Wedding Dresses

Tuesday, 21 April 2009

Preparing for a wedding takes a lot of time and attention to detail. One of your biggest purchases will be the gorgeous dress you plan to wear down the aisle. Showing up looking like a princess is easier said than done, so we interviewed designers and top industry experts for tips on choosing your perfect wedding gown.

The Basics

The main thing to keep in mind is that you should wear a dress that makes you feel good. Bringing friends and family along to help you choose is a great idea, but ultimately, you are the one that has to make the decision, and wear the dress.

Whether you’re buying off the rack or having something made especially for you, pay attention to quality and workmanship. Examine the finishing, seams, lining. Are there any fraying edges or loose threads? High-quality dresses are well-lined and have built-in bustiers so there’s no need for extra lingerie.

Dress Styles

  • Ball gowns are the traditional style evocative of princesses. It has a full bodice and a defined waistline with a very full skirt.

  • Empire gowns have high waistbands, usually cinching just below the bust line, and falling into a slim, flowy skirt.

  • A-line or princess-cut dresses feature vertical seams flowing from the shoulders down into a flared skirt, which creates the shape of a capital A.

  • Sheath dresses are simple and skim the body, closely following the lines of your curves.

Body Shape

Your body shape plays a lot into what style of dress will look good on you. Here are some guidelines from design experts:

  • Hourglass shape (big chest, big hips, small waist): look for A-line dresses or a dress with a dropped waist. Sweetheart necklines show of your figure well. Avoid ball gowns, which will show off your hips. Empire waist dresses will accentuate your bust and hide your great waist, giving a disproportionate look.

  • Short-waisted (small distance from ribs to hips): look for a princess line silhouette to help elongate your figure. Avoid sheath-style dresses, which can accentuate your short waist.

  • Thick-waisted (apple-shaped torso): An empire-waist gown de-emphasizes the waistline and creates a long, slim look. Avoid A-line dresses, which can draw too much attention to your middle.

  • Full-figured: If you want to downplay any features, try on a ball gown style. Avoid sheath styles and anything with spaghetti straps. It’s best to choose something with substantial straps (e.g. 1 inch wide), and a neckline that will show off your buxom chest.

  • Pear-shaped: a strapless ball gown style will bring the attention to your top half while camouflaging your bottom half. An off-the-shoulder neckline will also balance your top and bottom. Avoid sheath styles and anything with a V-neck, which will draw the eye downward.

  • Petite: Keep it simple. A sheath or A-line will work well, but try other styles too. Best to avoid poufy ball gowns, however, which may look like you’re drowning in a sea of white foam.

  • Small-busted: Look for anything that brings attention to your bust line. Try out A-line dresses and empire waist styles. Avoid spaghetti straps. Some dresses or dress-makers can also add padding to the bust area to make it look like you naturally fill it out.


The type of fabric you choose for your dress will definite affect the price:

  • Silk is a popular wedding dress fabric, and there are many different kinds to choose from (raw, peau de soie.)

  • Organza and satin are also popular.


Wedding gowns are traditionally white, but there is a range of colours to choose from, including beautiful shades of cream, ivory, champagne, blush pink, blue, and every other colour under the sun. Even among whites there are warm whites and cool whites. Look for a shade that matches your skin tone.

Dressing Age-Appropriately

Women are getting married later in life these days, or more than once, a perfectly poufy ball gown doesn’t always suit the day, or the ceremony.

We talked to wedding expert Elana Lancit, President of Sweet Beginnings Wedding Consultants. Her tips on how to dress for your age, or your wedding number include:

  • Many second-time brides already did the big ball gown or princess dresses the first time around, so the second dress is more reflective of her personal style.

  • Second-time and older brides usually forgo the veil, though if you’re having a big formal church wedding, a veil may still be suitable. Also consider a hat, tiara, comb, fresh flowers, floral headpiece, or a decorative up-do.

  • Full trains are also considered inappropriate for older and second-time brides.

  • Though white used to be taboo for second (or higher) marriages, it’s more widely accepted, as long as the style of the dress is appropriate. But these days there are so many colour options available in bridal gowns that even first-timers are starting to break away from traditional white. Whatever colour you choose, pick one that goes with your skin tone, and that you feel comfortable wearing. You can also take cues from the seasonal colours.

  • Overall, experts suggest going for a glamorous evening wear look, and avoid stark white. However, be careful in your choice to ensure you don’t take on a more “mother of the bride” look.

  • Styles to consider include:

    • A designer dress you’ve had your eye on but couldn’t afford or justify. Choose a colour that you will wear again.

    • A non-white floor-length sheath dress.A beautiful suit in any colour, especially for a daytime wedding.

    • A short, knee-length dress or pencil skirt. Both are chic and sophisticated, but not over-the-top bridal.

    • Consider details like puff sleeves to cover any arm issues, and a scoop neckline to frame your face.

  • Great fabrics include satin, chiffon, georgette, crepe, poly-silk blends, and any soft, draping fabric that stands up well to wrinkles.

  • Keep jewelry simple. Select a few favourite elegant pieces to add some sparkle or draw attention, without going over the top.

  • You may want more coverage as an older bride, but remember to highlight your assets. Consider these styles:

    • Empire-waist dresses hide tummy and hips.

    • Strapless gowns with a jacket or shrug to cover any arm problems

    • A-line gowns flatter all figures. The higher the A-line flare, the more flattering it will be.

    • Princess-line gowns (e.g. A-line dress with vertical princess seaming through the torso) are also figure-flattering.

    • Pick styles that have loose fabric in areas you don’t want to draw attention.


Experts say that the average bride spends about $1000 on a dress, though it’s easy to pay thousands more. Budget-friendly alternatives include borrowing a dress from a friend or relative.

  • Decide on a price that you’re comfortable with before you hit the stores, and then only look at dresses in your price range. (It’s too easy to fall in love with a dress that costs way too much!)
  • Once you’ve chosen a dress, make sure you get in writing exactly what you’ve ordered and what the store/dressmaker will provide and when.
  • Also expect to pay a non-refundable deposit.
  • If possible, ask if the shop will store your dress until your wedding so that it stays wrinkle-free for your big day.
  • Watch your local paper for sample sales and other deals. Be careful of buying a dress that is too big, however. 1-2 sizes is ok, but more than that can be difficult to alter.

Other Considerations

  • Keep in mind that many gowns need to be special-ordered or tailored. This can take 3-6 months or more. Be sure to leave enough time in your plan. A custom-made dress can take about 6 months, from pattern to final fitting.
  • Take a camera shopping. This way you can keep track of the dresses you try. A video camera is even better so that you can record your thoughts after you’ve tried each on.
  • When your big day is over, have your dress cleaned and stored. Keep in mind that dry cleaners can be pretty expensive when it comes to cleaning wedding gowns.


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