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Dressing the Part 

Trends in Bridal Fashions

One of the most lasting impressions of a couple's wedding is what the bride and groom choose to wear for their nuptials. It's there in all the photos; it sets the tone for how formal or casual the event is and is a pronounced statement of their personal taste.

Although some grooms wear dress suits to walk up the aisle, most prefer tuxedos, normally in black. Brides still overwhelmingly choose the traditional white, off-white, eggshell, candlelight colored fabrics, but other so-called "rules" about long-sleeve for evening, always cover the shoulders, etc., have, for the most part, been discarded in favor of personal preferences.

Some of the best advice for brides comes from Yvonne LaFleur, who for years has operated her namesake women's clothing and wedding boutique (8131 Hampson St., 866-9666) in the Riverbend. First and foremost, she says, "You have to look at your figure and not how a dress looks on a model in a magazine. With the strapless, for example, you need to have even shoulders and not be too bosomy. They don't look good on everyone."

Once you're comfortable with that reality check, LaFleur suggests you assess which style of dress is most appropriate for the venue where your ceremony will be and let it help you set the mood and tone of the wedding.

"I think that when we sit down and talk to the brides, it's very important to determine what the event is about," she says. "People are doing all kinds of weddings: destination weddings, second weddings, big-dress weddings. The dress should be selected to fit the event. Some of the big dresses aren't suited to destination weddings, and some of the slinkier dresses would not be appropriate for the cathedral setting but might be beautiful for a country club or other venue."

And what about colors? Beautiful gowns and dresses are available in a range of colors, but LaFleur says most brides, especially those taking vows for the first time, still choose shades of white. "They say that across the country, 90 percent of the brides are wearing bright white now," she says. "But here in New Orleans in the winter months, brides are looking more for ivory, candlelight, off-white."

For the most part grooms are sticking with tuxedos, the traditional choice of wedding parties, but they are adding their own style to the suits. "There are two things that are happening," says David Rubenstein of Rubenstein's (102 St. Charles Ave., 581-6666). "One is that a lot of men are getting away from the traditional bowtie with the tuxedo and are wearing the longer tie. It has a new, updated look to it.

"A lot of guys still like a nice vest with it, mostly single-breasted, and occasionally you'll get a guy who wants a tie to match his wife's wedding dress [or bridal bouquet]."

Tuxedoes are the most prominent choices for men, but sometimes grooms will choose white linen for summer weddings in New Orleans or for certain out-of-town ceremonies.

"There are a lot of people who now are coming in because they're going away for beach weddings and they want white linen pants and white linen shirts, sometimes a matching jacket," Rubenstein says. "There's a lot of that going on, the destination beach wedding."

Fashion norms also have changed for bridesmaids, who more and more often find their dresses not only aren't all pink but are something they can wear after the wedding.

"We're seeing more black for bridesmaids," LaFleur says. "It looks smart, they stand out with the men in tuxedoes, and it [is flattering to their figures]. I think the brides today are very considerate of their bridesmaids; they want something they can wear again instead of a prom dress that will just sit in the closet."

Part of the change, perhaps, is the escalating cost of weddings overall and the maturity of brides. The 2001 U.S. Census found that the median age for American grooms was 26.8 years old and for brides was 25.1 years old.

"People tell me now that the wedding costs another year of college -- if you're lucky," LaFleur says. She suggests that brides adjust their expectations for what they want their dress to be on how much their overall wedding budget is. "The dress can be 5 to 10 percent of the budget," she says. "That's a good rule of thumb."


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