© BRIDE by Natasha Jane 2011-2017


Choosing a wedding dress is about so much more than style, shape and season; the fabric is also a vitally important element. The same dress made up in two totally different fabrics will create two totally different moods, whilst two fabrics that have the same weight and drapability allow a designer to offer a price-accessible version of an expensive gown.


Fashions in bridal fabrics change, but do so less abruptly than is evident in the high fashion arena. In bridal, it is evolution rather than revolution, though there is often a peak of interest when a celebrity bride opts for a particular fabric and other brides and designers decide to incorporate elements of that column-inch-grabbing look and feel into their own gowns.


Of course bridal gowns can be made in any fabric, from opulent silks to embroidered cottons to linen (the bridal fabric in Mexico), and each one is suitable for a different style of wedding and different style of bride! Kate Moss chose silk for her gorgeous and totally distinctive bias-cut John Galliano gown, and white chiffon for her flock of small bridesmaids, saying that she wanted to create a dreamy and soft-focus look for her wedding in July 2011.


In this guide, we look at the most popular fabrics used in bridal today.........either on its own or blended with other materials – is the basis for many fabrics.


Silk and lace are among the most characteristic bridal fabrics - or perhaps we should say ‘silks’ and ‘laces’ because there are literally dozens of each.


Silk was first developed in China more than 4,000 years ago and is made from the cocoons of silkworms. Silk threads are extremely fine and are often woven to create other fabrics from the heavy, luxurious duchess satin to the lighter, more gauze-like chiffon, tulle and organza.


Duchess Satin can be made from silk or, more economically, from a blend of silk and man-made fibres. Woven to have a sheen on one side, it has a smooth, glossy appearance and is equally appropriate for a formal or simple wedding gown. This fabric can crease so is better suited to more structured silhouettes; it is also too warm for summer. Princess Anne’s daughter Zara Phillips’ dress by Stewart Parvin was made in a combination of silk faille - a slightly glossy fabric which drapes well - and duchess satin.


Crepe has a ‘crinkly’ texture and is usually made from a blend of silk and man-made fibres. It is ideal for informal, flowing dresses in loose styles. Heavy silk crepe is often seen in ‘designer’ gowns such as the bridesmaid’s dress worn by Pippa Middleton, designed by Sarah Burton.


Taffeta is a heavy, crisp fabric with a polished or glassy finish, which rustles as it moves. It is made from silk or a silk mix. A taffeta dress will always make an impact and the fabric is first choice for ‘big’ dresses and structured styles. Full-skirted and ballroom-style wedding gowns featuring layers of tulle underskirts are often made from taffeta.


Italian Satin is manufactured to offer a different texture and quality and is made of a blend of silk and man-made fibres such as polyester or acetate. It’s a versatile fabric, suitable for many shapes and styles of gown, with a soft and subtle sheen. It is also crease-resistant - an important consideration for many brides. Newer Italian satins may have little or no silk content but look like pure silk at a fraction of the price.


Silk Dupion is a textured fabric with ‘slubs’ in the weave - these are naturally-occurring bumps in the yarn which give the textured effect. Dupion also has a slight gloss to it. Shantung is a similar, but slightly thinner, fabric.


Silk Mikado is a blended silk fabric which has a crisp, elegant look and is normally rather heavier than 100% silk. It has a special weave designed to catch the light and as it is quite stiff, it works well for modern, structured gowns whether shorter or full-length. It is less matte than crepe and less shiny than satin.


For the bride who is looking for something ethereal and romantic, especially for a late Spring or Summer wedding, there is a wide choice of light, floaty silk-based fabrics such as organza, chiffon and charmeuse.


Georgette, for example, is made from sheer silk or man-made fibres, ideal for soft, draped, loose styles and warm weather or beach weddings. Georgette looks elegant when draped or layered and may be used in veils and trains, or to layer with a more formal fabric to soften the look.

 

Organza, like georgette and chiffon, is a sheer fabric made from silk or a mixture of silk and man-made fibres, but it has a crisper weave than the other two. Organza is an excellent volume-booster for ‘big’ skirts where multi-layers are a feature. It works well on both structured and looser, draped styles of gown and can add an extra touch of romance to veils, trains and overlays.


Chiffon is a very sheer and fine fabric and a popular choice for tradition-minded brides. It drapes well and may be used alongside other fabrics on sleeves or over the shoulders. It gives a dress a soft and romantic feel and is flattering to curvy as well as slimmer figures. Like the other ‘light’ fabrics it can be made from silk, silk mix, or man-made fibres. Because it is transparent it is ideal layering fabric.


Tulle is another fabric which is traditionally associated with weddings, as well as ballet tutus! Because it is available in various weights it can be highly versatile. Made from silk or silk mix, it is woven into a very fine net, looser than netting but stiffer than chiffon, so works well in a dress which needs a bouffant look. Ballgown-style dresses, underskirts, veils and trains all feature tulle, often combined with other fabrics. Kim Kardashian’s wedding gown by Vera Wang combined a full tulle skirt with a bodice made from Chantilly lace, and movie star Anne Hathaway wore layers of sheer silk tulle designed by Valentino and with a hint of pink.


Velvet, the perfect fabric for a winter wedding, is available in several different thicknesses and can also be embossed or patterned for the bride who is looking for something different. Velvet can be made from silk, cotton or man-made fibres and is used in both formal and unstructured styles.

Moving on to lace, this is a fabric that received a huge boost in popularity when details of the Duchess of Cambridge’s Sarah Burton-designed gown were revealed in April 2011. There are literally dozens of different types of lace from all over the world, made using a variety of techniques and yarns; some pattern designs are centuries old.


Hand-made Lace is still made in the traditional way using bobbins or needles; machine-made net can be embroidered to make patterned lace. Lace can look wonderful against the skin or over another fabric, and gives a gown a timeless, classic look. Among the most popular types are:


Alencon Lace, first made in the town of that name in France in the 16th century, is a fine needlepoint lace with a floral design, usually on a sheer net background, making it perfect for veil trims, and layering on a gown.


Brussels Lace is another bobbin lace which is often seen in heirloom and antique bridal veils; less often on dresses. Chantilly lace (which was combined with hand-cut English Cluny lace on the Duchess of Cambridge’s wedding gown) is fine and delicate. It is a hand-made bobbin lace, often featuring ribbons or flowers on netting or organza. It is light in weight and motifs are sometimes outlined in a heavier silky thread.


Corded Lace came originally from Alencon in Northern France. In this type of lace details are often outlined in heavier thread or cord to produce an ornate pattern and give a three-dimensional effect. This is another style of lace popular with brides who like a traditional or antique look.


Guipure Lace is a needlepoint lace made with a heavy buttonhole machine stitch on a coarse mesh net, which produces a strong fabric that does not fray. It usually consists of a continuous motif in a floral or geometric design, and is robust enough to incorporate into a bodice or skirt.


Laser Lace is a newcomer and can be very striking. Satin fabrics are cut into shape using a laser, and then embroidered onto different fabrics.


OUR GUIDE TO WEDDING DRESS FABRICS