Ah, to be in love--and young enough to carry off any dress. But minis don’t cut it with most Generation Xers. They want to be... : A Princess Bride


Today, the “average” American woman says “I do” for the first time at 24.4 years of age. And she is as likely to say it in a sophisticated gown without a pearl or a crystal bead or an extra ounce of fabric as she is in a fully loaded fairy-princess creation.

After all, unlike many older or second-time brides, this woman could pull off as much or as little dress as she likes. She can evoke images of Twiggy in a mini or Princess Di in a maxi. She can wear a sexy, silk sheath or layers of tulle; a high-neck bodice or an off-the-shoulder neckline; poufy sleeves or no sleeves at all; a floral wreath in her hair or a mile-long veil.

“Younger women feel they can carry tulle, silk or satin, but they still like the full (look) as opposed to something straight,” says Lora Hazany, a sales consultant at Bridal Images in Beverly Hills. “(Around 27), some feel too old for the princess look. They want something more sophisticated, something that looks more their age.” And the younger the bride, the more train she wants, Hazany says.


If, that is, she isn’t too cynical, practical or financially strapped.

“Our generation is obsessed with keeping our heads above water,” says Alan Fields, the 28-year-old co-author of “Bridal Bargains.” “A lot of us are unemployed or underemployed. Weddings today compete against housing, cars and furniture.”

In the $10.95 paperback inspired by their own wedding woes, Fields and wife Denise, 29, who live in Boulder, Colo., recommend rental services, wholesalers and discounters as cost-cutting alternatives to traditional bridal shops. Although store owners hardly endorse that strategy, they do agree that money is as tight as some of their form-fitting bodices.

Verna Huson, owner of the Mon Amie salons in Costa Mesa and Torrance, says: “Brides are buying very conservatively and they are putting in a lot of thought before they purchase. It’s most definitely a sign of the times. It’s not the parents (who are cost-conscious). It’s the brides and the grooms themselves.”

Christie Lynch, 27, a Manhattan Beach advertising account executive, helped pay for her church wedding last month. She came in under budget for her gown--an off-the-shoulder, satin sheath with discreet beading and a chapel-length train.

Although some brides look in a dozen or more stores, Lynch went to only one, Mon Amie in Torrance. She arrived without photographs and asked the bridal coordinator for something simple and straight. “The first dress I tried is the one I got,” Lynch says.

The look had to be “sophisticated, elegant, beautiful,” she says. “I wanted my husband-to-be to see me as he had never seen me before.”


But the label meant nothing.

“The designer isn’t important,” says one retailer who requested anonymity. “It’s the fit that’s important. Brides are more interested in how they will look when they walk down the aisle than who the designer is.”

Some stores remove labels and use secret style codes to discourage comparison shopping. After spending hours with a customer, they don’t relish having her “shop and shop until she gets the best price,” the retailer says.

In hopes of keeping down costs, Lynch enlisted her mother to personalize the gown. She removed a stark back bow and added five dramatic poufs above the train. She also made the headpiece--five miniature poufs on a hair clip with a long veil--using material ordered from the manufacturer.

Despite her efforts, Lynch was in for a few surprises, such as a $200 alterations tab for the gown. “It was like buying another dress,” she says. “You figure because they measure you, the dress is going to come back to your measurements. Then they charge for the hemming, too.”


Even when price is no object, brides are leaning toward less dress, buyers say.

“My bride, young or older, wants a simple, elegant silk fabric,” says Patti Miller of I. Magnin in Beverly Hills. “They don’t want the beaded lace and they don’t want a train.” Frou-frou-free gowns in silk satin, silk Shantung and silk organza by Amsale, Vera Wang and SaraSusa run from to $2,000 to $5,000 in the store’s bridal salon.

Although a few young women have asked for the elaborate gown that Wang designed for singer Mariah Carey’s recent wedding, minimalism generally prevails. “My bride is not a puff-sleeve bride,” Miller notes. In fact, some are such sticklers for simplicity that “they don’t even wear a headpiece.”


