The return of the chaste bride

Bridal dresses are displayed at a shop in Yemen's capital Sanaa, April 22, 2017. ― Reuters pic
Bridal dresses are displayed at a shop in Yemen's capital Sanaa, April 22, 2017. ― Reuters pic

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NEW YORK, May 2 ― Chalk it up to the spate of covered-up looks by runway stars like Stella McCartney, Phoebe Philo of Céline and Pierpaolo Piccioli of Valentino; or to the procession of red-carpet dresses like that worn this year by Ruth Negga, who appeared at the Oscars in a high-neck, long-sleeve, floor-length Valentino gown.

Credit the forthcoming nuptials of Pippa Middleton, who will marry next month, most probably dressed in a fragile variation on the modestly cut gown worn by her sister, Catherine, the Duchess of Cambridge, on her wedding day.

Whatever its impetus, a similarly chaste spirit has infiltrated bridal wear, lending regal authority to the spring 2018 collections shown all over town last week.

“We’re exiting away from the sexy, sheer look,” said Rachel Leonard, editorial director for the Bridal Council, a trade group. “We’re moving toward statements about romance, femininity, sensuality and pure simplicity.”

To some minds, that shift in direction arrives not a moment too soon.

“My collection was a reaction to the very naked dressing that was happening last year,” Vera Wang said. “More coverage felt newer, and way more modern.” To that end, Wang mixed propriety with a bit of coyness in a collection highlighted by filmy collared gowns, billowing sleeves and wispy Empress Josephine silhouettes.

Elie Saab, Sachin & Babi, Carolina Herrera and Ines Di Santo, who only a year ago espoused steamy sensuality, were also among those who seemed, at a glance, to be celebrating a return to tradition but were in fact executing a radical about-face.

Like Di Santo, many designers abandoned the provocative cutouts, plummeting necklines and transparencies they once favoured for high collars, covered arms, bodice-concealing wraps, hooded capes, gloves and other totems of bridal decorum.

Few entirely relinquished the deep V-necklines, strapless tops and slit-to-the-thigh dresses that remain best-sellers. But a proliferation of pared-down dresses and, conversely, traditionally frothy ball gowns, seems reflective of a recent nostalgia for the prosperous, if somewhat uptight, Reagan-era 1980s, a period punctuated, in the pop culture at least, by the fairy-tale wedding of Prince Charles and Princess Diana.

For Monique Lhuillier, the ideal is a timeless, elegant and wedding-appropriate look. “Remember,” she said, “you are surrounded that day by family and friends.” As for sheerness and nudity, she added, “that wave has passed. I hope one day my daughter will feel the same way.”

Lhuillier’s designs underscored the new mood, supplying her demure brides with point d’esprit lace capelets and matching gloves.

Bridal week wasn’t all candy-box confections, though. Some collections bowed to an unbridled romanticism that bordered on decadence. Wang injected a hint of goth-tinged darkness, embellishing an otherwise streamlined cream-colored gown with an outrageously oversize black corsage; she complemented a bias-cut dress with an austere black cape.

Herrera accented the waistline of a prim lace top and cropped trousers with an incongruously sassy black silk sash. Naeem Khan introduced a ghostly element in the shape of a gossamer hooded cover-up.

Others like Viktor & Rolf chose to showcase freshness and purity, balancing an understated cap-sleeve top with a minimally embellished, if ultrawide, skirt. Laura Kim and Fernando Garcia of Oscar de la Renta showed a tailored white trouser suit with nothing fancier than a wide silver cummerbund.

Leonard suggested that this season’s shift in tone may have less to do with making a sociopolitical statement than with acknowledging a taste for escapism. “Last year’s aggressive sexiness has given way to something more magical, dreamy, otherworldly,” she said.

The contemporary bride, she said, is comfortable with her femininity and coming to terms with the notion that it’s fine to show a tender side. “Why not, if that’s what she wants? It is, after all, her wedding day.” ― The New York Times 

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