How to Crack the Code on Effortless Cool Girl Wedding Dress Styling


Maybe we’re not born with it, and that’s FINE, okay?

by Maddie Eisenhart, Chief Revenue Officer

model wearing Maggie Sottero Raynda dress leaning up against a stone wallMaggie Sottero, Rayna

If you’ve ever been inside a traditional bridal salon, I’m sure you know the routine. You try on a dress, then the stylist goes over to the cabinet of curiosities and picks out some super blingy accessories covered in crystals or lace. And voila! You’re transformed into an insta-bride. Or at least, that’s what supposed to happen (if you believe TLC and every romantic comedy you’ve ever seen). In real life, it can be a little more complicated. Figuring out what kind of wedding dress you vibe with is often an exercise in trial and error, and even once you find something you love… you might not be into the traditional veil and sparkly things that live in the bridal shop’s accessories cabinet. So… then what?

Well, here’s the good news: I guarantee that you look good in way more styles than you think. And even better news: Wedding dresses always look better on actual people getting married than they do on models pretending to get married.

So let’s talk about the other challenge: accessories and style. Once you do have a dress, how do you translate the dress-on-model look and make it feel like you in real life? If you don’t want white silk shoes and a monster veil, how do you achieve that effortless cool girl wedding day vibe that all the brides prancing across blogs and wedding magazines seem to have figured out? Given that the APW team has a long history with this particular problem (Meg just gave up and wore her dress with basically no accessories), we’ve partnered up with Maggie Sottero Designs to answer just that.

If you’ve started dress shopping, you may have already run across dresses from the Maggie Sottero and Rebecca Ingram lines. (They’ll be the super pretty ones with lots of details that look like they cost twice as much as they actually do.) So we’ve taken five of our favorites and paired them with fun, modern accessories to give you ideas for styling your wedding dress to feel like you, not “Bridal Barbie.” And bonus, all of the dresses we picked below are under $1,200 and come in sizes 0–28. So if you’re still in the but where do I even start part of your search, may I suggest finding a local salon that carries these bad boys.

Vibe: edgy modern

style graphic featuring Maggie Sottero Tamar dress with painted leather jacket, high bun and black heels with pearlsDress: Maggie Sottero, Tamar | Jacket: Etsy | Hair Tutorial: A Practical Wedding | Shoes: ASOS

Tip: Now that I know about the gaffer tape bra trick, I am obsessed with a plunging neckline (and I particularly appreciate that the Tamar dress has a little bit of illusion fabric to keep you in place). But just because your dress is romantic doesn’t mean you have to go full tilt boho. If you want to make a flowy dress feel modern, pair it with a sleek updo, accented with bold modern accessories. Black heels take your look from soft to hard, and it doesn’t get any cooler than a hand-painted leather jacket coverup.

Vibe: updated boho

Graphic featuring Rebecca Ingram Juniper gown with metallic floral heapiece, bryr clogs, and fall cascading bouquetDress: Rebecca Ingram, Juniper | Crown: Mignonne Handmade | Shoes: Bryr Clogs | Bouquet Tutorial: AFloral

Tip: Boho weddings aren’t going anywhere, but the trick is to make your boho vibe cool-girl glam, not OMG SO MANY RUFFLES. Wooden clogs with metallic details win the comfy and modern award (plus you can wear them on the daily when the wedding is over). And if you’re done with flower crowns, but not totally done, a metallic floral headpiece is the happy medium between boho and bling.

Vibe: Classic glam

Graphic of Rebecca Ingram Lauren gown with bohemian headpiece, large pink cocktail ring, and pink velvet shoesDress: Rebecca Ingram, Lauren | Hair Comb: Nordstrom | Ring: Chloe and Isabel | Shoes: ASOS

Tip: You can’t go wrong with a simple lace sheath, ever. But how do you take a classic silhouette and make it feel a little fancier? Add pops of blush (ahem, Millennial Pink, sorry) for an alternative to the traditional white or gold shoe. And an edgy faux mohawk says updo with a twist. Bam. Insta glam.

