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Has Pippa Middleton sounded a death-knell for strapless bridal gowns?


Justin Tallis | AFP

Pippa Middleton arrives for her wedding to James Matthews at St Mark's Church in Englefield, west of London, on May 20, 2017.

Elizabeth Scalia - published on 06/01/17

When you’re working online, and drowning in news and media material, you can lose track of time. I happened to be looking for something in my Facebook feed, and came upon a picture of Pippa Middleton’s wedding party. I saw the date — May 20 — and thought, “Really? That was just twelve days ago? It feels like it happened last year!”

Middleton’s wedding was a super-expensive, super-privileged, high-society affair the likes of which a peasant such as I (or probably you) will never experience, but that doesn’t mean we can’t appreciate aspects of it. There were some very pretty moments, though, like the shot of the Duchess of Cambridge corralling the very young bridal party into church with a finger to her lips, a familiar, motherly cue to silence.

But longtime readers know where I’m heading with this: I am about to indulge my inner fashionista. I want to talk about Pippa’s wedding dress, compare it to her sister’s, offer a brief analysis of why I think Pippa’s was the more memorable and impactful, and then offer a prediction. Are you ready?

First off, before we say anything about either wedding gown, let us observe that Pippa Middleton understands the power of a strong shoulder line, yes? It’s an important point to bring forward, and it ties in with my prediction, so we’ll come back to it.

Magnus D.-cc

Okay, it’s not a great shot, but you don’t need the details. Just remember: Strong shoulder line, lightly padded.

Okay, let’s view a presentment of two sisters.

Boris Roessler | DPA | AFP

Kate Middleton married Prince William of Wales in 2011. Her wedding dress, which was very lovely, was designed by Sarah Burton for Alexander McQueen. It was vaguely 19th century in look, featuring a corseted satin bodice with appliqued lace over net (rendered by the Royal School of Needlework to recall the Irish laces of Carrickmacross, but machine-hewn) and a skirt of ivory and white satin gazaar (a plain weave, with double fabric strands woven as one). Because HRH is not as blessed in the hips department as many of us, her gown was padded at the hips both to help give definition to the dress, and to support the wide pleats of the skirt, which were meant to resemble flower petals. The gazaar satin helped to maintain its shape and crispness. The netted lace covered the upper portion of the back of the dress, over the shoulders, with full-length sleeves and a plunging neckline met the top of the bodice. I remember someone tsking me that it was immodest, but in many ways, Kate Middleton’s wedding dress, sans the lace bodice, would have been accounted a fairly standard sleeveless debutante’s ballgown.

It was because of all of that pretty lace that so many of us hoped — fervently, but in vain — that the Duchess’ gown would stimulate a move away from the endless parade of strapless, sleeveless bridal gowns which have dominated the wedding industry for what feels like decades, with brides of all shapes and sizes trying to wear a look that truly suits so few women.

Really, to pull off a strapless gown, one needs to be slim-set and blessed with habitual, not exaggerated, good posture. And please, please, do not send me emails complaining that I am fat-shaming anyone (I am fat, myself) or that I am bosom-phobic (I am bosomy to a terrifying degree). I do not say these things to wound, but because they are true. Halle Berry can look great in a strapless ballgown because she is built precisely along those lines. Kim Kardashian, in a strapless gown — particularly a ballgown with full skirt — cannot, because she is too buxom, too curvy, and frankly, too short. (I am not short-shaming; I am only 5’2″, myself).

Kardashian might look “sexy” in a strapless gown with a trim skirt, but put her in Middleton’s dress, even with the lace bodice, and it’s just all wrong — wrong shape, wrong posture, wrong, everything. And ladies, let’s admit it, she’d be tugging at her bodice all day and all night, trying to keep the girls in line; you need a moderate, unobtrusive bosom to wear a strapless dress because gravity, okay? Always think “up.” “Up!”***

Read more: How St. Anthony Found My Mother’s Wedding Gown for Her

All of that said, one can be too slim-set for a strapless gown, as well, which is manifestly the situation with the Middleton sisters, and why you don’t see them going strapless. Too slim, and a strapless gown just makes you look like it’s going to slip off because there isn’t enough you to hold it all up. Again, “up” is where it’s at.

But I digress. Kate Middleton’s bridal gown created a hope that, sadly went unrealized as we continued to see brides showing up at church or their venues in unsuitable shoulder-bared necklines, often with ruching, which can often flatter a problematic figure, but needs to be draped gracefully, to look gathered, rather than pulled. So boring. So done. Why isn’t it over?

