Whether you want to look as elegant as Kate Middleton on her big day or as laid-back (but equally gorgeous) as Cindy Crawford at her beachside nuptials, you know that it’s all about the dress. Sure, your hair, makeup, and accessories will go a long way to make you look just as fabulous as you’ve imagined, but often, it’s the dress that inspires the rest.
Before you can say yes to any dress, you have to have at least an idea of what you’re looking for. Do you want to be as pretty as a princess? As proper as a prom queen? Your own personal style will play a huge role in your decision. And just as important as color, fit, and length, you’ll want to think about the material. So whether you haven’t paid much attention to fabrics since your high school home economics class or you’re a material maven, here’s a list of the most common wedding dress materials and some suggestions on how to wear them best.
With its airy, sheer quality, chiffon can be a great option for warm weather weddings. Paired with the fact that it doesn’t wrinkle easily–and when it does, a simple hanging will shake any wrinkles out–chiffon makes for a smart choice for destination weddings. Made from cotton, silk, or synthetic fibers, chiffon wedding dresses are often layered to create opaque, flowing, romantic gowns. In less layers, look for chiffon in wraps and overskirts.
In the olden days, all lace was handmade. While handmade lace wedding gowns are still around, they are by far a rarer find in recent years. There are many types of lace, differentiated by the production technique and design, but are most recognizable as openwork fabrics, often transparent when worn without a liner. Lace can be made with cotton, linen, and silk as well as synthetic fibers. Often adorned with flowers or repeating geometric shapes, you can find lined, all-over lace dresses; gowns with lace accents–like a lace back, neck or straps–or dresses embodying both, with some portions of the dress in open lace and others with a liner behind it.
Lace dresses convey a sense of elegance and romance to any celebration while imbuing a vintage feel. Depending on the style, extent, and intricacy of the lace accents, these gowns can take you through virtually any time period–with modest, long-sleeved lace gowns reminiscent of Grace Kelly to Nicole Richie’s fresh, fun take on a traditional favorite. Just remember that while lace accents with no lining appear to be thin and airy, they can get warm and constricting quickly in hot temperatures, especially if you’re already a little nervous about walking down the aisle. Keep this mind when trying on your dress.
There’s a reason people use the phrases “smooth as silk” or “silky smooth.” Silk is a luxurious and highly sought-after wedding gown material made from the cocoon of silkworms and can be more expensive than other textiles. Silk is most often thought of as smooth, supple, and having a slight sheen to it; however, the slightly duller and stiffer, raw silk, is sometimes used as well. Silk weaves can vary from thin, almost transparent, to thicker, more substantial weaves. If the cost of a pure silk gown is a little on the intimidating side, consider silk blends as a great alternative–offering the luxuriousness of silk without the heftier price tag.
Although you will certainly see silk gowns in many forms, these will often have less embellishment or decoration, showcasing the beauty of the material. Stylized ruching, intricate folds, draping, and variants in silhouette and style are used to set each gown apart.
Silk wedding dresses are a wonderful fit for traditional, formal celebrations and beach affairs alike–although the latter will probably not be quite as forgiving. As silk is a natural fiber, it will do well in warmer climates, allowing the dress to breathe, but will crease easily, so it may not be the perfect fit if you will be sitting for long periods of time.
Taffeta’s most notable identifier is the signature “swish” sound it makes when you walk. A lighter-weight, woven fabric with a slight rib texture to it, taffeta is made from silk or synthetic fibers and, like silk, is also seen as a luxurious fabric. In wedding gowns it is often a structured material with a slight, muted sheen to it.
Due to its stiffer nature, it is frequently seen in gowns with fuller skirts and seems made for draping. Taffeta does have a tendency to trap heat easily, so you may want to avoid these gowns in hotter temperatures.
When you need a little extra “pouf,” tulle is way to go. Tulle is actually classified as netting–not fabric–and is often made with cotton, silk, or a synthetic fiber. It is what makes up a ballerina’s signature tutu, is almost always the secret behind–or underneath, rather–a full skirt, and is often the go-to material for veils.
Layers of floor-length tulle will create a ball gown with a princess-y and whimsical feel, while tea-lengths are a bit more playful. Pair with a structured or even corseted bodice. Irregular layers offer a modern take on the look and almost appear feather-like in quality. Tulle can appear as the skirt or as the volumizing factor underneath. If you have sensitive skin or will be in a warm climate, it’s important that your dress is lined as the construction of tulle can make it itchy in certain conditions.
Your wedding dress choice is as personal as your celebration. So whether you’d like to be princess for a day, goddess of a faraway beach, or want to channel a little vintage charm, make sure your gown is perfectly you.
Lisa is a special needs teacher and a hugger. She always makes time for everyone and lightens up everybody’s lives with her presence. When she is not chasing her students around the yard, she finds time to write about what she truly loves, and you guessed it, its people and relationships.