Eliza Ridgeway models a custom-made design by Los Altos couture dressmaker Grace Jung.
Ask any of us: We've been thinking about our weddings since we were little pigtailed girls, creating mock romances between our Barbies and Kens in the sandbox. And why shouldn't we? It's our big day, the day we seal the most somber and important decision of our lives with the one we love.
It is also the only chance we women ever get to steal all the attention, have everybody's eyes on us, be selfish, demanding, picky - and feel perfectly fine about it. Yes, some women get two or more wedding days, but let's for a second pretend that marriage is still a sacred bond. Even if it's not our first marriage, we always hope it's our last.
Every woman is entitled to pick and plan every detail. Of course, she will want to get input from her parents and soon-to-be husband (or at least let him think he's helping). Maybe every woman is not as obsessed as Monica from the TV show "Friends" - who had compiled an entire 4-inch binder full of plans since the day she started reading - but everyone has at least thought about her big day.
One of the most important aspects of a woman's wedding is her dress. It is her duty, but more importantly, her right, to look absolutely breathtakingly stunning. Yet she should choose something she feels comfortable in, something that fits her personality.
That's why the current trend is personalization. Women are shying away from ready-made gowns and instead purchasing vintage ones and having them altered, or even starting from scratch with their own personal designers.
"Veer away from tradition,'' suggested Patricia Black, head fashion stylist at Albright Inc. in New York City. "Take a vintage dress from the '90s, any white dress, and use that. Add accessories. Belt it. Cut it. It can be sexy. One of our customers used a knit Jean Paul Gautier." Black's main point: Don't be afraid to do something out of the ordinary.
All the bride needs is creativity - oh, and a good budget, but even that can be dealt with appropriately. Vintage dresses can be surprisingly inexpensive. Many brides are turning to eBay or other discount shopping guides to search for that almost-perfect dress that just needs a little work.
If you do have a handsome budget, a popular thing to do is design your own dress with the help of a professional, such as Los Altos couture designer Grace Jung, a graduate of the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising in California. Jung specializes in giving her customers a chance to create their own perfect dresses.
"When a bride-to-be comes in with an idea, or no idea, we just talk and then come up with a fabulous idea most suitable for her," Jung said. Jung helps the bride create a dress that fits her taste, style and body type. A customer can decide the color, fabric, detail, style and shape of her gown. She can start from scratch or choose a vintage dress to be copied or altered. Jenny Dearborn Tarlton asked Jung to copy the white halter dress Marilyn Monroe wore in "The Seven Year Itch."
The theme of the season is individuality, Black said. "It's your day," she said. "You are the star."
Gowns don't even have to be white, as Saks Fifth Avenue bridal sales consultant Kathy Moore, of the Vera Wang Bridal Salon, says. "The most popular color is ivory," she said, "with a few champagne or blush dresses being seen, accented with forest green ribbons." She says designer Wang "is using a lot of lace, with tiny bits of color."
Another option is to return to yesteryear, choosing a wedding dress that mimics the Romantic, Victorian or Shakespearian eras. This can be done with accessories: elbow-length gloves, tiaras or belts. "Wang uses wonderful tiny antique-style belts," Moore said. Belts are the perfect accessory to turn any simple dress into one that fits the bride's body and unique style.
Ribbons placed right under the bust give an empire waist an Old-World feel, but true-waist is more popular. "The silhouette is still pretty structured," Moore said. "The shape most common now is the modified mermaid - sculptured in the bust, waist and hips, with fullness starting right below the hip. Necklines are still strapless, with a few sweetheart necklines, but mostly straight across."
Jung prefers the A-line cut, which comes out straight from just below the hips, and anticipates a return to sleeves.
It is possible to find the perfect dress that is already made. Magazines such as "Modern Bride" and elegant "Bride" are showing a fitted bodice, like a corset, with a flowing skirt. Even two-piece ensembles are popular. Mon Cheri Bridal (www.MonCheriBridal.com) is showing gowns belted at the true waist with tiny ribbons, and embellishments of lace and rhinestones on a corset top, stopping at the waist, then echoed near the hem. Other hot dress designers this season include Zac Posen, Monique Lhuillier and Caroline Herrera.
Every dress this season is classic in inspiration but has a contemporary feel - old glamour meets today's trends.
For a day as special as one's wedding, a perfect dress would be nice, and so would being 10 pounds thinner. But really, the most important thing is that a woman feel good about herself on her big day. The only accessory that really matters is the man beside you, and Harry Winston jewels, of course.