At the Mon Amie stores, where prices start at $500, buyer Laurel Mungo sees a similar trend among the younger clientele. “They want a romantic, off-the-shoulder bodice and less beading. They want everyone at the wedding to see them. They don’t want it to be all dress.”

Under-25 brides seeking more elaborate gowns are less scarce at One Night Affair, a gown rental boutique in Westwood. Co-owner Sharon Gilchrist says they often ask for something in tulle, a fabric frequently associated with ballerinas and fairy-tale princesses. “(Younger brides) make a career out of planning their wedding. They come in with notebooks filled with information: their halls, bands, caterers, florists and the type of ceremony. They put a tremendous amount of work into it.”

The shop, open by appointment only, offers everything for women in the bridal party, including gowns for $100 to $495 that purportedly retail for $800 to $12,000. The average alteration is $55. For brides who want a lot of dress for a little money, renting makes sense, Gilchrist says.

“Once you’re out on your own, maybe you’re 25 and you have to pay the rent and the phone bill, you don’t want to struggle to pay for the dress. . . . You’re only going to wear it that one day. Then you’re going to pack it in a box. You don’t bring out the dress. You bring out the photographs.”

But many women want the photographs and the fully loaded dress, although they may not realize it until they see it.

Jennifer Dyer, 20, an El Camino College student who plans a July wedding, read 12 bridal magazines as well as “Bridal Bargains,” filling notebooks with pictures, before her first shopping expedition. She tried on at least 20 gowns. Yet, she says: “I ended up with something I wasn’t looking for. It’s the exact opposite.”

Dyer had been set on a classic design with simple lines until her bridal consultant at Guardian Angel in Redondo Beach brought in the gown. “A really exquisite dress with lots of beads, pearls, netting, a bustle and fabric roses. I guess it’s ironic that I went for the princess look.”



Sheri Liberts, 25, a Sherman Oaks advertising account executive who was married in November, had a similar change of heart. She spent a month shopping for her gown, went to 10 stores and tried on at least 20 dresses. “I went to bridal shows and I looked at the beads, sequins and lace and I said: ‘Oh, no, that’s not me.’ ”

Her white satin gown not only had beads and sequins, but also “the longest train I’d ever seen, with lots of beads on it,” Liberts says.

What makes a woman take what Liberts calls a 180-degree turn? In a familiar scenario, the consultant at Here Comes the Bride in Thousand Oaks brought in the dress. “If she hadn’t, I wouldn’t have tried it on,” she says. “There were so many dresses to choose from, I probably could have stayed there two days.”

Liberts had thought a lot about her perfect wedding: “I wanted it formal and very dressy. I just never imagined myself in anything that elaborate. But when I tried it on, I thought: ‘You know, this is my only wedding. I want it to be special.’ ”

Deirdre McCormack Hill, 28, a La Habra teacher who was married last month, had a similar epiphany. “I’m a romantic, simple person. But my dress didn’t fall into line,” she says. “When I put it on, it was my personality, but not something I would normally wear.”

She bought the satin, lace and beaded dress at Hacienda Brides International in Santa Ana a few days after becoming engaged and a year before her wedding. The chain, with stores in Beverly Hills and San Gabriel, sells gowns off the rack for $190 to $490.


Later, Hill worried that the dress would appear too fancy next to the bridesmaids’ floral dresses, purchased on sale at the Broadway and decorated with flower-trimmed back clips. But in retrospect, “everything fit together so well,” she says. “It was like a picture where no one thing stuck out.”

To her satisfaction, the guests commented more about the ceremony, performed by four priests in a small church, than her dress.

Bargain-hunter Fields would have been proud. “The key thing is, two people are getting married,” he says. “That often gets lost. All you really need is a bride, a groom, an officiant and a marriage license. The rest is fluff.”