Chiffon, charmeuse and shantung have you in a swirl? Navigating bridesmaid dress fabrications can seem daunting, especially your first time. What exactly is peau de soie and for god’s sake what will it feel like? Here I present a tutorial in bridesmaid dress fabrics and finishes—it’s all you need to know to help you choose which finish is right for the styles you like or the type of event you’re planning.
First of all, there’s a difference between a fabric and a finish. Fabrics are cotton, silk, nylon, rayon or polyester, to name a few. Finishes are terms like chiffon, taffeta, and satin. It’s important to know the difference. Most people are more familiar with fabric than finish, so we’ll cover finishes here. If a dress is listed as “satin,” this does not mean it is made of silk. Synthetic fibers like polyester and rayon can easily take on a satin finish, so be sure to check closely before making a decision.
It’s also important to note that while the descriptions below give a general idea of each finish, the characteristics of the fabric can vary greatly based on the quality of fabric the retailer uses. Some satins will feel much smoother than others, just as some taffeta will be stiffer. That’s why it’s important to feel the fabric yourself before committing. Request a swatch to make sure it looks and feels the way you think (and hope) it will.
Chiffon is very lightweight and flowing, meaning that it does not cling to the body and is very good for styles with a lot of draping, like dresses with empire waists. It can be a bit sheer, so you will often find it draped in multiple layers. Chiffon is a nice fabric for muted colors and pastels because it does not have a distinct sheen, allowing delicate colors come through. It can be found in regular or “crinkle” chiffon, meaning that the fabric will have a subtle accordion pleat. Chiffon is ideal for outdoor or daytime weddings, as its light weight will keep girls cool. (Dresses: Watters and J.Crew)
Georgette is quite similar to chiffon in drape and feel. It is only slightly heavier than chiffon and a bit less sheer. It is ideal for outdoor or daytime weddings, as its light weight will keep girls cool. (Dresses: Ann Taylor and Dessy)
Voile has the draping power of chiffon, but with a subtle sheen and a bit more weight. It is most often applied to cottons or cotton blends, resulting in a lightweight, breathable fabric. It tends to have a sort of luminosity to it and is a bit sheer. It also has quite a bit more structure than a chiffon, making it good for full or A-line skirts. It is ideal for outdoor or daytime weddings and can appear a bit more casual than other fabrications. (Dresses: Dessy and Watters)
Cady has a nice balance of stretch and structure. Most often applied to cotton, this finish holds it shape well, but is quite smooth with a hint of stretch. It has a very minimal sheen, almost to the point of being matte. It is ideal for outdoor or daytime weddings and can appear a bit more casual than other fabrications. (Dresses: J.Crew)
When we think of silk, the texture we normally envision is satin. In reality, silk can be rendered in almost any finish, but the adjective “silky” describes it in satin form. It is smooth and soft to the touch, and usually quite lightweight, though the degree of softness will vary across retailers. It tends to drape with the body, meaning it’s good for form-fitting styles, and it has a lot of movement (think twirling on the dance floor). Most satin has a subtle sheen, meaning it will catch the light slightly. Satin is best for formal or nighttime weddings. It should be avoided for events that will be held in high heat, as it shows sweat easily. (Dresses: After Six and Watters)
A cousin to satin, charmeuse has the same sheen and drape as satin, but is lighter and even a bit softer. Its sheen is a bit more muted and its drape a bit more liquid. It is best for formal or nighttime weddings. It should be avoided for events that will be held in high heat, as it shows sweat easily. (Dresses: Dessy and Bari Jay)
Peau De Soie
Also known as Duchess Satin. As its second name implies, peau de soie is similar to satin, but more structured. It has the medium weight and smooth feel of satin, but a bit more stiffness, which lends it to being used in a wide variety of styles. It is also much less shiny than satin or charmeuse, bordering on matte. It is best for formal or nighttime weddings. It should be avoided for events that will be held in high heat, as it shows sweat easily. (Dresses: Alfred Sung)
This stiffer, blended fabric has a heavier weight, making it an ideal choice for structured dresses. It has a slight sheen, similar to peau de soie, but also a subtle texture. Mikado is commonly thought of as a winter fabric. (Dresses: Alfred Sung and Watters)
Dupioni tends to be stiff and hold its shape, making it good for dresses with a bit of volume or with structural pleats. However, this means that it’s difficult to alter the shape of the dress, even with ironing, so if it poofs in places you don’t want it to poof, it’s going to stay that way. It is made from raw fibers, which results in a bit of a grain in the fabric that looks like tiny textural horizontal lines. It also feels a bit rough to the touch because of the raw fibers, but it holds vibrant colors very well. Dupioni has a strong sheen, which can really make a color pop. In my opinion this fabric tends to look better in photographs than it does in real life. It is versatile enough to work for day or night weddings, but does tend to look more formal. (Dresses: Watters and Alfred Sung)
Taffeta is very similar to dupioni in weight and structure. The fabric is crisp and a bit weighty and holds its shape very well. However, the major difference between these two finishes is in the appearance and feel of the fabric. While dupioni appears textured, taffeta is very smooth and more tightly woven. Taffeta’s sheen will depend very much on the lighting. In dim or natural lighting, the material can appear almost matte, but in bright or studio lighting (like your photographer may use) the fabric can come off quite shiny. It is versatile enough to work for day or night weddings, but does tend to look more formal. (Dresses: Watters and J.Crew)
Like dupioni and taffeta, faille holds its shape well, making it good for dresses with a bit of volume or with structural pleats. However, this means that it’s difficult to alter the shape of the dress, even with ironing, so if it poofs in places you don’t want it to poof, it’s going to stay that way. It has a much subtler sheen than both dupioni and taffeta, but still has texture—in this case, a subtle ribbed quality. This finish can be applied to many fabrics, from silk and cotton to rayon and viscose, so it’s a good idea to request a swatch to get the exact feeling of the dress. It is versatile enough to work for day or night weddings, and its subtle sheen makes it almost seasonless. (Dresses: J.Crew and Weddington Way)
I think of shantung as kind of a midway between dupioni and taffeta. It has the same crisp, structured feeling and heft as both fabrics. It is not as finely woven as taffeta, but has less texture than dupioni. It is versatile enough to work for day or night weddings, but does tend to look more formal. (Dresses: Wtoo and Jenny Yoo)
A stretchy fabric with an easy drape, jersey is most often seen in casual clothing like T-shirts, but can occasionally be seen in bridesmaid dresses. It has a matte finish, but a very soft feel and a lot of bounce and swing. Best for casual weddings and perfect for the outdoors. (Dresses: Two Birds and J.Crew)
Curious about fabrications not listed here? Please leave questions in the comments and I’ll try my best to answer! What did you think of bridesmaid dress finishes you’ve worn? Which would you recommend and which do you never (ever) want to wear again?
Featured image via: Style Me Pretty. Dress retailers listed in image names.