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The Guide to Wedding Attire for the Discriminate Bride

By Alison Nguyen on July 28, 2008

Here comes the bride, all dressed in — ?

Bride holding up wedding gown

Shopping for wedding attire isn't easy.

For many women, the wedding gown is a representation of personality, reality, fantasy, and style. Finding one can be dizzying; rules are vanishing, fashion is constantly changing, and there are more options available than ever before.

"Lots of brides we have come into our store are tired of seeing the same old styles," says Lara Meiland., designer and co-owner at Lara Hélène Bridal Altier in New York. "We experiment with different fabrications, textures, patterns, embellishments, and 3-D designs."

She notes that the most important thing in choosing a wedding gown "is how the dress makes you feel."

How do you choose a dress that reflects who you are-while still remaining sane? How do you buy the dress of your dreams and still remain a savvy customer?

Talk the Talk

New York designer and bridal boutique owner Jussara Lee recommends, "choose the perfect fit and quality fabric over ornaments and decoration." And before you begin trying to find the dress with the perfect fit, it helps to become familiar with wedding attire jargon. Begin with the silhouette. Classic styles include:

  • Ball Gown: typified by a fitted bodice and waistline that lead to a very full skirt.
  • Empire: a high waistline (right under the bust), which falls to a slimmer skirt.
  • A-Line: a shape cut close to the hip with a slight flare at the hem.
  • Sheath: a slim silhouette that closely follows the lines of the body.
  • Mermaid: a body-hugging silhouette that flares below the knee.
  • Trumpet: a shape in which the skirt gradually flares at mid-thigh.

Consider various styles of necklines to frame your neck and face. Strapless, scoop, and asymmetrical necklines are styles that are easy to envision, but what about more esoteric ones?

  • Bateau: the shape gently follows the curve of the collar bone, almost to the tip of the shoulders.
  • High-Neck: typified by a band collar that extends above the neckline.
  • Jewel neckline: round and sits at the base of your throat.
  • Sweetheart: strapless, shaped like the top half of a heart-accentuating the décolletage.

Where to Find Your Gown

Trying on wedding gown

Begin shopping for your wedding dress early — ideally 9 to 12 months before your wedding. This way you can take your time and consider your options; keeping in mind that you will need to order your dress at least six months before the wedding.

Bridal Salons.

Bridal salons sell custom-made, designer wedding gowns. At a salon, you often you need an appointment to try on dresses, so call in advance. It's important to have a good relationship with your salesperson. Work with someone who is respectful, attentive, and knowledgeable. You should never feel pressured into buying a dress. Make sure the store is authorized to sell a certain designer's line. If it isn't, there is no guarantee that the dress will arrive on time.

Sample Sales.

NYIAD Top Tip:

In large cities, wedding-dress designers have biannual fashion shows where they sell their apparel to bridal-shop owners, who in turn sell them to you. You may want to get on the mailing list of designers you like so you'll be among the first to hear about their sample sales.

Warehouses and Chain Stores.

Bridal Salon salesperson

Warehouses and chains such as David's Bridal sell dresses at a less expensive rate. At some warehouses you can find gowns from lesser-known designers or dresses from top-designers' past seasons. The downside is that-like a T.J. Maxx or Kohl's — these places can be cramped and a bit overwhelming.

Custom Dressmakers.

If you can't find a dream dress anywhere, you can locate a good dressmaker who can create your vision. Before you go forward, check out samples of the dressmaker's work, or order another dress before committing to your wedding gown, so you can see the type of work that the dressmaker produces.

Rental Shops.

If keeping the dress afterwards is not a high priority, consider rental. Look in your phone book under Bridal Shops for those who rent dresses. This is usually a fraction of the cost of buying and the shop will generally also do alterations for you. The veil and slip should be included in the rental fee and the shop should agree to do the cleaning afterwards.

If none of these options work for you, consider buying a nice dress from a store other than a bridal shop. Designer Selia Yang notes, "Wedding apparel used to be more theatrical — the trend now tends to be more minimal. You don't want to look out of your realm." Keeping this in mind, any dress can become your wedding dress as long as you'll feel good about wearing it on your special day.

Shopping Tips.

Bridal Shop
  • Be open-minded. You might have a vision of what you like, but consider alternatives. Try a number of styles, even if you hate the way they look on the hanger. You might be surprised by the results.
  • "Be very conscious of the quality of gown. Don't make a judgment based on its brand name. No one will see it," says designer Steven Birnbaum of Birnbaum and Bullock Bridal in New York. He notes that problems generally arise when brides make hasty decisions.
  • Bring the shoes that you will be wearing, a slip, a strapless bra, and control-top pantyhose.
  • Don't bring more than one or two people along. Your mother and one of your bridesmaids can be helpful, but bringing half of the wedding party often leads to unnecessary stress.
  • Ask how much alterations cost, and whether they can be done in the store. "I would advise that wherever you buy your dress make sure they alter it as well," says designer Sheila Yang. "Alteration is key."
  • Ask how long the dress will take to come in and, if necessary, if it can it can be rushed.

Most of all, wear the dress; don't let the dress wear you. Your wedding gown should highlight your features but not be so outstanding that you get lost in it. When shopping, trust your intuition. The wedding dress you pick should make you feel confident, beautiful, and sexy.

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