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Mountain View on the Move

Bridesmaid upgrade: Edgy colors, cocktail styles update the bridal fashion gauntlet

All the lost socks in the world end up in Yakima, so it stands to reason that there is a final resting place for all those bridesmaids' dresses that have been worn only once.

I can still see the powder-blue organza dress with the poufy skirt foisted on me (blue is not my color and poufs are not me) - also the green velvet with the empire waist (I'm short-waisted as it is) with the leg-of-mutton sleeves (just put me on the spit), and the salmon peau de soie with the lace trim.

Well, times are changing - for the better.

No bride wants to be upstaged, but, at the same time, she should want her attendants to put their best feet forward as they precede her down the aisle. Designers such as Waters & Waters, Vera Wang and B2 are making this possible with creations that are more stylish, according to Roxanne Mena, a sales associate at Panache Bridal, 165 Main St. in downtown Los Altos.

"The basic, long bridesmaid's dress is passé," Mena said. "What we're seeing are gowns that are more fashion-forward, more couture."

For the most part, dresses are either strapless or have tiny straps. Detailing, such as ruching, is becoming popular, as are bias-cut gowns and draping. "We're seeing more cocktail dresses," she said.

As for color, chocolate brown is very popular, according to Mena, herself a bride-to-be. It's this season's version of the black-and-white color scheme that was so "in" not long ago. She's thinking of it for her own wedding in September.

Bright colors such as ginger and spruce are also popular, she added. And, of course, there is red.

Panache prides itself on its personal service, and owner Debra Willenberg says the "biggest service challenge" is dressing the bridal party. It is not uncommon to have attendants who don't like the dress or the color or the price.

"Not all will agree on a dress, and one or two won't like it," said Willenberg's daughter, Stefanie Grigsby, who works at Panache.

One option is to have the bride choose the fabric and the designer, then the attendants select dresses with silhouettes that fit their bodies. "The dresses could be long, short, tight, loose or even the 'mermaidy' look, just as long as the color and fabric are the same," Mena said. "It really works."

One thing that doesn't always work is ordering the proper dress size. "We'll measure and remeasure and then suggest that the person order a certain size," she said. "But quite often she'll fudge about her size or say she's going to lose weight. The dress arrives and of course it doesn't fit."

Mother of the bride dresses are changing, also. No need to look dowdy in a suit or structured dress.

"The trend is away from the matronly look," said designer Victoria Bracha, owner of Bracha, 334 Main Street. "The mother of the bride is wearing clothing that is more flowing, sophisticated and feminine."

Bracha specializes in dresses and dressy separates that are fashioned to fit a variety of body types. Her bias-cut silks are popular.

Bracha suggests a dressy two-piece outfit, "something nice that she can wear later on - mix-and-match pieces that are versatile." There are beautiful silks and prints from which to choose.

Bracha, a native of Shanghai, imports her silk from China and has designed some of the fabric, as well as the clothes themselves. She was a designer's assistant to Jessica McClintock before opening her own business.

Rose Hartman, owner of Hartman Fashions at 668 Rancho Shopping Center, also caters to mothers of the bride. She offers unique outfits that can be worn again.

After 26 years in the business, she has an eye for style. As she puts it, her clothes are "not run of the mill." A bride recently selected a floaty, T-strap, olive-green and celery gown by Stenay fashioned with a chiffon overlay with shell appliqués and beading for her attednants. It rivals the short, ginger silk shantung dress by Waters & Waters at Panache. Because of the vertical gathers and ruching that form the strapless bodice, the dress is appropriately called "The Crumb Catcher."

Hartman predicted oyster will be a popular color with mothers of the bride this season, along with the lace look and floating ankle-length skirts. Champagne is a popular color choice, too.

For more information, call Panache Bridal at 917-8099, Hartman Fashions at 948-7775 and Bracha at 559-0741.

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