Some 'Unbridaled' Ideas About Wedding Gowns

"Oh that Harvard study--I don't believe it," Paula Sacks said. She was speaking of the now-notorious report on the slim marriage chances for women over 30. "I think it's a bunch of hogwash."

With the bridal season in full tilt, the Los Angeles designer who specializes in wedding gowns and dresses for wedding parties has become an expert on the subject, at least from a commercial standpoint.

"My business has doubled every year since I started out four years ago," she maintains. "There's no question that people are getting married more and more. Just look around. There are bridal shops opening all the time."

Rivalry for Brides

The rivalry for brides, perhaps, was one reason why Sacks and Flower Fantasy, a Robertson Boulevard neighbor that claims weddings account for 60% of its business, recently staged what amounted to a bridal convention. There were ideas for cakes, tuxedo rentals, garters, ring-bearer pillows, bridesmaid baskets and wedding-gown dry cleaners.

Of the '80s brides, Sacks has determined: "They range in age from 25 to 55. They can't wait to get started having a family, and a lot of my clients don't wait. Some are already expecting. About 95% work. They're making money. One's a scientist. One's an actress. One's a CPA. They're organizers."

On their wedding days, Sacks continues, a lot of these women are willing to stick their necks out, fashion-wise. Although many of her wedding-dress designs veer from the norm, such as her mermaid silhouettes or gowns with detachable hoods, most often the evidence is in the bridal party. Sacks is now taking orders for bridesmaids dresses in gray, silver and black--short, poufy, strapless ones.

"In France, everyone is doing black," she reports. At one wedding where the bridesmaids and mother of the bride marched down the aisle in black, "the audience gasped," Sacks recalls. "I'm sure a few people were fainting."

New York designer Judy Hornby concentrates strictly on dressing one member of the bridal party, and it's not the bride. It's her mother.

"Most mothers don't want to wear gray lace--I call it menopause gray," Hornby said during an appearance at I. Magnin.

Mothers in Shape

She finds that mothers today are in better shape than ever and, like their daughters, want to show off their figures. Consequently Hornby works strictly in chiffons that are worked in body-hugging, bias-cut dresses.

Most mothers chose them in pastel colors, but a lot of them want something more, well, noticeable, including sequins and glitter.

The raging question remains: to have a traditional wedding or not to have a traditional wedding. The results are split.

Frank Masandrea, designer of wedding gowns, offers his opinion. "In California--do I dare say?--weddings are a little flashier.

"Let me say, they do like glamour and less tradition. They like gowns with things like epaulets and rhinestones," he adds.

"I do think the key word is formal, though," he said while presenting his line, Frank Masandrea for the Diamond Collection, at Rene Strauss for the Bride (formerly Kay Joyce) on Wilshire Boulevard.

"We've had people married in fields and farms. Now it's hotel rooms."

More to the point, Masandrea believes in "new looking" dresses for the new, older brides. As the median age of marrying women rises, so do their budgets and taste levels. "Women getting married today don't want to wear one of those polyester frou-frou numbers."

What they want instead are formal white wedding gowns with a twist, such as extravagant crinolines or bare shoulders; sleek dresses of matte jersey with gigantic shoulder pads; or traditional lace and beaded gowns in unusual shades, such as rum pink or sea-foam green, "to be different."

Masandrea predicts that the next major movement down the aisle will be more avant garde. He says we'll soon see brides in miniskirts, six to seven inches above the knee, festooned with poufs, bustles and bows.

The country's political climate has a lot to do with it. "In the same way I think we'll have a Democratic administration in 1988," Masandrea said, "I think traditionalism is starting to end."

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