Wedding dress shopping and can't understand a word coming out of your bridal stylist's mouth? Not to worry—we're here to lay it all out for you in our wedding dress fabric guide. There's a lot to consider when picking the right wedding dress, and knowing what kind of fabrics you like and how they're best worn can make the process less overwhelming.
Not all wedding dress fabrics are created equally, especially when it comes to seasonality. "People have said that bridal-wear is not seasonal, but to some degree, that is not true," says bridal fashion expert Mark Ingram. "Just as you would choose to wear certain weight fabrics, patterns, or colors for autumn, spring, or summer, the same can be said about your wedding gown selection.
MEET THE EXPERT Mark Ingram is a bridal fashion expert and curator with over 40 years of experience in the industry. He is the founder and CEO of NYC's prestigious bridal salon Mark Ingram Atelier.
But the rules over the years have definitely loosened up, and the bride has a plethora of choices." However, to some extent, sartorial norms do still apply. A heavy satin dress remains an uncomfortable summertime choice just as a cotton sundress may seem out of place at an autumnal ballroom reception. "Of course, the bride has every right to do and choose what she prefers," Ingram adds. "But in my opinion, when it comes to your wedding dress and its importance to your day, I prefer to apply most of the old rules of propriety."
Fabric choice tends to be a very personal one, but Ingram explains that it's the style and silhouette of the gown that will dictate the direction. Some fabrics are better suited for structured designs, others are great for flowing, light looks, and others for larger-than-life ballgowns. "My favorite fabrics to work in are the more constructed ones such as mikado, faille, and gazar," says Ingram. "I approach design from shape and construction, and these fabrics lend themselves to more architectural than romantic looks."
Ingram adds that he has noticed a rise in popularity for modern, constructed fabrics, such as these overtaking a demand for traditional favorites like satin. This may also be correlated to the increase in destination weddings and the fact that more structured fabrics travel better as do lower-maintenance synthetics, such as polyester, that won't fall victim to wrinkles. Crepe and lace are also travel-friendly options though they are of a more delicate nature.
Before you jump into wedding dress shopping, learn what to expect when it comes to fabric. We spoke with Ingram about the 27 fabrics most often used to create wedding dresses and why they work. Behold, our wedding dress fabric guide in alphabetical order, where you can finally learn the difference between batiste and damask.
JESSICA OLAH / BRIDES
Lightweight and soft, this transparent fabric is made of plain weave and usually takes the form of an overlay or veil. Perfect for the warm-weather months of spring or summer, this material is the embodiment of a sophisticated, garden celebration.
Brocade can be made from silk or synthetic fibers and is distinguished by jacquard (raised designs) woven into the fabric. Full of great body, the material is stiff but lighter than satin, a perfect choice for a structured gown in fall or winter but too heavy for the warmer seasons. The elegant material is best suited for formal occasions.
Rich and delicate just as its name would suggest, this luxurious fabric is characterized by a glossy sheen on the outside and a matte finish inside. Typically made of silk (though synthetic alternatives do exist), its soft drape makes it popular for flowing styles usually cut on the bias. "Soft, sinuous, slinky fabrics often better lend themselves to narrow or slim dresses with looser fits," says Ingram. The ultra-lightweight fabric is suitable year-round, though it tends to be a sexy spring or summer staple. Be mindful of the fact that this material tends to cling and can be difficult to alter.
One of the lighter fabrics, chiffon is often used as an overlay, in layers, or as an accent detail due to its sheer and transparent style. Made from woven silk or rayon, the matte fabric has a floaty and ethereal vibe perfect for the boho bride. Its light and airy structure makes it a great option for spring and summer weddings while its weightless appearance lends itself to diaphanous silhouettes and goddess styles. The delicate fabric can be quite fragile, however, easily snagging, pulling, or fraying.
Made of a soft silk or lightweight rayon, crepe is gauzy and crinkled—perfect for soft silhouettes. The shapely fabric can be great for accentuating curves but also works well in stark, minimalist designs and even bridal jumpsuits. Simple styles like mermaid or A-line dresses are classic choices. This sophisticated material is a year-round favorite.
