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History of the bridal bouquet

When you think about it, carrying arrangements of plant genitalia seems rather odd and maybe a little lewd. But believe it or not, there is actually a history and purpose to the use of flowers and bouquets for weddings. It actually dates back thousands of years, in which times women wore certain combinations of aromatic herbs and spices to ward off evil spirits (think of garlic being used to ward off vampires, and sage used to clean the air of impurities). Exact customs varied from culture to culture, but the use of foliage and flora as symbols of new life and protection were common.

The predecessor of the modern bridal bouquet stems from Queen Victoria.

Quite the trendsetter was ‘ole Vicky. Not only did she begin the trend of wearing white bridal gowns, but she transformed bridal bouquets as well. A student of history will tell you about the Victorians and their fanatical obsession with rigid codes of conduct and the infusion of meaning into every little gesture. Flowers became a huge part of courtship, and meanings were assigned to colors and varieties.

For instance, Marigolds were very popular in bridal bouquets. The flowers used were usually edible: marigolds, carnations, dandelions, day lilies, English daisies, etc. It was common for bride and groom to feed one another dill flowers, as it was said to increase sexual desire. Dill was known as the flower of lust. I know, I know. Those Victorians and their paradoxical rules and rituals.

I’ve yet to see a bride eat parts of her bouquet, but the tradition of the bride and her ‘maids carrying something down the aisle persists. Here are a few ideas on how to choose the perfect bouquet for your day. *Note: these are general suggestions. As always with floral arrangements, check to see what is in season, and don’t let your florist bully you into anything you don’t want.

Matching the bouquets to the ladies

You’ve agonized over the gowns for the bride and the ‘maids. You’ve tried on every pair of gold or silver strappy sandals in season. You’ve torn pages out of magazines for ideas about your hair. You can’t forget about the bouquet. It’s another little finishing piece, like the right jewelry or makeup. It’s important.

The bouquets have to complement the looks of the ladies. So, to that end, the following are some tips for getting it right:

- Bouquet must complement the style of the gowns.
Meaning, if the bride and her friends have very feminine dresses, they need feminine florals. If they’re looking more haute couture, the florals need to be similarly designed: nix the greenery, go for a boldly designed flower like orchids or amaryllis, etc.
- Bouquet must be an accent, not the centerpiece
It’s an accessory. It has to complement and complete the look, not overwhelm the woman wearing it. A simpler gown can stand a larger or bolder bouquet. A more embellished gown needs a smaller or more subdued arrangement.
- Choose one: size, vibrancy of color, multiple varieties.
Choose one of the three elements above and make it the focus. If you want a large bouquet, don’t make it stark red or deep purple, or the result will be all eyes on the bouquet and not on you. It will draw focus in person and in photos. You want a bright red bouquet? Make it a small one. You want to showcase a bunch of varieties and filler? Keep it less vibrant; maybe opt for a bunch of similiarly colored elements in soft tones. You get the idea.

Shapes

Oh yes, there is more than one shape to a floral bouquet. Here are some of the basic ones; I bet you’ve never seen the majority of them. Before your fierce judgement takes hold of you, realize that you can make any shape modern and fresh. The keys are flower choice and good communication with your florist.

Cresent
Imagine the shape of a crescent moon. This is the basic shape of this kind of bouquet. The effect is flowers spilling out of your hands. The crescent can be vertical or horizontal.
 

 

The crescent shape is equally appropriate for formal and casual events. It provides drama for a formal wedding, but the asymmetrical shape can also reduce stuffiness and work well for a garden wedding. It’s all in the size and flowers used.

Round, aka Nosegay
This is the kind of bouquet you are most likely to see today. The round is extremely popular.
 

 
You can’t really go wrong with a round. Making it match the feel of your wedding is all about the flowers chosen. The photo above has a very feminine and fun feel to it.
 

 
The all-white bouquet is very traditional and demure.
 

 
Hello drama!
 
