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Fabric wedding dress glossary

Your Gown: Wedding Dress Fabric Glossary

Want a wedding dress that drapes beautifully? Poufs out beneath you? Glides down your curves? It's all in the fabric.

Photo: Sergio Kurhajec

Style, cut, texture, drape, and season are all-important factors in determining the best fabric for a wedding gown. The same style dress can look and feel quite different in a variety of fabrics, since each material is designed to produce a distinct effect. Some fabrics cling to the body, while others stand away. Some are cherished for their crispness, others for being light-as-air. Silk -- a natural fiber that exudes an innate quality of refinement -- is undoubtedly the most sought-after and cherished wedding dress material, noted for its resiliency, elasticity, and strength.

Silk threads are woven to create various fabrics, including satin, a densely-woven silk notable for its super-lustrous gloss; duchesse satin, a blend of silk and rayon that is lighter and more affordable than pure silk satin; charmeuse, a lightweight silk satin with a more subdued luster; and shantung, a low-sheen textured silk characterized by a rough, nubby quality. Then there are the gauzier, textured silks like chiffon, tulle, and organza -- all used in multiple layers for gown skirts since they are transparent, but lightweight.

Fabric Terms

Batiste: A lightweight, soft, transparent fabric.

Brocade: A Jacquard-woven fabric with raised designs; traditionally popular for fall and winter, now also worn in warmer weather.

Charmeuse: A lightweight, semi-lustrous soft fabric, that is satin-like to the touch.

Chiffon: Delicate, sheer, and transparent -- made from silk or rayon, with a soft finish; often layered because of its transparency, making it popular for overskirts, sheer sleeves, and wraps.

Crepe: A light, soft, and thin fabric with a crinkled surface.

Damask: Similar to brocade with raised designs, but woven in a much lighter weight.

Duchesse Satin: A lightweight hybrid of silk and rayon (or polyester) woven into a satin finish.

Dupioni: A finish similar to shantung, but with thicker, coarser fibers, and a slight sheen.

Faille: A structured, ribbed finish like grosgrain ribbon; usually quite substantial.

Gabardine: A tightly-woven, firm and durable finish, with single diagonal lines on the face.

Georgette: A sheer, lightweight fabric often made of polyester or silk with a crepe surface.

Illusion: A fine, sheer net fabric, generally used on sleeves or necklines.

Jersey: A very elastic knit fabric; the face has lengthwise ribs and the underside has crosswise ribs.

Moire: A heavy silk taffeta with a subtle, wavy design.

Organdy: A stiff transparent fabric.

Organza: Crisp and sheer like chiffon, with a stiffer texture similar in effect to tulle, but more flowing; popular for skirts, sleeves, backs, and overlays.

Peau de Soie: A soft satin-faced, high-quality cloth with a dull luster, fine ribs, and a grainy appearance.

Pique: A knit fabric with a waffle-weave appearance, pique has distinct sides. The outside resembles a honeycomb or waffle and the underside is flat and smooth.

Polyester: An inexpensive man-made fiber that can be woven into just about anything, including duchesse satin

Rayon: Similar to silk, but more elastic and affordable.

Satin: A heavy, smooth fabric with a high sheen on one side; very common in bridal gowns.

Silk: The most sought-after, cherished fiber for wedding dresses (and also the most expensive); there are several types with different textures: raw silk and silk mikado are just two examples.

Silk Gazar: A four-ply silk organza.

Silk Mikado: A brand of blended silk, usually heavier than 100-percent silk.

Silk-faced Satin: A smooth silk satin, with a glossy front and matte back.

Shantung: Similar to a raw silk, shantung is characterized by its rubbed texture.

Taffeta: Crisp and smooth, with a slight rib.

Tulle: Netting made of silk, nylon, or rayon; used primarily for skirts and veils (think ballerina tutus).

Velvet: A soft, thick fabric with a felted face and plain underside.

-- Hollee Actman Becker

See More: Wedding Dress Shopping