Dreamy Dresses

Jean Harlow sheaths, Marilyn Monroe mermaids and voluminous ball gowns sumptuous enough to make Cinderella envious are the bridal silhouettes of the 2006 season.

Michelle Bouchard, owner of Down the Aisle in Style, a boutique salon in Manchester, just returned from New York’s 2006 spring bridal runway shows with a preview of the season’s hottest trends in bridal wear.

“Many of today’s brides are watching Hollywood’s red carpet events and taking note,” says Bouchard. The silk charmeuse, the simple sheaths, the pared-down decorative accents she saw at the shows are all evocative of Hollywood’s Golden Era. Think of the simple sleek pour of white satin of Gwen Stefani from “The Aviator,” or the real screen siren she portrayed, Jean Harlow.

Another Hollywood classic is the mermaid sheath. “Designers are reintroducing the look,” says Christina Drouin, owner of Occasions Bridal and Tuxedos in Portsmouth. “It’s very form-fitting, though; it’s easiest to pull off if you’re tall.” This year’s mermaid look is a bit modified from the classic because the skirting begins higher up on the leg near the thigh, instead of at the knee. This modification is flattering to more figure types and is much easier for that walk down the aisle or doing the Electric Slide at the reception.

A perennial favorite, the ball gown, brings to mind every woman’s fairytale princess fantasy. As slim as this season’s sheaths are, this year’s ball gowns are very full.

“A lot of designers are building a separate layer or two of crinolines into the dress,” says Drouin. That way brides can have either a full princess-like ball gown or one not quite so full, which is a better look for petite brides. Side-gathering of a full skirt, held with fabric flowers (shown above) or a beautiful pin, is another popular style.

Don’t have the upper body definition of Madonna? Fear not. Styles are showing a little less skin this season; sheer fabric covering the shoulders is getting popular. But strapless is still the best-seller. “I’d say 80 percent of what we sell is either strapless or spaghetti straps,” says Drouin.

A surprising footnote to hemlines is the tea-length gown. Long the domain of bridesmaid’s dresses, Bouchard saw plenty of bridal dresses hitting just above the ankle. “This is a very big look in New York,” she says.

Trains are pared down this season in keeping with the minimalist dress designs and the popularity of destination weddings, where dresses have to be packed. Veils and headpieces have also gone minimalist, not much more than a delicate bejeweled band with a wisp of tulle.

Headbands and the Spanish-flavored mantilla are also in vogue right now. “Tiaras have really been simplified. No one wants to look like ‘the Queen’ on her wedding day,” says Bouchard.

And shoes? Strappy sandals are still big, but increasingly popular are bejeweled flip-flops. “They’re especially popular for outdoor weddings,” says Drouin. “Mothers of the bride cringe at the thought, though.”

Just like the jewel-toned dresses actresses wear picking up their Oscars, gemstone colors like a deep emerald, rich ruby and sultry amethyst are making their appearance with bridal wraps and attendants’ wear.

Designers are adding color to bridal gowns as well. Drouin says, “You see it not just on sashes, but in beading on the gown as well, maybe in claret or amethyst.”

A pink blush color is very popular now. Colored embroidery, popular on dress bodices and hems for several years, however, has toned down, again reflecting the very simple silhouettes.

Lace has picked up where embroidery has left off. “We’re seeing lots of lace overlaying satin,” says Bouchard.

With “less is more” styling on dresses, where does the bridal bling come in? Pendants and antique jewelry are huge right now. Glittering jewels and lustrous pearls add dimension and can be a bride’s answer to something old, new, borrowed and blue.

For brides whose figures are more Botticelli than broomstick, there’s great news from the runways. “Lots of designers are making larger sizes,” says Bouchard. “They are taking the same dresses and just expanding them. You will have to pay more for the extra fabric, but you can have the look you want.” NHB