Weddings are unquestionably high-pressure situations, with budgets, guest lists and locations being hot-button issues. However, as real life and reality television attests (Exhibit A: “Say Yes to the Dress” on TLC network), there is nothing that can bring out a bridezilla quite like the quest for the perfect dress.
And while every bride-to-be must consider her body type, personality and vision of the big day, some Jewish brides have several additional things to address, including acceptable standards established by their denomination.
So, what’s a nice Jewish girl to do these days?
Alison Friedman, Thousand Oaks-based owner and editor-in-chief of The Wedding Yentas (theweddingyentas.com), an online guide for Jewish brides, has pondered this and other nuptial dilemmas since launching her site in 2010. Her advice is to first establish where the wedding will be staged and whether the shoulders need to be covered before shopping for dresses.
She said that while Orthodox Jewish brides tend to follow religious requirements more than fashion (covered bodice, 3/4-length sleeves), brides from all denominations are going for “beading, lace, embellishment and sweetheart necklines that look great on many body types.”
Friedman also tracks options for brides who start the day at the synagogue and finish things off elsewhere.
“For the religious part of the ceremony, a bride can cover up with a bolero jacket or detachable lace or tulle sleeves,” she said. “Hybrid dresses are more common, allowing brides to remove sleeves and other strategic elements for the reception.”
Lisa Litt, third-generation owner of Lili Bridals in Tarzana, offers a selection covering everything from curvy brides to eco-friendly dresses by Adele Wechsler. Some of the most popular designers turning up on the Lili Bridals Web site include Casablanca — which has a “temple-ready” line for Orthodox Jewish and Mormon brides — and Alvina Valenta.
While Litt said that most of her Jewish bridal clients are not Orthodox, there is a seamstress and in-house alteration department that can “build up” a dress. However, she stressed that Orthodox brides need five to six months lead time to select a dress off the rack and then find matching fabric so that high necklines, yokes and sleeves can be added.
That said, going under cover — a lighter, lacy one — is making a comeback, thanks to British royal Kate Middleton, who married Prince William in 2011, Litt said.
“Although many brides tried Kate Middleton’s look back in 2011 and found it matronly, designers in the last four to five months have made the look fresh and accessible,” Litt said. “For fall 2013, [designers] are coming out with sleeved dresses just a little different from Kate’s dress. I was recently invited to a design meeting for Casablanca’s spring 2014 collections. We saw a lot of sleeves that were really beautiful, along with bodices that were gorgeous, modern, feminine and sexy yet with full coverage.”
Other trends include the use of chiffon and organza fabrics, and anything influenced by this year’s silver screen take on “The Great Gatsby” and its Roaring ’20s fashions.
Then there’s what’s “as seen on TV.” Kleinfeld Bridal, based in New York City and prominently featured on “Say Yes to the Dress,” has some Orthodox brides from Southern California among its customer base.
“We will take care of helping the bride get her dress back to L.A., whether it is packing it in a suitcase for her, shipping it, or even traveling first class and taking the dress home that way, with some even buying a separate seat for the dress!” said Rochel Leah Katz, a fitting specialist there who works specifically with religious brides to reconcile tradition and fashion.
She said that most of her designers who offer adaptable dresses for Orthodox Jewish brides include Edgardo Bonilla, Judd Waddell and Augusta Jones, with prices ranging from $4,000 to $13,000.
“There are only a certain number of designers willing to modify a dress from scratch so it looks like it was made that way,” Katz said. “Among them, only a small number of their dresses can be adapted.”
Like Litt, Katz said that lace is an adaptable fabric for shoring up necklines and sleeves.
“Depending on their degree of religiosity, some brides line their lace and others don’t,” she explained. “Some brides line parts of the dress, and others line the whole thing down to the 3/4 sleeves. Some brides like the beaded lace, as opposed to plain lace.”
In terms of general advice and observations, Katz said the enduring “Jackie O” look (covered up, but curve-revealing) from the late 1960s is readily updatable through beautiful fabric, clean lines, smooth seams and an elegant shaped skirt. And while she’s seen younger brides opt for the Cinderella-style ballroom skirt over the A-line, mermaid or “fit-and-flare” styles, she recommends more streamlined fits for brides over 35, as the frilly and voluminous look of the Cinderella dress may not be considered “age appropriate.”
In the end, perhaps the most important thing for brides, as well as for the tailors and designers they work with, is that they be wholly committed — not just to the groom but to the dress.