Oval
As the name suggests, the oval bouquet is an elongated variation of the round.


These are just a couple of the shapes available. So don’t feel like you have to have a round style. By keeping in mind the feel of the gown (and the bride’s personality), size, and colors, you can ensure your bouquet will complete, not compete.
 

Bridesmaids bouquets

Naturally, the flowers carried by the bridesmaids need to complement those of the bride. Bouquets can be the great unifier among the bridesmaids, in the event they are not already perfectly matched head to foot.
Matching bouquets for bride and bridesmaids ties the group together. Usually, the bride’s bouquet will be larger.
 

Small pink rounds really bring out the dark blue of the ‘maids’ gowns.
 

Alternatives to flowers

Okay, so maybe you have really bad allergies, and you can’t handle the idea of being high on Claritin for your big day. You need to replace the bouquets. Lucky for you, it’s never been more popular to pitch tradition to the wind and do your own thing!

Fans
Fans are back. And for the ever-popular summer wedding, they’re far more practical than flowers. Check out this bride and her entourage:

Just looking at this photo shows me this bride won her battle against The Generic Wedding. And she did it with flair.
 

Parasols

Seriously. How fabulous do these ladies look?!
 
Muffs

Muffs are perfect for a winter wedding.

There are all kinds of alternatives: think about incorporating candles, lanterns, clutch handbags…anything traditionally carried by a lady or that can add to the ambiance of the event should work.

There: a broad overview of bouquets and their alternatives, and how to make them work for you! Remember, the number one rule: make the bouquets complement you and your ladies, rather than compete.

Olivia and Aaron

Much as I like to dream and plan fantastic weddings, there’s nothing better than actually seeing one done. Thus, we launch the Success Stories page, in which we feature beautiful, non-generic examples of everything this blog stands for.

Our first is the wedding of Olivia and Aaron. I am not personally acquainted with the couple, but the bride and I share a mutual friend. Through the powers of Facebook I caught a glimpse of the couple, and knew I had to feature them first.

 

Well done: Though pink was the main color, the bride did not feel the need to outfit her ‘maids in pink dresses. They got flattering black cocktail dresses – that’s as close as you’re ever going to come to a wear-again bridesmaid dress – and accessorized with pink shawls for the Catholic mass. The maids also got to choose their own shoes and carried small bouquets of mostly white, with pink for a little accent. And look how well they all look together: unified, but individual.

Also: Bride’s mom looks fab in royal blue.
 

The groom matches his bride in elegance. No colors needed on him, and his groomsmen got all the color they needed with link pink ties. No cummerbunds, French shirts (the kind that need cufflinks), and the tuxes fit well…it’s just a great look for the guys, period.
 

The veil: a classic cathedral-length in bridal illusion tulle, with an elbow-length blusher (not pictured here). Perfectly placed on her head, it frames her face rather than crowds it, emphasizes her height and slimness, and adds some sophisticated drama.
 

The French net blusher was more practical for dancing, but still fit the look of the gown. Speaking of which: love the classic trumpet-fit, the ruching, and the one-shoulder. It was well-bustled, too! In summary, the whole ensemble is classic, but new. And she wore the hell out of it.
 

Decor: This was an intimate winter wedding: the centerpieces consisted of silvered branches in curvy glass vases, with accents sprinkled along the table. If you can tear your eyes away from the adorableness of the groom and flower girl, check out those pink wall lights! Way to add warmth and ambiance to the room.
 

In keeping with Polish tradition, the bride tossed her veil to the single ladies, instead of her bouquet.
 

The groom serenades his bride. What a beautiful, personal moment!
 

The send-off. Love the bride’s classic stole.

Thanks to Olivia and Aaron for letting us feature their wedding, and the very best wishes for a happy life together!

Do you know someone who avoided having a generic wedding? E-mail us your story at weddingloversanonymous@gmail.com.