Vibe: magic and whimsy

Graphic of Rebecca Ingram Maixne dress with burgundy heels, holographic clutch and crystal headpieceDress: Rebecca Ingram, Maxine | Shoes: ASOS | Clutch: Nordstrom | comb: Elemental Child

Tip: If I had a do-over, I would wear a pink wedding dress in a heartbeat. And this lightly sculpted tulle gown is the perfect balance between soft and structured. I’d also lean way hard into the crystal trend, and add either a crystal tiara or this amazing crystal comb. A holographic clutch is modern and fun (plus, the entire APW team wants needs it). And a bold oxblood shoe keeps the look from going too fairy princess. Basically, what I’m saying here is… sometimes the answer is all the trends all at once. No regrets.

Vibe: art deco chic

Graphic of Maggie Sottero Hazel dress with 20s inspired headband, gold cage heels and a feather capeDress: Maggie Sottero, Hazel | Headband: Etsy | Shoes: Imagine Vince Camuto | Jacket: Phase Eight

Tip: You can do decade-inspired without getting costumey. The key is accessories that hint at vintage, but with a modern edge. This ultra low-back Maggie Sottero dress is the perfect ’20s throwback, and a feather cape is… well, is there ever not a time for a feather cape? Finish with Deco-inspired shoes and a killer headband. It’s all just enough, without being too much. (Not that I know the meaning of too much.)

Just starting to look for a wedding dress? Be sure to check out the rest of the new Maggie Sottero and Rebecca Ingram collections online and in stores. Stop by the Maggie Sottero Designs blog and Instagram for more style inspiration, tips, and real wedding features.

How are you making your wedding day attire look and feel personal?

This post was sponsored by Maggie Sottero Designs. If you’re looking for gorgeous wedding dresses that you can afford, Maggie Sottero and Rebecca Ingram are the perfect solution. Click here to find a store near you.

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Maddie Eisenhart

Maddie is APW’s Chief Revenue Officer. She’s been writing stories about boys, crushes, and relationships since she was old enough to form shapes into words, but received her formal training (and a BS) from NYU in Entertainment and Mass Media in 2008. She now spends a significant amount of time thinking about trends on the internet and whether flower crowns will be out next year. A Maine native, Maddie currently lives on a pony farm in the Bay Area with her husband, Michael and their mastiff puppy. Current hair color: Purple(ish).

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  • penguin

    I wore Rifle Paper Co Keds in the Herb Garden pattern for my shoes, and a big-ass flower crown for my accessories. I had dark blue stone earrings that were my grandma’s, and borrowed a small gold-silver-and-blue necklace from my aunt. 10/10 would accessorize that way again. Comfy shoes that are cute and me for the win.

    • Sonnie

      omg I’m drooling over those shoes.

    • Zoya

      Yay, you went with the Keds!

      (Side note: the biggest wedding-related argument my mother and I had was over my wearing sneakers. She was totally fine with me not wearing white, no bouquet, etc. But sparkly Keds + gown was totally confusing to her. She got over it, though.)

    • Pictures or it didn’t happen!

      • Jess

        I dunno about the shoes, but penguin posted in HH as an anon with some photos last week? two weeks ago? and her jewelry was A+++.

        • I know I know! But I can’t keep track of all y’alls comments AND give you the content you want ;) I do my best!!

          • Jess

            Oh, zero judgement. I was just hoping to help your HH comment search so you could experience the accessories!

          • penguin

            I took the pics down that weekend, but thank you!! I don’t think I have pictures of my shoes + dress yet, assuming those will be in the pics from the photographer. If I find a picture I’ll post it though! These are the shoes by the way:

            http://www.keds.com/en/keds-x-rifle-paper-co.-champion-herb-garden/29298W.html?sma=sm.0000d6xohc13oud96x687xntryqb0

          • suchbrightlights

            I am eternally glad you bought those shoes. I was this close to the Keds Rifle Paper Co. Kickstart Queen Anne ones and I really liked the ones you ended up with, too. SOMEBODY around here needed to get married in comfy floral sneakers, and when they had come up in a happy hour I was already sorted and couldn’t justify buying another pair of shoes. I also like that you matched your shoes to your flower crown. That was on purpose, right?

          • Jess

            ! Those are so delightful! They go really well with the flower crown and magical atmosphere you had! I love them!!

          • penguin

            Yay thank you!!

