There's a lot to think about when searching for the right wedding dress, as there are scores of styles, silhouettes, price points, and designers to consider. However, your gown decision may be easier to make once you have a basic understanding of wedding dress fabrics and when they should be worn.
According to bridal fashion expert Mark Ingram, not all wedding dress fabrics are created equally, especially when it comes to seasonality. "People have said that bridalwear is not seasonal, but to some degree, that is not true." For instance, a heavy satin dress remains an uncomfortable summertime choice, just as a cotton sundress may seem out of place at an autumnal ballroom reception. "Of course, the bride has every right to do and choose what she prefers," Ingram adds. "But in my opinion, when it comes to your wedding dress and its importance to your day, I prefer to apply most of the old rules of propriety."
What's more, Ingram also explains that it's the style and silhouette of the gown that will ultimately dictate the fabric direction. Some materials are better suited for structured designs, others are great for flowing, light looks, and others for larger-than-life ball gowns. "My favorite fabrics to work in are the more constructed ones such as mikado, faille, and gazar," says Ingram. "I approach design from shape and construction, and these fabrics lend themselves to more architectural than romantic looks."
So before you start your wedding dress shopping experience, learn what to expect when it comes to different types of bridal gown fabrics available today. Ahead, with the expert advice of Ingram, here are the wedding dress fabrics to know in order to help you distinguish the difference between batiste and damask.
Meet the Expert
Mark Ingram is a bridal fashion expert and curator with over 40 years of experience in the industry. He is the founder and CEO of NYC's prestigious bridal salon Mark Ingram Atelier, in addition to his own eponymous wedding dress collection.
Lightweight and soft, this transparent fabric is made of plain weave and usually takes the form of an overlay or veil. Perfect for the warm-weather months of spring or summer, this material is the embodiment of a sophisticated, garden celebration.
Brocade can be made from silk or synthetic fibers, and is distinguished by jacquard (raised designs) woven into the fabric. Since the material is stiff but lighter than satin, it's the perfect choice for structured gowns designed to be worn at formal fall or winter nuptials.
Rich and delicate, just as its name would suggest, this luxurious fabric is characterized by a glossy sheen on the outside and a matte finish inside. Typically made of silk (though synthetic alternatives do exist), its soft drape makes it popular for flowing styles usually cut on the bias. "Soft, sinuous, slinky fabrics often better lend themselves to narrow or slim dresses with looser fits," says Ingram. The ultra-lightweight material is also suitable year-round, though it tends to be a sexy spring or summer staple.
One of the lighter fabrics, chiffon is often used as an overlay, in layers, or as an accent detail due to its sheer and transparent style. Made from woven silk or rayon, the matte material has a floaty and ethereal vibe perfect for the bohemian bride. Its light and airy structure also makes it a great option for spring and summer weddings, while its weightless appearance lends itself to diaphanous silhouettes and goddess styles. However, it's important to note that the delicate textile can be quite fragile, and easily prone to snagging, pulling, or fraying.
Made of soft silk or lightweight rayon, crepe is a gauzy and crinkled fabric that works best with soft silhouettes. The shapely material can be great for accentuating curves but also works well in stark, minimalist designs and even bridal jumpsuits. Simple styles like mermaid or A-line dresses are classic choices for this fabric, and it's a sophisticated textile that works year-round.
Similar to brocade in that it has raised designs, damask is a material of a lighter weight. Its pattern (in dull jacquard) is typically the same color as the base material, and the overall textile is best suited for constructed styles with structured silhouettes. A great year-round option, damask skews toward more fancy, formal wedding styles.
Lightweight and breathable, dotted Swiss is made out of muslin fabric that features evenly dispersed, dotted motifs. This material is ideal for spring or summer outdoor weddings, especially sweet and ladylike celebrations such as a garden-party reception.
Slightly rough, dupioni is made of coarse fibers that have a charmingly raw and organic aesthetic. One of the more full-bodied silks, it has the ability to keep its shape, making it a prime option for more dramatic silhouettes like ball gowns.
Woven of silk, cotton, or rayon, this fabric features a structured, ribbed finish with a crosswise rib effect. This textile also has the ability to hold a structured design (ideal for more modern or minimal dresses) lending itself to be worn year-round.
Made from wool or silk, gazar has a smooth and crisp look, not unlike that of organza. Specifically, silk gazar is the most prominent type seen in bridalwear, making its foray into the limelight as Kate Middleton's wedding dress fabric. The stiff yet translucent material holds shape well and is best used in structured, romantic designs and full-skirted styles like ball gowns, both of which are appropriate year-round.
Sheer and lightweight, georgette is spun from polyester or silk and has a crepe surface. While its soft silhouette makes it a perfect top layer in wedding gowns, the floaty fabric is ideal for feminine silhouettes that move with the body. Typically, this material should be worn in the warmer seasons.
"The most popular wedding dress fabric would be lace," says Ingram. "As a fabric category, it is extremely diverse in pattern, texture, weight, and embellishments. Lace is universally loved by most cultures. It is delicate, feminine, and romantic, and supple enough to work well in every shape."
Woven from silk or cotton, the graceful material comes in a variety of styles including French laces like Chantilly (very detailed and open), Alençon (bold motifs with corded trim), and Venise (heavier and more textured). Its distinct versatility lends itself to year-round use, though some of the heavier weaves (like the Italian Venise) are better suited for the colder seasons.
