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What to Wear to a Wedding: Bridal Gowns, Wedding Dresses, and Bridesmaid Dresses

Getting engaged can be one of the most exciting times of your life, you’re surrounded by love and can’t wait to share it with your closest family and friends. It also means you suddenly have a million decisions to make, and while you may have an idea of how you want your wedding to look, there are still many things to figure out. One of the most important, but also potentially the most stressful, is finding the perfect dresses for you and your bridesmaids. There are so many different styles and options to choose from, it can feel overwhelming. One option is to hire a stylist, but that doesn’t work for everyone. If you’re willing and able to do the research, you can get a good idea of what you’re looking for so you feel prepared and confident.

Every body type is different, and everyone has different ideas of what they want, it makes sense that there are so many styles. But while you may have an idea of what you want, it can be hard initially to pinpoint it exactly, and find the perfect dress. Knowing what you’re looking at and what your options are when it comes to wedding wear can help ease the anxiety. Thankfully, there are more options for wedding and bridesmaid dresses than ever before, and since most people don’t fit the “standard” body type, this makes the whole experience much more pleasurable. Feeling as good as possible during your wedding might be the most important objective when planning that special day, and of course you want the same for your bridal party; it all starts with what you wear. The goal is to have everyone look their best, but if someone is not completely comfortable (especially you as a bride), that can put an unnecessary strain on your day.

The bottom line is that it’s worth it to do the research to find the perfect dresses for you and your bridal party. Exploring your options and surfing Pinterest to find the perfect look for you and your bride tribe is essential. The details are up to you of course, you have the option of having your bridal party in matching dresses or the trending style of everyone choosing their own unique dress. Regardless of what you choose, it is crucial to go into this exciting process with a clear vision in mind! So take a deep breath, and let go of at least some stress: your perfect dress is out there, you just need to know what to look for and then go find it.

Table of Contents:

Chapter 1: Bridal Gown Style and History

a. STYLE HISTORY
b. LENGTH AND TRAIN
c. SLEEVES
d. SILHOUETTE
e. NECKLINE

Chapter 2: Wedding Dress Color

a. WHITE HUES
b. OTHER HUES

Chapter 3: Wedding Dress Fabric

Chapter 4: Wedding Dress Construction

Chapter 5: Bridal Undergarments

Chapter 6: Completing The Look (Accessories)

a. SHOES
b. JEWELRY
c. MAKEUP
d. HAIRSTYLE
e. VEILS
f. NAILS
g. TRADITIONS

Chapter 7: Finding The Dress

a. ONLINE
b. IN PERSON

Chapter 8: Bridal Dress Shopping Tips and Fitting Tips: Trying On Your Dress For Success

Chapter 9: How Your Bridal Party Dresses Go With Your Wedding Dress

Chapter 10: Bridesmaid Dress Style

a. BRIDESMAID DRESS COLOR
b. BRIDESMAID DRESS FABRIC
c. BRIDESMAID DRESS CONSTRUCTION

Chapter 11: Conclusion

a. IT'S ALL ABOUT WHAT YOU WANT

1. Bridal Gown Style and History

Wedding Dresses on Hangers

STYLE HISTORY

Although the practice of wearing a wedding dress has been around for centuries, what that dress looks like has changed a lot over the years. It wasn’t until somewhat recently that it became common practice to wear white on your wedding day. Before 1840 women typically wore their best dress regardless of the color. Then, in 1840 Queen Victoria wore a white dress when she married Prince Albert and after their wedding, dress designs copied the style. Originally, what color and fabric you wore, along with the overall construction of the dress, depended on how wealthy you were. In more recent times, for most people at least, it’s become more about personal preference than following tradition. There are many aspects of a wedding dress to consider when it comes to deciding what you want including; length, sleeves, silhouette, and neckline.