Cheap Tricks

The number of wedding shows out there climb every year. Off the top of my head, I can think of the following: Say Yes to the Dress, Four Weddings, Bridezillas, Platinum Weddings, My Fair Weddings, and Wedded to Perfection. That’s six. And the number is clearly rising.

So when I see these shows…because, as the About page says, I love weddings, I can’t help but think that a lot of the tricks that are used for the crazy expensive fetes can easily be duplicated for a fraction of the cost.

Which brings me to the point of this post:

Little touches that don’t cost much, but make the wedding less generic.

Colored tablecloths, unusual stemware and flatware

Yep…it really can be that simple. Think about it: what’s more boring than white linen with white china? You’d probably get more creative at home for a holiday dinner.

 
Yawn
 
There are event rental companies in every city that have bolts upon bolts of colored linens, detail-peppered china, stemware and flatware. You can literally create hundreds of combinations. The easiest and cheapest thing to do is to rent some table linens in one of your colors!

Much better. And look: the combination of colored table linens and gold chargers is enough of a “wow factor” that you don’t even need big fancy centerpieces!

Unusual Vases

Check out the following photos:

Underwhelming.
 

Stunning. Simple. And totally transformed by the curvy silver vase.

In almost all cases, you are more likely to see floral arrangements in a classic, glass vase with clean lines: cylinders, simple flutes, and squares.

But oh, what a different effect the curvy vase or urn accomplishes! It breaks up the all the strict lines of a table and is just a breath of fresh air. And you don’t have to have the same vase for every centerpiece. Let one element be the unifier: a bunch of curvy silver vases, or a few shallow urns…no matter what, the uniformity of the flowers and greenery will tie it all together.

 
Urn wedding centerpiece

The Signature Cocktail

This is one covered by all the bridal mags and blogs, but I’m going to actually sell you on it. The cost of providing alcohol is a major one: a lot of people feel that they have to have an open bar, because guests will get upset if they can’t have their usual libations of choice.

A few things to remember: an open bar is like going to any other bar, but without having to pay for anything. Guests know the bar is stocked with all the main liquors and mixers, and will order whatever they like. The costs of an open bar is having a supply of all those different alcohols and mixers.

You can cut this cost (assuming your venue or catering company will let you – this is something to discuss before booking the reception site or caterer) by serving a few signature cocktails. Choose something crisp and vodka-based, something fruity, and something your guests are unlikely to have tried before. The selection should enable everyone to have something to suit their tastes, and you won’t have to stock a whole bar.

Keep in mind that if you are serving a sit down meal, a choice of red and white wine is expected. You can skip that by having an hors d’oeuvers selection instead of a meal.

Pipe and Drape

This is THE #1 way to transform any reception site. Pipe and drape is when you use yards of white fabric, attached to an aluminum frame to create walls, ceilings, room dividers, etc. Using them in combination with colored gels and floor lights creates all the color ambiance you see in the wedding shows. Think blue gels for a winter wonderland theme, pinks and reds are always flattering, etc.
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Do a little research and see what options are available near you: you don’t have to outfit the whole room with them. Carefully placed accents (spaced periodically around the perimeter of the room, by the band/DJ area, by the head table, etc.) will give you that same effect at very little cost.

Aaaaand boom. Easy, cheap (but not cheap-looking) ways to avoid The Generic Wedding.

Hustle and Bustle

I didn’t mean to post yet another entry on gowns so soon…but it’s been a long day and this is an easier one to write.

So, I devote this day to something often seen in The Generic Wedding: the unattractive bustle.

The bustle is how you tuck up the train of the gown so the bride has better mobility. Typically, this happens just before the couple is introduced at their reception. Bustles have been around forever.

And, when done correctly, can be quite attractive.

 
French vs. American
These are the basic options you for bustling your gown. Many come with a pre-determined style, but you can ask your tailor to make changes and it shouldn’t be a problem.

French Bustle

Also known as the “under” bustle.