"Lace will need the under-support of tulle, organza, or lining fabrics to hold a fuller shape, as lace is usually very supple," advises Ingram.
Mikado is a heavier type of silk with a shiny finish that has gained immense popularity, and its thickness provides a structure that can be tailored to architectural and sophisticated designs. Ingram notes that mikado has the ability to be molded and multi-seamed so "sexy, narrow mermaids and strapless ballgowns" fit perfectly. The material can be worn year-round, but its weight may be better suited for cooler temperatures.
Typically made of polyester or heavy silk taffeta, moire gives the illusion of glistening water when seen in light. (It's characterized by a subtle, wavy design.) The fabric can be very heavy so it's best worn in winter.
Though sheer and lightweight like chiffon, organza holds a more structured silhouette making it ideal for warm-weather weddings. It's traditionally woven from silk and has a lustrous finish and crisp drape. What's more, the material is often used for layered looks to add fullness to ball gowns, trains, and veils. Perfect for whimsical, frothy dresses and princess moments, the sheer textile is the epitome of romantic, enchanted garden celebrations. But do be careful, as the delicate fabric is prone to snags and pulls.
This knit fabric is characterized by a waffle-weave exterior. While it errs on the heavier end of the spectrum, its preppy persona tends to translate best in the spring and summer months. The material also has an informal nature that lends itself to crisp styles and constructed silhouettes.
A polyester net, this material is sewn together in the formation of a diamond pattern. While the fabric is usually used for veils, it can be incorporated into dresses as well. Additionally, its airy texture is a great option for spring, summer, and even autumnal festivities. Dainty designs with an air of vintage romance are where this textile truly shines.
Inexpensive and synthetic, polyester can be woven into almost any fabric. Specifically for wedding dresses, polyester satin is a very common alternative to silk in that it's more wrinkle-resistant and less delicate. The material can also be worn year-round, but might be a bit uncomfortable to wear during the summer months as it's not very breathable.
While fabrics made from natural fibers tend to be more breathable, they are usually more expensive and high maintenance as they wrinkle easily. This is why synthetic alternatives have risen in popularity, though Ingram mentions that "they are often too heavy, stiff, or hot for the wearer."
A smooth fabric similar to silk, rayon is more elastic and affordable. This semi-synthetic fiber is lightweight and breathable, perfect for a summer wedding but can be worn year-round. While a plus in that it's inexpensive, it does wrinkle easily. The durable fabric is a great option for draped styles or constructed designs.
"For decades, shiny silk satin was the fabric of choice for most brides," says Ingram. "The beauty of satin is the sheen, the hand, and the drape." Satin is heavy and smooth from silk and nylon fibers that create a high thread count. Silk satin is one of the more traditional wedding dress fabrics, but since satin refers to the particular finish it can also be made of polyester or a blend. The durable fabric has a weight that's suitable for all seasons, though thicker types like Duchess are most optimal for cooler months. Luxurious and sexy, the material can be very supportive, lending itself to constructed designs like ruched or ballgown styles. "What most modern brides do not like is the wrinkle and ripple factor, and unfortunately, with silk satin, that cannot be avoided," adds Ingram.
Plainly woven silk or cotton, shantung features a subtle weave that results in a rubbed texture and raw, natural look. Its medium-light weight is appropriate for all seasons and allows it to hold volume that looks and feels rich. The fabric has a beautiful drape to it that can be flattering for all figures.
One of the most traditional and expensive fabrics, silk is not only timeless but versatile. It's durable, comes in different textures and styles, and is suited for all seasons, though it can be quite delicate in the heat of the warmer months. Spun into thread and woven into cloth, silk is distinguished by its muted shine. Variations include silk gazar, silk Mikado, faille, shantung, and dupioni.
Available in different styles, taffeta is made from silk or synthetic fibers. Rich for winter and light for summer, this crisp, versatile fabric can come in almost any color and sometimes appears iridescent due to the weaving process. The supple fabric also has a constructed quality about it, which makes it great for A-line dresses and full-skirted ball gowns.
Characterized by a sheer, gauzy open weave that's similar to netting, tulle has an airy vibe but can be ruched to add structure. Very delicate, it is often used as a gown's lining or, of course, as a veil. It comes in different weights and levels of stiffness. The quintessential bridal fabric has seen quite a rise in popularity in sexy illusion styles with barely there sleeves, necklines, or cutouts. The lightweight and usually inexpensive fabric can also be used in lace designs and can be worn year-round. Keep in mind that the fabric snags easily.
Soft, thick, and felted, velvet has a heavy-weight composition that makes it suitable for fall or winter weddings. This luscious fabric most commonly lends itself to regal looks and vintage inspirations.
Lightweight and breathable, voile is made from cotton or wool and is semi-transparent. The fabric has a natural drape that's perfect for flowing styles without much structure, and its casual aesthetic makes it perfect for informal weddings.
Zibeline is woven in a single direction from straight fibers for a shiny finish. As it relates to wedding dresses, silk zibeline is the most common variety used in most designs. The constructed fabric is also optimal for structured silhouettes like fit-and-flare or A-line.