Saying yes to the second dress

The minute Janeen Simon found her perfect wedding dress, she knew she had to get another one.

Her first dress — a Maggie Sottero diamond-white, sweetheart-style frock adorned in ruffles and anchored by an asymmetrical train — was stunning, but she imagined it was going to be difficult to maneuver in it on a hot August day. Plus, she wanted to dance and show off her rhinestone-encrusted Jimmy Choo heels.

"I knew it would be hard to balance the dress and shoes on the dance floor," the 26-year-old Owings Mills resident said. "Because the first one was very hot and heavy, I didn't think I was going to be able to dance and have fun. As much money as I spent, I wanted to have a good time. I didn't want to be hot, and sweat, and have to hold up my dress. I wanted something a lot cooler."

Shortly after her first dance, she slipped out of the reception — unbeknown to guests grooving along to her DJ's tunes — and returned 10 minutes later wearing an Ivy and Aster empire-waist, knee-length dress adorned with a Monique Lhuillier rhinestone-encrusted belt. She was showered with a new set of compliments because of her costume change, which also revealed those coveted 7-inch-high shoes.

"It was like cats staring at crystals," recalled her wedding planner, Drew Vanlandingham. "You would have thought that she walked in with a million dollars in her hands. It was a show-stopper. It really was."

More and more brides are saying yes to the second dress — and sometimes even a third. When Nicole Richie married Joel Madden in 2010, she wore three wedding gowns throughout the evening. Kim Kardashian might have spent more time changing into her three dresses at her 2011 wedding than she did being married.

"It's gotten more and more popular," said Vanlandingham, an Ellicott City-based wedding planner who started seeing the trend grow three years ago. "Having the second wedding dress gives you the opportunity to let your hair down. It allows you to really enjoy your reception and enjoy that first dress later on in life."

At Betsy Robinson's Bridal Collection in Pikesville, many brides have inquired about a second wedding dress, but owner Betsy Robinson has seen few follow through.

"They'll come in and talk about it, but then they wind up loving their first wedding dress. They don't want to wear another," she said. "We haven't seen a lot — a little. Not a major push."

Robinson, who sold Simon both of her wedding dresses, said it takes a certain type of woman to wear a second dress.

"It's the more fashion-forward bride," she said, adding that she has increased the number of "second" dresses in stock in order to prepare for what she believes will be an increase in sales.

Misty Williams, a 29-year-old bride-to-be from Silver Spring, just bought her second dress from Garnish Boutique in Ruxton Station. Williams, who is getting married in May, said that her second dress allowed her to better show off her personality.

"For my first dress, I wanted something more conservative that would look beautiful in photographs 10 years from now," she said. "My second dress is something more me — current and fashion forward."

Williams' second dress — an ombre, sweetheart-neckline, feather peplum number by Hayley Paige — will reflect her self-described fun and playful personality. It will also allow her to show off her high-end footwear—a recurring reason for a second dress, according to wedding insiders.

"I'm wearing a silver or gold sparkling pair of Christian Louboutin heels," she said. "The second dress gives me an amazing opportunity to show off those shoes. I want those moments. The second dress affords me more of those moments."

Second dresses don't always have to be short, sassy frocks. The second dress can be long, but it usually is designed to allow the bride more movement.

Robinson suggests that brides pair a ballgown skirt with a slimmer dress underneath. Once the bride has worn the fuller-appearing gown at the wedding, she can wear the slimmer dress at the reception.

Robinson also recommends that brides wear longer, simpler second dresses that will enable them to move and enjoy their reception.

Mia Antalics, owner of Garnish Boutique, began carrying more second wedding dresses in the spring to meet growing demand. She started to carry Nicole Miller gowns in part because they were "functional" but still allowed brides to "look like a bride." Most of the Nicole Miller gowns are full length.

Sara Mathes, co-owner of Jill Andrews Gowns LLC near Wyman Park, has had only a few brides request second dresses. But that stems more from the extra cost than a lack of interest, she said.

"It is quite expensive," Mathes said.

Instead, lead designer Jill Andrews will create one all-encompassing ensemble: a separate gown consisting of a lace corset top and an interchangeable skirt to allow the bride a second style.

"Brides like the idea of having two different looks so they have a ceremony look and a party outfit," Mathes said. "They can dance, have a great time and not have to worry about their skirt. They can also have a piece from their wedding that they can wear again."

The brides who have come to her requesting a second dress have done so for religious and cultural reasons, according to Mathes.

"They'll usually get married in a gown from their native country," said Mathes, who this month was in the process of meeting with an Indian bride who had hired her to make a second dress. "And for the reception, they want something that is more Western and traditional. In those cases they get a second white dress — but they don't get a shorter one."

Vanlandingham said that second dresses have made brides more fiscally savvy.

"It's all how you spend your money. People are just adjusting to the economy, the dress industry included," he said, adding that the wedding industry now produces a slew of more affordable dresses, with the second dress in mind. "Instead of paying $5,000 on a photographer, brides are spending $3,000 and using the additional $2,000 on getting a second dress."

Williams said her two dresses cost about the same as her first option for wearing one dress for the entire day.

"I decided not to get the first dress, which was more expensive," she explained. "I had enough money to get a second dress that better expressed my personality. To me, it was more economical."

Simon, the bride who dazzled guests with her sparkling Jimmy Choos, said her husband initially opposed a second dress because of the cost.

He had a change of heart at the wedding, she said.

"His [initial] reaction was not as positive," she said with a laugh. "He couldn't believe I could spend more money on a second dress after the first one. But after he saw it, he changed his mind. He said, 'I can't complain about the money, because you look really nice in it.'"

john-john.williams@baltsun.com

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