Simply Elegant

January 05, 1992|By Pati Lowell

Sweeping trains, cascading ruffles and clouds of tulle.

For today's fashion and curve-conscious bride, many of these traditional trappings are best left to teen-age debutantes.

"I want a dress that reflects me, my style, my sense of who I am," says Kym Lesse, a 28-year-old soon-to-be-bride from Upper Marlboro. "I think that most of the wedding dresses out there are designed for young girls who are trying to fulfill some Cinderella fantasy. For me, that fantasy is long gone. What's more important is finding something that flatters my figure and my taste and makes me feel beautiful."

What many of these 25- to 35-year-old brides want is a far cry from the traditional basque-waisted, puffy-sleeved wedding gown. They are choosing more refined dresses in simpler shapes that feature fine fabrics and little adornment.

"These women are not into fancy or heavy anything," says Mary Gamberdella, owner of Gamberdella's bridal salon in Towson. "They are looking for very nice fabrics, with as little detailing as possible. These women will spend $2,000 for a silk Shantung Christian Dior gown with nothing on it -- no beads, no lace, just an off-the-shoulder neckline and sweeping skirt."

According to Ms. Gamberdella, most of her customers do not go wedding-gown shopping with their mothers or mothers-in-law. Most arrive at her store with one or two close friends, or even the groom, and choose a dress that reflects current ideas rather than traditional ones.

"I think that's one of the main reasons for the change in styles for older brides," she explains. "Many of the girls who shop with Mom end up with gowns that Mom can relate to, rather than something the bride would choose on her own."

Along with being more style- and fashion-conscious, today's more mature brides are also more financially established. As a result, many brides are paying for their own wedding dresses and are more insistent on getting what they, not their friends or family members, want.

"Right now our sales are split about 50-50 between women looking for the traditional silhouette and those who want more of the sheath shape," says Carol Lewis of Grace and Elegance bridal shop in Laurel.

"I think because women work out and feel more and more confident about their bodies, they don't feel the need to hide behind a lot of dress. The sheath dress is meant to show off the figure," adds Ms. Lewis.

In keeping with the trend toward sexier styles in the ready-to-wear market, the short wedding dress has slowly become popular among fashionable brides. Many of these strapless, sheath-style dresses are decorated with ribbon and soutache laces and end at about mid-thigh. They usually feature taffeta or Thai silk cutaway skirt that ties on during the ceremony and can be taken off for dancing and dazzling at the reception.

"It's a look that many brides love, but few actually have the nerve to wear," says Ms. Lewis.

Not surprisingly, older brides are also concerned with finding a wedding look that can double as a cocktail outfit after the honeymoon -- especially when the price tag climbs near the $2,000 mark.

For these value-minded women, the cocktail suit is an ideal option.

"For many years the wedding suit was strictly meant for the second-time bride, but now we're seeing many first-time brides opting for a two-piece outfit," says Barbara Tober, editor-in-chief of Bride's magazine. "These women already have a wardrobe of cocktail suits and dresses and they are very comfortable with a suited look. They also like the practicality of being able to wear it again."

However, these suits are a far cry from normal 9-to-5 wear. Made from fine fabrics such as silk Shantung, silk satin or silk peau de soie, they are cut to flatter the female figure, with softly rounded shoulders, deep necklines and curved waists that are often fitted with crisp peplums.

They also feature decorative touches such as rhinestone buttons, satin piping, beaded trims and pearl edging.

And in keeping with the cocktail feel, Ms. Tober reports a new trend toward one-piece wedding dresses that feature an "evening gown" look. Columnlike dresses made from two- or four-ply silk crepe de Chine, and chiffon-shirted gowns that wrap and drape around the body, are yet another choice for women who want something beautiful, feminine and out of the ordinary.

Topping off these more elegant gowns are smaller, less ornate headpieces that feature a wisp of tulle in place of the usual cathedral-length drape of illusion.

"For us, the most important look right now is the back comb with just a small decoration on it and a bit of netting," says Ms. Lewis. "Most of the decorations are made from lace or flowers with maybe a few pearls. The trend is definitely away from those elaborate headbands trimmed with rhinestones and sequins and all kinds of pearl sprays that came down onto the face and forehead."

Ms. Lewis also says that small, brimless hats are also popular, as are discreet tiaras decorated with pearls and lace rather than rhinestones.

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