Fall/ Winter 2008: The Experts

The Couturier

Offbeat style, low-end budget, junk in the trunk…no matter the challenge, Ana Hernandez swears there’s a dress out there for you.

By Donna Garlough

Call her a designer, a dressmaker, a bridal consultant. Having outfitted hundreds of Boston-area brides in her totally custom creations, Ana Hernandez knows how to make a girl shine. "I think about how a bride will look from all angles, and play up her best features," she says. Here, she dishes on everything from price tags to panties, knowing full well that it’s your smile, not the dress, that really counts. "In the end, looking great is about how you feel," she says with a wink. "Not just what you’re wearing."

When picking a dress, where do you start—your style or your silhouette? It helps if you bring along photos of dresses you like, because that helps the shop define your taste and style. But your venue is the most important factor, so I advise brides not to shop until they know where they’re getting married. The venue will determine the date, the
time of day, and the formality of your wedding. It’ll also be the background for all of your pictures, so you’ll want to pick a gown color and details that complement the setting. There are also practical issues. If you’ll be walking on grass or sand, your dress should be hemmed to a different length than if you’ll be in a hotel all day.

What if your dream dress looks terrible on your body?
Oh, it happens. A bride with no waist will come in wishing for a fitted mermaid gown, and I have to let her try one on. Usually she’ll see why it doesn’t work and be willing to try different silhouettes; but if she’s dead set on a style, there are always ways to make it work. You can balance a bigger bottom with a deeper neckline, or create curves with diagonal pleats. It’s not always easy, but it’s possible.

Not everyone has $8,000 to drop on a wedding gown. Where can a budget-constrained bride scrimp so that no one will notice? The price depends on the complexity of the pattern, the number and types of fabrics used, and the details of the dress, such as beading. Typically, the simpler the shape and the less lace and beadwork involved, the lower the price will be. But sometimes the price is less meaningful, especially with the more expensive gowns. Off the rack, you’ll see a huge difference in quality between a $700 gown and a $3,500 one. But between $3,500 and $7,000? The difference is the label.

What underwear goes best under a wedding gown?
On top, the right support depends on the dress. For a sleeveless gown or a plunging back, I’d sew bra cups directly into the dress, so nothing slides around or peeks out. For panties, Victoria’s Secret has seamless ones that are great; avoid anything with elastic, and go a size bigger than you normally wear so there’s no pinching or lumps. If you need extra control, Spanx are good. Whatever you choose, buy them in a nude shade. And have all your wedding-day undergarments with you at every fitting, so you can see how they look.

How do you go to the bathroom when you’re wearing 30 layers of tulle?
Forget having your maid of honor hold your dress over your head in the bathroom stall. Here’s the civilized way to do it: Buy a pretty slip and hang it in the bathroom. When you need to go, step out of your gown, hang it up, and put on the slip. Do your business, freshen your makeup, have a glass of water, and relax for a few minutes. Then put the dress on and go back to the party.

Does it bother you when brides trash their wedding gowns? Oh, God. Some people destroy their dresses! But I don’t mind. I love it when a bride comes back carrying a dress that looks like it’s been through a battlefield, and when she tells me, "I had so much fun wearing this!" When the dress is in bad shape, you just know she had a blast.

Ana Hernandez Bridal Salon, 165 Newbury St., Boston, 617-536-2500, anahernandezbridal.com.

FINISHING TOUCHES

Hernandez’s top sartorial tips for your big day.

With accessories, jewelry, and handbags, it’s tempting to go all out on your wedding day. But less is more, advises Hernandez. Too much gear and you could end up looking like a Christmas tree. For a finished—not overdone—look, heed this advice.

Skip the Stilettos

"Unless money is no object, don’t splurge on your shoes," says Hernandez. "With most dresses, you won’t even be able to see them." Instead of $600 Manolos, look for comfort and support. "You’re going to wear them all day. You’d better be able to jog in those shoes!"

Watch Your Head

Wearing a veil, tiara, earrings, a necklace, and hair jewelry will detract from what’s important: your face. Choose one or two statement pieces, and keep the rest minimal.

Think About Proportion

"I hate the ‘lollipop look,’" Hernandez admits. "Big hair, big veil, teeny body." Pair a full skirt with a full veil, or go veil-free with a slinkier gown. –D.G.