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LENGTH AND TRAIN

The length of your wedding dress can depend on what season you’re getting married during, how formal your event is, or just your preference. Floor length gowns are typically worn for more formal occasions like back or white tie weddings. Many times a floor length dress would also include a train of which there are many options, but four main types:

A sweep train is usually about six inches long and considered to be the most casual train. It can be a good option when you want a little extra, but not so much you have to worry about you or someone else stepping on it all night.

A watteau train is a detachable train that is more of a combination veil and train. Many brides will wear this for the ceremony but then can take it off when it’s time for the reception. The watteau train is a common choice for destination weddings where the bride may have chosen a more casual dress that they want to add a formal touch to.

The chapel train is widely considered to be the most possible. It’s usually about five feet from the waist of the dress and it adds a more formal aspect to the dress without too much.

The final train is the cathedral, which is typically six or seven feet long and the most formal type. This is for brides that want to make a real statement with their dress, but it comes with added responsibilities for their bridesmaids as cathedral trains are difficult to manage.

Usually laid out for the ceremony, longer trains are then bustled (pulled up and tied so you don’t step on it) up for the reception so the bride can move around more freely. A step below in formality and length are wedding dresses that come to the mid-calf or ankle. Still worn for high class weddings, this length is a good option if you want something formal but not as constricting. Also great if you want to show off your shoes! The most casual choice for length is a wedding dress that goes down to your knee, or a little above. This is a good choice for a backyard or small church wedding where you don’t want a dress that’s too over the top.

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SLEEVES

What type of sleeves you choose for your wedding dress can also depend on the season, or like the length (and so many other aspects), what style you like best. Long sleeve wedding gowns are much more common in the fall and winter, when cooler weather makes them more comfortable. If you want sleeves and are getting married during the warmer months, or somewhere with hotter weather in general there are still options. You could choose a lighter fabric, or lace, that allows more breathability. There are different types of long sleeves; bell, which are flared towards the bottom, puff, which are gathered at the top and bottom but full inbetween, and gauntlet, skin tight from the shoulder to the wrist. ¾ length sleeves are generally chosen by brides who are adhering to religious practices and want to remain modest while not covering themselves completely. Short sleeves are more common for summer weddings, especially indoor ones, to still give the bride some arm cover while having full range of motion. Strapless wedding dresses are also very popular for warmer seasons or locations but, depending on construction, can be less comfortable as they’re typically made with built in rods or splints hidden in the fabric around the ribs to help hold the dress up. When trying on strapless dresses, you want to wear the undergarments you would wear on your wedding day; either a strapless bra or no bra, as this can change the entire fit of the dress. Spaghetti straps are a good alternative to strapless as they not only offer a peek of cover for the arms, but mostly comfort as they support the bust of the dress eliminating the need for rib splints.

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SILHOUETTE

The silhouette of your wedding dress is all about what looks good and feels good to you. Some are more traditional, and others more trendy and modern. Some look good on a specific body type, and others look good on just about every body type. Once you know what the best fits are for your body, it can help narrow down the dresses you look for and eventually try on or buy. Since there are so many different styles though, it helps to know what each one really looks like.

Wedding Gown Styles

Ball Gown: A wedding dress with a tight bodice matched with a full and bouncy skirt. Thought of as the fairy tale, or princess dress.

Empire: Referring to the position of the waistline on the dress, and while it can vary within this style, the empire silhouette is marked by a higher than usual waistline. These dresses then flow away from the body down to the floor.

A-line: A style with a close-cut fit at the waist that gradually widens towards the floor (creating an A shape). The only part of the dress that hugs close is from the ribs to the hips. A-line dresses look good on almost every body type.

Sheath: This style is trademarked by a tight bust and a cut that closely follows the lines of the body.

Mermaid: A type of fit-and-flare, this style of wedding dress is fitted from the top of the dress through your bust, waist and hips, and then flares out at the knee down to the floor. These dresses can take some practice to get used to walking in, but really show off your figure and can make you feel sexy, but still glamorous.

Trumpet: Also a fit-and-flare style, with a fitted top down through the hips that flares out at the knee. The dress trails usually have silk or lace and provide a very full looking ruffly train.

