Something new for bridesmaids Bridal Party Line

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Brides who want a wedding worthy of a film romance today can cast their bridal party in diverse scenarios. They can look for inspiration in sophisticated '30s drawing rooms or dreamy historical formal gardens and dress bridesmaids in frills, suits or even tailoring.

When Susan Yourison, 25, an advertising executive in Easton, walks down the aisle next month in a traditional beaded wedding gown, the guys won't be the only ones at the altar wearing pants. Ms. Yourison's bridesmaids will be dressed in classic black tuxedos.

"Because I have four bridesmaids with completely different looks and body types, I didn't want them wearing those traditional pink taffeta tea-length dresses," says Ms. Yourison, who got the idea from a bridal magazine ad for Lord West women's tuxedo rentals. "The models in the ad looked so classy, I just knew it would be a flattering solution for everyone. Not to mention economical."

Ms. Yourison divided up the two free tux rentals she received with the purchase of her bridal gown from Robinson's Bridal and Formal Wear, thereby bringing the rental cost down to $65 per attendant including alterations. Not bad when you consider the average bridesmaid dress today runs $150, and that's not counting the hidden extras like hosiery, dyeable shoes and alterations. Even though she opted for pants instead of two skirt options, the look will be feminized with black heels and drop pearl earrings. Each bridesmaid will carry a long-stemmed red rose.

Now the decision is between a white lace T-shirt under the jacket or a halterneck vest that was ordered with the rental. "This is my second marriage and because I'm older now, I know what I want and that is to really make a statement that won't be forgotten," says the bride-to-be.

Women in tuxedos are also on the mind of designer Nicole Miller, who has added them to her fall catalog of understated bridesmaid and special-occasion dresses. In addition to black, her tuxedos for women are available in ivory, aubergine and bordeaux and come single- or double-breasted, with either a long skirt with a wide satin panel or trousers. The tuxedos cost around $500. The Nicole Miller mini-catalog is available at Panache in Greenspring Station, Jones & Jones in Cross Keys and Gamberdella in Towson.

Simpler gowns

"Bridesmaids don't need to wear a tawdry color or a big puffed sleeve anymore," advises Rachel Leonard, fashion director of Bride's magazine. She says the average age for today's bride is 25, as opposed to 23 just a decade ago. Because most of these brides are choosing simpler gowns with minimal detailing, the same sophistication is following through to the bridal party.

"The bride wants her maids to stand out from the guests, and therefore the trend has strayed from two-piece dresses and tea-length taffetas to dressier, yet simple, floor-length gowns," according to Maria Prince, vice president of Watters & Watters bridal house. "Silhouettes have also shifted away from long straight skirts to detachable long skirts over short sheaths, Jackie-inspired empire waists, princess lines and looser A-line shapes," says Linda Stansbury, creative director of Elegant Bride magazine.

Remember how elegant Oprah Winfrey looked at the Oscars in that sweeping latte satin ball gown? Bridesmaids are looking beyond jewel-tone taffetas and are gravitating to heavier fabrics like crepe, velvet and duchess satin. "Besides the newer browns, green is an important fashion color for bridesmaids now -- from celadon to hunter," says Ms. Stansbury. She also sees a strong turn to soft hues for warm-weather months.

Wedding consultant Elizabeth Bailey, who advises about 150 older professional working women each year, was at first alarmed to hear that lighter colors were catching on again. "It brings back visions of those passe rainbow weddings where each maid wore a different color to match a groomsman's bow tie and cummerbund. But the new dusty pastels are much prettier because they're more muted and not so sweet," she says. Think periwinkle instead of sky blue, or champagne instead of powder pink.

Navy and black

Of course, all this color hasn't pushed navy or black out of the bridesmaid picture completely. When it comes to sophistication and practicality, a girl can never have enough little black dresses.

"Since most bridesmaid's looks are so minimal in color and style, greater attention is being paid to accessories and shoes," according to Ms. Bailey. Couture bridal and millinery designer Jennifer Brown of Romance Studio is noticing that the retro resurgence in fashion is filtering down to bridal. "Wedding parties are becoming more daring when it comes to close-fitting hats with face veils, pretty ornamented gloves and high-heeled strappy shoes as opposed to dyeable pumps and oversized picture hats," she says. She suggests wearing a satin or tulle stole to drape around the shoulders of a strapless dress. And in his 10 years in the business, Nick Bouloubassis, owner of Bridal Fashions by Niko in Fells Point, has never seen so many requests for coordinating wraps or long chiffon scarves instead of the typical little jacket for the ceremony.

The men

For groomsmen, the sartorial elegance of the past has resurfaced. Most men who slip into a tuxedo prefer to see themselves in the old Hollywood style of Fred Astaire rather than as a Chippendale dancer.

"I usually suggest going classic black tie so when you look back at your pictures years from now you won't be embarrassed because they look dated," says John Rogers of Robinson's Bridal and Formal. "The white shawl-collared dinner jacket looks particularly elegant now in ivory," he says. The "new Hollywood" trendy banded-collar shirts (that also turned up a lot at the Oscars) and the traditional turn-down collars with pleated fronts are both surpassing wing-collars in popularity, according to Stanley Hiken of S. Hiken & Sons Formalwear. He also reports that bow ties have grown about one inch.

The big news for the guys, however, is the high-button vest. Not only does it have a more elegant finish than a standard bow tie and cummerbund, but it is incredibly slimming as well.

"A great looking vest is the perfect solution to looking polished when the jacket eventually comes off," says Mr. Hiken.

European influence

Jennifer Brown is seeing a demand for custom-designed waistcoats with European styling influenced by films such as "The Age of Innocence" and "Four Weddings and a Funeral."

"These are vests without lapels that may have antique or mother-of-pearl buttons practically up to the collar, and they are worn with a silk cravat or mandarin-collar shirt instead of a bow," she says. The idea of a historic dressing is a charming idea, but don't get carried away -- leave the knickers to the ring bearer.

But what about the mothers in the bridal party? They want to be just as current in their wedding finery.

"Mothers are moving away from flashy jewel-toned beaded gowns and are going soft as well -- pale gray, silver, taupe, gold or bronze," says Ms. Bailey.

She says about 80 percent of her clients' mothers are going neutral from head to toe. She is quick to point out that neutrals may not be as photogenic as stronger jewel colors, but they are much more flattering and youthful near the face.

ON THE COVER

Styling by Suzin Boddiford, assisted by Karen Martin

Hair and makeup by Jill Turnbull

Models: Ally and Shane of Nova Models; Candi Fabian of 3 West Casting

Tuxedo from S. Hiken Formalwear. Lavender dresses, $240; earrings, $10, from Dressy Affair. Gloves, $16, at Bridal Fashions by Niko. Kenneth Cole Shoes, $110, at Nordstrom. Hats, $28, from Laura Ashley.

6* Flowers by Eleanor Oster Floral Design

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