Understanding the 3 ‘C’s’ of Wedding Dress Shopping
By Pratt Abbott
Hollywood tells us that every girl dreams of getting married in a big, white wedding dress. Of course, that’s not true. In reality, many girls and women would prefer to wed in a tux or tailored suit. Some would be happiest in a pair of jeans. Some want to dress in costume to match an elaborate wedding theme. What you wear on your wedding day is between you and your intended. It’s your choice—and it’s an important choice. Few garments come with as much symbolism as your wedding outfit. As a totem of your future life, it should be selected with thought and care.
Since we can’t guide you through every sartorial option, this guide is for brides who want to wear a traditional wedding dress. Maybe it’s not white—maybe it’s dip-dyed—but it’s a once-in-a-lifetime dress that screams “here comes the bride.”
There are so many wedding dresses to choose from, where should you begin? The good news is, you only have three things to worry about when choosing the perfect wedding dress. It’s all about the cut, the color and the cloth. Understanding the “3 C’s” of wedding dress shopping will help you find a gown that flatters you perfectly.
The cut, or “silhouette,” of your wedding dress is hugely important to its overall look and feel. Will it be a princess-y ballgown or a minimalist sheath? Your tastes and preferences should lead the way here, but also consider which cuts flatter your body type.
Ballgown – The ballgown is your classic, Cinderella wedding dress, with a fitted bodice, flared waist and full skirt. Your wedding is your chance to be princess for a day, and you’re going to take it. While generally flattering, ballgown-style dresses are less ideal for women with petite frames, who may be overwhelmed by all the fabric. They’re great for women looking to highlight their upper bodies and minimize their lower curves.
A-Line – An A-line dress is similar to a ballgown, without the bell-shaped flare. A-line dresses have a fitted waist and gently flowing skirt that forms the shape of a capital “A.” This style flatters all body types.
Modified A-Line – The modified A-line is usually more fitted through the hips than a traditional A-line, making the “A” shape start lower. This style is also flattering for all body types.
Trumpet – A trumpet-cut dress is fitted through the waist and hips and flares out at mid-thigh, forming the shape of a trumpet. It falls somewhere in between a modified A-line and a mermaid cut. A trumpet dress will highlight your waist and hips, so avoid this cut if you don’t want to draw attention to those areas.
Mermaid – Mermaid dresses are fitted from chest to knee, at which point they flare to the ground. They’re ideal for any women who want to show off their shape.
Sheath – A sheath is a narrow dress that flows straight down from neckline to hem.
Tea-Length – A tea-length dress has a flared skirt that hits somewhere below the knee but above the ankle. This fresh choice flatters all body types.
Mini – A mini dress has a skirt that falls above the knee.
White vs. Ivory
People think of traditional wedding dresses as “white,” but most wedding dresses are actually ivory (or another shade that is not pure white, such as “diamond white” or alabaster). It turns out that white is not an easy color to wear—it makes many people look washed out or sallow (i.e. tired and sickly). Ivory, on the other hand, has warm undertones that are more universally flattering. Many ivory dresses appear white to observers, so you shouldn’t fear that your dress will look “yellow” if you choose a shade other than pure white.
Pure white dresses symbolize youth and innocence, making it a nice choice for younger brides. White dresses also work well for winter-themed weddings and beach weddings.
White flatters naturally golden or brown complexions, while paler women may look washed out.
Ivory, and all the warmer shades of white, are considered more formal than pure white—perhaps because of their association with vintage weddings, but also due to the richness in hue.
Ivory is almost universally flattering for all skin tones. However, there are many variations of ivory (think “cream,” “ecru,” “champagne,” etc.) Some shades will look better on you than others, depending on your skin type.
- If you have very pale or fair skin, look for dresses with a yellow undertone to bring warmth to your complexion.
- If you have sallow or olive skin, look for dresses with a pink undertone to brighten your complexion.
- If you have medium skin with pink or blue undertones, choose a dress with a stronger yellow or gold undertone to offset any redness or flushing.
- If you have dark skin, you are in luck! Nearly any shade of white will flatter your complexion.
Colored wedding dresses are a rising trend and a great way to express your modern, independent spirit. Colored wedding dresses typically come in delicate, romantic shades like pink. But there’s no end to the possibilities, including vibrant, multicolored dip dyes. You can also use color as a nod to your cultural heritage—for example, red is the traditional bridal color in India. Two brides wearing complementary colors would be a powerful visual statement.
The fabric of your wedding dress will impact everything about the dress, including its weight, the way it falls on your frame, the way you sound when you move, and how it photographs. A wedding dress can be made of just about anything, but here’s a review of the most popular fabrics.
First, a word on fiber vs. finish. Fiber refers to the material used to produce the fabric, such as silk, cotton or polyester. Finish refers to the way the fibers are woven and processed. Satin, tulle and lace are all “finishes.” Therefore, you can have satin that is made out of silk, or cotton, or polyester.
Fabrics made from natural fibers, such as silk, are more expensive than those made from synthetic fibers. There are lots of reasons you might prefer natural fibers—for example, they’re more environmentally-friendly—but modern synthetics are often indistinguishable by sight or touch. Still, if it’s important to you, specify silk satin when shopping for your dress.
Most wedding dresses will be made of a combination of fabrics, such as a structured satin with a soft lace overlay.
Satin – Satin is the quintessential wedding dress fabric. Thick and sturdy with a soft sheen, satin is flattering for all body types and is a great fabric for traditional ruched, draped or ballgown-style wedding dresses. Satin is known to crease easily, so make sure you have your satin wedding dress steamed before the ceremony!
Shantung – This knubby fabric with a rubbed texture drapes beautifully and photographs well. It’s a very popular, year-round choice for wedding dresses and also bridesmaids’ dresses.
Brocade – Brocade is a heavy fabric with raised designs, often floral patterns. Brocade is generally used for formal, vintage-inspired wedding dresses.
Organza – Organza is similar to chiffon in that it’s light, airy and sheer, but it is a much stiffer and more structured fabric. Organza wedding dresses are lovely for warm-weather weddings. But be warned that organza is prone to wrinkling!
Taffeta – Taffeta is a crisp, smooth fabric that is slightly ribbed and makes a distinct “swooshing” sound.
Charmeuse – Slinky and glossy, this light fabric drapes beautifully and is often used for bias-cut column dresses. This fabric will cling to your curves and reveal everything. Women who are self-conscious about a little extra weight might want to avoid charmeuse. Otherwise, it’s an elegant and glamorous choice.
Tulle – Tulle is a net-like, mesh fabric commonly associated with ballerina tutus. It is most often used in wedding veils, but many wedding dresses feature layered tulle skirts. This fabric is prone to snags and tears, so be careful!
Voile – Voile is a semi-transparent, sheer fabric made from cotton or wool. It is light and breathable, and its casual-yet-elegant appearance makes it a great choice for summer brides.
Chiffon – Light and airy, chiffon is a sheer fabric that is most often used in layers or as an overlay. It is extremely delicate and prone to snags and fraying.
Lace - Lace comes in a large variety of styles, usually named after the city of origin, including Chantilly, Alençon and Venice. There are also laser-cut laces that can modernize your look. Lace is usually used as an overlay or detail and is incredibly delicate.
Now that you understand the 3 “C’s” of wedding dress shopping—cut, color and cloth—it should be much easier to find the perfect wedding dress for you. That dress will flatter your frame and your skin tone, feel amazing to wear and, most importantly, fulfill all your wedding fantasies.