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Monday, October 21, 2013

Terms You Need To Know When Looking At Wedding Dresses

When I got married in 1977, I wore my mother's dress from 1956.

So I never shopped for a wedding dress and I had no idea of the complexities of shopping for a dress for that special day. Just this week I was going through a box of old newspaper clippings that my Aunt Ruth had collected about our family. She had snipped obituaries, announcements, articles that were about family, and wedding announcements. And they did social articles on wedding showers! Today a wedding announcement is awfully short but back then they went into great details. All the fashion, decorations, food and music were detailed. Here is an example:

"The pre-nuptial event (a wedding shower) was given in the home of the hostesses' mother, Mrs. H. J. H. in Norwood. Throughout the party rooms, numerous points of vantage were bedecked with floral bouquets arranged with pastel spring blooms. When Miss W. arrived, she was presented a corsage of gardenias by the hostesses."

"(The matron of honor) wore a waltz length gown of ruby red pure silk shantung fashioned with a scooped neckline and bouffant pleated skirt. She carried a spray of white pom-pom chrysanthemums with fern and baby's breath. The bride wore a gown of Chantilly lace over satin with a bodice with a marquisette yoke outlined with seed pearls and sequins. The gown had long tapering sleeves and the bouffant skirt ended in a chapel length train. Her silk illusion veil was two tiered and fingertip length. It was attached to a satin tiara trimmed in seed pearls and sequins. She carried a spray of white pom-pom chrysanthemums cenetere with a white purple-throated orchid showered with white narcissi.

As I was reading through these I didn't know what some of the terms meant. So, just out of interest, I started researching some of the things I was reading in those newspaper wedding announcements. I thought I would share it with you. Let me say that I, in no way, sell products on my blog. I don't design and sell wedding dresses. I just did a Google image search for the photos. Such beautiful wedding dress designs must make a woman's choice very hard. My purpose in this post is to define and give you visual examples, not sell you a dress. I hope you enjoy.

I found it very difficult to find photos that show the differences in the fabric when it's the traditional wedding white. So you will see some colorful photos to better show the difference in sheen.

First, what type of fabric makes up wedding dresses? What is the difference between chiffon and organza, silk charmeuse and silk taffeta?

Peau de soie - French for ‘skin of silk' and also known as Duchess silk. A soft silk fabric of satin weave having a dull finish, non-shiny satin. Peau de Soie has a moderately stiff drape

This is a pleated peau de soi bodice with sweetheart neckline and a fancy "girdle".

Grace Kelly's wedding gown was made of peau de soie.

Charmeuse - Charmeuse is a lightweight fabric woven with a satin weave, where the warp threads cross over three or more of the backing (weft) threads. The front side of the fabric has a satin finish—lustrous and reflective—whereas the back has a dull finish. It can be made of silk or a synthetic lookalike such as polyester. Silk charmeuse is more expensive and delicate but is softer and a better insulator. Polyester charmeuse is cheaper and can often withstand machine washing, but it does not breathe as well as silk. Charmeuse differs from plain satin in that charmeuse is softer and lighter in weight.

A vintage 1933 charmeuse wedding dress.

Shantung Silk - Shantung silk is a heavy fabric with a rough nubby surface, made of spun wild silk. Silk Shantung has less slubs (those crosswise irregularities in texture) and what it does have will be much smaller in thread width than a silk dupioni. It's a plain-weave silk fabric made from yarns with irregular or uneven texture. In addition, while the silk shantung will still have a fair amount of body and crispness, it will usually be thinner than the dupioni and will therefore be suitable to more delicate garments. Silk shantung can almost appear flowing, and is the perfect medium between silk charmeuse and a stiff silk dupioni or stiffer taffeta.

An antique shantung silk dress.

Dupioni Silk - See my post on dupioni silk

Silk Taffeta - Taffeta is a crisp, smooth, plain woven fabric made from silk or synthetic fibres. The word is Persian in origin and means "twisted woven." It is considered to be a "high-end" fabric, suitable for use in ball gowns, wedding dresses, and interiors for curtains or wallcovering. There are two distinct types of silk taffeta: yarn-dyed and piece-dyed. Piece-dyed taffeta is often used in linings and is quite soft. Yarn-dyed taffeta is much stiffer and is often used in evening dresses. Taffeta has a nice sheen to it or light reflective.

