By Nola Sarkisian-Miller
This season, high style comes from higher hemlines. See why brides are going short for a chic look that lasts all day long
Hemlines may rise and fall along with the stock market, but brides aren’t following the custom of always wearing ankle-grazing, floor-length gowns in times of woe. As the economy weathers a perfect storm of crises – high gas prices, falling home prices and a liquidity crunch – there’s growing interest in shorter gowns, and companies such as Watters, Vineyard Collection and Tara Keely are including a few options in their collections. By no means do these cocktail numbers account for a large percentage of the offering, but they are
becoming staples for the designers.
“Brides and grooms are less bound by family tradition and are calling their own shots, wanting a freer, fun, flirty mood at the wedding, and these dresses reflect that,” says Grace Young, a buyer at Bridal Galleria in San Francisco, a couture salon carrying Vera Wang and Amsale.
Young notes that about 20 percent of her customers are opting for destination weddings in seaside places like Hawaii and Mexico, which call for a different type of gown.
“When people are getting married on the beach, a place that’s warm, they want lighter fabrics and don’t want to drag the dress on the sand,” she says.
In response to consumer interest, designers are devoting new collections to shorter dresses. Jim Hjelm Bridal, which already includes a few shorter gowns in its collection, is testing a shorter gown line for spring and depending on the response, plans to debut a full collection next fall. For fall 2009, New York-based Amsale is working on an entire collection of shorter gowns called “Amsale Presents the Little White Dress,” targeting wedding-related events such as engagement parties and receptions. “The little black dress is what I wear when I’ve got a special event I need to look great for,” says Amsale Aberra, designer of her namesake line. “It is timeless and works in many different situations. Similarly, our little white dresses will cover all the bases.”
Designers say there’s value in these shorter gowns. Dallas-based Watters & Watters has found a following with its tea-length options, including a strapless lace dress with daisy pattern flowers and a knee-length slimmer style crafted of cotton lace with a grosgrain ribbon sash. The looks can be less costly than their full-length counterparts, too. Watters’ dresses retail for $2,600 and the shorter dresses fetch $700 to $900.
“We see a little more versatility with these dresses,” says Maria Prince, vice president of Watters. “The girls can have an opportunity to wear them again, say out on their first anniversary or to a summer party, which is appealing in this economy.”
Other designers say older brides, ladies who are beyond the need to express themselves in princess ball gowns, are also responding to the look.
“Those in their late 30s don’t want the typical dress worn by a 24-year-old,” says Paul Diamond, chief marketing officer of New York-based Jane Wang LLC. “They appreciate the sophistication of these shorter gowns. These are also very good dresses for second weddings.”
Jane Wang has offered shorter dresses for the past two years. The line will include two or three new looks for the spring collection along with its breakout two-for-one dress – a gown with a long skirt that can be taken off, leaving behind a cocktail dress. This convertible dress will target brides who want to switch sartorial gears from the ceremony to the reception.
Some lucky brides are buying two dresses – one for the ceremony and the other for the reception – to really kick up their heels as the party heats up. Both Tara Keely and Jim Hjelm have created gowns appealing to these brides. Edric Woo, head designer of Tara Keely, introduced the line’s first short dress in fall, a sassy beaded sheath style with tiered lace that’s been popular. For spring, he’s adding an ivory bubble short dress with floral tulle, and Francesca Pitera, designer for Jim Hjelm, plans to include two to three new silhouettes featuring baby-doll and bubble styles made from organza and silk satin with floral embellishments.
Mark Brower, designer of Vineyard Collection, has always incorporated a couple shorter gowns in the collection and going forward plans to add more styles as brides continue to pad their dress budgets.
“[Shorter styles] are very much in demand,” says Brower, who will design two cocktail gowns with fuller skirts in bateau and halter styles for spring. “It is a big trend to have a more formal gown for the ceremony and then change into a less formal gown or a short dress.”
Should brides not find their ideal shorter gown, a number of retailers and designers are willing to customize existing long gowns to their taste.
“If they have a dress they like, we can cut it down for them,” says Jane Wang’s Diamond. “It happens once in a blue moon, but you have to do things like that in this higher end of the business.”
Designer Farah Angsana is debuting a new collection for spring, featuring embroideries and beading, and plans to offer such custom services to her customers, as well. Along with longer gowns, the line will offer a couple shorter looks constructed from silk Mikado to silk chiffon with silver embroideries.
“It’s part of customer service to make the brides happy and feeling special,” Angsana says.
Watters’ Prince said there’s no skimping when it comes to accessorizing these fresh frocks, especially for those younger brides.
“They want to show off their $700 Jimmy Choos and have fun from the get-go,” she says.
Wedding experts agree that there is even more of an emphasis on accessories when it comes to shorter gowns.
“There’s more pressure to have knockout accessories,” says Darcy Miller, editorial director of Martha Stewart Weddings. “Shoes become a statement – you can wear blue shoes, embellished shoes, all different kinds of high heels.”
Miller cautions brides to select veils in proportion to their dress.
“A mini dress would look great with a chic blusher, but you wouldn’t want a cathedral-length veil,” she says.
(c) CTW Features
Location: Walters Ct & Walters Pl Fairfield, CA
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