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Once you start dress shopping, you'll begin to hear a lot of the same fabric terms — satin, tulle, silk, blends, Chantilly, charmeuse... But unless you're a designer or seamstress, you may not know exactly what they mean and, more importantly, why one would make a better choice for your dream dress.
We consulted several experts to help you decode the language of bridal wear, Terry Hall, fashion director at Kleinfeld Bridal in New York, and a group from David's Bridal: Lori Conley, senior merchant; Eileen Small, bridal director of textile research and development; and Robert Barnowske, V.P. of design. They'll help you distinguish between fiber and finish and give you the lowdown on how they wear.
Fiber vs. Finish
At it's most basic, fabric is a cloth that's made by either weaving or knitting fibers. In a woven, the fibers are crossed in a miniscule grid pattern, resulting in a fabric that's smooth, structured, and, often, with little give (unless it's blended with a stretch fiber). The fibers in a knit are looped around one another for a fabric that's stretchy, drapey, and soft. Fibers can be natural — such as silk, cotton, or wool — or synthetic, like polyester.
It's a common misconception, says Hall, but "satin" is not a fiber. It's a finish. You can have satin that's made of pure silk, all polyester, or a blend. The same is true for lace, tulle, taffeta — almost any fabric. In general, fabrics made from natural fibers breathe better, but they can also be more expensive or wrinkle more easily, thus blends and synthetics. So if you're looking for a ruched satin ball gown for your wedding dress, don't forget to ask for the fiber you want, too, such as silk.
One of the most common, most versatile, and most durable bridal fabrics, satin has a smooth finish with a lot of body, making it perfect for more structured gowns. It's a supportive fabric that works with every body type and is a good choice for ruched, draped, and ball gown styles. And because it tends to be a thicker fabric, it's also a good choice for cooler weather weddings, particularly duchess satin. Most bridal satins tend to be 100 percent silk.
Usually silk, but also synthetic, charmeuse is a light, rich fabric with a lovely drape and a glossy sheen. "Charmeuse has a gorgeous liquid effect that's slinky, but it's not so forgiving," says Hall. Most often cut on the bias (diagonally across the grain to encourage it's drape) and used in column dresses, charmeuse is incredibly luxurious, but it does show every flaw.
Incredibly sheer and lightweight, chiffon is a light woven fabric. Because it's so sheer, it's often used in layers or as an overlay for a more substantial fabric. This delicate fabric has a floaty, weightless look, but it does fray and snag easily.
Like chiffon, organza is a sheer, lightweight woven, but far stiffer than chiffon. Whereas chiffon drapes, organza is more structured, though still light and ethereal, making it perfect for warmer weather weddings. It, too, is a very delicate fabric, so watch out for snags and pulls.
You know the light, netlike fabric that ballerina's tutus are made of? That's tulle. Tulle is sheer with on open weave that looks like netting. The fabric can incorporate lace designs, as well. According to Hall, a ball gown style made of tulle will have a diaphanous, airy feeling, but ruching it will give it more structure. Either way, it's an incredibly delicate fabric, easily snagged on jewelry.
Most often used as an overlay or detail, lace comes in a startling variety of styles, most often named for the city where they were originally produced. Some of the more popular varieties are Chantilly (a very detailed, open lace with a defined border), Alençon (bold motifs on net, trimmed with cord), and Venise (heavier and more textured; often used in winter weddings). As with tulle, the open weave makes it susceptible to snags.
Our experts are also seeing other fabrics gain popularity in wedding wear, such as mikado (a heavy silk), gazar (crisp and smooth), and radzmir (firm and lustrous). Other hot trends, according to Hall, include creative and artistic tattoo and laser-cut laces, which nod to the traditional while still being fresh and modern.