  • theteenygirl

    Accessories were definitely more stressful than picking out the dress. I knew I wanted ankle boots for my shoes (it was supposed to be a cool Fall day and I really wanted to wear socks) and I found a pair of ivory heeled chelsea boots for $40 from Forever 21 the day after I bought the dress. Then I proceeded to spend 5 months agonizing over hair pieces, necklaces, earrings, bracelets, and veils. I ended up buying a drape veil on Etsy for $80, and then told my mum and sisters to bring every piece of jewellery they had to the wedding. I decided on wearing just earrings in about 10 seconds because the photographer wanted to photograph my jewellery and I hadn’t picked out what I was wearing yet… Luckily I borrowed a pair of crystal earrings from my mum that used to be my grandmothers and they matched PERFECTLY. It was like it was meant to be all along :)

    • Yael

      We’re planning on getting married in NYC in the winter, and I am planning for wearing ankle boots so I can wear wool socks, but will come prepared with snow boots. My question then becomes, do I buy a *cute* pair of snow boots or stick with the serious ones I already own? I’ll be wearing a floor-length tuxedo wool skirt regardless.

      • Zoya

        If you want an excuse to buy cute snow boots, buy ’em. :) (FWIW, I wore my ugly-but-comfy dance sneakers for the reception, and they’re barely noticeable in any of the photos.)

        • Yael

          Haha I’m actually leaning in the opposite direction – I don’t want to spend the money if I don’t have to, but am wondering if I’ll regret having my functional-but-not-fashionable snow boots in pictures. But based on what you’re saying, it sounds like I won’t!

      • theteenygirl

        I think that you will end up needing two pairs of shoes – a pair of insulated snow boots if you’re spending more than say, half an hour outside and a pair of less warm boots for wearing inside. If there’s anything I have learned as a Canadian..it’s that winter boots are TOO HOT to wear inside!!!

        • Hahaha, yep. Though I did get some last winter that can work inside (Saute Moutons, they use a certain density of wool that allows you to wear them inside as well as going outside in snow, up to maybe -25 or 30 C. And yes, my boyfriend does sell shoes!) I guess I am REALLY Canadian now, if I have multiple pair of snow boots???!!! :)

      • Ashley Weckbacher

        The tuxedo wool skirt sounds incredible!

    • sofar

      Yeah, the accessories stressed me out WAY more than the dress. The dress was easy. The dress was perfect. I loved the dress.

      I ended up ordering a bunch of hair flowers and agonizing over jewelry, while my mother and MIL panicked about how the dress alone wasn’t “special enough” and I “wasn’t wearing a veil.” And then, a month before, I just said fuck it. I ditched all the hair stuff and wore NOTHING on my head. I wore a pair of earrings I already had (and still wear). I ditched the bracelet and the necklace.

      The dress, it turned out, was enough. For me anyway.

    • NolaJael

      Ha! I told my sister to bring every pearl item she had. I needed ALL THE CHOICES, because until the day of I had no idea.

      • theteenygirl

        We TRASHED my room because my 3 bridesmaids and mum and I were all in there getting ready and everyone brought all the jewellery and hair products and curling irons and straightening irons and makeup for themselves and for other people too. It was wild.

  • Abs

    I love this–can we see more posts like this? Accessories were 100% the hardest part for me.

    • Of course. LEGIT me too. I accessorize in my normal life just fine, but I wore my grandmother’s pearl earrings and that was IT with my wedding dress, I just didn’t have a clue what to do, and I’d see what people were doing in real weddings on blogs and be like “well that looks effortless and cool girl, and… how?” Anyway, we have two pro shoppers on the staff right now (Maddie and Chelsea) and I’m sure they’d be THRILLED to help.

  • Lisa

    Hella nicely styled guys!

  • Hair accessories are killing me. Hair styles in general (up, down, half up, bun, braid? All I know is it’s going to be blue!) but trying to buy something that won’t be over or underwhelmed by the dress is hard. So far I’ve bought a swarovski choker that can double as a soft alice band because it’ll go with the sparkles on the dress, a bunch of jewellery making stuff for a pearl drape thingy because I’m wearing my grandmother’s pearl necklace, and I’m eyeing up a quartz bun comb because t’other half keeps joking about a Tilda Swinton in Narnia style icicle crown (but the bridesmaids think that won’t go with the dress). One of the three, or none, or something else? The poor hairdresser at the trial in a few weeks is going to be presented with a bride who can barely acknowledge she has hair, let alone knows what to do with it.

