NEW YORK — Helen Bradley isn't one of those women who fantasized about her wedding as a girl, so when the time came to tie the knot on the 10th tee of a golf course, she wanted to be relaxed, comfortable and economical.
A short gown was just right for her September nuptials, said the 27-year-old bank worker in Madison, Wis.
"I had tried on a few long dresses and none of them felt like me. I'm a very practical person. My mom picked out the short dress from a sale rack, and it's rare that I would like anything that my mom picks out," she said with a laugh.
Once the domain of older or remarrying brides, short gowns are enjoying a little more of the love, from luxury brands like Monique Lhuillier, Oscar de la Renta and Marchesa to more affordable offerings at David's Bridal, which has a bustling retail website and about 300 stores around the country.
"A lot of people are doing more intimate settings, so a shorter dress just feels more appropriate. If they do the big wedding, some change into a shorter dress so they can dance and have a good time," Lhuillier said.
Exactly how short is up to the bride. There are minis, high-low hemlines (high in the front and lower in the back), knee lengths, tea lengths below the knee and so-called "transformers," where a long train or sheer skirt detaches to show off a short dress underneath.
Designer Zac Posen put his own sister in one of the convertibles — in red — for her 2004 wedding. "Her huge train came off to become a mini and she took it off to Judy Garland's Zing! Went the Strings of My Heart," he said.
Long gowns remain the clear majority of the $2.6 billion-a-year bridal gown market, noted Darcy Miller, editorial director for Martha Stewart's bridal site, Marthastewartweddings.com. But "more and more brides seem to be seeking no-fuss, lightweight and easier silhouettes," she said.
At David's Bridal, 26 of the 75 gowns launched for spring 2015 are short, said Ann Acierno, executive vice president for design, merchandising and product development.
Posen includes a few short looks in his Truly Zac Posen collection at David's Bridal. He said red-carpet trends influence some brides. Among high-profile brides to go short recently were fashion "it" girl Olivia Palermo and actor Cheryl Hines, who married Robert F. Kennedy Jr. last August in a strapless white tea-length creation by Romona Keveza.
Vera Wang makes short gowns, too, in a range of price points that includes her White collection for David's Bridal.
"I think you should wear what you feel most beautiful and most comfortable in, and also what is most you, most individual," Wang said.
Shorter dresses can be less expensive — a huge factor for Bradley at her country club wedding before 125 guests. Her dress cost $400. She spent another $100 on a chunky glass statement necklace with matching earrings, and $99 for a pair of 4-inch Calvin Klein heels in dusty gold with a T-strap and side buckle.
But embellished, hand-sewn, custom short gowns aren't necessarily cheaper, depending on the materials and designer.
Emmy Mitchell, 33, of Columbus, Ohio, wore custom when she went short for her 2011 wedding. She had originally planned to modify the 75-year-old long ivory satin gown worn by her mother and grandmother, but a mishap with a seamstress left much of the fabric unusable.
She regrouped, found another seamstress and was able to salvage some of the original fabric for the bodice of a new gown, inspired by the strapless, full Vivienne Westwood design that Sex and the City character Carrie Bradshaw wore when Mr. Big jilted her at the altar in the first movie based on the TV series.
Mitchell's advice for others who want to go short?
"Go with your gut. Just go for it. It was the best decision of our wedding. It made everyone loosen their collars and say, 'Okay, this is a fun event. We can all cut loose tonight.' "