on a barrette. Shoes should be elegant white, stain or ballet slippers that blend in tone. My favorite finishing touch for a flower girl is short, white cotton gloves. They look adorable and elegant. If the flower girls are holding bouquets, make sure they are small and easy to maneuver—anything complex will seem out of place on a small child.
Do you feel daring enough to add color to your wedding theme? Color speaks to each of us differently, and not all brides wish to move away from the tradition of white. For those who do, recognize that color can be added through small details or on the wedding dress itself. Think of tones more than the specific colors. For example: sophisticated pales such as rose, celadon or sky blue are flattering; elegant neutrals such as gray, taupe or stone are subtle; and intense brights such as fuchsia and periwinkle are dramatic and diverting. In all cases, color speaks to your imagination and your individuality.