Slip: This style indicates a light dress that hugs your curves but doesn’t stick to the skin. Typically made out of thinner slik or another light, flowy material, these dresses are great for warmer outdoor beach weddings.

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NECKLINE

There are a few different types of necklines to choose from when deciding what you want your dress to look like, and while some are much more common and look good on the widest variety of people, the more unusual ones are also worth familiarizing yourself with.

High: A high neckline on a wedding dress is not as common as some others, and can be a very bold look. Covering up a bit more skin, it brings a lot of attention to the bride's face. There are a few options within this category including; bateau (boat neck), jewel, and mandarin. The neckline can be done with lace and/or beading and can be combined with sleeves or worn without.

Sweetheart: Most people consider this the most popular neckline for a wedding dress. With a dip in the bust, the sweetheart neckline accents the shoulders and neckline of the bride. Common on both sleeveless dresses and gowns with sleeves.

Asymmetric: Often thought of as one-shoulder, an asymmetrical neckline can be simple and sleeveless or offer an accent sleeve. Brides who choose this neckline generally want their dress to be a little different, and more unique than a standard, symmetrical neckline.

V-Neck: Many stylists will tell you that a v-neck dress looks good on just about everyone, so it’s a good place to start if you’re not sure what type of neckline you want. As the name suggests, this features straight sides which meet at a point to form a v-shape.

Plunging: This neckline has a dip at least to the sternum if not lower, allowing for easy pairing with sleeves as well or a sheer fabric covering.

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2. Wedding Dress Color

Wedding Gown Colors White to Pink

WHITE HUES

The color of your wedding dress may seem like a simple decision, and it can be! There is nothing at all wrong with a white wedding dress, in fact as you most likely know it’s the most common color. It’s not the only choice though, and it might be worth checking out your options before making a final decision. Many brides choose to wear white because of tradition, and others because of personal preference but more and more are choosing different colors, with extraordinarily beautiful results. If you do choose to go with white, you also still have options beyond pure white.

White: While traditionally the most popular wedding dress color, pure white has, and still is thought to be a sign of purity - we find that perspective a little outdated, but we do think that if you want a pure white wedding dress, nothing should hold you back.

Ivory: An off-white option that’s great for a summer wedding because of the yellow undertone, it bounces off the dress and to the skin which photographs a healthy natural glow.

Cream: Shades of cream give the bride a glow for fall or winter weddings, the earthy tones tend to match nicely with blues and reds.

Champagne: A shade of off-white that has a shimmery warm tone which is commonly placed under lace for contrast.

Blush: Off-white with soft pink or reddish tones. This color can give the bride a look of flush to her skin.

Beige: A soft mix of tan and pink: this tone stands out well at ocean weddings or any ceremony with natural light.

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OTHER HUES

While certainly more common, (and absolutely acceptable if it’s what you want) there is no reason you have to have a white or off-white wedding dress. Choosing a wedding dress that is any color other than white is becoming more popular. No longer is it thought that a different dress color is bad luck for the marriage, or that not wearing white on your wedding day is against the rules for whatever reason.

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3. Wedding Dress Fabric

Wedding Dress Fabric

The fabric of your dress can make all the difference in how comfortable you are on your wedding day. Of course different fabrics can also alter the look of the dress, but depending on where and when your wedding is, you may be drawn to certain materials. Most often wedding dresses are made out of silk, satin, or charmeuse, and then can be embellished with chiffon, organza, tulle, and/or lace.

Silk is a light, natural fabric that is better suited for warmer seasons or ceremonies where it's humid. It offers little insolation from the weather so be mindful if you plan on having a wedding later in the year.

Satin refers to the stitch and finish of this particular fabric and can be made out of silk, and/or polyester. Typically it has a similar feel and look to silk but is man made, less expensive, and more versatile.

Lace can be added to any dress no matter the weather unless the dress is only lace, then you should consider if you want sleeves or a shawl.

