While many of today's most popular wedding gowns are sexier and more revealing than ever, styles that show too much skin -- like strapless, backless and low-cut gowns may not be kosher under the huppah. Below, some guideline for honoring your faith -- and your fashion sense.
When it comes to bridal attire, the three major denominations of Judaism -- Reform, Conservative, and Orthodox -- have different requirements. Reform Judaism has few, if any, restrictions on dress. Conservative synagogues usually require that a bride's shoulders be covered, while Orthodoxy places even greater restrictions on attire. Orthodox brides should be discreet: This means wearing dresses with long or three-quarter length sleeves, high-cut necklines (think bateau or jewel), ankle-length skirts, and covered backs. The following guidelines should help you find a gown that not only honors your faith, but makes you look elegant and stylish. Check with your rabbi first, though; rules regarding bridal attire can vary even among synagogues within the same denomination.
Covered shoulders is the most common requirement for brides marrying in a synagogue. If this is the only requirement, you can get away with wearing short -- even capped -- sleeves. Canadian designer Paloma Blanca's collection features short-sleeved, traditional, ball gown-style dresses that exude a refined simplicity and are appropriately modest for the synagogue. You won't find any plunging necklines or clingy sheaths in this collection.
The Right to Bare Forearms
Another option is the three-quarter length sleeve, which covers the elbows. Spanish design house Pronovias features several gowns with these sleeves in its collection. Widely popular in Europe, these empire gowns, reminiscent of "The Princess Bride," are made with beautiful, flowing fabrics that create a smooth and elegant line. Many also feature delicate laces and sewn-on fabric flowers.
A long-sleeved gown is the most conservative choice for Jewish brides. While this style has lost ground in recent years to more revealing ones, many designers continue to turn out dresses with a traditional flair. Mika Inatome's sophisticated, modern designs are a far cry from your great-grandmother's high-necked, puffy-sleeved gown. Inatome's collection features glamorous sheaths and form-fitting empire gowns. Carolina Herrera is another designer who breaks the stereotype of frumpy long-sleeved gowns with the understated elegance of her designs.
If you're still having a hard time finding the perfect dress, you can always cheat a bit. Wear something less revealing for the ceremony, and change into something else for the reception. You can either buy two dresses (although that's not the most practical solution) or you can take advantage a new trend in wedding gowns. Many designers such as Yumi Katsura, Carolina Herrera, and Paloma Blanca, now offer wraps and shawls to match their more exposing styles. In other words, you can wear the shawl for the ceremony and adhere to the synagogue's rules, then put it aside for the reception. What's more, Paloma Blanca's Marty Bernstein says that, if asked, they will make a wrap for a dress that normally doesn't come with one.
Full Wedding Jacket
Another idea is to find a strapless or spaghetti-strap gown that comes with a jacket, either bolero-style or one that comes to the gown's waistline. The jacket provides coverage for the ceremony, but as with the wrap, you can simply remove it for the reception. Think of it as getting two dresses for the price of one. Bernstein says that while this look is extremely popular in Europe, it's been slow to catch on in the U.S. Spanish designer Pronovias offers many of these gowns; Paloma Blanca and Carolina Herrera also feature this style in their collections.
Make a Change
Finally, if you think you've found the perfect dress -- but the neckline is too low, the sleeves are too short, and so on -- ask someone at the bridal shop if the designer can alter the dress. Of course, you can't turn a sexy, spaghetti-strap sheath into a demure ball gown, so be realistic. Some designers have styles that come in both short-and long-sleeved incarnations. Most others will make slight alterations, such as putting short sleeves on a sleeveless dress or raising a neckline an inch or two. Naturally, these changes aren't free; expect to pay an extra hundred dollars or so over the cost of the original gown.
Get Back to your Roots
Looking for some Middle Eastern style? Lebanese-born designer Reem Acra's collection includes several elegant, unique A-line and empire gowns that highlight Acra's signature detailing -- delicate, hand-sewn embroidery inspired by traditional Middle Eastern designs.
A few final thoughts before you buy: Avoid gowns with too much color. In Jewish custom, a white wedding dress symbolizes spiritual purity. But if white's not your color, don't worry. Some Sephardic and Mizrahi brides wear bright, festively colored headdresses and gowns to symbolize the extreme joy of the event.
Top it Off
Last but not least, don't forget your veil. According to the book of Genesis, the custom of veil-wearing originated when Rebekah, working in her father's field, covered her head in modesty when she first saw Isaac approaching.