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A is for A-Line
Christian Dior coined the term in 1955 to describe a silhouette that is fitted on top and flares away from the bust or waistline to resemble the letter A. It is a flattering shape for wedding gowns, elongating the figure and hiding flaws. A-lines have several variations, including empire-waisted and narrow- or wide-skirted.
Monique Lhuillier's ivory silk organza gown with a warm-gray taffeta bow exemplifies the clean outline of an A-line shape. Crystal earrings by Justin Giunta. Silver leather sandals with Swarovski crystals by Giuseppe Zanotti Design.
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B is for Beading
In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, a gown with elaborate trimming was an indicator of a bride's wealth. Today, beadwork is admired simply for its beauty. Crystals, pearls, sequins, and bugle beads are often used for bridal fashion and are sewn on a gown's fabric or onto separate flowers, ribbons, or a belt.
Flowers and vines, hand-embroidered in silver thread with Swarovski crystals and freshwater pearls, shimmer on the bodice and skirt of Reem Acra's long, full-skirted, pink silk tulle gown; a satin-and-grosgrain belt encircles the waist. The deep U-neckline is set off by a vintage Victorian engraved gold and diamond round locket from Doyle and Doyle. Diamond solitaire set in 18-karat gold from Tiffany and Co.
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C is for CrinolineMade of one or several layers of cotton, a crinoline is a stiff petticoat usually worn under a wedding dress (especially a ball gown) to support a full skirt, giving it volume. In the nineteenth century, the cage crinoline, made of steel hoops, replaced the multiple petticoats the era's wide skirts demanded. Suzanne Ermann's cage-style hoop skirt evokes the nineteenth-century's crinolines as it artistically enhances a simple, white silk dress; covered with a layer of diaphanous pleated tulle, the crinoline functions as a skirt, creating a modern, sophisticated look. Silver leather heeled sandals with Swarovski crystals by Giuseppe Zanotti Design. Diamond eternity band from Fred Leighton.Photography: Stephan Abry
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D is for Duchess Satin
A lustrous, smooth fabric of silk or rayon woven with a shiny surface, its sheen makes it a particularly dressy and elegant material. Because of its high thread count, it is extremely soft. Its medium weight results in an easy, sumptuous drape and is appropriate for any season. Duchesse satin is a traditional bridal fabric that can be used for many wedding-dress styles, from short sheaths to sweeping ball gowns.
Soft and pliable, duchesse satin is the perfect fabric to use for sculpting the bustle-back train on a slim, strapless ivory gown by Oscar de la Renta (also available in silk satin shantung). Fingertip tulle veil trimmed with three rows of soutache satin cord by Erica Koesler.
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E is for Embroidery
This decorative needle art, whose origins can be traced to ancient times, is frequently used to embellish bridal garments. Beads, pearls, or sequins may be worked into the stitching to add richness. Embroidery, whether done by hand or machine, can trim a sleeve or veil, or cover an entire bodice or gown.
A strapless white taffeta ball gown with a full chapel train by Carolina Herrera is enriched with all-over black hand-embroidery in floral and scallop patterns that lend a sense of airiness; jet beads are hand-sewn onto the motifs for a glistening effect. Black-diamond cluster earrings by TenThousandThings. Double-strand jet bead necklace by Flying Lizard. Diamond and yellow-gold band by Michael B.
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F is for Flower
Brides have long adorned themselves with flowers; Queen Victoria wore a wreath of orange blossoms instead of a tiara. Flowers are also a favorite decoration for gowns. They can be a separate element -- a hand-rolled silk flower or floral applique -- or an integral part of a dress, such as floral-patterned lace or embroidery.
Embroidered ivory silk camellia appliques are scattered over an ecru-colored silk empire-waist bubble dress by Chanel. Oversized silk recreations of the camellia, Chanel's signature flower, adorn the hem and bodice. Crepe silk and lace peep-toe high heels by Christian Louboutin. Textured 18-karat-gold and diamond-flower clip-on earrings, circa 1960, from Kentshire.
