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Say yes to the dress: three classic wedding looks updated for today's bride

A new Rizzoli tome, Oleg Cassini: The Wedding Dress, highlights just how influential the legendary designer was in the field of bridal design. Through exclusive excerpts from the book and Cassini's original illustrations, Globe Style examines three classic gown types as he interpreted them – and, now that wedding-show season is here, how contemporary brides can make them their own.

Excerpts and illustrations from The Wedding Dress: Newly Revised and Updated Collector's Edition by Oleg Cassini, foreword by Liz Smith (Rizzoli, 2014).

Illustrations from The Wedding Dress: Newly Revised and Updated Collector’s Edition by Oleg Cassin

Classic shape: the bateau neckline

“Stretching gracefully from one shoulder to the other with a subtle, delicate dip, the bateau (or boatneck) is a neckline that covers [but remains] surprisingly alluring. Its secret lies in the natural accentuation of the collarbone and neck, an area that is appealing on almost all women and is a perfect setting for jewels and necklaces. Popularized by U.S. First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy, it’s a shape that is almost universally flattering, drawing attention to sleeker, slimmer areas. This neckline is often associated with sailors; it is said that it was favoured for its wide neck, which made it easier to pull off after going overboard. The bateau works well with bell skirts or the classic sheath embroidered all over with beaded fringes and jewels.”

Left to right: Jenny Packham, J.Crew and Reem Acra.

Today's take

Anyone who has binged on a Sunday-afternoon marathon of Say Yes To The Dress knows that the gown shape referred to as “fit-and-flare” – picture a skirt that tightly hugs the hips before puffing out above the knee – is popular with brides craving a body-conscious cut. A more classic (dare we say classy?) option, however, is the boat-neck column, illustrated here by recent examples from Jenny Packham, J.Crew and Reem Acra. Creating a look that can be either contemporary or vintage-inspired, its clean neckline and svelte skirt skim over the body rather than squeeze it. In other words, you’ll actually be able to walk (and not just shuffle) down the aisle. – Andrew Sardone

Jenny Packham at White Toronto and White Montreal (, J.Crew ( and Reem Acra (

Classic shape: the tea-length dress

“Like the variations on traditional bridal white, ‘long’ comes in many shades. The few inches between a floor-length gown and a tea-length gown can speak volumes about the occasion’s mood and formality. Known as a tea-, dance- or ballerina-length skirt, the shorter skirt is a subtle departure from the traditional floor-length gown. A tea-length skirt, which hits a few inches above the ankle, evokes an ingenue-like sensibility and, when paired with a ballgown silhouette, achieves a glamorous debutante or ballerina look. The tea-length is traditionally less formal than the longer hemlines, so it’s a lovely choice for a daytime garden ceremony or, as the second gown after the ceremony, the ‘let’s dance’ party dress. Think Rita Hayworth wearing Oleg Cassini in Tales of Manhattan.”

Left to right: The Cabaret Collection, Dennis Basso and Marchesa.

Today's take

Technically speaking, a tea-length dress has a hem that lands between the ankle and knee. Designers, however, are favouring the shorter side of that span for spring. Both The Cabaret Collection and Marchesa offer abbreviated versions that incorporate delicate lace and A-line or pencil skirts. Thank indie wedding blogs and their many photos of leg-baring brides posing casually in front of weathered barns for the rise of this silhouette. But that doesn’t mean such a gown can only be worn to a dressed-down do. Paired with polished hair, makeup and accessories, a tea-length frock can easily be styled to look posh – even more so than a fishtail gown with a 20-foot train. – A.S.

The Cabaret Collection (, Dennis Basso ( and Marchesa (

Classic shape: the ball gown

“Like a magnificent still-life portrait, a ball gown recalls the glamour of royalty. Its silhouette is debutante in mood and fun to wear. Both grand yet modest, it achieves a regal impression with a flattering silhouette. Most often designed with a strapless, very fitted bodice giving a dramatic contrast to the fullness of the skirt, the ball gown provides a creative palette for details. The embroidered bodice is a design technique that highlights the top of the gown, and can be done with embroidery and jewels – a marvelous combination with the softness of a matte-finish tulle skirt.”

Left to right: Amsale, Ines Di Santo and Lea-Ann Belter.

Today's take

If you would like there to be little doubt in the chapel about who is getting hitched, it would be best to choose a ball-gown-style wedding dress. That said, not all over-the-top strapless, full-skirted options are created equal. Take, for instance, the simplified pale-pink Lea-Ann Belter version shown here, which looks surprisingly light and airy considering the volume of the skirt. Of course, you can always go the princess route à la Ines Di Santo and rule over your reception in an embroidered number bolstered by miles of tulle. – A.S.

Amsale (, Ines Di Santo ( and Lea-Ann Belter (

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