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Wedding Dress Styles: Why Strapless Isn't Your Only Option

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NEW YORK, N.Y. - The traditional bridal gown isn't a skimpy silhouette: It's long and typically without a plunging neckline or high slit. There's often a whole lot of fabric. One of the few opportunities for brides to be a little bare is to go with a strapless or sleeveless dress — and go with them they do.

David Tutera, wedding planner, designer and host of WeTV's "My Fair Wedding With David Tutera," says that besides those restricted by religious customs, he encounters very few brides who want to be more covered than they have to be. More often they want to savour their moment in the spotlight and show themselves off as youthful, pretty and sexy, he says.

New bridal collections are dominated by dresses with no sleeves, even though that takes many women out of their comfort zone.

There was a brief period when sleeves were hot — after Kate Middleton wore a long-sleeve Alexander McQueen gown to become the Duchess of Cambridge — but it didn't last. Bare arms are again the norm.

It wasn't always that way.

"It feels like strapless has been the go-to in wedding dresses forever, but, historically speaking, it's still a very recent trend," says Keija Minor, editor in chief of Brides magazine. "With some notable exceptions, gowns had high necks and long sleeves up through the 1990s. Just think about Princess Diana's wedding gown in 1981 with those big puffy sleeves. It was larger than life to be sure, but still very on trend for the times."

The shift, she says, came about 20 years ago as tradition gave way to a hint of sex appeal.

Strapless wedding dresses "are the majority of what's out there. They dominate in the stores and on every bridal magazine's editorial pages. They are the easiest to try on and fit," says designer Romona Keveza.

Brides' Minor says that women of many sizes and shapes, including full-figured ones, can benefit from the illusion of a longer, leaner arm created by the uncovered shoulder.

And, Keveza adds, strapless gowns have come a long way and are now comfortable, sturdy and stable.

Still, she thinks there's room for a few more sleeved and off-the-shoulder numbers.

"Brides have come to believe a strapless gown is 'the uniform' even if it's not what she wants," she says.

Tutera says brides should consider the season, location and overall vibe of the wedding before heading straight to strapless. It's ideal for a beach wedding, but at a ski resort? Not so much, he says.

A compromise could be the strapless dress topped with a mohair-lined silk shawl or a dramatic cape, suggests designer Anne Bowen.

Whether a bride chooses to be sleeved or not, she needs to find balance in her gown, adds Bowen. If it's a "big ball of tulle ballgown," then the open neckline and bare arms might be the way to go, she says, but for a slim column gown, sleeves that go past the wrist can be delicate and feminine. (She'd stick with a light fabric, such as lace or sheer silk.)

Tutera also likes those airy, light illusion sleeves — although he'd cut them at a shorter bracelet length — or a short cap sleeve; poufy satin ones "will bulk up the bride," he says.

His solution is the detachable-sleeve gown he introduced into his collection. "You take them off after the ceremony. You can feel comfortable and confident when all eyes are on you, but you don't have to have sleeves for the pictures."

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