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G is for Glove
In the nineteenth century, gloves were an essential part of daily attire; today they are optional. Made in satin, velvet, cotton, silk, or leather, gloves add elegance and come in a variety of lengths: wrist, standard (ending four to six inches below the elbow), elbow, and above-the-elbow, which are also known as opera.
Vintage wrist-length, "shortie" kid gloves with folded cuff, button, and stitching detail from What Comes Around Goes Around. Shorties are versatile and can be worn with anything from a simple dress to a formal gown. (Jacqueline Kennedy wore wrist-length gloves to her 1953 wedding in Newport, Rhode Island.) When exchanging rings during the ceremony, you can hand your glove to an attendant.
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H is for HatA hat is a charming alternative to a headpiece and veil. Whether a small Juliet cap, like the lace one Grace Kelly wore, or a large-brimmed creation, a hat instantly draws attention to the bride's face. When wearing a hat, keep your hair simple and away from your face, so it isn't distracting.Photography: DANA GALLAGHER
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I is for Illusion
A very sheer fabric, such as net, organza, or tulle, both covers and reveals the body to create a flattering, transparent effect. It is used for sleeves, necklines, and backs, and may be embroidered with beads, pearls, or crystals. Here, Robert Danes's silk-charmeuse slip dress with a long, ethereal scoop-neck sheer overlay that features pleating at the shoulders and waist.
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J is for Jeweled
A jeweled shoe gives a bit of glamour to a bridal ensemble, even if it merely peeps out from beneath the hem of a gown. Victorian brides were particularly fond of embellished shoes for their weddings. Shoes can be bejeweled in a number of ways -- with beaded embroidery, bows, or ornamented buckles or straps.
K is for Kitten Heel
Popularized by Audrey Hepburn in the late 1950s, the kitten heel is a low, slender heel (one to two inches) with a feminine curve. Although it looks delicate, this heel style is quite comfortable, an important consideration for a bride, who rarely gets to sit down on her wedding day.
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L is for LaceThis quintessential bridal fabric, made by looping and twisting threads to create an exquisite pattern, was first produced in sixteenth-century Europe. Feminine and dainty, lace is a charming and unexpected choice for accessories, even shoes. For the most striking contrast, pair lace shoes with a dress in a smooth fabric, such as satin.Photography: Thomas Straub
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M is for Monogram
The first letter of a bride's name can create a beautiful motif that personalizes her ensemble, whether sewn discreetly on a dress lining, boldly embellishing the train on a gown, or positioned prominently on the ribbon binding of a bouquet. A bride can choose thread in any color she desires instead of traditional white; blue stitching could double as her "something blue," or she could borrow a hue from her bouquet.
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N is for NetA light mesh fabric, net is made of silk, cotton, or a synthetic fiber that's been twisted, knotted, crocheted, knitted, or woven into an open-weave pattern. This material is found in various weights and textures, from stiff, crush-resistant nylon net often used for petticoats, to sheer, light silk fashioned into veils, overlays, or skirts.Photography: Stephan Abry
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O is for OrganzaA transparent fabric made of silk, rayon, or synthetics with a smooth, filmy surface. Fine and gauzy but with a good deal of body, it is often used for veils, skirts, and for layering over heavier fabrics. A fan-shaped headpiece made of crisp net by Toni Federici is an artful way for a bride to enhance her hair. A layer of silk organza over a silk shantung gown by Birnbaum and Bullock lends a lightness to the skirt and asymmetrical waistband. Gold and diamond vintage necklace from Kentshire. Diamond earrings in platinum and gold from Tiffany and Co. Pink-tourmaline, diamond, and gold ring by Verdura.Photography: Stephan Abry
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P is for Pleats
A pleat is a fold made by doubling fabric upon itself and securing by sewing or pressing. There are several types, from narrow pleats to wide, flat ones.