The French bustle tucks a portion of the gown up, usually with ties or snaps. A bridesmaid or Mom of the bride is needed to do this.
The french bustle adds a lot of drama…with the right gown. It looks best when there is a lot of fabric to tuck, the shaping of which creates a nice drape and drama to the back of the gown.


 
French bustles fail in simpler styles with less fabric to tuck.

When used on sheath or column style gowns, the shape breaks up the length created by the gown, and can make the bride’s derrier look larger and her body shorter than it really is. Why? Because a french bustle without a lot of fabric creates a horizontal line. The line breaks up the nice vertical lines of the gown, which are elongating and slimming to anyone’s figure.

The American Bustle

Also known as the “over” bustle.
This is one that always looks elegant. It’s usually achieved by sewing a few buttons at the small of the back, or somewhere halfway up the skirt. Corresponding loops are sewn (discretely) lower on the skirt. Slip the loops over the buttons and voila, the train is off the ground and we have a lovely drape to look at.

The other, less popular but still attractive, American bustle is achieved with a series of hook and eye enclosures and a cord, which is pulled so the fabric gathers. Think of a venetian blind: pull the cord and the slats compress. It’s the same with the gown fabric.

 
This one creates a distinctly vintage look; something to keep in mind when deciding on a bustle style.

The Wrist or Finger Loop

This is an option I’ve never actually seen, but love. It’s romantic, and it lets you display that train you paid for! A loop, sized either for your finger or your wrist, is attached to the skirt so you can carry it around with you.

 

And there we have it. Bustles must be chosen carefully and practiced: that backside needs to look fantastic all night.

Here come the ‘Maids

I’ve been a bridesmaid several times. And I’m not someone who finds it a chore: in my experience, it’s been a lot of fun (then again, my three experiences were all before I was twenty-one, so I never had to plan a shower or bachelorette party or pay for my own dress. But, you know. Details) and I look forward to many more bridesmaid experiences.

But, we’ve all seen the movies and heard the horror stories. Tales of brides gone insane, bridal party feuds, and the one trainwreck we all dread (yet secretly kind-of wish to see): the bad bridesmaid dresses.

Seeing traditional posed photos always makes me wonder where the tradition of dressing a number of one’s friends and relatives in the same exact dress began. ‘Cause unless your ‘maids all have the same basic figure, someone’s gonna look less than stellar.

This is an old dilemma

Enter solution #1: basically different styles, but all in the same color. This is still a hugely popular practice, and David’s Bridal has the market cornered with mix and match separates. So, in theory, this should solve the problem….

So, why is it that I still feel like the bridesmaids are often dressed worse than the most casual, completely-oblivious-to-appropriate-nuptial-attire-guests? And I think I know the answer: cut, color, and fabric, and that only two get to be of good quality.

Best Two out of Three

You only get to choose two: a great cut, great fabric, or a great color. Take any bridesmaid dress into a department store and hold it up to the other cocktail dresses on the racks: there’s something different about your maid dress, right? The nice cocktail dresses, the ones you’d pick from if you were just a guest attending the wedding, have all three elements. Your special-friend-of-the-bride dress has two.

None of these women looks good in taupe. Particularly not the African American one.
 

A case of bad cut, bad fabric, good color.
 

There is no reason for these women to look like this. It’s a trifecta of FAIL: bad color, terrible cut, and bad fabric

You Can Totally Wear It Again!

You’ve head it said, maybe you’ve nodded your head and grit your teeth just to stop the screams of horror from escaping your mouth as you ponder the monstrosity devouring your body. But I’ve never, ever worn one of my ‘maid dresses after the wedding, and neither has anyone I know.

And these weren’t frumpy, totally horrible, the-bride-wants-to-make-her-girls-look-bad dresses, either. Mine were, in no official order, from J.Crew, Nordstrom, and custom made. And I would never ever wear them again. Except maybe with zombie make up for Halloween…

Case in point: My boyfriend was over one day, and the sliding doors of my closet were partially open. My rather minimal clothing selection was visible, and back with my dresses, was something that caught his eye.

