From the vows to the cake, virtually every part of a modern wedding is tailor-made to fit the couple’s personality. But when it comes to the all-important gown, this super-customized approach can intimidate any woman without confidence in her figure.
Every woman has flaws — real or imagined — to cover up, and trying on sample sizes that don’t fit can be downright pointless. But each bride deserves to float down the aisle in a creation that fits like a gorgeous glove, something that’s achievable with a few insider tips.
“You can take a mediocre dress and if you make it fit beautifully that dress is going to look amazing,” said Mark Badgley, half of the Badgley Mischka duo that designs couture gowns.
“Every bride should assume she’s going to need alterations because every body is unique and every dress is different,” said Michael Shettel, vice president of design for Alfred Angelo.
And, of course, there’s no such thing as a perfect body. “Everybody feels good about some part of their body and bad about some part of their body,” said Gilbert Chagoury, the bridal couturier at Chagoury Couture in Beverly Hills. “The first thing I say to my brides is that it’s most important that she feels good, happy and comfortable in her dress.”
Experts have different ideas about how to start the search for the perfect dress, but there’s one thing they all agree on: Comfort is key.
To get started, Alisa Benay, owner of a bridal line of that name, said a bride need look no further than her own closet, searching her wardrobe for clues about her comfort zone. “You don’t want to wear a wedding dress that is totally outside the box of what you usually wear,” said Benay, who just launched a collection, Beloved, that allows brides to essentially design their own gown mixing details, fabrics and cuts from a master design book.
Shettel takes a different approach.
He advised brides to begin by trying on what they’ve always dreamed about — be it a fluffy ball gown or a form-fitting mermaid style — regardless of whether it’s “right” for her body type. Then, once they’ve narrowed down their choice to a silhouette that does work, he guides them to a gown with style lines that accentuate their figure.
Benay has seen brides with identical body types choose radically different silhouettes because they were comfortable with that type of dress. “You just know,” she said. “It’s kind of like finding your fiancé — you just knew.”
Nevertheless, here are a few basic rules to keep in mind.
Many people enviously assume that tall, slim brides’ gown search is a piece of cake. Not necessarily so, said Shettel: “It’s complicated, because as much as they look great in many things, they still have some issues.”
Unless a willowy bride wants an ethereal, bohemian look, it’s important to make sure the gown is perfectly fitted to create curves and not make her look tubular. But as long as the fit is good, no style is off-limits. “There’s nothing that looks bad on a girl [who is] tall and slender,” Benay said.
For petite brides, a fitted mermaid cut works if there isn’t too much volume on the bottom, Chagoury said. They should stay clear of puffy dresses and large-patterned ornamentation. Avoid lines that bisect the body horizontally (such as wearing colored belts), and place small embellishments at the top or bottom of the gown where they will elongate. “You want that lengthening silhouette,” Benay said. “Nothing that’s cutting you right in half.”
An apple body type with thickness at the waist should look for a gown with structure around the middle, such as with a corseted bustier, said Wesley Swafford, a West L.A. event planner who spent years working with designer Monique Lhuillier helping brides choose the perfect gown.
Pear-shaped brides, who have a small waist and wider hips, can choose from a range of styles. Chagoury suggested an empire-waist style to emphasize the bust, with flowing chiffon on the skirt. Gowns that have flared mermaid cuts are also great for a bride who’s comfortable accentuating her butt, Benay said. An A-line gown, Shettel said, is “soft, easy and flowing, and highlights the waist but covers the hips and elongates.” A tea-length dress with a corseted bodice and flared skirt can also flatter.
Brides with short torsos should look for drop waists or empire cuts, said Chagoury. Conversely, a bride with a long torso creates the illusion of a higher waist with a slightly elongated empire and detailing on the bust.
Though many brides worry about the look of their arms, most current gown styles don’t have sleeves. With Benay’s Beloved line, a cap sleeve or sheer lace sleeve could be custom-added to any gown. A bolero or shrug can also be worn.
A woman with large breasts can feel she has fewer options, but she too should aim for comfort. Even a strapless gown is possible with the right structure and undergarments for a bride who wants to show off her décolletage. But to avoid “an accident,” Chagoury advised looking for a gown with a halter neckline that is supportive, minimizing and elegant. To accentuate her bust, this bride can also wear an empire style with details on the chest, he said.
Brides with the opposite issue can enhance their bustline by choosing a dress with detail and structure in that area, Benay said. Or, as Badgley pointed out, they might want to highlight their petite nature. “I think straight-across strapless is really pretty on a small-chested woman. It’s very chic and ready-to-wear and elegant.”
Women who are voluptuous all over should look to A-line cuts because they elongate or to fitted gowns that accentuate curves. “I would totally work that because … I think that big hips on a girl are so sexy, so I would emphasize them with a mermaid,” Chagoury said.
“Undergarments are everything in a wedding dress,” Swafford said. “A lot of girls do the online shopping and homework and find the dress that fits their vision perfectly, but they’re disappointed when they try it on. Then they put on that bustier or Spanx or strapless bra — or all three — and it really molds that dress to her body.” Since they are crucial, underpinnings should be bought before the gown’s first fitting.
Ordering the best size gown can reduce the expensive alterations needed later. Many designers will split sizes if, say, the bride is a size 8 on top and 14 on the bottom, Benay said. Splitting the top and bottom sizes will ensure the altered gown won’t lose its design integrity, details or proportion.
The traditional gown length, 58 inches, is made for a woman about 5 feet, 8 inches tall. If a gown has skirt detailing and the bride is significantly taller or shorter than that, alterations should not be made just at the hemline. A hollow-to-hem adjustment in which the gown is made shorter or longer in the proper proportion is needed.
Two pieces of advice: “Never shop alone for your dress, and listen to the [expert], because you’re not the first bride she’s dressing,” said Chagoury.
And secondly, yes, listen to the experts, but be obedient to yourself.
“People are always focused on, ‘Oh, I’m pear-shaped, I have to wear a ball gown,’” Benay said. “But look to what you like and what you’re comfortable in — that’s the biggest defining factor.”
— Emerson Patrick, Custom Publishing Writer
Photos from top:
- The Badgley Mischka Castellano gown goes beautifully with an embellished sheer shrug to hide the upper arms. The style of the skirt minimizes hip size. Photo by Dan Lecca.
- The V-neckline on this Chagoury Couture gown accentuates an hourglass figure. Photo by Elisabeth Caren.
- This A-line Alfred Angelo gown gives a full-figured bride the illusion of curves and a waist with its crossed bandagestyle detailing on the bodice. The elongated skirt also helps a bride with a short torso. Photo courtesy of Alfred Angelo Inc. © 2010-2011.
This story was edited and designed by the Custom Publishing staff of the Los Angeles Times Advertising Department. Questions or comments? Contact Darlene Gunther at 213.237.3133 or e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.