More than 300 photographs of bridal gowns worn by women from Grace Kelly and Audrey Hepburn to those just hoping to feel like them
The Perfect Wedding Dress. By Philip Delamore, 224 pp., Firefly, $24.95, paperback.
By Janice Harayda
Fashion writer Holly Brubach once said that if wedding gowns reflected real life, all brides would wear gray. And it’s a sign of Philip Delamore’s sense of perspective that an especially beautiful outfit in his new book is gray – a gunmetal silk coatdress embroidered with small flowers that he rightly calls perfect for “someone who doesn’t feel that a huge white dress is appropriate.”
Delamore is research fellow at a fashion college in London, England, and his new book that isn’t so much written as curated. Each of the more than 300 photographs in The Perfect Wedding Dress shows a gown that, however fresh and contemporary, might be exhibited decades from now at the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Delamore isn’t too stuffy to show the gowns worn by dozens of celebrities, including Grace Kelly, Elizabeth Taylor, Audrey Hepburn, Kate Winslet, Liv Tyler, and Princess Diana. But he has filled his book with photographs of dresses (and a few suits) that have a timeless elegance. He makes his position clear in an introduction that quotes the great 19th-century fashion designer Charles Worth: “A dress should never overpower the wearer. It should merely be an appropriate frame for a charming picture, bringing out the beauties of the picture, but never distracting attention from it. So few women understand this.”
Without preaching, Delamore offers advice that could help women avoid looking like parodies of themselves on their wedding day. He begins by defining the basic silhouettes, such as the difference between a “princess line” and an “A-line” (which, he says, has overtaken the ballgown as the most popular bridal style). Then he shows the kinds of necklines, backs, sleeves, veils, trains, and jewelry that might go with each kind of dress.
You could get some of this from bridal magazines and books. But what you couldn’t get is Delamore’s well-honed instinct for what will still look good when your great-grandchildren are leafing through the wedding album. You might think that former Playboy model Carmen Electra and Queen Elizabeth II have nothing in common except a name that begin with “E.” Delamore proves otherwise by placing them side-by-side in their pricesss-style gowns. Electra wore an ivory strapless Badgley Mischka design for her wedding in 2003 The queen, then a princess, wore a white satin Norman Hartnell gown embellished with “seed pearls and 10,000 crystals in the form of white York roses, orange blossoms, lilacs, jasmine and wheat” in 1947. This unexpected juxtaposition shows that, for all their subsequent fashion mistakes, both women got the dress right when it counted.
Best line: “Unless you’re Jennifer Lopez, who, let’s face it, must know what kind of dress suits her best by now, you need to start with a little self-analysis. If you have never done anything traditional in your life, now is not the time to start just because you feel it is expected.”
Worst line: Delamore’s mostly impeccable judgment falters when he shows Kate Winslet in an Alexander McQueen dress looks as though it was designed for the madam of Dodge City bordello or Miss Kitty on Gunsmoke. C’mon, Philip, did you really like this better than Caroline Kennedy’s wonderful shamrock-sprigged Carolina Herrera gown that was inexplicably left out? Or are you friends with McQueen?
Recommended if … you’re a bride-to-be who hasn’t bought her dress yet or are looking for a gift for one. The author has chosen the pictures so carefully that The Perfect Wedding Dress might also make a good gift for people who have a strong interest in fashion photography and others.
Published: March 2006
© 2006 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.