Fashion and Tradition

Couture, the French word for sewing, refers to bridal gowns constructed of ornate fabrics, laces and trims using the finest sewing techniques. These gowns often show the latest design trends in women's fashions.

A bride may incorporate elements from the rhyme "something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue, and a lucky sixpence in your shoe" in her bridal attire. "Something old" is a symbol from the past, probably a family heirloom. These may include a treasured piece of jewelry, the family Bible, an embroidered handkerchief, or some antique lace. "Something new" is a symbol of the future, and is most often chosen as the bridal gown. "Something borrowed" is often an accessory lent by a happily married woman, including jewelry, a veil, or a handkerchief. "Something blue" is inspired by the ancient Israelites to reflect love, fidelity, and purity, often visualized on the bridal garter. "A six-pence in your shoe" reflects the hope for good furtune and prosperity.

Considerations When Searching for a Bride's Gown

As soon as the engagement is set, the hunt for a gown can begin, allowing at least four to six months for delivery and alterations of the gown and headpiece. The formality of the marriage ceremony, along with the season and time of day of the scheduled festivities, determines the proper style of wedding gown. The bride shold be given the chance to try on a range of gowns to decide the ideal shade that compliments her complexion.

Elements of a Bridal Gown

Beyond the important element of color, a bridal gown consists of an upper portion (bodice) and a lower portion (skirt) joined at the waistline. There are various styles of bodices that can be paired with various styles of skirts to form an attractive bridal gown. Some bridal gowns have a train attached to the gown varying in length. The upper portion of a bridal gown, or bodice, which covers the torso and is made up of the neckline, shoulders, and sleeves. The most popular gown styles include the ball gown, Basque style, Empire gown, princess gown, sheath, A-line, and mermaid.

Gown Types

A ball gown features a fitted natural waist with a full skirt. A Basque style has a tight-fitting bodice and dropped waist with V-front above a full skirt. The Empire gown features a cropped bodice and a high waist set just below the the bustline. A princess gown features vertical lines that flow from each shoulder to the hemline. The sheath is a body-fitted shape that follows a linear form without a waistline and with a straight skirt. A mermaid is a variation of the sheath, distinguished by a trumpet skirt that extends below the knee. The A-line silhouette has a fitted bodice that flares outward to the hemline. The most popular hemlines include the mini (falls above the knee), street-length (ranges from at to just below the knee), midi (falls above the midcalf), tea-length (falls at the midcalf), ballerina (full skirt that ends just above the ankle), ballet-length (lightly brushes the ankles), and floor-length (a hem that falls just above the floor). A handkerchief hemline typically features a multitude of soft layers that fall in points at the tea-length, or midcalf height.

Contrasting a majority of trains that extend from the waistline, a Watteau falls from the shoulders. A keyhole back is a gown with a shaped cutout in the form of a heart, teardrop, circle, or diamond that is termed a keyhole.

A bateau neckline is a boat-shaped neckline that follows the collarbone. A jewel neckline is a high, rounded neckline that circles the base of the neck. A portrait neckline stands away from the body, usually framing the shoulders. A sabrina neckline is similar in shape to the bateau, only placed closer to the base of the neck. A scoop necline is shaped in a U, and a strapless neckline is shaped to fall just above the bustline. A strapless neckline is shaped to fall just above the bustline. A sweetheart neckline is shaped in the form resembling the base of a heart.

A bishop sleeve is borrowed from religious garb, with a flowing sleeve gathered in a wide cuff at the wrist. A cap sleeve extends from the shoulder to cover the top of the arm. A gauntlet sleeve is a full-length sleeve that extends over the wrist in a pointed V shape. A leg-of-mutton sleeve has a large, full rounded crown that tapers to a fitted wrist. A petal sleeve is a short sleeve with layered panels. A three-quarter sleeve falls just below the elbow.

Choosing Gowns for Certain Body Types

A gown with a sleek bodice placed atop a full skirt with horizontal detail adds width; avoid high or dropped waists. The shoulder line becomes broadened with a gentle neckline or strapless gown, and a fitted waist creates feminine definition for a narrow form. A style that would enhance broad shoulders or a prominent bustline is a gown with a simple, elegant bodice atop a skirt with special design enhancements helps draw the eye downward. Also, avoiding narrow skirts and high necklines also helps. A modest neckline will counter upper body width.

The Train

The shortest train is a sweep-length. It lightly brushes the floor. The chapel-length extends about one and a half yards from the waist. For very formal weddings, the cathedral-length train extends three yards from the waist. Many trains are detachable and can be removed after the marriage ceremony for dancing at the reception. Many styles can be bustled, by gently gathering the train fabric that is fastened to the back of the waist.


Headware styles can range from voguish hats, floral wreaths, and simple headbands. The traditional headpiece includes a veil. Veils can be classified by length, including elbow-length and fingertip-length. Brides wearing gowns with trains may choose a veil of the same length, including chapel-length and cathedral-length. A pouf is constructed of gathered veiling attached to the back of the headpiece. A blusher is a plain layer of veiling worn over the face before the ceremony and lifted back by the groom during the vows. Considerations toward an appropriate headpiece should include the style of wedding gown, the decorations on the gown, the shape of the bride's face and her hairstyle. Usually the neckline of the wedding gown should balance the headpiece.

Fashion Fabrics in a Gowns's Construction

An underlining is placed unto the fashion fabric in order to add body and shape to a bride's or maid's gown. Many bridal gowns feature a colored underlining of pink, peach, or light blue that adds a hint of color to the garment. A boning is a construction technique providing extra support, most often in a fitted bodice. A stiffening material (traditionally whalebone, but nowadays plastic or metal) is inserted into narrow fabric slots and placed to a smooth line throughout the torso.

Satin can be used in the wedding gown alone or in combination with other cloths, laces, and trims. Its pearl-like luster is achieved by its weaving of filling yarns carried on the surface of the fabric that provide softness and sheen. Satin can be constructed of silk or synthetic fibers. Peau de sole is a variation of silk satin characterized by a matte finish. Silk-laced satin features silk fibers woven on the surface of a synthetic fiber base. Moiré, a French word for for watered, is a sturdy fashion fabric characterized by a watermarked surface design. It is widely available in synthetic fibers as well as silk. Shantung is one of the most widely used silk fabrics for bridal gowns, characterized by irregular slubbed filling yarns that contribute to a prominent horizontal dimension of the fabric. Dupioni is a lighter variation of silk shantung, with threads of uneven size and weight spun together. Taffeta is a tightly woven, lightweight fabric which is known by its characteristic rustle and smooth, glossy texture. Tulle is a fabric of delicate netting, lightly layered to create veils and headpieces, or used in multiple layers to form full, ball gown shirts. Velvet is a soft fabric with a short pile, originally made of pure silk, but currently more available in a silk and rayon blend. The heavier weight of the fabric makes it very suitable for winter bridal and bridesmaids gowns.


Alençon lace is a popular lace for wedding gowns, originating in northwestern France. The design generally features a floral motif outlined with a silken cord on a net background and is often re-embroidered to create a three-dimensional quality as well as embellished with pearls, beads, or sequins. Chantilly lace, which originates in northern France, is similar to Alençon but without the cord outline. The construction is known for its subtle pattern and soft, delicate hand. Ribbon lace is created with the application of narrow ribbon to the lace motifs of either Alençon or Chantilly lace. Guipure lace, one of the heaviest laces, is derived from silk-covered cords. It is often created as a series of intricate motifs that can be used whole as the fashion fabric or cut apart to form an edging detail. Venice lace is a variation of Guipure lace that originated in northeast Italy.