How you and your entourage dress on your special day has a lot to do with the theme of the wedding, as well as the venue, season and time of day. Consider the dreamy romance of a springtime garden wedding, the understated simplicity of vows on a beach at sunset, or even a dramatically different Renaissance affair dressed up in velvets and brocades on a magical winter's night.
It is important that the dress of your dreams reflects your style and personality. Do you want to look sleek and sophisticated, prettily romantic, sparkling and glamorous, or classically elegant? Some forward-thinking brides are today choosing contemporary styles that can be worn after the wedding as well. Look through a variety of magazines to help you with your choice.
The style of gown eventually decided upon will depend largely on your figure type and personality. If you're sporty and athletic it's unlikely that tons of frothy tulle will do you justice on the day, while conservative brides will seldom feel comfortable in a creation that's too over-the-top. Tall brides might want to take the emphasis away from their height by breaking vertical lines with a separate skirt and bodice, or by adding fullness to the skirt. It follows that shorter brides should do just the opposite, accentuating the vertical through long, flowing lines. This also goes for full figures, which are not flattered by layered gowns and should opt instead for simple styles with longer bodices. Shoestring straps or an off-the-shoulder look might be lovely on a slender or pear-shaped figure, but are hardly appropriate for top-heavy brides, who should rather go for a bodice under which a good bra can be worn.
Colour and fabric tips
While the conventional colour for a bridal gown is still white, it's a fact that many women - especially those with fair skin - do not look their best in pure white, which tends to drain the face of colour. According to colour experts it's best to aim for a contrast between skin tone and fabric colour. Fair-skinned brides could try subtle tones such as ivory, champagne or oyster (with blondes looking beautiful in soft blush), while darker skin tones look good in all shades of white.
The bridal gown's fabric creates different textures and visual effects, and cloths such as silks and satins (ranging from inexpensive lightweights to luxurious qualities) remain perennial favourites. Other options could include velvet, chiffon, or linen, with lace extremely effective for a dramatic design and brocade giving a sculptured, three-dimensional appearance. If choosing your own fabric, it is important to ensure that the material will be suitable for the style of gown that you have selected.
If the shoe fits...
Don't make the mistake of considering shoes to be of secondary importance to your bridal gown, they are a lot more vital - and visible - than you might think. In the same way that a beautifully matched shoe both complements and completes your bridal gown, an ordinary shoe can detract from the overall effect. You will need to match skirt length to shoe height and, ideally, shoes should be selected at the same time as the gown to ensure the perfect match of style and fabric. If you can't find the perfect colour shoe, consider having it dyed or covered to match your dress.
While styles tend to follow contemporary trends, remember that comfort should be a prerequisite as you will most likely spend hours on your feet - from walking down the aisle to posing for photographs, chatting to guests and whirling round the dance floor. It is acceptable for shorter brides to add a bit of height through their choice of shoe, but ensure that comfort and stability are not sacrificed for a few extra inches!
The latest trends in accessorising focus on understated elegance and subtle simplicity. Veils and trains have become shorter and less fussy, and delicately beaded tiaras and Alice bands are the epitome of style in current headwear fashions where the rule of thumb is 'less is more'. Gloves still add a classic touch to any outfit, and can be worn to the wrist, elbow or beyond, depending upon the length of your sleeve.
Pearls remain a popular choice for bridal jewellery and could be worn in a plain choker style or as part of a dainty crystal and silver necklace. Other accessories might include an embroidered ring cushion, lacy pantyhose, a beautiful wrap for bare shoulders, or a satin handbag.
Although the bride's trousseau was originally meant to take care of wardrobe needs for the first year of her marriage, lingerie has become a popular item. Ideally, a lingerie wardrobe should contain practical items as well as those that are daringly exciting. The colour chosen could also be quite revealing - bright blues, emerald greens or shocking reds look striking against the skin, while pale pinks and pastels exude a softer look, black is regarded as 'dangerous' and white is always demure.
The bridal retinue
As the outfits worn by members of the bridal party add to the overall impact of the proceedings, the attire should be chosen with the theme of the wedding in mind. Bridesmaids, groomsmen, flower girls and pageboys - it is vital that the colours, textures and styles of their clothes should either complement the bridal gown or be in complete contrast. The purpose of a retinue is to enhance, not detract attention from the bride on her special day.
Outfits for the bridesmaids and flower girls should be decided upon together, with their opinions taken into account, but their dresses never over-shadowing that of the bride. Simple, unfussy dresses usually work best - preferably something they will be able to wear again, especially if they are paying for their own dress. It is possible to cater to individual tastes by using the same fabric throughout yet varying the design.
Clothing for the mothers should be chosen in consultation with the bride to ensure that colours do not clash. Accessories such as hats, gloves and handbags should complement their special outfits. As the official hostess for the wedding and the reception the mother of the bride plays an important role, not only in the advance preparations but also on the big day. The groom's mother, too, is often involved in the many preparations, and this is also a big day for her.
Although the time and style of the wedding have some bearing on the attire chosen by male members of the bridal party, today's fashions are a lot more flexible than in times gone by. Traditionally, day weddings require only a suit while at a more formal occasion the groom and groomsmen may wear morning suits. If the reception is to be held after dark, a dinner jacket may be worn, while a very formal evening wedding calls for the elegance of white tie and tails. The general rule is for the best man and groomsmen to take their lead from the groom himself to avoid a clash of styles in the retinue. There should, however, be a subtle difference in clothing to set the groom apart, such as a differently coloured waistcoat or buttonhole
Creative trends have brought a lot more colour into the male retinue, and while suits are still predominantly black, accessories such as ties, cummerbunds and waistcoats now come in an array of beautiful hues and fabrics. Alternative outfits include Nehru-style jackets, made of either elaborate or classic fabrics, as well as high-cut dress suits with three buttons instead of one. The military or Highland theme is also becoming popular. If the groom is employed by the army, navy or airforce, he may choose to wear his formal uniform (step-outs) for the wedding. Families with Scottish ancestry have the option of incorporating formal kilted outfits into the retinue. Tartan kilts make for an impressive, colourful scene, which can even be carried through to the bride's attendants, with tartan sashes for the bridesmaids and flower girls.
Unless normal suits are to be worn, clothes for the men in your retinue may be hired from a suit hire company. These have full ranges of dress suits, tuxedos, tails, formal wear and accessories, as well as providing tailoring services and expert advice. It is the best man's responsibility to return any hired clothes after the wedding.