NEW YORK – Helen Bradley isn’t one of those women who fantasized about her wedding as a girl, so when the time came to tie the knot on the 10th tee of a golf course, she wanted to be relaxed, comfortable and economical.
A short gown was just right for her September nuptials, said the 27-year-old bank worker in Madison, Wisconsin.
“I had tried on a few long dresses and none of them felt like me. I’m a very practical person. My mom picked out the short dress from a sale rack and it’s rare that I would like anything that my mom picks out,” she said with a laugh.
Once the domain of older or remarrying brides, short gowns are enjoying a little more of the love, from luxury brands like Monique Lhuillier, Oscar de la Renta and Marchesa to more affordable offerings at David’s Bridal, which has a bustling retail website and about 300 stores around the country.
The short looks aren’t just stand-in dresses originally intended for bridesmaids or cocktail parties. Designers are offering a greater range of shorter styles as more brides break from tradition and personalize their weddings.
“A lot of people are doing more intimate settings, so a shorter dress just feels more appropriate. If they do the big wedding, some change into a shorter dress so they can dance and have a good time,” Lhuillier said.
Exactly how short is up to the bride. There are minis, high-low hemlines (high in the front and lower in the back), knee lengths, tea lengths below the knee and so-called “transformers,” where a long train or sheer skirt detaches to show off a short dress underneath.
Designer Zac Posen put his own sister in one of the convertibles – in red – for her 2004 wedding.
“Her huge train came off to become a mini and she took it off to Judy Garland’s ‘Zing! Went the Strings of My Heart,”‘ he said. “It covered the grandeur of the ceremony and the fun of the party.”
Long gowns remain the clear majority of the $2.6 billion-a-year bridal gown market, noted Darcy Miller, editorial director for Martha Stewart’s bridal site, Marthastewartweddings.com. But “more and more brides seem to be seeking no-fuss, lightweight and easier silhouettes,” she said. Some “want a dress they can run on the beach in or travel with to their destination wedding.”
At David’s Bridal, 26 of the 75 gowns launched for spring 2015 are short, said Anne Acierno, executive vice-president for design, merchandising and product development.
Posen creates luxury short looks but also includes a few in his Truly Zac Posen collection at David’s Bridal. He said red-carpet trends influence some brides, and these days they’re seeing more short, fancy dresses.
Among high-profile brides to go short recently were fashion “it” girl Olivia Palermo and actress Cheryl Hines, who married Robert F. Kennedy Jr. last August in a strapless, white, tea-length creation by Romona Keveza.
Vera Wang makes short gowns too, in a range of pricepoints that include her White collection for David’s Bridal.
“I think you should wear what you feel most beautiful and most comfortable in, and also what is most you, most individual,” Wang said.
Shorter dresses can be less expensive – a huge factor for Bradley at her country club wedding before 125 guests. The reception was in a cozy room with a big fireplace, wood floors and sconces all around.
Her dress cost $400. She spent another $100 on a chunky glass statement necklace with matching earrings, and $99 for a pair of 4-inch Calvin Klein heels in dusty gold with a T-strap and side buckle.
“I’m an accessory person, so I knew when I saw the dress it was a blank canvas,” Bradley said. “I could go out and pick the perfect necklace and the perfect shoes and you could see them.”
But embellished, hand-sewn, custom short gowns aren’t necessarily cheaper, depending on the materials and designer.
Emmy Mitchell, 33, of Columbus, Ohio, wore custom when she went short for her 2011 wedding. She had originally planned to modify the 75-year-old, long, ivory satin gown worn by her mother and grandmother, but a mishap with a seamstress left much of the fabric unusable.
She regrouped, found another seamstress and was able to salvage some of the original fabric for the bodice of a new gown, inspired by the strapless, full, Vivienne Westwood design that “Sex in the City” character Carrie Bradshaw wore when Mr. Big jilted her at the altar in the first movie based on the TV series.
Unlike Bradley out on the golf course, Mitchell wore her short gown for a church ceremony.
“Everyone asked me, ‘Aren’t you worried about the church? Is it long enough?”‘ the freelance graphic designer said. “I was, like, no, I’m not worried. We wanted it to be fun, but we didn’t want it to be too casual.”
Mitchell’s advice for others who want to go short?
“Go with your gut. Just go for it. It was the best decision of our wedding. It made everyone loosen their collars and say, ‘OK, this is a fun event. We can all cut loose tonight.”‘