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Choosing Your Wedding Gown

One of the most important decisions you will make when planning your wedding is selecting "the perfect gown," meant to dazzle your man. Whether you know exactly what you are looking for, or if you're beginning your search with little more than a general idea, there are several things you should consider before purchasing your gown.

Remember, when planning an elaborate church wedding or a simple intimate affair, your gown should reflect your personality, taste and style. Traditional styling is never outdated. "Something old" is still "something new." The exquisite formal weddings of days gone by, celebrated by your grandmothers, are very much in style today.

Although your mind may be made up and your heart set on one particular gown prior to going shopping, be sure to try on several different styles. After all, this is a once-in-lifetime event. Choosing the perfect gown should be fun!

Many bridal shops will not allow you to take pictures of their gowns, but be sure to take a camera along, just in case permission is granted. Not only will having a picture, "in hand," be helpful in making your final choice, but after trying on several gowns, they may all begin to look alike. Often many brides return later, searching for the perfect gown they found in the shop, only never to find it again. I cannot begin to tell you how often the bride "put together" in her mind, the perfect gown, after trying on so many. Remembering, the skirt of one gown, the train of another and possibly even the bodice of a third, she would be unable to "find" it again.

One final point. When you find the "perfect gown," buy it. Period . . . End of story . . . Stop looking. Buy it that day! Especially if the gown you "simply must have" is on a sale rack or is a one-of-a-kind sample. Weeks may go by and no one will look at or try on a particular gown. Then a bride steps through the door, falls in love with the dress, assumes it will be there when she returns later, at her leisure, and time after time, that very gown will sell to another bride hours later. Don't be disappointed. Buy your gown when you find it!

Whether shopping with your mom, best friend or alone, it will be helpful for you to have a basic understanding of the 

various gown styles. The following terms and descriptions will assist you in explaining to your bridal shop consultant exactly what you are looking for.

Wedding Gown Fabrics

Brocade features interwoven, raised designs, characterized by a satin weave background, using one or more fillings to create the motif or artwork within the fabric.

Chiffon is a delicately sheer fabric with a simple weave. It is lightweight with a soft drapable finish.

Dotted Swiss is a sheer, very lightweight, muslin fabric embellished with raised dots, evenly spaced throughout.

Eyelet Lace is identified with its small, unsymmetrical holes or perforations finished with a buttonhole stitch, often creating a floral pattern. It has also been described as an open weave embroidery.

Faille (pronounced: "file") is a shiny, tightly woven fabric made of silk or rayon and has a crosswise rib effect.

Moire is generally made of a polyester or silk taffeta patterned to glisten like water when seen in defused light.

Point d'esprit is a polyester net with the yarns sewn together in such a way as to create a diamond pattern

Polynet is the netting most often used to make yokes and sleeves. Schiffli embroidery is often found on this net and it is popular to attached beaded and sequined appliques as well.

Organza is a transparent, simply woven fabric with a reflective, crystal-like appearance.

Satin is an opaque fabric, woven in a satin weave and features a smooth finish.

Slipper Satin is a light, soft, closely woven, satiny feeling fabric that shines in the light.

Italian Satin is a heavier satin fabric, brimming with body, featuring an antique sheen.

Taffeta is a popular wedding fabric, which may be used as either the lining or outer fabric of a gown. It will have either a matte or shiny finish and will be fairly stiff when used for the outer layer.

Tulle is tiny, meshed net of a silk, cotton or synthetic fabric, usually found in layers, covering a full satin skirt.

Tullonet is a coarse net used to give fullness such as seen in crinoline slips.

Wedding Gown Laces

Alencon is an exquisite lace originating in France. Heavy cording, on a background of fine net, outlines the pattern of this beautiful lace, creating a durable design.

All Over Lace is a wide lace, repeating the same pattern throughout the fabric.

Chantilly is another lace from France. It's graceful floral display has a soft, draping characteristic. Unlike Alencon lace, it does not have cording surrounding the design.

Cluny Lace is made with loosely-twisted yarn giving it an old fashion look and a three-dimensional feel.

Coin Dot Lace features circles or dots woven into lace or netting.

Re-embroidered Lace is a term used to describe the cording which outlines the floral pattern of lace.

