This season's nuptial fashions fall on opposite sides of the aisle: ethereally sweet and rustic chic, or softly structured and urbane.
Yet despite the different silhouettes — Vera Wang boho, for instance, is all about empire waists and slip-dress sheaths, while a city ceremony might star a cleaner Reem Acra frock with trumpet skirts and peplums — modern gowns are united in the details.
Sequins, pearls and beading are hand sewn onto the simplest of gowns in dazzling geometric patterns. The sparkle, reminiscent of late 1930s styles, joins a chic cadre of lace overlays.
Illusion bodices rule, yet the sweetheart neckline remains — see the Temperley London gown that Philadelphia-bred rapper Eve wore to her wedding in June. Turn the bride around, and dramatic details — in Eve's case, an elegant peephole — make her appropriately seductive.
"We are seeing everything from daring, deep V's to elegantly covered buttons and crystals extending down the train," said Ashley Erin Corbett, owner of the Philadelphia Bridal Co. "Brides want their exit to be as memorable as their entrance."
Color continues to captivate the betrothed. Nude hues especially, ranging from the palest of peach to just a splash of cafe au lait, are gaining popularity. And brides' interest in pastels will continue its slow bloom in coming seasons with rosy blush, minty green and violet blue shades.
It's almost as if a bride could wear a different dress for every part of her big day: for her morning tea, for those family pictures, for the reception, for the moment she grabs her groom and heads upstairs.
"I think bridal is so exciting now," said Carrie Goldberg, associate fashion editor at Martha Stewart Weddings, pointing to the sherbet-shaded gowns of Jenny Packham and Monique Lhuillier. "And the new looks aren't taking brides so far away from the grain they don't look like brides anymore."
Although coverage is the buzzword for the fall 2014 and spring 2015 bridal seasons, the styles conjure different decades.
Some gowns, such as Kate Middleton's dress by Sarah Burton for Alexander McQueen, are inspired by Grace Kelly's 1956 wedding frock. But sleeves on body-skimming gowns conjure '40s glamour. Add art deco-style beading with pleats, and you're evoking demure '30s. And on little white dresses, they look very 1960s mod, perfect as second dresses for receptions or "Just Married" brunches.
Whatever era Kim Kardashian channeled during her May wedding to Kanye West, the fashion world approved of its sexy but old-school vibe — long sleeves but curve-hugging and midriff-baring.
"If you have a full sleeve, you need something like a trumpet bottom or a great low back to give it a modern silhouette," said Lori Conley, senior merchant at David's Bridal. "Kim's dress was nice because there was a hint of skin, but for the most part, she was covered up. It was still youthful."
More reasons the Cinderella strapless is getting a run for its money: Brides are emulating chic villainesses such as Angelina Jolie's Maleficent or Once Upon a Time's Evil Queen with tailored gowns fashioned from stiffer tulle and satin that feature tailored draping, dramatic peplums and drop waists that flare into floor-swishing trumpet skirts.
"A lot of the embellishments and the fabrications come right from these shows," Conley said. "Brides are getting a chance to tap into all facets of their personalities, from good girl to a little bad."
And then there's the Charles James effect. The late designer's signature 1940s look — a combination of soft drapes and sharp tailoring — is now infiltrating red carpet and bridal styles, and his work is at the center of a Metropolitan Museum of Art fashion exhibition. The show's opening gala drew celebrities, many of them dressed in Zac Posen. Posen also designs gowns for David's Bridal, once again proving bridal's new connection to all things pop culture.
"More so than before, bridal fashion is inspired by what's happening in this moment," Conley said. "This is a new feel for the industry."