    • louise danger

      i was similarly panicking about my hair, but i used a few aesthetially-tangentially-relevant criteria to help me narrow it down:
      1. i know i overheat pretty easily and i knew i didn’t want to be shiny/red/etc in photos or at the reception, so i wanted to keep my hair off my neck
      2. my veil would look weird if i put my hair way up high
      3. my dress had a complicated neck/shoulders/back (sort of) so i didn’t want to compete with that.

      i don’t know if those things would be helpful questions/thoughts for you, too, but in the end i wound up with a braid across the front of my head (like a milkmaid braid) and a big old curly bun mass low on the back of my head. so you can do a braid and a bun together if you want! and if “the bridal bun” is not really your jam, you can also set it off-center for something a little edgier or more modern while still keeping the soft/glam feel.

      without knowing what your dress looks like, i’d say that a pearl drape thingy might compete with a pearl necklace (but if it were up in your hair, maybe not?) but don’t feel like i have enough info to make a call on the quartz comb or the choker. THAT SAID oh my god PLEASE do a white witch/narnia crown omg omg omg

      • If I had the budget, I would just buy everything from this etsy shop and find excuses to wear them outside the wedding. Work meeting? Delphine golden twig crown. Visiting the in laws? Goth Theodora crown. Boardgame night? Ethereal Celeste silver crown.

        I guess, what are my goals?
        1 – nothing that’ll give me a headache. No alice bands, no high pony tails, minimal hair grips. My hair is very fine, but there’s a lot of it, and the weight of it gives me headaches if I have it up for long periods
        2 – Something simple looking. My dress is a strapless mermaid, covered in beads and sequins and I’ve also got a fake fur wrap to keep my shoulders warm. I’m very conscious that between the two it’d be very easy to go overboard, so no veil, no big head piece, no hat (sorry, FMIL!).
        3 – Dark blue

        Where I really struggle is that generally I prefer to keep my hair down, because I have broad shoulders and a narrow head. However, as it’s got longer, I’ve been reminded how annoying it is to have it loose and how quickly it looks messy. Internet suggests the fake fur wrap will exacerbate this, especially if I’m taking it off and on. So, probably up, with some loose to frame my face (I have bangs, anyway), but all above shoulder height? My original thought was a bun bow or a heart bun, but I’m not sure my hair will be long enough and both might fall under the headache category. I can use the choker to do something simple like this, which doesn’t really require a stylist on the day.

        • Rose_C

          I think the headband and low tucked up option you mentioned last looks very very pretty! I also have a ton of hair and find that the weight issue can be mitigated a bit with up-dos that are more spread out- either the braid in front (or on one side?) and bun in back (or on the other side and low?) like what it sounds like Ms. Danger did above. Or a long low twist that is held a several points on my head- which is sort of what’s happening with that headband look. Regardless the dress style sounds gorgeous. How exciting!

    • penguin

      Your hair stylist may be totally fine with that. I didn’t really know what I wanted at my trial, and I told her that when I showed up. She was just like “cool, we’ll fuck around with it and see what we come up with” and it was awesome.

      I will say that it’s easier to decide on hair if you’ve already decided on things like flower crown vs veil.

      • penguin

        Replying to add more detail. I knew I wanted a flower crown, but had no idea on hair. Since this was the trial I didn’t have the flower crown yet (got it day of), so the stylist made a flower crown stand-in using aluminum foil. It was just a big ring of foil, but it was good to have a reference, and it also made me decide WHERE on my head the crown was going to sit. Then she could style my hair around it.

        • It’s really helpful to know that not having the hairpiece wasn’t a stumbling block for the trial – I’ve been wondering if I needed to buy all my possibly options to narrow down I’m currently leaning towards nothing / minimalist hair pieces (no veil, no flower crown, no hat) and focusing on doing something fancy looking with my actual hair.