Q is for Quilting
A needlework technique dating to ancient Egypt, quilting involves stitching together two layers of fabric with cotton, wool, or polyester padding in between. Used mostly on satin, velvet, or other medium to heavyweight fabrics, it is a perfect choice for winter accessories such as bags and shoes and can form simple or intricate patterns that distinguish cuffs and collars.
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R is for Ruffles
A playful detail that gives a sense of graceful motion to a gown, ruffles are formed when a strip of fabric is gathered along one edge. Ruffles can create a single ripple at a hem, neckline, or cuff, or be grouped to profusely cascade down a skirt or train. Ruffles made from bias-cut fabric are especially fluid.
Tissue organza ruffles flutter delicately down the front of an ivory linen empire-waist column gown by Vera Wang; a cutaway skirt that starts below the bustline reveals a gossamer tulle underdress, making the bride seem to float with every step. Collar-length 18-karat gold and South Sea pearl necklace by Ippolita. Venetian gold oval pendant by Philip Crangi. Ankle-strap ivory silk sandals from J.Crew.
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S is for Sheath
This classic dress style is slim and figure-skimming, shaped to fit the body at the waist. It falls in a straight line and can be short or floor-length. A sheath can be made of any fabric; fluid materials such as silk charmeuse cling to every curve; heavier fabrics such as lace create a more forgiving, structured silhouette.
This ivory silk charmeuse bias-cut sheath by Amy Michelson gently hugs the body for a sleekly seductive look. The deep V-neckline is echoed by a plunging V in the back. Three-stone diamond and 18-karat yellow-gold ring with platinum prongs from Tiffany and Co.; 18-karat-gold and natural-pearl handmade "shake" pendant necklace filled with loose diamonds by Renee Lewis.
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T is for TulleOriginally made by hand, this gossamer, fine-meshed net began to be mass-produced in 1817 in Tulle, France, from where it derives its name. It is made of silk, cotton, or nylon, and it can be either stiff or soft. The crisper version is a favorite choice for veils because it holds its shape well and creates an airy effect as a bride walks down the aisle.Photography: Derek Henderson
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U is for UndergarmentConcealed beneath a bridal gown, undergarments such as bustiers, corsets, bras, and other lingerie can enhance the look of a dress. Select your undergarments as soon as you have found your dress so that you can bring them to your first fitting.
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V is for VintageAccessories from the 1960s and earlier can be acquired at vintage clothing boutiques, antiques stores, estate sales, and auction houses to lend that "something old." Vintage pieces should be examined for flaws that may need repair.Photography: Stephan Abry
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W is for Wrap
A shawl, stole, or capelet is a charming way to keep warm, especially for an outdoor evening wedding. Wraps also provide coverage for bare shoulders and upper arms -- often a requirement for some religious ceremonies. They come in many fabrics, from cashmere to organza, and can be made to match a bridal gown.
X is for X-back
Designers are increasingly focusing on backs since they are prominently displayed during the ceremony. The criss-cross straps that form an X-back are dramatic and often found on slim dresses. Ilana Wolf's silk and silver-metallic capelet trimmed with sheer layers of bias-cut ruffles is a stylish choice for covering the shoulders. X-back straps, hand-embroidered with beads and tiny sequins on Angel Sanchez's Chantilly lace mermaid sheath gown, guarantee that a bride will look as beguiling from behind as she does from the front. Crystal-cluster drop earrings by Wendy Mink.
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Y is for YokeA separate, flat piece of a dress or blouse that is fitted across the shoulders in front and back, to which the rest of the garment is attached. On modern bridal gowns, the yoke may be made of sheer fabric and embellished with beading or lace. During the Victorian era, square yokes outlined in ruffles were a popular feature on blouses.Photography: Stephan Abry
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Z is for ZipperA hidden zipper can maintain the illusion of a button closure but is much easier to manage. A dress with a zipper is also less difficult to alter than one with a multitude of buttons.