Schiffli Lace is a machine made, delicate floral embroidery, made of cotton or rayon yarn and embroidered onto any number of soft sheer fabrics. The most popular background for this lace is either organza or polynet..

Valenciennes Lace features a net background with diamond or round shaped holes. The design is flat, sheer and woven with cotton, nylon or polyester fibers.

Venice Lace features a heavy, raised floral design that has long been a favorite wedding lace. It has a three-dimensional appearance. The background has been burnt out leaving only the yarns which are most often made of cotton or rayon.

Wedgewood Lace is a delicate lace with a point d'esprit field and an intricately detailed border.

Wedding Gown Styles

Gown Lengths and Trains

Street Length styling features a hem just covering the knees.

Intermission Length features a hem falling between the knees and ankle.

Ballet Length features a gown softly flowing to the ankles.

Floor Length features a gown lightly touching the floor on all sides.

Hi-low Length features a gown of intermission length on the front and floor length or longer in the back.

Sweep Train features a gown with the shortest train, barely sweeping the floor.

Court Train features a gown with a train extending one foot beyond the sweep train.

Chapel Train features the most popular of all train lengths. It flows from three to four feet behind the gown.

Semi-Cathedral Train features a train extending four to six feet behind the gown.

Cathedral Train features a cascading train for the most formal of weddings. It extends from six to eight feet behind the gown. Also known as a Monarch Train.

Royal Cathedral Train unfolds to ten feet or more, reminiscent of Princess Diana's voluminous train. Also known as a Traditional Royal Train.

Watteau Train (pronounced: "wa toe") features a train falling from the shoulder blades to the hemline of the gown.

Wedding Gown Necklines

Queen Anne Neckline features a high rising collar at the back of your neckline, cupping the sides of your neck, then sculpting low across your chest to outline a bare yoke.

Bateau (Boat) Neckline softly follows the curve of the collarbone, high in both the front and back, opening wide at the sides and ending in shoulder seams.

Contessa Neckline features an off-the-shoulder gown attached to sleeves which are cut approximately three inches below the shoulder and form a continuous line across the arms and chest when arms are to the side.

Halter Neckline features a deeply sleeveless gown, often displayed with a high choke neck.

Illusion High Neckline features a gown with a yoke of sheer net and an often ornately decorated satin band, fitting snugly on the neck creating a choker affect.

Off-the-Shoulder Neckline lies gently hovering across the top of your bustline. It may also be attached to a sheer yoke of net or organza and a high collar. The shoulders are uncovered or able to be seen through the sheer yoke.

Portrait Neckline features a shawl collar that wraps the shoulders.

Sabrina Neckline features a high scoop neck.

Scoop Neckline features a softly curved line gently sloping downward across the bodice.

Square Neckline features an open yoke shaped in the form of a half square.

Sweetheart Neckline features a graceful, open yoke shaped like the top half of a heart. One of the most popular necklines.

Tank Top Bodice features a sleeveless gown with a scoop neck.

U-Scalloped Neckline features an open yoke in the shape of a U, embellished with scalloped lace appliqués.

V-Neck line features an open yoke coming to a 'V' shape midway down the bodice.

Wedding Band Neckline features a gown where the yoke is either open or of sheer net with an ornate band fitting snugly on the neck creating a choker affect.

Open Sweetheart Back Yoke features a heart shaped opening, often fringed with beads. Also known as a Keyhole Back.

Wedding Gown Sleeves

Bishop Sleeves are fuller in the lower forearm, and gathered with a wide cuff at the wrist.

Capped Fitted Sleeves are very short sleeves just cupping the shoulder.

Dolman Sleeves produce a cape-like effect, extending from large armholes and often fitted at the wrist.

Gigot (Leg-of-Mutton) Sleeves appear as loose, full sleeves, rounded from the shoulder to just below the elbow, then shaped to the arm, often ending in a point at your wrist.

Illusion Fitted Sleeves appear as long or short, slender sleeves following the shape of the arm, made from illusion net and often encrusted with heavily beaded and sequined appliqués.

Melon Sleeves appear as a highly exaggerated puff, rounded from the shoulder to the elbow.

Renaissance Sleeves appear with a slightly gathered puff at the shoulder, tapering down the arm to a point ending just below the wrist on the hand. Usually in satin, encrusted with appliqués of beads and sequins.