          • penguin

            Yeah I just showed her pictures of what I was planning so she could visualize it. Good luck!

  • Ashley Weckbacher

    It bums me out how brides with pixie cuts get ignored, though. I had to figure out what I wanted for a headpiece without images to help me out. (A succulent crown and it was AMAZING) But can we get a post on that some time?

    • Girl we never ignore you!! We just didn’t cover it in this post. For the short haired ladies out there, here are some posts. (Maddie is possibly the most passionate person I’ve ever met, on the subject of short hair).

      https://apracticalwedding.com/hairpieces-pixie-cuts/

      https://apracticalwedding.com/gold-leaf-short-hair-style-diy/

      And there is some good short hair stuff in here too: https://apracticalwedding.com/wedding-hairstyles-curly-straight-hair/

      • Ashley Weckbacher

        Somehow missed those during two years of planning. Timing must have been off. I will say APW was the only source that did not make me feel like I needed extensions.

        And in that case, my request would be more frequent repostings?

        • We do pretty frequent repostings, we just have a decade of content!! So, you know, use that search function. If you want something, chances are good we have it.

    • Katharine Parker

      The headbands in the edgy boho and art deco chic looks would be cute with a pixie cut!

    • What Meg said, but also, I want to see your succulent crown! Part of the problem with lack of short hair inspiration is lack of images. We just don’t get them as often!

      • Ashley Weckbacher

        This is the most head-on image We have right now, still waiting for our full batch of photos… I should also say, our florist was hired early to do just the flower crowns and someone else was going to make the bouquets and centerpieces… We had a really bad feeling and kept hearing and seeing things that made us increasingly nervous. She canceled two weeks before the wedding, saying we didn’t know what we wanted. (Not quite, but she kept saying “You can’t do that with succulents.”) And the people making our crowns were ecstatic to to be able to help with bouquets, while my mother discovered she could make what we wanted for centerpieces. Basically, these crowns saved us despite being a huge point of contention with my mother and her friendor. https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/62f29e0b2f48f3eecb1d5c075b70392acfe752b29e5ce77abbe02826e8cca99e.jpg

        • Zoya

          Gor. Geous.

          • Ashley Weckbacher

            Thanks!

        • ssha

          I love it! You look adorable and whimsical!

        • Ilora

          LOVE!! Definitely come back when you get the rest of your photos because I need to see more of everything! Your bouquet is gorgeous and I love his bow tie and your dress etc etc etc!

  • Jan

    I wanted to keep my accessories simple and not bridal. My look overall was sort of goddess meets old Hollywood-ish. I bought gold pendants with big blue sapphires off Etsy and made them into earrings, and I wore a sapphire ring on my right hand. Add in some simple gold wedges and that was that. I love, love, looooved my earrings and am so happy that I can wear them on a regular day and feel all pretty and cool.

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  • louise danger

    my dress is the one in the picture (RIP alfred angelo); i wish i wish i wish i’d held out for some of the rebecca ingram dresses. it looks kind of frumpy on the model. when i shopped, i told the consultants that my vibe was “grace kelly’s hipster/hippie younger sister.” the belt was the first thing to go when i had the alterations done. https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/c11cf978b8ce2883c9ef3b5861bda4cf85673f661a05eafd2f3b2f0dec98b18d.jpg

    i bought my shoes almost before i’d bought my dress: green velveteen flats (the joys of being 6′ tall – formalwear never needs a hem) from TUK with bunny faces on the toes – here they are on amazon, for more than i paid https://www.amazon.com/T-U-K-Velvet-Bunny-Ballet-Flat/dp/B010Y6DBI2

    i also bought/knew what my veil would look like before i had the dress picked out – a knee-length-with-a-blusher juliet veil. i had trouble deciding whether it should have lace or not but eventually opted for one that was plain. glad i did, because i also wanted a flower crown! the crown was just greenery and in the end, my look was something like julie andrews in the sound of music – classic, not stuffy, soft, feminine, vintage-y. :)

    because the neckline is so complicated, i opted for no necklace. i don’t have pierced ears so earrings were out, and bracelets always just get in the way.

