Scroll through these stunning bridal gowns (all with elegant, church-friendly shoulder coverage) to find out which suits your personality and venue best.
While dress shopping for my own wedding, one of the best pieces of advice I received came from a seasoned bridal store attendant: “When choosing a dress,” she said, “always consider the mood of your wedding.” In the midst of trying on hundreds of wedding dresses (I really did), it was a valuable tip that helped me to eliminate gowns that looked good on me, but just weren’t quite right. In my experience it’s those gowns—the ones that fit you like a glove but somehow aren’t “you”—that are the hardest to discard. Giving each dress the “mood” test helps put each gown back into perspective.
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Now you ‘re probably thinking: Mood? What does that even mean? It sounds like a slippery concept to pin down (and in some ways it is), but it’s essentially comprised of two main things:
First, your personality. The mood of your dress should fit with your disposition. For example, if you’re the type of woman who loves to throw parties, or has no qualms karaoke-singing show tunes in front of a crowd of friends, a bold ballgown skirt might be more fitting than a demure A-line. The same goes for the reverse: if you tend to think of yourself as quieter or more introverted, a dress with too much fuss or drama will feel overpowering, even if it physically fits nicely on your frame.
Second, your reception venue. A museum has a very different mood to that of a barn, and your dress should reflect that (or at least not clash with the ambiance). Just as you wouldn’t wear a silky cocktail dress to a beach bash, or a flamingo-printed Lily Pulitzer tunic to a Christmas party, your wedding dress should follow the dress code cues of the reception setting. Sometimes it helps to keep a picture of the venue you’ve chosen on your phone, so you can glance at it while trying on gowns and consider how they go together.
If the dress fits nicely with both of these mood indicators, you’ve got a contender. But to help you get a loose idea of your wedding’s mood before stepping into the actual bridal salon, scroll through these different gown styles. (We dreamed up the personalities, of course, so take them with a grain of salt!) Then pin the one or two that jump out at you, so you can point to the style or designer later.
The personality: a reader (especially of Jane Austen), a horseback rider, a tea-drinker, or the kind of woman who will find any excuse to wear elbow length gloves.
The location: a setting that includes cobblestone streets or gas lamps (think old European cities like Venice, or even Old Town Alexandria, Virginia), or a historical building.
The dress: For a classical vintage vibe, try on straight and trumpet skirt designs, like this dress from Celestina Agostino. The lace shoulders and simple cut evoke an era gone by, but the clean lines and belted waist give it a feel that’s much more fresh than faded antique.
The subtle Gatsby
The personality: she loves a little glamour, but never goes completely over the top; doesn’t shy away from sparkly accessories, or maybe just wishes she had Daisy Buchanan’s wardrobe.
The location: a mansion reception, ballroom with piano, or sprawling lawn with a classic white tent.
The dress: This shining design from the “Little Church” line by Karen Willis Holmes has a quiet silhouette, but eye-catching details. Let the dress do all the talking with a fuss-free hairstyle and simple bouquet, especially for a smaller ceremony site, like the sweet church pictured below.
Sweet & light
The personality: the kind of girl who can pull off a dainty headband, or a cute sweater set un-ironically, loves The Sound of Music, sidesteps drama, knows how to bake, or sends hand-written thank you notes promptly.
The location: A homey affair with plenty of romantic touches, heading from a charming chapel to a backyard or large patio reception. Think Father of the Bride, but maybe without the swans.
The dress: Watters calls their Cambria dress style, “the definition of sweet.” The V-neck gown features Remi Lace motifs on the bodice, a soft net, A-Line skirt, and a double-faced satin ribbon at the waist. The pearl buttons up the back are a classic addition that will make everyone say awww.
Dramatic, but traditional
The personality: the kind of woman who knows how to make an entrance, and has secretly (or not so secretly) dreamed of wearing ballgowns ever since watching Disney’s Cinderella or Beauty and the Beast.
The location: A stately home on the water, or a classic ballroom.
The dress: This full-skirted Mikado silk ball gown from JLM Couture’s Alvina Valenta bridal line is truly a royal affair. The bateau neckline with jeweled cap sleeves give the dress pomp without being loud. The full pleated skirt even has a hint of practicality: pockets to stash a lip gloss or your vows. Pair it with a tiara for the full princess effect. (Because, hey, you only get to do this once.)
The personality: In short? A romantic. (You know who you are.) Loves full bouquets, can’t resist a good rom-com movie, kept a diary all through those teen years, hired a big band instead of a DJ, or can’t get enough of crooners like Sinatra.
Location: A big church, followed by a nice hotel, or wintry lodge in Jackson Hole.
The dress: This gorgeous Oscar de la Renta gown is from their 2016 collection, but the designer has similar cuts in 2017 as well. The full taffeta skirt definitely feels bridal and would be great for being twirled on the dance floor by your new husband, but it’s not so big that it will slow you down. But the romantic in you will really love the attention to detail on the lace bodice: an illusion fleur sequin embroidered tulle overlay, and a luxurious white ribbon at the waist.
The personality: The grown-up flower girl; appreciates the story of Alice in Wonderland, loves to hike, bike, or run outside instead of in a gym, and knows how to make a daisy chain in her sleep.
Location: an ivy covered garden, or the windswept dunes of North Carolina beaches.
The dress: The Ellie dress from Christos has delicately embroidered illusion cap sleeves, and thin layers of tulle on the skirt that creates the illusion of gliding across the floor as if on a cloud. (Talk about a woodland nymph vibe.) What’s really perfect about this look, though, is that it’s feminine and floral without looking too princess-like.
Silky & simple
The personality: Demure and well-mannered, her Dad is her hero, maybe bookish, or tends to wear turtle-necks and tall boots, or clean-cut dresses from Vince or Club Monaco.
The location: a colonial home, library, or museum.
The dress: Few designers do simple elegance better than le Spose di Gio. This luxurious dress is form-fitting but still forgiving in the tummy area because of the beautiful scrunched silk. And though it confidently announces chic to the entire room, the dress itself is understated.
Lacey with a hint of mod
The personality: extroverted and feminine, but she doesn’t need to wear pink all the time to prove it; knows every episode of Friends, and lives in a city like Chicago, New York, D.C., Atlanta or LA.
The location: a place with a cool urban vibe, like a loft, or restaurant. Or a country club full of city guests.
The dress: This Peter Langner style, called the Rachel (do you get the Friends reference now?), is a traditional mermaid style that’s full-on lace, but still modern. As with most mermaid gowns, though, you’ll need to be comfortable with a very form-fitting cut.
The personality: A witty conversationalist, a little funky, unafraid of thrift shopping with a unique but always-classy fashion sense, or a gal who simply loves to swing dance with her husband-to-be.
The location: Think old-timey saloons and speakeasy vibes, with good cocktails and a crowd of guests who love to mingle and dance late into the evening. Also good for spots full of southern-urban charm like a jazz club in San Antonio, Texas.
The dress: Lela Rose’s bridal gowns are known for their modern take on sweet silhouettes, and this fun dress with illusion sleeves and ’40s skirt is no exception. The old-fashioned cut is classically feminine, but the delicate detailed dot pattern updates the look, giving it an upscale Kate Spade-esque feel. Finding the right veil for a dress like here is key: the designer opted for a short veil for extra drama, but a stiff mid-length plain tulle veil could also hang beautifully with the cut of this dress.
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