Chic brides

Sunday, February 1, 2004

NEW YORK

Style-conscious brides-to-be have even more reasons to cheer this year. Wedding dresses, which until the 1990s were often fussy and rigid and anything but sophisticated, are more stylish than ever.

"This is the best season we have seen in several seasons," says Millie Martini Bratten, editor-in-chief of Bride's magazine. "There's a sophistication and innovation that's similar to what we saw in the ready-to-wear lines, and that's a fairly recent thing. It didn't used to be that way in bridal fashion."

Clean lines, beautiful fabrics, ultra-feminine touches and innovative twists on the iconic white dress were the hallmarks of the designs unveiled at several top bridal designers' shows last fall in New York.

Strapless continues to be the dominant neckline, but new adornments like ruffles, ribbons and bows give strapless gowns a new, romantic softness, as seen in Vera Wang's traditional lace strapless dress with a ribbon belt and the ruffle detailing at the neckline and hem on Oscar de la Renta's strapless gowns.

Even ultra-feminine throwbacks like bustles and corsets were everywhere, looking grand and striking instead of dated on gowns like Oscar de la Renta's hand-embroidered bustier with a silk taffeta bustled skirt and Amsale's tuxedo corset gown, with satin ribbons criss-crossing down the back.

As in the ready-to-wear shows, the bridal fashion shows were a trip down memory lane, with designers resurrecting the 1950s most of all. Both Reem Acra and Vera Wang accented their gowns with fur and faux fur wraps, worn asymmetrically for a modern twist. Reem Acra showed a strapless tea length dress accented with garlands of flowers and Amsale is offering a platinum taffeta cocktail dress.

"Some of the 1950s looks are great for a garden wedding," Bratten says. "The venues are driving some of the innovation. Destination weddings are so popular."

The 1920s influence is also strong this year, with Vera Wang offering an almost sheer flapper dress with a skirt that uses draped fabric to mimic a wedding cake design. Another Vera Wang was a simple slip dress with ribbons at the shoulder and jeweled trim to give it some Jazz Age sparkle.

Simple, elegant details are the star in many designs, like Lazaro's veils, which echo the details of the gowns. Splashes of icy blue in Reem Acra's collection give brides a shortcut when going down the "something old, something new" list.

"If you want a fabulous classic ball gown, you're going to see the best of fabulous classic ball gowns this year," Bratten says, adding that designers have tweaked the traditional design. "They have a lightness to them, with nice touches like netting -- the twisting and wrapping and draping of netting. It's young, it's comfortable, it's glamorous."

With wedding dresses more fashionable than ever, Bratten cautions brides against abandoning all sense of tradition when selecting a wedding dress.

"Fashion is very tricky. You don't want to look stuck in time in the pictures. You're going to want to look back 20 years from now and you don't want to look trendy," she says.

A wedding dress is often the most expensive garment a women ever buys, so there is more to consider than just the style when selecting a gown. Bratten says it's essential to ask questions to make sure you're getting the best quality for your money: Is lace and beadwork sewn on or appliquéd? Is the gown made of 100 percent silk or satin, or is it a blend of man-made natural fibers? What does the sample look like -- are the seams and edges finished?

Hand-sewn details, luxe fabric and well-sewn seams and hems are signs of an excellent garment. Another thing to consider when shopping for a dress is picking the bridal store, since the experience can vary widely depending on the store's level of professionalism and service.

Often the sale is accompanied by a signed and countersigned contract, which should specify the style number, size and color; embellishments like pearls, sequins and lace; and the delivery date. Make sure the refund policy allows for a 100 percent refund if the dress is never delivered.

To find the perfect store for you, Bratten and the editors at Bride's say you should keep the following questions in mind when embarking on your search for the perfect dress:

  • Does the store have a good reputation with recent brides and wedding consultants you know? Check the Better Business Bureau to see if any complaints have been lodged against the store.

    Do the salespeople put you at ease? Do they pay attention to your comments?

    What are the store's alteration fees? Can you get those fees in writing?

    How long will it take for the dress to come in after you place your order? Can you place a rush order if necessary? Will there be an extra charge?

    Can I borrow the dress for my bridal portrait and then bring it back to the store for safe-keeping until my wedding day?

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