Enter a bridal salon and be engulfed in a sea of white. You don’t notice the details at first, as racks of gowns blend together in a profusion of tulle, lace and satin. Then the consultant brings out gowns for you to try. You look in the mirror and marvel as your inner Cinderella looks back at you. As you try on each gown, variations in design become more apparent. You see that there are individual qualities to each one. They are all gorgeous, but some look better on you than others. And you begin to focus on choosing the one gown you will wear for the most special day of your life.
It’s an exhilarating process that can also be stressful. I was there as a bride. I returned 14 months ago as the mother of a bride. And I happily accompanied a friend and her daughter last week as they went to a salon for the first time to choose a gown for a summer wedding.
What goes into making that choice? Style? Fit? Price? The answer is really all of the above. If you are shopping for a wedding gown, you have probably been looking at photos since your chosson gave you an engagement ring, or maybe before you even met him. So you have some thoughts about what you like. Your goal will be to see if that style is flattering—and affordable. Go to your salon appointments with a rough idea of what you want but consider alternative suggestions.
There are guidelines to bridal-gown construction. Four general styles predominate: ball gown; A-line with a standard, empire or dropped waist; the mermaid gown that hugs curves until spreading out below the knee in a circle that meets the floor; and the straight gown with a regal, almost tailored look.
While bridal gowns are almost exclusively white, there is a tremendous variety of shades. Bridal gowns can range from ivory to bright white. The fabric and embellishments give each dress its personality. Satin shimmers but is a little heavy. Sparkles catch the light and create a bold look. An understated smattering of applique on off white is dreamy. Silk whispers. Crinoline is assertive.
The biggest challenge for Orthodox brides is how to be both beautiful and modest in a world where most wedding gowns are designed to be strapless. Gowns can be altered, or ‘built up’ but can look patched together if the work is not done correctly.
Three top bridal salons shared their approach to outfitting Orthodox brides with gowns that meet their requirements.
“A bridal gown is something a girl has to click with; she has to put it on and fall in love,” said Miri Uhrbach, designer and founder of the eponymous MIRI Couture. “Traditional or modern, it has to be what she likes but it also has to fit well. It could be the most beautiful gown but if the fit isn’t there, she won’t be happy.”
A good fit means a dress that is modest by design or properly built up. “People come in to us crying because their dresses were built up by people not knowing how to do it. That’s where we come in. We understand a woman wants to be modest and covered but glamorous. There’s a whole scientific method of properly building up a dress. We spend hours modifying a gown.”
MIRI Couture gowns, made in European factories with her exclusive fabric, are sold in nine stores in the U.S., Europe and Israel. With MIRI’s large selection of modest gowns in stock, a bride can start three months before the wedding, with six weeks to get the fitting right.
Most of MIRI’s Orthodox bridal customers rent rather than purchase their dresses. The cost is lower with the same custom fitting, veil included, and no worries about storing the dress after the wedding. However, many brides still prefer to own their gowns and often donate them later to organizations that help less affluent brides.
MIRI Couture, 37 North Dean Street, Englewood, is expanding and renovating the bridal department. For an appointment, call 201-608-5550.
Tova Mark, designer and owner of Couture de Bride, 406 Cedar Lane, Teaneck, makes custom gowns for all tastes but modest gowns are at the heart of her collection. In an email, she wrote that she loves using Chantilly and Alencon French Lace, English Net, Sparkle Tulle and Organza and 3-D flowers and petals. She favors light-weight fabrics such as Charmeuse and Performance Stretch. Her sheath, trumpet and slim A-lines are the most popular styles, followed by ball gowns.
Mark said her modest gowns are designed that way from the start. She said a built-up gown “will always look like a build up with mismatched fabrics, horizontal bust seams and a poor fit.” She warns that a bride can spend over $1,000 to have a strapless gown built up and then be very unhappy with the result. “Some brides find a great deal on a sample dress at major bridal shops, but then end up spending double or triple to try and build it up.” She said hundreds of brides have come to her at the last minute after the gown they had built up was unacceptable.
Mark’s custom gowns can be ordered for purchase or rental. Standard production time is four to six months. For a rush fee, dresses can be ordered two to three months in advance, and she can do a super rush in one month. Brides with short engagements can choose from many gowns in stock. Rental packages, including fittings, alterations, headpiece, veil, crinoline slip and sash/belt, are priced from $1,500. Purchase price is double the rental price. Call Mark for an appointment at 201-357-4877.
Kleinfeld Bridal, 110 West 20th Street, New York City, has long been the destination for a bride who wants the ultimate wedding gowns. Rochel Leah Katz gives Orthodox brides that option. Katz advises brides to call as early as possible, preferably a minimum of three to four months in advance of the wedding. Less time than that is considered a rush, which is costly, and some designers will not take rush orders.
Katz only works with designers and fitters who she knows build up dresses well. “Our designers do the modifications from the start so the dress is naturally modified with a chic couture look, never like a chopped up arts and crafts project,” she said.
Katz has strong opinions about style. “My mantra is you have to feel great in the gown and feel like a bride. This is a once-in-a-lifetime, unique occasion. You want to feel beautiful and special. And when you do choose, let your bridal party know what you’re wearing,” Katz said. She thinks bridesmaids should echo the bride, not dress in a competing style.
Lace gowns are her most popular look. “Lace and tulle will never go out of style, though we try to modernize the way lace is done,” Katz said. She loves to use beautiful organzas, netting and embroidered netting.
Katz advises mothers to come and be part of the process but follow what the bride likes. “Usually when a bride loves a dress and the mother doesn’t, they leave but then the mother comes around.” The gowns Katz handles at Kleinfeld Bridal begin at $4,000. “It’s important to stay within your budget and have that conversation before you choose to come,” she said. “If your daughter cries to you ‘That’s what I love,’ and you can’t do it, who am I helping?” To make an appointment with Kleinfeld Bridal’s Rochel Leah Katz, call her direct line at 646-633-4365.
Here’s an additional piece of advice for every mother who goes to her daughter’s first bridal salon appointment: Bring tissues. “It’s surreal watching your daughter try on bridal gowns for the first time,” my friend said as we watched her daughter in a succession of dresses. When the kallah-to-be tried on a veil, her mother got teary. “My baby is really grown up and getting married!” she exclaimed, somewhat taken aback by the surge of conflicting emotions. The sales consultant was not surprised. “Gets them every time,” she said.
By Bracha Schwartz