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Bling to Burlap

Wedding fashions that wow guests and attendants

By Courtney Phillips

They are an elite force, often taken for granted and, if they’re doing their job correctly, always overshadowed.

Traditionally, their armor has been weak: chiffon, dyeable shoes and flowers. Their weapons were an endless supply of bobby pins and flammable hairstyles. Yet, they are first to venture down an aisle adorned with appointments, showers, cocktails, bachelorette parties and expenses. Their one reward? A blissfully wedded friend.

They are the bridesmaids.

To be chosen for such duty is the highest honor bestowed upon a friend, and in the South, any number under twenty is socially acceptable.

Best Dress

In exchange for their unending support in the months and days leading up to the ‘big day,’ a bridesmaid wishes only for a silhouette-flattering dress in a becoming color, a fresh bouquet and gentle guidelines regarding hair, makeup and shoe selection.

Among the many exciting and organic decisions a bride makes in advance of her wedding, these are not the most uncomplicated and it goes without saying that her betrothed wants as little input as possible.

Historically, old Roman law suggested that bridesmaids and groomsmen be dressed identically to the bride and the groom to confuse ill-wishing evil spirits, in which case, the bride would likely be most unconcerned with making her friends feel special and pretty.

Today, she wrestles with a different set of challenges: the figure of her friends, their confidence in current styles, financial constraints and practicality for the wedding venue.

A most lofty and rarely accomplished goal of a bride is to choose a dress that her bridesmaids might be able to wear again.

Unfortunately, the aforementioned constraints have made functionality almost impossible, until now.

More than a range of colors or styles or fabric, it appears that this season’s overarching theme is versatility.

Fortunately for bridesmaids everywhere, customs are changing in their favor.

In the last few years, it has become vogue for a bride to select multiple styles by one designer in the same color and let her bridesmaids choose which design they want to wear.

It is also not unusual to see a bridal party in the same dress design, but multiple colors.

Specifically for 2013, bridal runway shows indicate that color-wise, guests will see fashionable maids in a mix of classic pastel and shades of the “it” pantone of the season, emerald green.

Similarly, patterns will reflect a mix of traditional and contemporary: ethereal floor-length solids and knee-length bold patterns of wide, nautical stripes, polka dot and the very trendy chevron print.

Expect to see dresses long and short adorned with gold sparkles and sequins, rhinestones and tasteful ruffles, as unique embellishments are a great way to boost the wearability of a dress at a later date.

If a beautiful and unique dress isn’t enough to pacify a bridesmaid, theknot.com allows that formal footwear “is all about silver and gold.” Goodbye forever, dyed-to-match shoes.

While women are sometimes tempted to re-wear a bridesmaid dress, the fashion challenge posed by satin lavender strappy sandals is not as alluring.

Kathy Jensen, co-owner of An Affair to Remember Bridal and Formal Wear on Ramsey Street in Fayetteville, echos the popularity of many runway trends, locally. Brides are choosing green, pink and purple, with the latter being most popular. With regard to neutrals, Jensen is quick to add that while black is still popular for fall and winter weddings, “Grey is the new black.”

As ever, silk and taffeta are popular canvases to display this year’s styles, but “lace is huge,” said Jensen. While that may sound anything but contemporary and friendly to a bridesmaid’s budget, dressmakers are designing functional, modern lace dresses and offering them in every color of the rainbow.

Jensen says bridesmaids now expect to pay a little more with versatility in mind. Even in a challenging economic climate, “At least at our shop, bridesmaids aren’t considering $99 dresses. They’re going straight to the $200 plus racks because they know this won’t be the last time they wear the dress.”

Every woman in possession of a plain-jane bridesmaid dress — or five — will admit the temptation to wear it again because it beckons to her from the recesses of her closet, whispering “I’ve been altered to fit you! I am the perfect length! You paid for me to be so!,” but even an untrained eye can spot a bridesmaid dress across a ballroom. It lacks uniqueness and interest, so it remains in the closet, beckoning still, until one “outgrows” it.

Strapless and halter dresses falling just below the knee are very popular due to functionality, but Jensen notes that floor-length dresses are still in high demand with women of the area, as many regularly attend formal military events throughout the year.

Interestingly, Jensen muses that the shift in style is due in large part to utility, but also the healthier lifestyles of bridesmaids, today: “When I was younger, it was traditional for the girls to get together the morning of the wedding for a little party. The girls I see now are likely to be running a 5k the morning of the wedding and they want their dress to accentuate their toned bodies.”

Coming up roses ... or peonies

Historically speaking, wedding flowers were as integral to a marriage ceremony as bridesmaids, albeit for a more practical reason.

As early as the 15th century, couples married in the spring and summer and brides carried a fragrant bouquet because women only took one bath per year, in May.

Much to the relief of grooms everywhere, necessity no longer dictates wedding flowers, but beautiful arrangements remain fundamental to almost every wedding ceremony.

A large percentage of a traditional wedding budget, flower selection deserves a considerable amount of a bride’s attention and, like clothing designs for the wedding party, style continue to evolve.

Pinterest, a seemingly infinite online pinboard, and Internet sites like TheKnot.com help brides everywhere decide what they like before they even visit a florist.

Wendy Long of Owen’s & Bordeaux Florist on Raeford Road in Fayetteville, reported that in Fayetteville, trends for this year are leaning casual, sentimental and rustic, in stark contrast to a recent past of uniform, tightly bound bouquets and tall, glamorous arrangements.

Long said that, due in large part to the overwhelming availability of information on the Internet, brides usually come to Owen’s with a folder of styles, colors, designs and, of course, flowers that have caught their eye — some of which are very expensive.

Fortunately, even if a particular bouquet is over budget, a florist can work with a bride by swapping rare, expensive stems for similar, more economical choices and maintain the overall desired ‘look.’

Peonies, garden roses and orchids are always in high demand for bridal and bridesmaid bouquets, but Long says that brides are adding seeded eucalyptus, pods and hydrangea to achieve a more textured, loosely-gathered effect. Together with accents in burlap, a coarse plainly-woven fabric traditionally appreciated for its durability, even the most elaborate arrangements seem casual and current.

Long said that while mint green was slated to be the most popular color of wedding flowers this season, locally, it has not been as frequently chosen as “peacock colors” purple and teal and the combination of yellow and grey.

Popular bouquets are wrapped in burlap or copper wire with personal touches such as antique broaches, rhinestones and strands of pearls.

Sentimentally, Long noted that a recent popular trend among local brides is to include a small picture or token in their bouquet to memorialize a family member, most commonly their father if he passed away before her wedding.

To infuse an entire wedding venue with the casual charm of the bridal bouquet, rustic elements such as mason jars filled with wildflowers hanging on pews, drapey greenery such as caspia, lanterns hanging from shepherd’s hooks, grapevine and moss line the aisle instead of polished and symmetrically arranged stems.

A rise in popularity of outdoor weddings add to a florist’s ability to achieve a less formal look. Long noted that recently, in addition the aforementioned elements, white lights and paper lanterns, often whimsically hanging in trees, are as popular as floral arrangements.

To conclude the evening, even reception seating is becoming more casual: wedding revelers will enjoy the festivities from seats at lengthy king’s tables adorned with burlap runners, lanterns and wildflowers rather than peeking around towering arrangements amid an endless sea of circular tables.

According to Long, “The traditions are still there, but there’s more sentiment. It’s more personal.”

As brides-to-be find themselves in age-old deliberations regarding lace or silk, peonies or roses, one thing is certain — a wedding filled with personal touches and sentiment will never go out of style.