Chiffon can be lightweight or layered for better protection against the elements and is the most versatile material used in making wedding dresses.

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4. Wedding Dress Construction

Lace and Beading for Wedding Dresses

Many wedding dress designers will tell you that they want to construct dresses that make the bride look as beautiful and feel as comfortable as possible. They want to empower the women who choose to wear their dresses on their wedding days, make them feel confident so that they can truly enjoy the occasion. It’s not easy though, sometimes what seems like a great idea in your head, or on paper, just doesn’t work when it’s fully constructed. Wedding dress designers have years of experience so they know what works and what doesn’t, they know how to construct a gown that fits well, looks amazing, and makes you feel like the most beautiful version of yourself.

The first step in wedding dress construction is designing the dress, which can take countless hours. Once that blueprint is done, then the next steps can begin; finding the right fabric, cutting out the pattern, adding any embellishments to the separate parts such as lace, sequins, or beads, creating the different layers and finally sewing everything together. There are some aspects of construction that you may not notice in the final product, such as which type of stitch is used, or how long it took to make. But it’s important to think about and understand a little bit about wedding dress construction so that you can be sure you’re getting the perfect dress.

Most factory made wedding dresses are well made, and you don’t have to worry about faulty construction. Anyone who’s made their own wedding dress will tell you how difficult it is, so you can be sure that even in assembly line factories, the workers are experts at their craft. That doesn’t mean that they’re all perfect though, so it’s a good idea to inspect the dresses you’re trying on to some degree to make sure none of the seams are coming apart, or none of the embellishments are coming off. If you’re unable to try on the dress, if you’re buying one online you can contact the seller so they can assure you of the quality of their gowns (and if they can’t, don’t buy from them).

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5. Bridal Undergarments

Wedding Undergarment Corset and Garter

Once you feel like you know the type of wedding dress you want, or at least feel like you have a few good options you want to try on, it’s important to think about what you’re going to wear underneath. Wedding gowns fit in such a way that it can change depending on what type of undergarments you have on, so most experts agree that you should try to wear what you will be wearing on your wedding day when you try the dresses on.

If you have the time and budget, the ideal path is to get a custom fitting to find your correct size, but if that’s not an option, you can size yourself at home with the help of a friend, or an app (such as mybraFit). Once you know your size, you can look at your options, and choose the perfect undergarments to go with your dress.

Any dress with a full skirt, such as a-line or ball gown, will provide the most coverage or concealment for long form shapewear. A corset can be sewn into the dress and helps provide a slimmer shape, and support, especially in a strapless gown. If you don’t want a full corset, you can opt for a long-line bra - it won’t give you the waist compression, but still offers some shaping and more support than a strapless bra since it ends at the natural waistline. Keep in mind that even for dresses with straps, many brides choose to wear strapless bras so that they don't have to worry about it sticking out or the straps being shown through the material.

Gowns that are more fitted, such as mermaid or trumpet, don’t work as well with corsets or long-line bras as the lines can be seen through the dress, so a strapless bra is a better option. If you want to wear shapewear with these types of dresses, pay attention to where the dress flares out and make sure the shapewear extends below that point, and that the seams lie flat.
If you are wearing a dress that is not as form-fitting such as sheath or slip, shapewear is less important. You will want to wear undergarments that help the dress drape in the right way, and make sure the dress doesn’t stick or cling to you in any unwanted way. A silk slip is a good option, or if you want something with a little more shape you could wear a seamless bodysuit.

If you’re looking for minimal support without shaping, but still want a little coverage you could choose to go with an adhesive bra or breast lift tape. These are good options for a backless gown or one with open sides, or if you just want to wear as little as possible under your wedding dress.

