Your fiancé has proposed. The date has been set. You’ve ­decided how formal or informal the occasion will be, and you’ve found the ceremony and reception sites to match. Now, among the dozens of other decisions left to make, it’s time to choose your wedding gown.

And the bride wore . . .

From the day of your bridal portrait, to the moment you take your first step down the aisle, your gown ensemble will be one of the focal points of your wedding. It will make a definite statement about your style and taste and is often what many people remember most about the event.

Choose your gown carefully, you will see your gown every time you look at your wedding photos, and you will likely keep the gown as a treasured heirloom. With so much emphasis placed on this one aspect of the wedding, it bears repeating – choose your gown carefully.

So many choices – where do I start?

One glance through a bridal magazine will reveal what lies ahead. You will see a perplexing spectrum of choices: long straight sleeves to no sleeves, Victorian to ­contemporary silhouettes, high necklines to off-the-shoulder looks, a defined waistline to an unstructured sheath, full bouffant skirts to slim A-line skirts, floor length to above-the-knee, the smooth, understated elegance of plain satin to elaborate lace and ­beading.

Here’s yet another twist to the process. There are literally hundreds of shades of white: cool white, blue-white, antique white, ivory, candlelight, and a whole family of pastel kissed whites. Maybe you’ll decide you want to wear a colored gown – ask your bridal salon to show you the designers that carry the beautiful, vibrant red wedding gowns. 

It can be a real challenge to choose the precise color and shade that best flatter your natural skin tones under a variety of lighting conditions. If you haven’t already done so, you may want to have a color analysis done to determine whether your complexion has warm or cool undertones. This knowledge can make the critical difference between choosing a color that makes you glow versus choosing a color that makes you look tired, washed out, or too “made up.”

All this is enough to boggle the mind of even the most seasoned, fashion-savvy wedding expert, but read on to further your pre-shopping knowledge. Keep in mind that there may be several excellent choices. Your mission is to sort through all the possibilities. Sift out that which is not pleasing, flattering, or appropriate and discover what makes you look and feel good. Choose a gown that reflects your personal style and best complements the theme of your wedding.

The elegance of today’s bridal designs blends luxurious fabrics with sublime simplicity. Gone are the ornate gowns with heavy beading and long puffed sleeves. Top designers are choosing organza, silk satin, crepe georgette, and silk peau de sole, as well as other rich fabrics for their bridal creations. Texture plays a key role in the basic design of the gown. For a ballgown skirt, a designer may use a fabric with more body and texture while using a soft, flowing fabric for a sheath.

Sleeveless gowns are the number one favorite with brides, partly because of the freedom of movement it offers. Short cap sleeves are the second most requested. As for necklines, brides have many choices, including a revealing scoop neckline, V, square, halter and open necklines.

Gown shopping tips

Your shopping experience should be fun and enjoyable, yet focused. Keep in mind that you may have to visit several shops, and even make more than one trip to find the gown you truly love. Be patient and don’t wait until the last minute. Most shop owners suggest ordering your gown seven to eight months before your wedding to allow for delivery, fittings and alterations. This also allows time to have your bridal portrait ready for display at your reception.

Unless you do your best shopping alone, bring along a companion to serve as an advisor. Consider your mother or other relative, a friend, or even a professional bridal or beauty consultant. One person we know brought along her long-time hair stylist who had a keen knowledge of the bride’s style and preferences, as well as an excellent sense of color, fashion, and design.

The person you take along with you should be one who can remain patient and unruffled by the process (even if it takes awhile), help you stay within your budget, and above all, promise to be painfully honest and objective about what looks good on you. Anyone who would tell you that you look marvelous in a burlap bag should be delegated to another task.

Also, keep the shopping party small with no more than two people joining you. This is no time for the whole family, your entourage of bridesmaids, or your entire sorority or office staff to tag along. Too many opinions can create confusion, and add more pressure to an already overwhelming venture.

Find out which stores have the best sales help. You’ll find that some salespeople do nothing more than point the way to the racks and the fitting rooms, while others are known for their expertise and service. Be prudent when patronizing those that serve complimentary champagne or wine. While a sip of bubbly can help put you at ease and add a sense of celebration to the task at hand, too much can adversely affect your decision-making, and it may prompt you to overspend.

One final note about shopping: wear appropriate attire for trying on gowns, including hosiery and dress shoes. Bring along any treasured piece of jewelry you may want to wear with your gown. Also, salons appreciate it if you wear light make-up to keep from soiling the dresses. Attention to these small details will help ensure that you make the right choice.

Tips for specific figure types:

If you are petite (5’4” or under), consider an A-line, Empire or Princess silhouette with a jeweled neckline and a short or capped sleeve. The vertical lines of a slightly flared or A-line skirt will also give the illusion of added height. Another option is an off-the-shoulder, scalloped, V-neck bodice with a Basque dropped waist that dips to a V-shape point at the center front of the dress. Instead of a gathered skirt, choose a skirt with larger flat pleats.

If you are tall and slender (5’9” or over), your selection process will be more difficult, but only because there will be so many styles that will look wonderful on you. Your choices will be numerous, from the dramatic sophistication of a sheath, to the romantic look of a gown with a neckline that just skims the shoulders and a flared or tiered skirt. A jewel or scooped neckline with a horizontally shirred and sleeveless bodice, and a pleated or slightly gathered skirt will be another great look.

If you have narrow shoulders and waist with full hips, choose a gown that draws the eyes upward such as a gown with a bodice that is detailed with beading or lace appliques, an off-the-shoulder, portrait collar, or a scoop neckline with a short sleeve. To disguise heavier hips, choose a soft full skirt with minimum detailing.

For full figures, consider a slenderizing Princess, A-line, or Empire style with vertical panels, or try a Basque waist with a soft flared or pleated skirt. A sweetheart neckline is a wonderful option for the bride that is large-busted. A jeweled or Sabrina neckline presents other flattering options. A 3/4-straight sleeve, or long straight sleeve will complete your look.

If your bust and hip measurements are approximately equal and you have a small waist, stay with classic lines. The classic elegance of simplicity carried so well by Audrey Hepburn and Jackie O. may be the perfect silhouette for you. Also, try an open or V-neckline with off-the-shoulder, cap, short or long sleeves and a fitted, natural, or slightly dropped waist line, with a full skirt or, if you prefer, a sheath with a train.

The Perfect Gown

Once you begin trying on different styles it will quickly become apparent what designs are most flattering. Try on all styles of gowns at first – even designs that you wouldn’t normally be drawn to. You may be surprised at how they look. Once you see what works, try on several gowns with the same silhouette.

As you can see, there is a lot to consider when buying this oh-so-special dress. But it’s not anything you can’t handle equipped with this information and enough time to really shop until you find that perfect gown – the gown you’ve imagined yourself in since the day you said “yes” to his proposal.

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