Strapless gowns remain popular, but sleeves are becoming a trendy choice.
KNIGHT RIDDER NEWSPAPERS
The American wedding gown is currently under construction. Think of it as a backlash against the ultra simple gown of the 1990s, best symbolized by the oh-so-fantastically-nothing sheath dress Carolyn Bessette Kennedy wore in 1996.
"It was very, very minimal for a couple of years -- strapless, plain fabric, maybe a little satin trim, a simple, simple, simple cut -- nothing to it, really," says Amy Stariha of Amy Jane Bridal in St. Paul, Minn. "Now, women see that dress and say, 'It needs a little something. It's a little too plain."'
Kristin Giese Halloran agrees. She got married in October and chose a strapless gown. "I like that clean and simple look," she says. But she dressed up her $130 Bill Levkoff dress with a more ornate, cathedral-length veil by Che Bella of St. Paul that bloomed with hand-embroidered flowers.
Other brides who want "a little something" extra have more options now: lace, pleats, ruffles, bustles, embroidery, color, floral accents ... and even a mermaid-style dress. But it's not the overly dramatic mermaid dress you might recall from the 1980s.
"No, no, no, no, no," says Joanna Saltz, fashion and beauty editor at theknot.com, a popular wedding Web site. "It's not like that. No not being able to move your knees. It's an A-line mermaid that gently swishes as you walk down the aisle. It's extremely popular all over the runways."
"Think glamour girl from the 1930s," says Susan Schneider, executive editor of Modern Bride magazine. "It's very sexy and sophisticated."
In its Spring 2003 collection, Birnbaum & amp; Bullock of New York has a strapless, silk-glazed shantung dress with a paneled, trumpet skirt that speaks to the subtlety of that new "swishy" style. Steven Birnbaum -- who visited Amy Jane Bridal recently to display his gowns to brides-to-be -- thinks he knows why brides are starting to want more frills.
"Seven out of 10 women start out by saying they want a simple sheath, but they rarely end up with that -- it's never enough. You can wear a sheath any day of your life. This is a day to wear something more."
Perhaps that's why lace is making a comeback.
"Lace is huge," says Saltz. "But it's not lace the way your grandmother wore it in the 1940s. Think peek-a-boo lace on bare skin. It's forward and sexy, vs. Queen Elizabeth."
Another change, after years of the perennially popular strapless gown: Sleeves are back. "And there are so many beautiful kinds of sleeves," Schneider says.
That includes demure cap sleeves and even -- gasp -- long sleeves.
Fashion trends aside, today's bride still insists on comfort. It's especially important as more couples plan destination weddings (brides often lug their gowns on planes and then wear them on beaches or atop mountains). Reem Acra even has -- get this -- a "bridal bikini" that features a lacy sarong adorned with organza ruffles. Most brides, though, choose traditional gowns for destination weddings -- but opt for no train and simple fabrics such as chiffon or crepe.
"We're used to wearing knits and other comfortable clothes," says Stariha. "We don't wear as restrictive clothes anymore."
The spring collections are full of floaty organza. But brides can also choose from leather, suede, cotton pique and even quilted fabrics.
All these choices reflect the changing mindset of the American bride.
"Weddings have become such a personalized reflection of the couple, wedding dresses are following suit," says Saltz.