Justin Tallis | AFP
Pippa Middleton and her new husband James Matthews leave St Mark's Church in Englefield, west of London, on May 20, 2017 following their wedding ceremony.

Then came Pippa Middleton, and that body-skimming Giles Deacon-designed dress which looked so deceptively simple. At first glance you think, “classic a-line, lace, high neckline” — all of which, according to current norms, should have translated into “conservative, matronly, boring” but instead made her wonderfully singular, and fashion-forward.

How could that be?

Justin Tallis | AFP
Pippa Middleton (R) kisses her new husband James Matthews, following their wedding ceremony at St Mark's Church in Englefield, west of London, on May 20, 2017, as the bridesmaids, including Britain's princess Charlotte (L) and pageboys, including Britain's prince George (2R), walk ahead.

To start, go back to strong shoulder line, light padding — the cap sleeves which Pippa wore as a bridesmaid reappeared when she became a bride, and for good reason: If a woman’s shoulder’s are broad enough to be wider than her hips, this is an immediate “win.” In Pippa’s case, her torso and hips were already slender; the strong white line of her shoulders minimized them even further. The simple style of her gown gave her an uninterrupted line that also emphasized that slimness, and those two elements can do the same for almost every woman. Bare shoulders, when they are too narrow, do nothing to help the rest of the body seem slimmer, and if the woman’s posture is not excellent, they can contribute to a whole sense of slouch and chubbiness that might not be accurate.

Then the lace — that incredible guipure lace — a bobbin lace, heavier and richer than net lace, and so good to see. Take a good look at that lace and the suggestion it makes of strength, permanence, decisiveness, and stability. It’s a perfect wedding lace, and it is appliqued on Pippa’s gown so as to cover the seams, which gives the dress an almost magical look. The neckline just kisses the base, covering the suprasternal notch, but without any sense of edging or bordering; it simply shows up there, part of a marvelous whole.

Justin Tallis | AFP
Michael Middleton (L), stands with his daughter Pippa Middleton, as they arrive for her wedding to James Matthews at St Mark's Church in Englefield, west of London, on May 20, 2017.

And then, can we talk about Pippa’s train? It wasn’t very long, but it was full — the train was supported by rufflets of tulle, which gave a sense of fullness and (again) stability to it. Unlike her sister’s train, which just sort of flopped down if she stood still, Pippa’s train was always in shape, always full and in no need of a helping hand. That gave an overall sense of strength, completion, control.

Everything about Pippa Middleton’s dress said, “I am a strong woman in control of every element,” and it also communicated those themes of stability, and permanence.

Kirsty Wigglesworth / POOL / AFP
Britain's Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, (R) follows her sister Pippa Middleton following the wedding of Middleton to James Matthews at St Mark's Church in Englefield, west of London, on May 20, 2017.
After turning heads at her sister Kate's wedding to Prince William, Pippa Middleton graduated from bridesmaid to bride on Saturday at a star-studded wedding in an English country church. Middleton married financier James Matthews, 41, at a ceremony attended by the royal couple and tennis star Roger Federer, as she wore a couture dress by British designer Giles Deacon.
/ AFP PHOTO / POOL / Kirsty Wigglesworth

So, my prediction: I think a lot women will go for that look, especially once they figure out that the broad shoulder line does so much to minimize the hips. This dress style, I really think, may seriously pull women away from the strapless-and-ruched abominations that have dominated for too long, and long worn out their welcome. Professional women, especially, I think will go for all the things this dress communicates.

Read more: The 5 Best Wedding Gowns in Style Icon History

***Mild rant*** You might say, “Well, what if a bride wants to be sexy on her wedding day?” Please, stop. Women are being told they have to be sexy every moment they’re awake or there is something wrong with them. My own personal opinion (and this is my blog, so…) is that for the brief time — mere hours — that one is a bride, one should be permitted to show a softer, more wholesome side, and save the “sexy” for the honeymoon. But if a bride really needs to be sexy, there are designers who cater to that — and a pox upon them, says I — and one may easily be able to find a bare-midriff or see-through-corset wedding dress suitable for a “sexy” bride and pole-dancing at the reception (don’t believe me? Google corset sheer wedding dress. These are why God gave me sons and not daughters!). Ugh.

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