Friday, May 30, 2008


HEAD CHIC Whatever you put on your head pulls your whole look together. Whether you go with a veil, hat or just a headpiece, there's an option out there for every bride.
RETRO LOOKS: A Touch of Ages Past. A look at some vintage chic gowns and accessories from early 19th century inspirations to the 1950s glamour era.

GREEN CHIC:Going with Environmentally Friendly and Recycled Fabrics

By Amy-Jo Tatum

Going Green? Though its big time trendy now, years back green brides were comming through my door on a regular basis. Where did they all come from? Awesome green Northern California. The bride in the tea-dyed hemp and silk gauze dress above wanted to know every material that went into the making of her dress. This is becoming more rule than exception. Since more brides are going custom or buying wedding wear in green-alternative boutiques, there's not only a need to know what materials go into the making of a dress but also who is making the piece and where. As one bride put it, "I couldn't stand up and make such an important commitment, knowing in my heart any part of what I had on my body might have been put together by prison labor or in a sweat mill. It just goes against everything I believe in."

Going Green can mean wearing a dress in natural fibers: organic cotton, wool, linen, silk, and of course, hemp. It helps to have a knowledge of the natural dying process and thinking through what impact toxic dyes might have on the environment. Here are some questions to ask: Is that silk I love really its natural color? If it is tinted, was it done with non-toxic dye? Is that snow white silk taffeta chlorined? And was that cotton grown free of pesticides? If you find answers to these questions through the help of a green-savvy designer or seamstress, you could make this a real project planet-style endeavor. Going Green can also mean saving resources by wearing a previously owned gown. So where do you find one? Here are some options.

Walk in any bridal consignment shop these days and you’ll feel more like you’re in a high-end designer salon. With catchy names like Encore Bridal and One More Time, these places offer some elegant, gently worn gowns in better shape than your average designer sample. In fact, the proprietors of these places can get real persnickety about what they take in—some only accepting top designer names like Vera Wang and Reem Acra in all natural fibers. In addition, once gowns are accepted they’re cleaned and pressed (Ask where though. More shops are specializing in environmentally safe cleaning)
If you’re price conscious this is the place to shop. Gowns that retailed last season for $3000-4000 are typically half off but sometimes can go for as little as $500-600.
More good news. You’re going to get very personalized assistance—the same as in a full service bridal salon. Though there will be re-altering involved, you won’t have to wait 4-6 months for your gown. Bear in mind once-worn gowns have already been pre-fit and altered to someone else’s body. Just make sure they’re once-worn; an over altered dress that’s been on more than one body could lose its original shape after a while. Ask how many and what kind of alterations the gown you want has had. Typically, if it’s gone through more than two brides, forget it. In addition to alterations your shop may offer customizing services (for a fee). Shops realize with previously-worn gowns, there’s a kind of possessive energy the new purchaser wants to create to make the gown her own. Therefore some shops focus on customizing.
FYI: Naturally bridal consignment shops don’t stock set sizes like salons do. Small and larger brides might have to work closely with staff and keep a lookout locating a gown in their size.


Most Vintage clothing stores stock actual gowns from by-gone eras as well as ‘retro-inspired’ selections that are brand new. The bride in love with a particular era of clothing usually checks vintage clothing stores first. Not all brides opt for an actual gown that survived her favorite era though. Some choose a newer style reflecting the period in natural fibers. Why? Because that authentic 1925 chemise may be so delicate, without proper restoration it could literally fall apart. Think of gowns belonging to the ages like you would certain antiques: some so precious to be considered museum quality. Depending on restoration, the rule of thumb is, the older the gown the less they should be worn. If you are set on wearing that 1910 dress find a specialist in restoration who can advise.


Here’s where you’ll find some darling little ladies working for a good cause. And they can be charming and helpful, especially if you’re a bride. Chances are if you're environmentally conscious you’ve gone this route to unearth real finds before so you already know your way around. I have to give you some kudos here. Rummaging through flea markets and thrift stores takes a certain kind of bride—the kind who believes in recycling even on her wedding day; the kind that doesn't give a damn whether she’s wearing hand-me-downs. If this is you, you’re a rarity. And yes, you’re likely to spend hours and days sorting through racks of Four Weddings and A Funeral cast-offs before you uncover that 1963 Priscilla of Boston original in silk taffeta. Thrift shops and flea markets are also the place you'll find recycled fabrics and linens. You've seen those cuts of dimity and silk someone had in their attic. How about curtains, table or bed linens? Some have such beautiful embroidery that are screaming to be made into a dress.