Once you figure out what type of coverage and shaping you want, you then get to decide if you want to have a little fun with your bridal lingerie. Some brides choose fabric that matches her soon to be husband, or they add a garter on their thigh which could become a part of the ceremony with a garter toss, or not.
If you’re planning on a whole day of getting ready with your bridal party, it could be a fun idea to look into bridal robes as well. Typically for the bride and bridesmaids to wear while getting ready the morning of the wedding, this can be a fun activity for the bride and her party to design themselves. From the fabric to the color. Even doing designs themselves during the bridal shower or bachelorette party. Brides can also have robes made (or made together) for her and her husband to wear after the wedding or on the honeymoon.

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6. Completing the Look (Accessories)

Wedding Day Accessories

Once you’ve said yes to the dress, you get to decide on how you want to complete the look. There are a lot of things to consider beyond the gown including: shoes, jewelry, makeup, nails, hair, veils, and any other accessories or additions you may want to add.

SHOES

Wedding shoes can be anything from simple sandals, to casual sneakers, to extravagant heels. Some brides may even choose to go barefoot, especially at beach weddings. Depending on the dress you wear, your shoes might not even be visible in which case it might make sense to be more practical and wear comfortable shoes. On the other hand, your wedding can be a great chance to go all out, and get your dream shoes. Practically speaking, it is important to factor in the height of the heels you’ll be wearing when determining the length of your wedding gown. Many brides will also wear more extravagant shoes during the ceremony and then change into something more comfortable for the reception.

JEWELRY

Jewelry is also often left to the personal preference of the bride. If you’re feeling unsure you can enlist the help of a stylist who can take the style of your dress into account and find complementary jewelry. Often stylists will recommend simple pieces, or depending on the gown, no jewelry at all. Remember that you don’t want to distract from your face or dress, or wear something that could get in the way during the ceremony.

MAKEUP

Bridal Makeup can be done by the bride or someone she knows, or the bride can choose to go to the salon to have her makeup done. Plenty of professional makeup artists also lease out themselves and are self run businesses. It is helpful to have some idea of the look you want to achieve and to make that decision based on the abilities of the artist.

HAIRSTYLE

Similar to makeup, your bridal hairstyle can be done by you, or someone you know, or you can go to the salon to have it done. Some brides will hire stylists to come for the entire bridal party on the day of the wedding. Hair pieces can be added in for almost any style and add a lovely accent to updos.

VEILS

Veils are another accessory you can add, and can have a train and need to be held or shorter and flow behind the bride. Veils range from mesh to lace and in volume.

NAILS

Nails can range from simple soft colors to bright and over the top, like the other accessories, it’s up to the bride's taste. Many brides choose to get their nails done a few days before the wedding, so it’s a good idea to have a backup bottle of nail polish in the color you choose in case you need to do a touch-up.

TRADITIONS

Another thing to consider is any accessory traditions you want to take part in, the most common being: something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue. These items can be anything but oftentimes the “something old” is a family heirloom passed down between women.

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7. Finding the dress

ONLINE

Shopping online for your wedding dress is rising in popularity, even more so since the pandemic made in-store appointments less common. There are some great benefits to this including; it fits with all schedules, you never have to worry about a store being closed. It also lets people shop in the comfort of their homes without fear of judgement. While we hope no one in any bridal salon would ever judge you or the type of dresses you want to try on, we know there can be a lot of anxiety surrounding trying on dresses in person.

IN PERSON

Shopping in person may not be as convenient, but at the right salon this can still be a great option for people who want to try on different dresses. It also can be really fun, especially if you bring a few people and make a day out of it.

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8. Bridal Dress Shopping Tips and Fitting Tips: Trying On Your Dress for Success

  1. Making your appointments at the bridal shop early is important so you have enough time to submit altercations when you decide on a dress.
  2. Deciding which dresses to try on can take a lot of time so perhaps research styles or brainstorm some reference
  3. The fitting room can be a tight squeeze so make sure you can walk out to a full length mirror and look at the dress in full view.
  4. The spotlight and reveals are a special moment. The bride can choose to show the guests she brings every dress she tries on or she can choose alone and then just do a big reveal.
  5. Do you need an appointment? For most bridal shops you need to call and make an appointment. Also check if they allow guests to come with you.

