The Bride and the Bridesmaids
The Groom and the Ushers
The clothes may not make the man, but they can make a big difference in a wedding.
The clothes set the overall tone for the wedding. They're also going to be one of the most talked-about and remembered aspects of the day.
The Bride's Gown
Before the white wedding gown was made popular by Anne of Brittany, Queen of France, in the late 15th century, brides used to just wear their best dress. Today, shopping for bridal wear is an event often dragged out for months. Start early!
Shopping for a bridal gown should begin once the overall theme of the wedding has been decided upon. The style of the dress -- formal or informal -- and the season when the ceremony will be held -- summer or winter -- will set the tone that the bridesmaids' dresses and the groom's attire should follow. Lighter fabrics and short sleeves are more appropriate for summer weddings, and evening weddings are generally more formal.
But where to start shopping? Here are some options:
Buying from a bridal shop: One advantage to shopping at a store that sells hundreds of gowns is that you can try on many styles before deciding what you want. If you order a custom-made gown, you're likely to pay a lot more for it and you won't have the luxury of seeing it on you until it's finished. If the engagement is rushed, make sure you're organized before you start shopping. A good place to begin researching and narrowing down gown styles is bridal magazines.
Before going to a store, call first to check if they have the styles that interest you. To further cut costs, visit consignment shops that sell once-worn wedding gowns.
A custom-made gown: The advantage to hiring someone to custom make your gown is obvious -- you'll get exactly what you want, although you're likely to spend hundreds of dollars more. A designer can also create a headpiece that matches the gown.
Restoring an old gown: Sometimes, brides will choose to restore a dress their mother or grandmother wore. The gown restorer can alter not only the fit, but also the gown's style. Bring pictures of gowns you love when you meet with the restorer to explain what you want. Also, ask if the restorer will clean your gown for you. Leave plenty of time -- seven months is recommended -- for the restorer to make changes.
Unless the costs of the bridesmaids' dresses and shoes are coming out of the bridal budget, not all of the bridesmaids are going to appreciate spending a lot of money for a dress that they will likely only wear once. Also, dresses that are too formal are less likely to be worn again than styles that can be worn for a romantic dinner, to a party, or to another wedding. Despite overwhelming anecdotal evidence that bridesmaid dresses rarely get worn twice, it's at least nice to leave the possibility open.
To be sensitive to the bridesmaids' concerns, try to pick a style that looks good on everyone. Stay away from styles such as two-piece outfits or suits that cut the body in half, sleeveless dresses, or body-hugging styles. If the selected color is available in slightly different styles in the same fabric, the future bride may let her bridesmaids chose the style more flattering for their body types.
Also, pick colors that look good on everyone. For example, orange on a redhead won't be flattering. Colors such as blue and green are recommended. Also, check with the photographer to make sure the bridal party's colors photograph well against the backdrop where photos will be taken. Stay away from styles that are too trendy; instead, opt for styles that have a longer lifespan.
A different or darker color in the same style as the bridesmaids' dresses is usually selected for the maid or matron of honor. The dress and bouquet may be the reverse colors of the colors selected for the bridesmaids. The flower girl's outfit should be appropriate for her age and coordinate with the bridesmaids' gowns in color and fabric.
Buying from a bridal shop: Allow some time for this process. Each bridesmaid must be individually measured before the order is placed, and then you should expect to wait about three to five months for the dresses to arrive. Plan on an extra two to three weeks for any alterations.
Take a browse through the local mall: Chain stores, such as Macy's, Filene's, or Ann Taylor, often carry gowns appropriate for a wedding. The dresses may be less expensive than custom-made gowns, and the bridal party can skip the fittings. This is a plus if some of the bridesmaids live far away. The bridesmaids can stop by the store near them with the dress-code number and pick up their size. If the dress is not in stock, often stores will order the dress from another location. However, make sure everyone keeps her receipts until everyone has her dress.
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Unlike the bride, who has to shop early, the groom can start looking for his outfit two to three months before the wedding. Again, the first question is how formal the affair is. Is this a top-hat-and-cane affair, or will a tuxedo or casual suit do? Night weddings require more formal dress than morning ceremonies.
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When shopping for the outfits of the groom and the other men in the ceremony, bringing swatches of material from the bridal gown and from the bridesmaids' dresses will help coordinate the party. If the gown is ivory, the groom and the ushers should wear ivory shirts. The material from the bridesmaids' dresses can be coordinated with accessories from the groom's outfit, such as the vest, cummerbund, or tie.
Headpiece: Like the gown, headpieces come in a variety of styles and can be custom-made, even if the gown is store-bought. Some brides choose to make their own veil.
A shorter veil is nice when the back of the bride's gown is decorative. A long veil can also double for a train. Veils can be held in place with a circlet of pearls or flowers, by hairpins concealed by a tiny bunch of fresh flowers, or by a diamond tiara.
Jewelry: Pearls and diamonds, set against silver, white gold, or a white-gold, yellow-gold combination, are the most common selections for the bride's jewelry. Many jewelry stores have collections specifically for weddings, and jewelry sets can also be custom-made. And like the other purchases, the style and exact coloring of the jewelry should be determined by the style and color of the gown. As a gift to the bridal party, sometimes brides will buy earrings and bracelets to match the outfits. Cufflinks for the ushers and best man also make a nice gift from the groom.
Shoes: Bring color swatches from the bridal gown and the bridesmaids' dresses when picking shoes. If you have to fit shoes for your entire bridal party, the ideal shoe store should stock sizes 2 - 14 in narrow, wide, and extra-wide widths. Bridesmaids' shoes should be dyed at the same time to prevent variations. Another option, to cut costs for the bridesmaids, is picking simple styles in colors that the bridesmaids probably already have, such as black pumps or white slippers.
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