Maybe not mom or grand mom's dress; especially if mom was a Dianaesque bride. Suppose your sister or best friend's gown is awesome? Did you know Jean Kennedy wore her sister Pat's Hattie Carnagie sheath for her 1956 wedding? With a little customizing (sash, shrug, a few florals added) you've got a whole new gown. Here's another Did you know? tidbit. In the 1940s weddings were rush events with so many men shipped off to war. Time was scarce and fabric rationed. Ordinarily a war bride wore her best dress which many times was a suit. There's one story about a to-the-floor-formal A-line complete with chapel train in white silk satin, passed on from one bride to the next so many times it was eventually lost . . . I always thought this would make a great premise for a string of short stories by Anne Beatty . . .

A few great links to get you started here. Happy green wedding!

RAWGANIQUE-Clothing and products for a fragile planet.

DHARMA TRADING-Pure and natural fibers. I've been in and out of this place since the 70s buying fabrics. They've been trading green and natural some thirty years.

GREEN ELEGANCE WEDDINGS-One of my favorite spots.

SHADOWS-Vintage clothing and bridal

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Thinking Outside of the Strapless Bodice

Perusing all those photographer sites lately guess what I found? Yes, a lot of prize-winning photos and . . . . that's right, on nearly every bride some variation of the strapless bodice--most particularly the strapless A-line. So what’s with The Deb Dress? Why, year after year does it still have extraordinary wow factor? Think of Grace Kelly (the ultimate Deb) in her celebrated white engagement dress, baring her lovely back and bustle, hair all sleeked up in a French twist. Its true, strapless A-lines look great on just about everyone and just about everyone feels like Grace Kelly in them, ie; symbolizing class and refinement.
If you're going strapless, consider adding some options to your look. A shrug or bolero can cover you up for the ceremony and be removed for reception. Want another variation of that 1950s look? How about an opaque removable top in organza or lace? This too can be removed come reception time. If you're in a sheath, A-line or evening gown add a wrap or coat either in matching fabric or, for those fall/winter weddings, in peau de soie or brocade.

Thursday, May 22, 2008


Chances are if you're looking for a wedding gown you're browsing online. Maybe you've narrowed down your search--decided you like the evening gown look but not absolutely, positively, 100 per cent sure an A-line is out of the question. Next you get up from the computer and go out shopping. You hit every salon within a twenty-mile radius, go through racks of gowns in fabrics you never knew existed. You try on a few in every shade and texture of white imaginable. And while you feel you've had a crash course in bridal, still, nothing out there's really grabbed you. Then . . . a week or two later this picture of a gown finally comes together in your head--the neckline you found in Weddings; the sleeve on the dress you tried on in the salon combined with the sweep train you spotted last week in the Film Noir. Once all this gets put together you'll have a custom designed gown, something one-of-a-kind like no other in the world.
I know the exact dress I want but can't find it online or in the stores. Luckily a friend recommended a designer she used. How is custom design different from buying in a salon?

REALITY 101: Making a gown from scratch requires more fittings than gowns ordered through a salon so you'll need to be open to the experience of watching your gown develop from the ground up. In addition, a custom designer or skilled seamstress puts many hours and a high level of craftsmanship into the creation of a custom gown. Working with fragile white fabric and delicate lace is an art form. Figure any custom gown crafted by a designer usually takes four to six months to complete from a listing of your measurements. Since the design process involved with a custom gown is more of a direct collaboration between you, you'll have more input with decisions regarding fabric, silhouette and style. Custom gowns are typically 80-90% handmade. This means machines do some work like the side seams, cross seams, etc. There are however stitches on these one-of-a-kind gowns only expert handwork can touch in order to produce that exquisite finish.


Step 1

Every first consultation begins by asking questions about the actual wedding itself. You'll look at and evaluate all the factors involved in optimizing gown design; the scale of the ceremony, the nature of its backdrop, your use of tradition, even the surfaces on which you'll be walking. With respect for cleaning and preservation, sometimes even post-wedding plans are made for the gown.

If you've brought any photos, magazine clippings, sketches or swatches of fabric, these are discussed, usually with the designer running a few of her own ideas back to you. I keep a scrapbook for each of my clients starting with the ideas she's brought in. Cost of materials, fabrics and a few other details are explored. If the designer has a small sample collection, this is usually when you can begin trying on gowns to see what the fabrics are going to look and feel like with you in them. This is also the time you'll be looking over how well the samples are made. And don't worry whether or not you know haute couture techniques here--just pull up a hem or take a look inside one of the garments. You'll know fine workmanship if its cleanly made and as beautiful on the inside as out.