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9. How your bridal party dresses go with your wedding dress

Bridesmaids with the Bride in their Dresses

While it may be the most important one, your bridal gown isn’t the only dress to consider when planning your wedding. Once you’re at a good place in your own dress search, you can start to focus on the other ones. There are many things to think about when deciding on dresses for your bridal party. Color and style are important, especially if you want your wedding day to look a certain way. Some brides ask everyone to wear the same dress, others let them pick their own style in a specific color. You should keep in mind though that there can be slight variations in colors between companies, so it can be a good idea to order swatches to make sure the color is exactly what you are looking for. There are some alternatives to having everyone in the same color, some brides opt for a color scheme, or gradation, and some go with different colors all in the same tone (think: all pastels).
Fit, feel, and cost also matter when choosing dresses of course, as in most cases the bridal party will be paying for their own and as we all know, weddings can be expensive, and not just for the bride and groom (or whoever is paying for the wedding). As you’ll know well from searching for your own dress, people have very different bodies and styles. What looks good on one person may not look or feel good on another, so it’s not always practical to choose the same dress for everyone in the party.

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10. Bridesmaid Dress Style

Bridesmaid Dresses with Flowers

There are many different styles you can choose for your Bridesmaid Dress. Length matters when looking at where the bridal party will be standing at the ceremony. So be sure you plan for the terrain. Sleeves can be necessary for colder weather and can be added to the dresses. Necklines matter to each person individually so dont force anyone to wear something revealing if they aren't comfortable.

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BRIDESMAID DRESS COLOR

In most cases the bride and groom choose the color for the bridesmaid dresses. But while the preference of the bride is the main consideration, she of course could give the bridal party the option to choose whatever color they want.
Sometimes the couple can look to the season to help determine if the bridesmaids should be in something cooler or warmer.

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BRIDESMAID DRESS FABRIC

Similar to wedding gowns, the fabrics that bridesmaid dresses are constructed out of are pretty uniform across different makers.
Satin is a thin material so be considerate of the weather when looking at these dresses.
Chiffon is a common flowy material used in bridesmaids gowns.
Silk can offer deep darker undertones to colors and reflects beautifly.
Lace is a beautiful accent to any material or as a stand alone but its harder to find all lace bridesmaid dresses

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BRIDESMAID DRESS CONSTRUCTION

When shopping for bridesmaid dresses be sure to check the stitching and hems to make sure that the material allows for alterations, and that there are no major flaws. The fit of the dress should make everyone feel comfortable so be sure to check sizes and allow enough time for alterations to be made to the dresses.
Remember that the experience matters to the bridesmaids as much as the brides, and they should be just as comfortable as the bride on the day of the ceremony.

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11. Conclusion

IT'S ALL ABOUT WHAT YOU WANT

There are many things to consider when choosing bridal and bridesmaid dresses for your wedding, and the process can be overwhelming. By knowing the different attributes, you can make the decision more straightforward by figuring out what you want your dress to look and feel like. Remember that the most important thing is to find a dress that makes you feel as beautiful as you are.

The people you choose to be in your bridal party are the people you’re choosing to support you, through good times and bad. Sometimes unexpected things happen during your wedding, as they do in life, but with the right support system you get through it. You want these people to feel their best, so that they’re ready for anything and everything. You have so many decisions to make as a bride, so consider letting your bridesmaids help choose their own dresses so that you can be sure they’re as comfortable as possible.

It’s easy to get wrapped up in planning the perfect wedding, including creating the most perfect version of yourself and your bridal party, but keep in mind that above all else, what matters is that you’re happy. Find the dresses that let your happiness shine through, that make you feel confident and comfortable for the entire time you’re in them. Your wedding is a chance for you to celebrate who you are, and who you are growing to be with your partner. What you wear matters, but only as much as it matters to you, so that you can truly be in the space you wish to be in on your wedding day.

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Now go check out some of our amazing dresses!