After the engagement, first consider the venue, then the dress — then the shoes and other accessories, experts say. Collectively, they should have a complementary vibe.
"It's all a picture that comes together," says gown designer Reem Acra.
No flip-flops for a formal setting and dress, and satin pumps would be silly on the beach.
Tanya Dukes, accessories editor at Brides magazine, suggests these practical questions:
—How high for the heel? Think of the proportions of the dress, how tall you'll stand and if you are used to wearing heels at all, she says.
—Is the wedding outside? A lawn wedding, for example, could be trouble for a spiky heel. A wedge would fare better.
—How formal is the occasion? Fabric matters here. "Satin is the traditional choice, and it's a safe bet," Dukes says.
And then there's deciding whether you ever want to wear the shoes again.
"Most women don't wear their bridal shoes again not because they're not wearable, but because they're a memento," says footwear designer Stuart Weitzman, who got his start in business in bridal more than 25 years ago. "I make every bridal shoe in dyeable satin, so you could wear them again, but you'd lose the memento, and then you'd wear those dyed shoes once and ruin those 'bridal shoes.' Most women never throw them out."
Weitzman says his success in this market is due partly to an observation by Judith Leiber, founder of the famous beaded bag collection, who noted an "ugly bluish tone" to most wedding shoes. He created a pair out of Swiss lace, won a design award for them and the rest is history.
He sees as much variety in wedding-shoe styles as he does on the street: Women want sandals, stilettos, platforms and lace booties, but the traditional pump is the most popular.
Shoes often spend most of the big day covered by the gown's hemline, but they can be a glimpse of the bride's personality. The moment the shoes will probably get the most attention is right before she kicks them off to dance, says Acra with a laugh.
Crafting a head-to-toe mood is a delicate balancing act between modernity and timelessness, she explains. Now, the shoe? That's a place to have a little fun.
"If I have a bride in the showroom, I might say, 'Why not an orange shoe?'" Acra says. "It's fun to have something different. I love playing with shoes. I really prefer colored shoes or something with bling or fun."
Metallics are a good middle-of-the-road option, as is blush pink, and even black is doable, especially if you add a black ribbon sash around the waist of the dress.
"I do think more out-of-the-box choices will be revisited and worn again," says Brides' Dukes. "Maybe something with a lot of colour, you're more likely to wear that again, like a red shoe, or cowboy boots or sneakers."
She adds, however: "If you want the memento, your Cinderella slipper, and you want to keep them pristine, then white is a valid choice."
There is more variety now than ever in gown silhouettes — including shorter cocktail dresses, asymmetrical high-low hemlines, slim columns and mermaid shapes, in addition to the ballskirt — and that does mean almost endless choices in footwear.
Bring multiple pairs of shoes to gown fittings to explore the options, recommends Acra, who chooses the overall look for models in her bridal runway shows and personally consults with some private clients.
The most important thing, as with all decisions on the bride's look, is that she is happy and comfortable in it, Acra says. "When you're walking down the aisle, really no one will be looking at your shoe. But you'll remember what you were wearing, and if it was bright red, when you talk to your children 20 years later, you can say, 'I was ahead of my time.'"