BY CATHERINE PHELAN
With stars turning up at awards shows in dresses from their favorite designers’ bridal collections and brides-to-be scanning Golden Globe and Oscar pre-shows for gown inspiration, it’s getting harder to determine where the red carpet ends and the white one begins.
So it’s little wonder that one of spring 2012’s hottest bridal trends, the ball gown style wedding dress, got a huge boost from Hollywood, although initially inspiration came from the big screen rather than awards-show fashion. “The Vera Wang dress Kate Hudson wore in ‘Bride Wars’ brought the look into the spotlight again,” says Amy Sultan, editor-in-chief of CelebrityBrideGuide.com.
Celebrities, typically fond of fitted styles for red-carpet walkabouts, soon embraced the big statement gown for their own weddings. “Even though they had completely different styles, Kim Kardashian and Nicole Richie both wore jaw-dropping Cinderella dresses, with full tulle skirts that gave off that frothy fairy-tale wedding feel,” says Sultan.
While Hollywood helped return the ball gown to the bridal salon, fashion observers also credit the influence of “Mad Men” (all those 50s-style poofy dresses and skirts), the real princess bride, Kate Middleton (although this revival predates the royal wedding), and the extremely flattering nature of the full-skirt silhouette.
“Ball gowns work for a wide range of figure types, which may be one of the reasons they’ve caught on,” says Kerri Rourke Hileman, owner of The White Magnolia, a designer gown boutique in Jacksonville, Fla. After years of form-fitting mermaid styles, brides with less-than-perfect hip lines can now revel in wide-skirted tulle. But even brides with model-thin proportions are embracing them. “I’m selling more ball gowns than mermaids now,” says Cait Courneya, a bridal consultant at the Monique Lhuillier flagship in Los Angeles. “I couldn’t say that several years ago.”
Innovative detailing sets today’s gowns apart from their Grace Kelly-era counterparts. “Skirt drama is a major trend, with fabric mixing, layers, ruffles, and pleats bringing a modern twist to this once traditional silhouette,” says Catalina Maddox, bridal fashion director for David’s Bridal. Depending on the skirt’s lavishness, bodices may be styled in a lower key, whether beaded, or designed corset style. Conversely, an unembellished satin skirt might be paired with a feathery or lavish crystal-encrusted lace top.
Regardless of surface embellishment, Hileman recommends structured bodices for clients choosing strapless ball gowns – and making sure to get the perfect fit. “You need the structure to counter the weight of these larger, fuller skirts,” she says. “You want to make sure that top will stay in place!”
While ball gowns are turning up everywhere, experts agree they’re not the best silhouettes for bridesmaids. If the bride will be wearing a ball-style statement dress, her attendants should go with “a sleeker, simpler style,” says Maddox. “The bride needs to stay in the spotlight on her special day.”
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