Short Sleeves are generally fitted sleeves, falling just short of midway between the shoulder and elbow. Short sleeves are slightly longer than cap sleeves.

Tapered Sleeves appear as a slightly gathered shoulder with little fullness, tapering down the arm to the wrist.

Three-quarter Sleeves appear most often as fitted sleeves ending slightly below the elbow.

Wedding Gown Silhouettes and Fashion Terms

Baby Ruffles are row upon row of lace arranged one above another. May be found referred to as "Tiers of Lace

Ball gown styling features the popular off-the-shoulder bodice, with a snugly fitted natural waistline, flowing into a lavishly gathered, full, and flowing skirt.

Basque Waist features a fitted bodice with a deep V point dropping at the front and center of the waistline.

Bolero Jacket is a short jacket with an open front, curved below the bustline and above the natural waistline.

Bouffant is a very, very full skirt, most often accompanied by a hoop slip

Box-Pleated Skirt features a natural waist, with deep pleats of parallel fabric folds.

Bustles were originally thick padding worn to create a draping effect, on the back, below the waistline to bring fullness to the back of the skirt. Lifting the center back of the train to the waistline and attaching it there with buttons or hooks may also create a bustle effect.

Diamond Organza Ruffles feature layers of ruffled organza, hemmed with a fine "fish line" along the edge of the ruffles, creating a full, rippling effect, often cascading into the train.

Empire styling features a narrow bodice complimented with any neckline style, and gathered or sewn high at the waist, just beneath the bustline, to a slender and graceful skirt.

Pickup Hemline features a gown whose fabric is gathered at one point and draped in a curve effect to another point and gathered again, several times, to encircle the gown.

Peplums are still very popular today. They can be flared and full or lay flat against your gown, attached at the back waistline. Peplums are beautifully decorated to give the back of your gown an elegant, old fashioned appearance.

Princess styling features a slim fitting gown with a gently flared skirt and vertical seams flowing from the shoulders to the hem.

Redingcoat Skirt Effect has the appearance of an open skirt (satin overskirt) covering the skirt of an A-line or full gown.

Ruffles are strips of fabric gathered or pleated to be used as trim.

Sheath styling features a slim, body hugging gown without a waistline.

Trumpet Skirt features a slim, body hugging gown that gently flares out beginning mid-thigh.

Mermaid styling features a slim, body-hugging gown, with or without a waistline, flaring from the knees or slightly above.

Keyhole Back features a gown with an opening in the back, (most popular as a long wide slit from the neckline to mid-back.) May also be a circular or heart shaped opening.

Headpiece Styles

Floral Wreaths feature a circle of flowers or baby's breath that sit on top of the head, and may or may not circle at the mid-forehead.

Juliet cap snugly fits the crown of the head, ornately encrusted with pearls and sequins.

Mantilla features a lace trimmed netting with or without a simple base fitting closely across the top of the head, usually secured with an elegant comb, gently framing the face.

Picture Hat features a very large brim often elaborately decorated with laces, beads and sequins.

Tiara also known as a crown, rests high atop the head, usually encrusted with crystals, pearls or lace.

Coronet features a crescent shaped base decorated with satin and lace, resting high on the crown of the head.

Except for the Mantilla, veiling is usually attached to all of the above headpieces.


Illusion is a very fine quality of veiling imported from England or France. It may be found trimmed with lace or embroidery, but commonly used without edging.

Blusher is a loose veil worn forward over the face, or back over the headpiece; often attached to a longer, two or three tiered veil.

Fingertip length has long been the most popular, gracefully falling across the shoulders to the fingertips when the arm is extended.

Chapel length is a cascading veil about two and a third yards from the headpiece.

Ballet (waltz length) features a veil falling to the ankles.

Cathedral length features a veil flowing about three and a half-yard from the headpiece. Usually worn with a cathedral train.

Flyaway veil has multiple layers that brush the shoulders, usually worn with an informal gown, or with a gown featuring an exquisite back, too pretty to hide with a veil.

Most veils are made from a fabric called "illusion". Illusion resembles netting, but in a softer fabric often made of silk or nylon. Veils often include poufs, which are small gathers of veiling on the crown of a headpiece. Wreaths often have flowing ribbons cascading into "love knots" down the back. 

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