The only time a woman might decide to wear a full-on ball gown is for her wedding. It may have been her dream since she was a little girl, or she found inspiration from the red carpet, but today, there are countless versions of a ball gown that she can choose from and a variety of settings she can wear it.
“I don’t think there is any particular setting where a ball gown is most appropriate, although they can be more fitting in certain venues,” said Carrie Goldberg, founder and creative director of CLG Creative. “A ballroom, château, or villa requires a certain level of drama, as does a grand expanse like a mountaintop or rolling hills.”
It’s not only the location that a bride should be thinking about. “Consider the time of year, and the type of fabric,” advised Stacie Houlker, owner of Stacie the Stylist. “Wearing a Mikado ball gown in the summer can be uncomfortable.”
Added Goldberg, “If you’re choosing a ball gown for the beach, I recommend that it be something super lightweight, like layers of tulle or chiffon that blows in the wind rather than a stiff silk faille, taffeta or duchess satin.”
But managing a voluminous skirt and heavy gown can be cumbersome. A bride may need to have a few helpers on hand to assist her when posing for photos, walking down the aisle and even going to the bathroom. (Cue the bridesmaids, wedding planner or stylist.)
“Every dramatic wedding gown in history — from Princess Diana to the Duchess of Cambridge to Grace Kelly — almost certainly had a team of people managing their fashion on their wedding day. Big volumes and long trains require expert attention!” said Goldberg.
Whether or not you have a pair of hands to help you, Houlker’s top advice for moving in a ball gown is to wear wedge sneakers. “They offer the best comfort without sacrificing height and no one will know you’re not wearing high-heeled shoes.”
While a ballgown may be the right fit for the ceremony, it may not be comfortable to mingle, dance and dine with guests over several hours. So little wonder that’s it’s become quite common for a bride to change into a second, or even third wedding dress as the reception evolves from cocktails to dinner and then dancing.
“Choosing a ceremony gown that is cumbersome, voluminous, and has a long train almost always requires a costume change. Even the best-made gowns with the most well-done corsets create a situation where it is challenging to dance, eat and enjoy a long night of socializing,” said Goldberg.
“And a change of venue typically warrants a change of dress. What works for an outdoor or a religious ceremony doesn’t typically suit a reception in a completely different space. Plus, a change of dress indicates to your guests that the party is nowhere near over.”
Finding the right time to switch looks should be thought out and planned in advance, especially if you’ll need help getting out of one dress and into another.
“I think the ideal time for a dress change is after dinner and before cake cutting,” said Lindsay Landman of Lindsay Landman Events. “I love the visual of the bride showing up to cut the cake in a new look when all eyes are on her. Then, after the cake is cut, she can roll right into a final dance set and party the night away in the second dress. The key is setting the change in the timeline before the night begins and committing to sticking to the plan. This way she can ensure that she isn’t missing a key moment, such as a favorite song.”
So, what should a second dress, also known as a reception dress, look like? “A reception dress is anything the bride wants it to be. Short, long, pants or some kind of jumpsuit,” said Mark Ingram, owner of the Mark Ingram Atelier and designer of the Mark Ingram Collection. “It should feel super celebratory, venue appropriate and as figure flattering as the wedding gown. It should have movement and look great on the dance floor.”
The style difference between your first and second dress should take into consideration your ease of movement. “A second look should be easier to move in than your first and should also be a style departure from your ceremony gown,” advises Goldberg. “It should also have a different look and feel than your rehearsal dinner dress. Use each fashion change as a way to explore a different facet of your personal style. Make it true to yourself.”
“A second party dress should reflect a super joyous and fun vibe, but be ultra glamorous,” said Ingram. “If your first gown was all lace or a stylish, simple tailored fabric, then by all means break out the beads, fringe and sparkle.”