An antique silk taffeta dress

Chiffon - Chiffon is the French word for a cloth or rag, is a lightweight, balanced plain-woven sheer fabric. Chiffon is made from cotton, silk or synthetic fibres. Chiffon can be dyed to almost any shade, but chiffon made from polyester can be difficult to dye.

A pleated and gathered chiffon column dress.

Organza - Organza is a thin, plain weave, sheer fabric traditionally made from silk. Many modern organzas are woven with synthetic filament fibers such as polyester or nylon. Silk organza is woven by a number of mills along the Yangtze River and in the province of Zhejiang in China. A coarser silk organza is woven in the Bangalore area of India. Deluxe silk organzas are woven in France and Italy. It is a very sheer, crisp fabric that is strong and durable with a firm hand and a flat, smooth texture. The open weave is naturally stiff without the addition of any "stiffeners."

Marquisette - Marquisette is a sheer meshed, fabric, a lightweight open fabric of leno weave in cotton, rayon, silk, or nylon. Used for sheer curtains.

Tulle - Tulle is a fine, extremely lightweight, machine made net has a distinctive small mesh effect.

Vintage 1950's wedding dresses with tulle.

Chantilly lace - Chantilly lace is a handmade bobbin lace named after the city of Chantilly, France dating as far back as the 17th century but it became famous in the 18th century. Though called Chantilly lace, most of the lace bearing this name was actually made in Bayeux in France and Geraardsbergen, now in Belgium. Chantilly lace is known for its fine ground, outlined pattern, and abundant detail. The pattern is outlined in cordonnet, a flat untwisted strand. The best Chantilly laces were made of silk, and were generally black, which made them suitable for mourning wear. White Chantilly lace was also made, both in linen and silk, though most Chantilly laces were made of silk. Another notable thing about Chantilly lace is the use of a half-and-whole stitch as a fill to achieve the effect of light and shadow in the pattern, which was generally of flowers.

Vintage chantilly lace wedding dresses.

Strapless sweetheart neckline


High collar or Edwardian neckline

Queen Ann neckline

Court or square neckline

Bateau neckline

Strapless straight neckline

Halter neckline

Scooped neck





Three quarter (3/4) length


Long pointed sleeves

Skirt or shape
Princess or Ballroom

Mermaid or Trumpet


Column or Sheath

Empire waist (sometimes with column skirt and sometimes with A-line skirt)

Tea length


Veil lengths

Train lengths
This measurement is taken from the back of the natural waist, to the very end of the gown's train.

The brush or sweep train is the shortest of the train styles, apart from not having a train at all. It barely "brushes" the ground behind your dress, adding a modest amount of volume to the back of your dress.

The court train is slightly longer than the brush, extending approximately 3 feet behind the waist.

The chapel length train is the happy medium between the simplicity of the brush and court trains, and the formality of the cathedral and royal trains. The chapel train extends about 5 feet from the waist,

The semi-cathedral train extends approximately 5 to 6 feet behind the gown.

The cathedral train is perfect for a very formal and traditional bride who wants all eyes on her as she walks down the aisle. This train extends approximately 7 feet behind the waist, and will require assistance

The royal, or monarch, length train is fitting only for the bride who really wants to make a statement. This train extends beyond 10 feet from the waist, spanning the aisle as you walk toward the altar. With a train this size, you will definitely need help making sure that you are not weighed down and that all that fabric is where it needs to be.

Princess Diana

Kate Middleton

The Watteau train is characterized by the way the single panel attaches to the top of your dress, either at the shoulders or the upper back of the bodice. This train can be the same length as the rest of your gown so that it falls straight down to the ground, or it can extend out behind you for a more dramatic look.

The Panel train isn’t part of the dress, but rather a separate panel of fabric about a foot wide that trails behind the dress. Usually detachable, panel trains can be made into any length desired.

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