How to Make a Simple Wedding Dress Look Badass

And still feel like yourself

by Maddie Eisenhart, Chief Revenue Officer

"Wedding Dress Styling Ideas" text over a seamstress sewing beading on a model 's wedding dress

Wedding dress shopping can be a daunting experience. There’s the pressure to find “the dress,” to give everyone you love an emotional experience with you, plus the regular old frustration of trying on clothing and hoping something looks good. Then there’s the fact that if you’re browsing online and you look at the photos of wedding dresses in online catalogs, it’s really hard to figure out how a wedding dress on a model will translate to you, a person who has not been airbrushed.

Not to mention this scenario, which I’ve seen happen all too many times in wedding dress shopping: you go into a store. Start trying on dresses. Find some stuff you like. Next thing you know, you’re being accessorized with All The Things so you look “properly bridal” and you start breaking out into a rash like that one scene from Sex And The City because you barely recognize yourself anymore. So today I thought I’d share some tips and ideas for styling a wedding dress in a way that still feels like you. Because it’s hard when you’re looking at fancy dresses online or even on your body to understand how they might work at say, your barn or beach wedding.

The good news is, I’ve seen a lot of wedding dresses in real life and a lot of wedding dresses on models in catalogs, and a hundred percent of the time, a wedding dress looks better on a person getting married than it does on a person in an editorial shoot. Something about joy (and non-airbrushed bodies) does that.

Vibe: Bright Backyard

Bridal party in mismatched dresses and pants

Tip: If your dress is on the simpler side, with fewer design elements (like beading or other accouterment), you can go bigger with your accessories without getting totally swallowed by your outfit. For balance, try to avoid too many things too close together. Big necklace? Go for small (or no) earrings. Also? A backyard wedding doesn’t mean you can’t still pile on the glitter if you want to. (See this wedding for all the permission you need on that front. It wasn’t in their backyard, exactly, but your mom doesn’t need to know that when you forward her the link.)

Model in lace dress, gold glitter platforms, curls in a flower crown

DRESS: Mina Gown by BHLDN ($700) | Flower Crown: Tutorial via APW | Shoes: Jessica Simpson via Zappos (Pro Tip: If you’re into heels, Jessica Simpson makes surprisingly comfortable shoes. Of all the platforms I’ve ever worn (and that number is high), hers have been the most wearable.)

Vibe: modern glam

black bride with a strapless white Truly by Zac Posen dress and gold chain headband

Tip: You can make a dress with a lot of feminine details (think lace, ruffles) still feel edgy with modern hair and accessories, like hair jewelry instead of a veil.

Strapless beaded wedding dress, natural hair twist updo, beaded earrings

DRESS: Strapless Crystal Beaded Tulle Fit and Flare Gown from David’s Bridal ($1500, available in sizes 00–26) | TRIPLE TWIST POMPADOUR: Tutorial via Black Girl Long Hair | Earrings: Bauble Bar

Vibe: Relaxed Beachy

Bride and groom walking in a tropical area with friends behind them

Tip: Most beachy wedding dresses (according to dress stores) are super simple. But if you like beads and bling or lots of lace, don’t let that stop you. Wearing your hair down, and keeping your accessories minimal can make a super fancy dress feel more casual and relaxed.

Cap sleeve white dress with beadings, beaded sandals, curly long blonde haired model

Dress: WToo by Watters Style 16608 ($1550, available in sizes oo–32) | Beach Waves: Tutorial via Barefoot Blonde (For more beach wave tips, check out Refinery29. They’ve got more than I can count, including product tips, a curling iron method for naturally straight hair, and heat-free beach waves for hair that doesn’t like to hold a curl.) | Sandals: ASOS

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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  • Betsy

    APW, please tell me what the name of the dress is in that first photo, with a woman making alterations on the beaded sheer top (has the words “Wedding Dress Styling Ideas” int he image). I am in LOVE.

  • Kayla

    True story: When I bought my dress, the women in the store convinced me to try on a long lace veil and strand of pearls, and I was like oh man, no, this look is not for me.

    And they were like OH ARE YOU MARRYING THE WRONG MAN?

    I still, to this day, can’t decide if it was awful or hilarious.

    • Lisa

      That is a fantastic story. I’m in the same place you are — I can’t decide whether to laugh or flip a table. That is some messed up shit.

    • Kat

      That’s insane! Lol I am a bridal consultant and I can’t imagine saying that to a bride. I try to take my cues on accessories from the bride. However, sometimes putting on the veil helps them (or their mom/sister/bestfriend/bossy aunt) see themselves as a bride and close a sale. I don’t want anyone buying a dress they don’t adore, but I also have to earn a living and some girls get nervous when the “say yes” part of the appointment comes. But I always ask “Are you planning on wearing a veil?” never “You need a veil.”

      Selling wedding gowns is a weird job, ya’ll.

  • BDubs

    This post is a light in a dark world <3

  • Dahlia Weddings and Baptisms

    Would have loved to hear more about ways to change up the dresses.

  • the cupboard under the stairs

    I just bought those EXACT ASOS sandals for my wedding. Are you guys reading my mind?!