Lace is essentially an ornamental, openwork textile whose enchanting motifs are created by looping and twisting threads. It was first developed in sixteenth-century Europe and was often named for its place of origin, such as Chantilly and Alencon, both towns in France. The precious fabric, which required painstaking skill to create, was a luxury whose purchase was restricted to royalty and high-ranking aristocrats. It was cast aside during the French Revolution but later flourished or declined depending on the whims of fashion. When Queen Victoria wore a lace veil on her wedding day in 1840, brides fell in love with the look and copied her.
Almost all lace today is made by machine. "With so many good-quality machine-made laces, a bride is sure to find one that suits her," says François Damide, president of Solstiss Inc., the United States branch of a French fine-lace manufacturer. A dainty Chantilly lace can serve as an overlay for a bouffant skirt, while a denser lace such as Alencon works well for a straight silhouette. And just the lightest touch -- on a veil, a glove, or even a bouquet -- creates a soft, feminine effect.
Or let lace inspire you in other ways. Use it to decorate a table, wrap favors, or provide an elaborate motif for a fabulous cake. When lace was made by hand using bobbins or a needle, different regions became famous for their distinctive patterns. Those traditional looks, now re-created by machine, retain their original names. Venise lace features heavy, raised motifs -- flowers, leaves, scrolls -- joined by connecting threads called "brides." Alencon lace consists of floral designs that are outlined by cordonnet, a fine silk cord. The more cord used, the more sculptural the pattern. Chantilly lace was reportedly a favorite of Marie Antoinette; it is characterized by delicate botanical motifs worked into a mesh background. The lace is feather-light whether the patterns are simple or complex.
Left: This luxurious ensemble by Christian Lacroix will satisfy a taste for feminine details. The strapless gown is a patchwork of lace, satin, and organza in shades of ivory and cream; two lace-trimmed tulle veils, worn together as a shawl, envelop the bride in a golden-pink haze. Lace and mother-of-pearl fan from Jana Starr Antiques & Bridal; pearl ring by Cartier. Below: Alencon lace, with its substantial texture and body, makes an ideal choice for sculpting a bodice or bordering a hem. Here, a gown by Michelle Roth pairs a spaghetti-strap top of ivory Alencon lace with a multilayered tulle skirt that flutters gracefully with each step. Fresh and airy, it is a lovely selection for a warm-weather ceremony. A single silk camellia adds an elegant flourish. We used a lace ribbon as a choker.
Appliques of Alencon lace on a dress by Richard Glasgow are echoed in the lace-bordered tulle veil by Nelson D'Leon Designs. Below: The simple lines of this Christos gown with its satin-and-lace paneled train accentuate the opulence of the beaded Alencon lace.
Reem Acra's tea-length, antique lace slip dress is sensuously glamorous. Below: This effervescent two-piece design by Monique Lhuillier is made for whirling around the dance floor at the reception. The Alencon lace of the blouse has been embellished with decorative stitching, a technique called re-embroidery. A pale coffee-colored grosgrain ribbon accents the skirt of laser-cut tulle triangles. Sandals by Manolo Blahnik.
Chantilly lace on a veil by Suzanne Couture Millinery transforms a subtly detailed silk-satin gown by Priscilla of Boston into a romantic vision. Below: Chantilly lace overlays Edgardo Bonilla's strapless organza gown with trumpet skirt; the hem is bordered with Alencon lace. We added lace trim to the gloves by Carolina Amato. Crystaland-lace choker by Jose & Maria Barrera.
A cascade of ribbon-embroidered Chantilly lace falls from the midriff of this ivory dress with chapel train by Amsale. Below: For a sweet and lovely appearance, a bride might choose David Fielden London's mauve tea-length ballerina dress with its bodice of thick guipure lace and frothy tulle skirt. The raised floral motifs drift luxuriously down the top layer of tulle. Ring by Me & Ro.
In the past a woman would have concealed the corset beneath her gown. Here it serves as the bodice of a bride's alluring ensemble. The corset of gold silk, lace, and ribbons is worn over a skirt of ivory re-embroidered lace; both are by Maggie Norris Couture. A shawl of gossamer handmade lace from Jana Starr Antiques & Bridal covers the bride's shoulders. Below: Covered in French re-embroidered lace, a gown by Peter Langner shimmers with crystals, sequins, and beads. A satin ribbon is tied at the hip.