Straps And Sleeves

By Sharon Naylor

July 17, 2009 5 min read


Forget strapless and flatter your figure with new looks

Sharon Naylor

Creators News Service

While it may seem like a strapless wedding gown is your only choice, don't underestimate the figure-flattering and stylish elements of straps and sleeves.

"Because sleeveless styles have dominated wedding gowns for so many seasons, many brides automatically gravitate to them. But they're doing themselves a disservice if they automatically go for strapless," said Lisbeth Levine, co-author with Mindy Weiss of "The Wedding Book: The Big Book for Your Big Day" ($20, Workman Publishing). "They can lead the eye exactly where you want it to go, helping you play up your best features and draw attention away from your problem areas. By creating a vertical line, straps automatically elongate the body, and who doesn't want to look taller and thinner?"

With straps and sleeves, the eye moves upward from a wider waist and hips to the main attraction: the bride's face and smile.

For many brides, a strapless dress might not do the trick. Altered to fit snugly for a secure fit and to give optimal breast support, it might also create a "muffin top," or rolls of skin and extra weight pouring forth around the cleavage, ribcage and back.

"I personally have a mortal fear of strapless gowns and can identify with brides who shy away from them," Levine said. "If you're going to be uncomfortable in strapless, don't let anyone talk you into one -- you don't want to be any more nervous than you already are on your wedding day."

Straps rescue the bride, allowing for a more natural fit around the chest. The bride can still enjoy that same straight or sweetheart necklines of strapless gowns, and for the bride wishing for flattering coverage of her shoulders and arms, a range of sleeves now fulfill that desire.

"In their Spring 2010 collections, bridal gown designers really went back to the drawing board, experimenting with straps and sleeves more than we've seen in many a season," Levine said. "And even though straps and sleeves seem like details, they pack a powerful sense of style -- the ones in the newest collections evoke everything from '30s and '40s glamour to Elizabeth Taylor in the Richard Burton era. We saw beaded straps at Badgley Mischka, halter straps from Carolina Herrera, ruffled straps at Vera Wang, cap sleeves at Reem Acra and flutter sleeves from Jenny Packham."

The one-shouldered gown is a strong trend on the bridal runways, thanks to first lady Michelle Obama's Jason Wu inaugural ball gown. It offers the best of both worlds: comfort and support with a modern, sophisticated twist. That one-shoulder may be fabric, a length of beads, a twist or a braid.

Sometimes a little bit is all you need. "Even a sliver of a spaghetti strap can boost your confidence if you're worried about a strapless dress slipping and will eliminate any need to do 'the tug' all evening," she added.

And with many different sleeves in various materials turning a bride's trouble-spot shoulders into beautiful ones, no bride has to worry about whether her upper arms are toned or if her freckles or tattoos show.

However, be careful, as the straps should be right for your body and gown, Levine said. She offered these tips:

* Straps create a vertical line. They widen your shoulders and elongate your neck when they veer toward your shoulders. Broadening your shoulders is a great trick for minimizing hips.

* Halter straps or other styles that come in toward your neck can cut down the width of overly broad shoulders and also convey a sensual retro look.

* If you worry about less-than-perfectly-sculpted upper arms, try soft flutter sleeves.

* Thin straps look terrific on smaller-busted and petite women, but they look out of proportion on brides with a larger bust or very broad shoulders. Wider straps can do wonders to flatter both larger-busted women and those with broad shoulders.

* One-shouldered styles are a brilliant way to create a diagonal line across the body -- a trick for whittling the waist and hips. The more dramatic the shoulder embellishments, the more the eye will go to your shoulders and face. Depending on whether the bodice is fitted, draped or ruched, a one-shoulder style can flatter both smaller- and larger-chested women.

*If you have heavier arms, three-fourths length and elbow-length sleeves work best. Sheer sleeves are also an option.

Can't find a gown with straps? You can always add your own, and many bridal shops offer these additions.

Sharon Naylor is the author of over 35 wedding books, including The Bride's Survival Guide,

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