“What’s that?” he asked,

“What?”

He pointed, “The green one.”

Among my collection of dresses, which run the gamut from bright yellow to coral, deep red, black, various blues, and even a few bold prints, his eye had picked out the one that didn’t belong. The J.Crew princess seamed, knee-length bridesmaid dress. In an eye-smarting shade of grasshopper green.

You’ve heard my rants on green. It’s such a hard color to wear. And I can actually wear it! This dress had the cut and the fabric. It didn’t have the color.

Moral of the story: if your boyfriend can spot the single bridesmaid dress among a dozen other dresses, and from ten feet away…it’s not a good dress. I only keep it because it’s developed a sort of lore…and if I ever choose to be Poison Ivy for Halloween, I’ve got the costume all set.

So, I think the new rule for dressing the maids is, “which dress looks most like it came from a department store or expensive boutique?”

And if you’re willing to get a little different, why not let the girls pick their own dresses and forgo the whole matching thing all together? It worked in the Sex and the City movie.

 

If that’s too radical, how about letting the girls wear different shades in the same color family? The look is still polished and put together, but is refreshing.
Green bridesmaids dressesThese ladies even manage to pull of several shades of green. Color me impressed.
 

Just gorgeous.

Besides; no one will be looking at the maids anyway. All eyes will be on the bride…who will receive even more adulation for letting her ladies look like the fabulous individuals they are.

Let’s not deny it, we’re all friends here. We know what the real star of the wedding is. No, it’s not the couple. It’s not even the bride.

It’s the bride’s GOWN.

Author’s Note: The terms gown and dress are used interchangeably, but here, you will see only the words “wedding gown,” not “wedding dress.” Because I’m stubborn about it, and I don’t get a chance to use the word “gown” often enough.

Though my wedding love has grown in sophistication to the point where I now equally observe all aspects, from garter choice to veil placement, I’m sure for all of us, it all goes back to the gown.

I don’t have enough hours in the day to go over all the different styles and kinds of gowns available today. There’s a whole show for that: TLC’s Say Yes to the Dress. And judging by the fact that it’s had eight total seasons in two locations, it’s safe to say a whole lot of us think the gown is the most important part of the whole day.

You can only take beading and embroidery so far

I haven’t seen many interesting or different choices when it comes to gowns. No matter what the personal style of the bride, I’ve only ever seen (in person) the same tired, traditional ball or A-line gown.

“Ooh, but look at the beading!”

Yeah, beading. As traditional and generic as it gets.

“Look at the embroidery!”

It’s white on white…kind of hard to see unless I’m right up against the bride. And we all know how much the married couple moves on their wedding day. You’re lucky if you get two minutes with them.

Enough with the strapless, already

“It’s fancy because it’s strapless!”

Wrong. Strapless gown are THE most common, generic kind out there for the last fifteen years. Sure, there are many that are beautiful. But when was the last time you saw a bride who wasn’t in a strapless gown?

Boring, boring, boring. And what’s worse is, most prom dresses are strapless, too. Look at the photo below: can you tell whether it was made for a wedding or a prom?

In fact, let’s just strike the word “fancy” from our wedding vocabularies, okay? We’re going for “chic,” and “elegant,” and “sophisticated.” It’s probably just me, but “fancy” conjures up a little girl in her mother’s old bridesmaid monstrosities, playing dress up in the attic.

Back to the matter at hand: I realize that, in the end, we’re all likely to wear a white wedding gown. It takes a brave woman to wear champagne, let alone pink or blue or something. And it can be hard to make a long white gown look new and interesting after all the millions of brides before you. But please, don’t go for something generic just because you think it’ll still look good in twenty years. Odds are, it will still look dated, and your future daughters will still look at you aghast and ask what, in the name of sweet world peace, you were thinking.

