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“The Runaway Bride”

“The Runaway Bride” by Patricia McLaughlin

Seen on the aisle: Sleek and slinky looks

There’s always been the occasional bride appalled at the prospect of advancing surreally down the aisle in the guise of a giant cotton candy. She’s “that rare girl who has a sense of herself and knows what she wants and most of all knows what she doesn’t want,” says Jane Carton, fashion direction of Saks Fifth Avenue, Bala Cynwyd. Carton offers tow examples of brides who “didn’t want to be fluffly and ruffly.” One got married in a pale platinum Pamela Dennis evening dress, the other in a pale buttery yellow Carolina Herrera, both sleeveless, both with fishtail trains. “They wanted to be svelte and sleek and they were,” Carton says.

Lately, more brides seem to share those aspirations. “Hell is a big white dress,” as one conscientious objector put it in the London Times a couple of years ago.

Stores like Barneys have been turning to unfluffy designers like Geoffrey Beene to adapt architectural evening dresses for weddings.

“I like the romance and the fairy-tale quality of all the tulle and innocence,” Beene says. “But I’m not sure that women are really that way anymore or expect that sort of mystical thing about marriage. Maybe we’re moving so quickly that suddenly that seems dated.” The dresses he’s done for Barneys have been “much simpler, with less yardage and less bulk,” he says, ranging from a “really very monastic” white satin tent dress to some he describes as “slinky.” They were “not in the traditional mode at all” -none had trains and all were meant to be worn again after the wedding. “It’s sort of a shame,” Beene thinks, “to spend a lot of money on a wedding dress and that’s the end of it.”

Maria Romia of Maria Romia Bridal Couture on Walnut Street says, “Most of the brides I’m getting don’t want the big puffy-puffy dress because they’re getting married older now. Your taste changes after 25, 26. A lot of them want a slimmer silhouette, something sophisticated, something modern.” (She’s also noticed that more brides insist on a dress that’s comfortable enough to dance all night in. What’s the world coming to when even brides aren’t willing to suffer to be beautiful?)

Custom designer Janice Martin, who works out of a studio in Manayunk, finds that there are still “an awful lot of women who go out shopping with the Carolyn Bessette Kennedy idea of something absolutely unadorned.” Martin, an old hand at adornment -she managed the delicate restoration of Princess Grace’s wedding veil for the Art Museum -thinks that’s sort of a shame.

And this bridal thirst for simplicity and plainness is a little startling at a time when clothes for other occasions are embroidered, beaded and applique’d within an inch of their lives. Maybe, as Romia says, it’s age: Maybe the older you get, and the better you know who you are, the less likely you are to want to dress up as somebody else -e.g., wedding-dress Barbie. Or maybe it’s that more marriages are remarriages. Beene finds that “women who dress for a second wedding are always more realistic.”

On the other hand, some of it’s probably the famous fickleness of fashion. Maybe next year or the year after brides will be longing for layers and layers of tulle all over again.

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