Similar to brocade in that it has raised designs, damask is of a lighter weight. The pattern, in dull jacquard, is the same color as the fabric and has a traditional, historical quality about it. The material is best suited for constructed styles with a little more structure. A great year-round option, damask skews toward more fancy, formal wedding styles.
Lightweight and breathable, dotted Swiss is fashioned out of muslin fabric with an evenly dispersed, dotted motif. This is ideal for a spring or summer wedding outdoors. The traditional yet playful fabric has a very sweet and ladylike quality that would be right at home at a garden-party reception.
Slightly rough, this fabric of coarse fibers has a charmingly raw and organic aesthetic. One of the more full-bodied silks, it does a good job at keeping its shape, making it a prime choice for more dramatic silhouettes like ballgowns. The material is appropriate year-round.
Woven of silk, cotton, or rayon, this fabric features a structured, ribbed finish with a crosswise rib effect. This texture holds an air of sophistication and has a substantial structure. While it can be worn year-round, we've noticed its popularity increases in the cooler months. The sumptuous textile is ideal for more modern or minimal designs.
Woven from wool or silk, gazar has a smooth and crisp look not unlike that of organza. Silk gazar is the most prominent type seen in bridal-wear, making its particularly notable foray into the limelight as Kate Middleton's wedding dress. The stiff yet translucent material holds shape well and is best used in structured, romantic designs and full-skirted styles like ball gowns. The fabric is appropriate year-round.
Sheer and lightweight, georgette is spun from polyester or silk and has a crepe surface. Its soft silhouette makes it a perfect top layer in wedding gowns. The floaty fabric is ideal for feminine silhouettes that move with the body. It's typically seen in the warmer seasons.
"The most popular wedding dress fabric would be lace," says Ingram. "As a fabric category, it is extremely diverse in pattern, texture, weight, and embellishments. Lace is universally loved by most cultures. It is delicate, feminine, and romantic—and supple enough to work well in every shape." Woven from silk or cotton, it is often used as an overlay or detail to add a romantic or vintage vibe. The graceful material comes in many styles including French laces like Chantilly (very detailed and open) and Alençon (bold motifs with corded trim), and Venise (heavier and more textured). Its distinct versatility lends itself to year-round use, though some of the heavier weaves (like the Italian Venise) are better suited for the colder months.
"Lace will need the under-support of tulle, organza, or lining fabrics to hold a fuller shape, as lace is usually very supple," advises Ingram.
Mikado is a heavier type of silk with a shiny finish that has gained immense popularity. Its thickness provides structure that can be tailored to architectural and sophisticated designs. Ingram notes that mikado has an ability to be molded and multi-seamed so "sexy, narrow mermaids and strapless ballgowns" are a great fit. The material can be worn year-round, but its weight may be a better option for cooler temperatures.
Typically made of polyester or heavy silk taffeta, moire gives the illusion of glistening water when seen in light. It's characterized by a subtle, wavy design. The fabric can be very heavy so it's best worn in winter.
While sheer and lightweight like chiffon, organza holds a more structured silhouette making it ideal for warm-weather weddings. It's traditionally woven from silk (though modern options can include synthetic fibers) and has a lustrous finish and crisp drape. It's often used for layered gowns to add fullness, in ballgowns, trains, and veils as it doesn't add weight. Perfect for whimsical, frothy looks and princess moments, the sheer material is the epitome of romantic, enchanted garden celebrations. But do be careful, as the delicate fabric is prone to snags and pulls.
This knit fabric is characterized by a waffle-weave exterior. While it errs on the heavier end of the spectrum, its preppy persona tends to translate best in the spring and summer months. The material has an informal nature that lends itself to crisp styles and constructed silhouettes.
