Article written by Pam Black, owner of Pam Black Weddings
One of my all-time favourite wedding books, ‘Legendary Brides’, contains beautiful pictures of Queen Victoria’s wedding in February 1840. According to author Letitia Baldridge, Queen Victoria had no idea way back then of the fashion trend she was starting when, for her marriage to Prince Albert, she decided to wear a white satin, lace-trimmed wedding gown with a lace veil held in place by an orange-blossom wreath.
Up until then, brides had always worn their best dresses (whatever the colour), for their weddings. What I find fascinating is that Victoria’s wedding gown, with its form-fitting, off-the shoulder bodice and full skirt and train, is a style still worn by many brides today.
The Queen didn’t forget the bling factor either; diamonds glittered in her hair, a diamond necklace graced her neck and she also wore a sapphire-and-diamond brooch, a gift from Prince Albert, over her heart.
Why your dress is important
Your wedding dress is probably the most important (and most expensive) outfit you will ever have to choose. It is vital to give it a lot of thought and to take your time in making your final choice.
A friend remarked recently that she thought that the first thing that entered a woman’s mind after she had been proposed to, was `What on earth am I going to wear?’ However, after much debate we came to the conclusion that in actual fact, if truth were told, most women (although they would never own up to it) have in fact been thinking about their wedding dresses since they were about five years old!
But be warned: you will be receiving a good deal of advice on the subject from all corners, but always remember that at the end of the day, the final decision is yours and it is important to choose a gown that is you. You need to look and feel your best in your dress.
It is vital that the dress you wear on this important occasion expresses your taste and not that of the designer, your mother, your sister or your best friend.
Spend time looking through wedding magazines (we have all the latest imported ones at Celebration House and you are welcome to visit us and view them at no charge), which can help you to get an idea of what styles you like. We also have a range of designer wedding dresses you are welcome to try on at no charge whatsoever.
When visiting a designer, go with an open mind. I have known of brides who were sure they wanted a slim-line wedding gown and have changed their minds in favour of a full-skirted one, having tried on ones in this style.
A word of warning: although tempting, try not to rush out the minute you are engaged and go wedding dress-shopping. Make sure you have decided first on a venue and time of ceremony. A relaxed, casual morning wedding on a beach will require a very different style of dress compared to one suitable for a formal evening affair.
As your wedding dress is likely to be the most expensive outfit you will ever wear, it makes sense to spend time ensuring that you choose wisely. Wedding dresses vary enormously in both style and price, and when you take into account the number of metres of fabric used in some of the more bouffant styles, as well as the time required to meticulously sew on hundreds of (often imported) beads, you will soon realise what you paying for.
If you are having an evening wedding, you could be spending up to eight hours in your gown and it is vital that you feel relaxed and at ease in it. Beware of tight- fitting bodices with bones – you must be able to breathe freely! – or an off- the- shoulder or strapless style, especially if it is a style that you have never worn before.
There is nothing worse than a bride continually tugging at her garment or looking uncomfortable in it; if you don’t feel happy in your outfit, it will show. You must be able to sit, kneel and dance comfortably in your dress.
Consider the comfort factor, too, when thinking about choosing a full- skirted dress. Taking into account the weight of the fabric, be aware that the dress could begin to feel very heavy after a few hours, especially on a hot summer day. One bride who had chosen a very full-skirted gown with lots of petticoats told me she had not realised that once in her wedding gown, going to the bathroom would be a real mission and utterly impossible without the assistance of her bridesmaids!
The best advice I have heard regarding choosing a wedding dress is that you should look for something that is a glamorised version of your everyday style. If you have never been keen on frills and flounces, don’t feel that you need this type of dress. Likewise, if you are an incurable romantic, you will probably not feel at ease in a classically-styled garment.
If your budget doesn’t run to a designer dress, there are many other options open to you. Some designers offer ‘off-the-peg’ garments for sale and many will make the dress for you and charge you a hiring fee only. (The garment is then handed back to them after the wedding.)
If you are having your outfit specially made for you, or even if you plan to hire one, it is important to wear the bra and petticoat you intend wearing on the day (as well as your chosen shoes), whenever you go for a fitting. It is also a good idea not to wear much make-up at fittings, to avoid the risk of marking your dress. And don’t forget to order a garter, which, according to tradition, is worn on your right leg, just above the knee.
If you are planning to wear a veil, practise wearing it around the house – if it is long, this will help you get used to the feel of it. Ensure that before placing it on your head the short piece is uppermost, making it easy to cover your face when you enter the ceremony venue, thereby avoiding a last-minute panic. Choose a head-dress that is light and easy to wear. If the groom is the same height as you, don’t wear a head-dress, or you will tower over him. Rather choose something flatter, or settle for a few flowers.
It is advisable to keep jewellery to a minimum. Your jewellery should enhance rather than detract from your outfit and if you don’t normally wear lots of it, now is not the time to do so. Your earrings should be tried on with the dress beforehand and your hair done in the style you plan to wear. (Don’t forget to move your engagement ring to your right hand before the service, so that your wedding ring can go on first.)
Outfits for the bridal party
Once the bride has decided on her outfit, the groom should choose one that will complement hers. According to tradition, the groom, best man, ushers and the fathers of the bride and groom should all dress in similar fashion (though their outfits needn’t be identical). If they plan to hire dress suits for the ceremony, it is a good idea to obtain them all from one hiring company, to ensure that they are the same shade. Remember to discuss the choice of ties to be worn, to prevent an array of multi-coloured ties being on display! Bear in mind that morning suits are just that – worn for formal morning weddings and not for evening affairs. South African suit hire companies offer a wide range of outfits and it is possible to hire most formal wedding attire for the groom and his party.
It is wise for the mothers of the bride and groom to meet and discuss in advance the colours and styles they will be wearing, bearing in mind that it is inappropriate for either of them to wear a white or cream outfit. When making their choices they should also take into consideration the colour the bridesmaids will be wearing and they must ensure that they do not upstage the bride in any way.