Eventually a gown is in the making. After a final sketch is approved, a written estimate follows, complete with with fabric swatches and your measurements are taken. For every gown order a paper pattern is made. Think of the paper pattern as a blueprint, a record of all your dimensions on it. From this, most designers (some dressmakers too) work out a muslin. The muslin is an actual cotton mock-up and 'living pattern' of your gown's design, fitted exactly to your body. Now, think of your muslin as the foundation--the groundwork upon which your dress will be built. This is where most of the fine tuning will be done to that perfect fit before one cut or stitch goes into the true gown fabric(s).


After your muslin fittings (there may be two of them), the muslin is unstitched and laid out on the actual fabric and the gown is made up. Since most of the fitting has been worked out on the muslin, second and third fittings usually follow up with finishing touches to the gown like hemline, closures, remaining design details, etc. Be prepared for more than three fittings though. A gown made from the ground up is a work in progress and each step along the way is painstakingly taken, checked and rechecked. Keep in mind you want your gown delivered at least a month before your wedding. Yes, you'll need to synchronize your calendars on this one. You want to be able to relax and deal with all those other last minute details involved with your wedding, not still fussing around over hemlines.

So what's the difference between a dressmaker and a designer?

DRESSMAKERS-Once upon a time before mass production, every woman either had a dressmaker or became her own. Nowadays most dressmakers specialize. You'll want one with expertise in bridal and/or evening wear. Dressmakers either work on an hourly basis or estimate out their labor. They usually work from store bought patterns and expect you to supply the fabrics and materials such as buttons, zippers, etc. This is a good option if you already have a unique cut of silk or know how to shop around yourself for the fabrics.

CUSTOM BRIDAL DESIGNERS-More and more have sprung up in studios and ateliers over the past decade. They're experts in helping you translate what you see in your imagination as reality. Like a dressmaker, they work one on one with you. Unlike a dressmaker, they usually have tonier establishments and higher prices. The reason? Their services are zeroed in on brides. Most offer small sample collections as well as bolts of fabric right in house to inspire you along with your decision. Custom designers usually work all the materials and labor into the price of the garment. Prepare to pay more here. Prices can range from $1000.00 for something simple and unadorned, up to $10,000.00 for the works: full trains, layers of petticoats, underskirts, bustles, intricate beading, etc. Median price range for a custom wedding gown as of this writing would be around $3-5000.00.


ONLINE- Most bridal designers have their own sites. Type in bridal designers and you'll come up with thousands (great if you want to browse even more gowns) Type in bridal designers--Los Angeles and you've narrowed it down some. Mostly what you'll come up with is a hodgepodge of big names, the not-so-famous one-of-a-kind designers with their own sites; a few bridal retailers carrying designers, etc. If you've hit a top LA designer you absolutely love like Amy Michaelson and happen to live in the area, try to make an appointment. Realize some top designers do custom work in their flagship store. Remember though top designers get top dollar. As for custom designers, if you're near a metro area, your chances of connecting with the right one are good. Check out the gown photos on the site. Is her vision and your own on the same page. Next go to her real brides gallery . . . (if there is one) see what others looked like on their wedding day in her creations.

SALONS-Bridal salons and specialty stores sometimes employ custom designers or dressmakers either in house or as outside contractors. Depending on how they are set up, sometimes they'll give a referral if it doesn't interfere with the flow of business.

CONSULTANTS-Bridal consultants or planners are an excellent source for referrals and usually know who is truly expert in the area by years of working with them. Some consultants are willing to work on an hourly basis or for a small referral fee.

FASHION EDITORS-Fashion or wedding section editors in regionals can be helpful if you reach them directly or run across their editorials on bridal wear. Most newspapers feature a spread on weddings twice a year. Here, private designers are sometimes featured and listed. Ask for back issues.

MAGAZINES-In the past few years, studio and private wedding designers have put gallery style or half page ads in some of the major bridal glossies. A few run regional sections with listings and the designer's particular specialty.

YELLOW PAGES-Before the internet, this used to be the first place brides looked. After word of mouth, this is still the best place to find a dressmaker (not designer) in my opinion.

FRIENDS-Finally word of mouth and recommendations through friends find the best designers and dressmakers. Someone knows someone who knows someone and often the same name will keep popping up in discussion. Follow it.


A custom designed gown is the pinnacle of pure construction. Brides who opt to go custom believe a gown should be comfortable as well as beautifully lined so she can wear it like a second skin--the whole component moving with her as if it is part of her body. If you think about this, it makes sense. She's connecting with a man. In spirit they link. The dress is symbolic of all that, so it should be a part of her and move right along with her. In the end, a custom designed gown is definitely worth the wait.

Text by Amy-Jo Tatum

Amy-Jo Tatum Bridal Couture