A polyester net, this material is sewn together in the creation of a diamond pattern. Elegant and feminine, it's known for its texture. While the fabric is usually used for veils, it can be incorporated in dresses as well. Its airy texture is a great option for spring, summer, and even autumnal festivities. Dainty designs with an air of vintage romance are where this textile truly shines.
Inexpensive and synthetic, polyester can be woven into almost any fabric. Polyester satin is a very common alternative to silk in that it's more wrinkle-resistant and less delicate. The material can be worn year-round, but it can get a bit uncomfortable in the hot summer months as it's not very breathable. The fabric is durable and has a constructed quality to it.
While fabrics made from natural fibers tend to be more breathable, they are usually more expensive and high maintenance as they wrinkle easily. This is why synthetic alternatives have risen in popularity, though Ingram mentions that "they are often too heavy, stiff, or hot for the wearer."
A smooth fabric similar to silk, rayon is more elastic and affordable. This semi-synthetic fiber is lightweight and breathable, perfect for a summer wedding but can be worn year-round. While a plus in that it's inexpensive, it does wrinkle easily. The durable fabric is a great option for draped styles or constructed designs.
"For decades, shiny silk satin was the fabric of choice for most brides," says Ingram. "The beauty of satin is the sheen, the hand, and the drape." Satin is heavy and smooth from silk and nylon fibers that create a high thread count. Silk satin is one of the more traditional wedding dress fabrics, but since satin refers to the particular finish it can also be made of polyester or a blend. The durable fabric has a weight that's suitable for all seasons, though thicker types like Duchess are most optimal for cooler months. Luxurious and sexy, the material can be very supportive, lending itself to constructed designs like ruched or ballgown styles. "What most modern brides do not like is the wrinkle and ripple factor, and unfortunately, with silk satin, that cannot be avoided," adds Ingram.
Plainly woven silk or cotton, shantung features a subtle weave that results in a rubbed texture and raw, natural look. Its medium-light weight is appropriate for all seasons and allows it to hold volume that looks and feels rich. The fabric has a beautiful drape to it that can be flattering for all figures.
One of the most traditional and expensive fabrics, silk is not only timeless but versatile. It's durable, comes in different textures and styles, and is suited for all seasons, though it can be quite delicate in the heat of the warmer months. Spun into thread and woven into cloth, silk is distinguished by its muted shine. Variations include silk gazar, silk Mikado, faille, shantung, and dupioni.
Available in different styles, taffeta is made from silk or synthetic fibers. The stiffer the taffeta, the higher its quality. Rich for winter and light for summer, this crisp, versatile fabric can come in almost any color and sometimes appears iridescent due to the weaving process. The supple fabric has a constructed quality about it, which makes it great for A-line dresses and full-skirted ballgowns.
Characterized by a sheer, gauzy open weave that's similar to netting, tulle has an airy vibe but can be ruched to add structure. Very delicate, it is often used as a gown's lining or, of course, as a veil. It comes in different weights and levels of stiffness. The quintessential bridal fabric has seen quite a rise in popularity in sexy illusion styles with barely there sleeves, necklines, or cutouts. The lightweight and usually inexpensive fabric can also be used in lace designs and can be worn year-round. Keep in mind that the fabric snags easily.
Soft and thick, velvet has a felted face. Its heavy weight makes it suitable for fall or winter weddings. The luscious fabric naturally lends itself to regal looks and vintage inspirations.
Lightweight and breathable, voile is made from cotton or wool and is semi-transparent. Its casual look makes it perfect for informal weddings. The fabric has a natural drape that's perfect for flowing styles without much structure.
Zibeline is woven in a single direction from straight fibers for a shiny finish. Silk zibeline is the most common variety used in wedding dresses. The constructed fabric is optimal for structured designs like fit-and-flare or A-line.
What is the most expensive wedding dress fabric? Silk is the most expensive wedding dress fabric closely followed by more intricate styles of lace.
What is the cheapest wedding dress fabric? Synthetic materials, like polyester, are typically far cheaper than their natural counterparts. Many of them can mimic the look and feel of more expensive fabrics at a lower cost.