Today's older, more free-spirited bride is mixing old-school glamour with millennial individuality to create a new genre of wedding dresses that often are captured on smartphones, but look as though they emerged from a black-and-white still.
"These gowns are a reflection of a woman's personal style," said Nicole Sewall, comanaging director of BHLDN, a Philadelphia-based online wedding-dress boutique that's part of the Urban Outfitters retail family. "She doesn't want to feel like she's dressed in a costume on her special day."
Using Pinterest, Tumblr, and Etsy, the fashion-forward betrothed are creating diverse collages of images as the basis for their dream weddings. At the center of their virtual vision board is the dress - the purchase that sets the tone for the day.
Some snapshots are heirloom vintage frocks. Others are pics of special-occasion gowns inspired by period shows like the post-Edwardian-era drama Downton Abbey.
Celebrity choices are also fueling selections. Consider Blake Lively's cap-sleeve custom Marchesa, or the cotton-candy-pink Giambattista Valli that Jessica Biel wore to tie the knot with Justin Timberlake.
"Girls are going to social media to see how others are interpreting ideas of what a wedding dress should be," said Melissa Colgan, senior style editor for Martha Stewart Weddings. "Brides are open to a lot more now than they were five, even two years ago. Dresses don't have to be long, they want tea length; they want color. Designers are getting that memo."
Women are also moving beyond the oh-so-'90s strapless princess gown because she's more mature - as in, pushing 30. Why shouldn't she tap into her sensuality when she's paying for the party herself?
"It's no longer Belle from Beauty and the Beast," said New York-based couture bridal designer Randi Rahm. "It's more like Barbie in her jeweled dress, holding a microphone."
Rahm designed the fit-and-flare goddess sheath for the December wedding of Ashley Hebert, ABC's former Bachelorette. "There is just no such thing as a 'traditional' wedding dress anymore," she said.
Wedding attire also reflects a couple's desire to celebrate their individuality. More and more twosomes are forgoing churches, synagogues, and banquet halls to legalize their bonds at courthouses, beaches, or in the rustic outdoors.
The number of states allowing same-sex marriages is growing - Minnesota became the 12th (after Delaware) to legalize gay nuptials on May 14. And many couples would rather have a close friend officiate at their services than clergy they don't know. It's a wrap for cookie-cutter style.
The irony is that today's "nontraditional" frocks are a nod to styles that existed when chastity was a bride's main virtue and a dowry trumped the contents of her heart.
Before Queen Victoria married Prince Albert in her all-white wedding in 1840, women got married in their Sunday best.
During the early 1900s, bridal chic was all about corsets and layers of ivory and lace. By the 1920s, bridalwear was following sportswear trends set by Coco Chanel, so gowns often featured more relaxed drop-waist silhouettes. Blush colors and metallics were trendy, too. (Sound familiar?)
Gowns from the 1930s featured bias cuts, and 1940s World War II brides, many of whom faced rationing, wore simple skirt suits or gowns with long sleeves. Wedding attire in the 1950s and 1960s featured mini dresses or longer gowns with empire-waist detailing. The 1970s were bohemian, and the '80s were gaudy - just like the rest of the fashions of the day.
In the 1990s, Vera Wang introduced the strapless ball gown. The look - regardless of any other fashion trends during the next 20 years - remained the predominant shape in wedding gowns because it was the quintessential princess style.
About five years ago, red carpet stars started shaking up special-occasion wear with trumpet skirts and mermaid gowns. That silhouette trickled into bridal, but the dresses stayed fairy-tale strapless.
Then two years ago, another British royal surprised the fashion world with a demure Alexander McQueen gown featuring a sweetheart illusion bodice, V-neck, and lacy sleeves.
"Before Kate, we could not sell a sleeved gown, period," said Catalina Maddox-Wagers, executive vice president of merchandising for David's Bridal. "Today, it's really cool to wear an alternative neckline or a halter or off-the-shoulder. Sleeves are one of the hottest things happening right now."
Color will remain important for the 2013-14 bride, Rahm said. Women now want colored dresses not just for their second party dress, but also for their ceremonial frock.
The eclectic bride may gravitate toward vibrant hues like reds, oranges, and yellows - see the mustard-yellow dress that actress Amber Tamblyn wore for her outdoor wedding to David Cross in October.
Colgan's Martha Stewart Wedding readers are falling in love with very bridal and formal "washed-out macaroon colors: pale pistachios, mint, soft French blue, rose," she said. Moving forward, Maddox-Wagers of David's Bridal predicts that more brides will gravitate toward ivory tones mixed with metallic paneling in tubular flapper sheaths or early-'60s cocktail style.
"Brides are more comfortable now," Rahm said. "Their true selves are shining through."
Special thanks to ...
. . . Linvilla Orchards and the Linvill family for its hospitality. Linvilla Orchards is a 300-acre family farm dedicated to agriculture, education, and entertainment at 137 W. Knowlton Road, Media, 610-876-7116, www.Linvilla.com.
Hair courtesy of Kevin Gatto. Makeup courtesy of Kristin Womack, both of Verde Salon, 4 Powell Lane, Collingswood, 856-858-0911.
Clothing and accessories: BHLDN, www.bhldn.com; David's Bridal, 2201 Cottman Ave., 215-744-9651, www.davidsbridal.com; Dominique Daniela, 37 N. Main St., New Hope, 215-862-2022; Knit Wit, 1729 Chestnut St., 215-564-4760; Lois A. Wig & Hair Boutique, 766 S. Fourth St., 215-922-2119; Plain Elain, www.plainelain.weebly.com, 484-472-3545; Randi Rahm New York, 574 Fifth Ave., New York, 212-869-2296; Roman Bride, a division of Roman & Sunstone, 385 Fifth Ave., Suite 800, New York, 212-889-0740; Vows Timeless Bridal Millinery, 764 S. Fourth St., 215-922-0121.
Assistant stylist: Mark Anthony Barksdale.
Model: Madison Hopkins (Wilhelmina PA)