Find the balance between being trendy and being classic, and here’s how you do it:

Go classic in the cut and fit, go trendy and/or modern in the fabric and accessories.
Ivanka Trump had Vera Wang make her a gown with sleeves, based off that of Princess Grace.

See? This is borderline generic…except for the pretty modern use of sheer tulle with lace applique. Still very traditional, but not like all the other strapless gowns out there.


Gown by Anna-Maier Ulla-Maija. Yes, it’s strapless. But I’ll overlook it because there are actually other things to look at in this gown. Classic bias-cut seaming, with the ever-popular full skirt, in a modern sideswept kind of thing. Anna Maier is known for this kind of work. Side note: this is the gown my college girlfriend wore. It was stunning. And I only saw it in photos.


Lace sheath by JLM. It doesn’t get more traditional than a full lace gown, does it? But look how subtly sexy it is. If a gown could wink, this one would.

Remember, you don’t have to have an expensive wedding…just an expensive-looking one. And you can definitely accomplish a lot of that with the gown. Vera Wang just launched a new line with David’s Bridal. And unlike what happens a lot of the time when famous designers lend their name to a line at a “bargain” store, it actually looks like a VW line. Which means, it looks chic, modern yet classic, and expensive.

Ah, ye old veil dilemma. How often have you seen a lovely bride who seems to have everything together…except for the mosquito netting on her head? Having the right veil can make or break your look. And there are many more options than you’d think. Don’t settle for the first one the saleswoman puts on your head, and don’t necessarily go for the same style your mom wore. Your veil accomplishes the same goal as your gown: it tells the world that you are the bride, it enhances your beauty, and it reflects you in all your personal quirkiness and style.

Veil Myth #1: It has to be long

Don’t get me wrong, I love a long veil. It does two things: makes you look taller and lends a special kind of elegance. But it’s also a bit of a pain to drag around, can easily get snagged, it hides your hair and the back of your gown. You can take it off after the ceremony, certainly, or replace it with a shorter veil…but then you either spent $100+ on something you wore for less than an hour, or you spent $100+ on something you wore for less than an hour, plus another one for another $100+.

Clearly, something to consider.

Veil Myth #2: There’s only one kind of fabric

Veils are made of Tulle. Tulle has many great qualities…depending on the kind you buy. Oh yeah: there are different types of tulle. As if you didn’t have enough decisions to make already.

Silk Tulle is softer and has that fantastic flow. It also is sheer.

It’s also the most expensive – silk, you know – but it won’t yellow or deteriorate like other kinds.

Rayon Tulle is stiffer, and tends to be the kind you use in decorations. Avoid it.

Bridal Illusion tulle is a popular choices because it has the softness of silk tulle, but holds a better shape. Compare the two:

Bridal Illusion Tulle


Silk Tulle

Both are beautiful, but accomplish different looks. BUT! Notice how both seem to crowd the woman’s face. That’s what happens when you put the veil too far forward. The front of the veil should never be further forward than the ears.

Veil Myth #3: It has to have a blusher

The feminist in me squirms a little at the idea of a blusher, and the idea of the unveiling of the woman like a gift…but I have to admit, I love blushers. But only when done correctly. And by that I mean, the bride’s face is still visible, and she doesn’t look like she’s ready to go tend some bee hives or forage through a malaria infested jungle.

We can barely see her face. Not acceptable.

Much better

Veil Myth #4: You have to wear a veil

Come on, live a little. There are so many choices out there now as alternatives, you’d be crazy not consider them. Headbands, jeweled combs, flowers, feathers…the options are endless. Experiment, go with what feels like you

Okay, now on to the fun part! Veils that work, are modern yet classic, and are definitely not generic.


The drop veil. It doesn’t get more classic and elegant than this.


The Mantilla


The Half Circle


Classic French Net Blusher

A Bridal Illusion blusher

The final three veils are taken from Sara Gabriel, my personal favorite headpiece designer. Do check her out at SaraGabriel.com

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