On the other end of the fashion spectrum, the contemporary gown is strong and simple, drawing more on fashion trends and the bride's individuality. Today's silhouette is slimmer -- a straight sheath or modified A-line -- and barer, often with a strapless, halter, or backless top. Lace and embellishments are minimal, and fabrics run to organza, silk charmeuse, matelasse, and fashion-forward materials like microfiber. Sometimes a blush of color -- a pastel-blue underskirt or an overlay of maize organza -- is favored over classic all-white. "The surprise element, like a low cowl back or a touch of color, is very much part of a modern gown," says Michelle Roth, owner of Michelle Roth & Co., a New York City bridal salon.
For today's bride, a contemporary charmeuse slip dress may be too minimal and a traditional gown too ornate and old-fashioned. Accustomed to twin sets and capri pants, she wants a wedding gown with clean, elegant lines as well as a bit of flourish that captures the romance of the occasion. "Many brides come in saying they want something very modern and simple, but when they put on a ball-gown skirt, they can't resist," says Erica Arkin, manager of the bridal salon of Saks Fifth Avenue in New York City. Designers know this, too, which is why they have begun fashioning gowns like the ones on these pages, which meld the classic with the contemporary: bustiers with ball-gown skirts, fitted sheaths with flowing trains.
Modern Back, Classic Skirt
A plunging back (above), undeniably of the moment, gives way to tradition with a trail of satin roses, a voluminous skirt, and a flowing veil.
Modern Dresses, Classic Veils
A head-to-toe veil edged in crystal embroidery is the essence of old-fashioned elegance, but beneath it, this bride wears a contemporary gown with spare lines and carries a tiny posy. A square-neck sleeveless gown is chic and modern, then gives way to pure romance when draped with a mantilla veil edged in scalloped lace.
Modern Gown, Classic Beadwork
A slender silk dress with an illusion bodice -- a favorite fashion of today's brides -- is encrusted with old-fashioned beadwork that drifts down to the hem.