  • lex

    I’m wearing a Maggie Sottero dress for my wedding (https://www.maggiesottero.com/maggie-sottero/marina/9508) and I’m def having trouble styling it. Not the biggest fan of veils, and none of them looked right with the dress anyway. So happy to see some cool hair pieces that don’t require a veil!

    Plus, I LOVE the magic and whimsy options, and am especially loving colored shoes!

    • penguin

      I actually love the flower crown that the model is wearing at that link! With an illusion neckline that high I’d avoid necklaces, but you could do any kind of earrings with it. APW has lots of articles on non-veil things to wear on your head, I’d check those out.

  • Katharine Parker

    I borrowed from my mom a pendant necklace that I put on a more delicate chain and pearl drop earrings. I kept things pretty classic, which made it all easier–my hair (vaguely French feeling top knot) and dress were simple but ballerina-y, and I’m a delicate jewelry girl anyway, so I didn’t want to wear too much.

    Styling is hard, though. An interesting article might be to take the same wedding dress and style it three ways (maybe have different people all style it?).

    • ssha

      I really like that idea of having different people style it! Accessories are hard to visualize all together but pieces like this are helpful. Reading this, I was thinking “I want to the first dress with the second set of accessories…” haha.

    • penguin

      Ooh I love this idea. I think it would be a good way to show how different the dress could look – one lady with a pixie cut, another with an elaborate updo, etc and all different accessory styles.

      • Zoya

        Bonus points for showing the same dress on different body types as well!

      • Ashley Weckbacher

        That is brilliant

  • Rebecca

    We got married in summer and I happily borrowed some of my mum’s earrings and was looking forward to being barefoot on the beach and secure in my relaxed glam style.. And then on the day it was a little chilly.. And a little rainy. I still went barefoot but before and after the wedding I grabbed the only jacket I had to stay warm, and I have to say the denim jacket/ivory raw silk dress combo looks dynamite in all our photos! Plus it just happened to match the lapis earrings!

  • Rosie

    I wore a simple strapless dress, with my curly hair up with a few multi-colored flowers in my hair, on the side of my bun. I also wore simple ivory flats and no jewelry. I felt classic and a little boho, without being too “bride” or costumey feeling. My florist was able to wrap the flowers in floral tape so they could easily be pinned into my hair, and they matched the bouquet :)

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  • whatever_elke

    I definitely struggled over everything wedding-attire related, largely due to the fact that I had no “vision” (and also for some reason assumed that it absolutely would not matter to me what my wedding dress looked like, despite the fact that I struggle to choose what to wear for dinner. Insert shrug emoji I guess.) I’m not sure everything I wore that day really went together, but I will say that everything was special to me in some way. I would definitely recommend buying accessories that you really love (if possible, from small businesses or vintage!) or asking friends/family to bring you a selection to borrow from. I did both of these things, and it was so special to have items from friends and loved ones to wear, and the accessories that I did buy, I now wear regularly (my fave item, after my rings and the earrings my husband bought me as a wedding gift, is this bracelet: https://theneshamaproject.com/product/love-moon-back-bracelet/ – I chose the white opal version, which conveniently has two small blue beads that could suffice for your something blue, if you’re into that (I was). My grandmother’s name was Opal, and she passed away a few years ago, so having this stone with me was a really lovely way for me to make her memory a part of my day.

    Also, I LOVED my flower crown. If you’re not sure about a veil and you like flowers I FULLY RECOMMEND getting a flower crown. Again, I had almost no vision for the event overall, but I did have flowers/colors I liked, which I shared with my florist, along with a few pinterest photos of styles I liked (size, composition, as/symmetry, head placement). This is a place where you can be specific and make it personal and every flower crown looks different! I’m still a little sad I didn’t save mine, but it makes me so happy when I see it in photos.

    Oh! Last thing I suggest is, definitely look for stuff on etsy and ebay but I found I was the most successful when I was specific with my searches and also stopped looking after I found something I like. THERE ARE SO MANY THINGS IN THE WORLD AND THE INTERNET. Trust that you like what you like.

    Flower crown pic :) (plus my/our dog Pippa whom I sometimes imagine is my daemon for you Philip Pullman fans….)
    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/d141f5eaf1fbcd09c1d2f40a2aff73098c082954e846228ccf7ba88d84d3d166.jpg