The main fabric types used in the bridal industry are:
What makes it confusing is that all of the fabric types mentioned above are available in both polyester and silk versions, and sometimes even a blend of the two. Often a gown can be purchased in silk satin OR polyester satin. The look will be similar in terms of how the fabric drapes and shines, but the cost will be dramatically different (for obvious reasons). Satin is often the most difficult concept to explain to people. Satin doesn't refer to the type of textile used. Instead, the term "satin" is in reference to the weave of the thread. It's possible to have a "satin" or "sateen" weave using just about any fabric- silk, rayon, polyester, wool, nylon, etc. A satin weave has a shiny side and a matte (non-shiny) side. The same goes for charmeuse, although, charmeuse is much lighter than satin.
The difference between natural (silk) and synthetic (polyester) fabrics is actually quite large, and there are pros and cons to both. For example:
- Silk is easily stained- even by water- and so delicate that it is difficult to clean unless you are a professional, while polyester can often be washed in a machine or by hand without causing any damage.
- Silk feels much nicer against your skin and is a very breathe-able fabric. Polyester hardly breathes at all, so you will feel warmer in it (not always a good thing).
- Silk has a natural luster to it that simply cannot be recreated in synthetic form, although some manufacturers come quite close.
- Polyester is man-made and therefore can have a much more "perfect" finished look. Natural fibers are not all uniform because they are not manufactured to be so.
- Silk is very delicate, easily marred and not easily repaired. Polyester, on the other hand, holds up very well to a wealth of abuse.
I hope you can start to see the benefits and the draw-backs of both silk and synthetic fabrics. In the end, it comes down to your personal preference. Most of the time, it takes a trained eye to truly know the difference, so if you are looking to save yourself a lot of money, consider purchasing a dress made with a synthetic blend instead of pure silk.
As for how each fabric looks, here are some gowns to use as examples (all by Monique Lhuillier except the charmeuse which is by Alvina Valenta):
Note: The SHEERS include tulle, chiffon, lace and organza and obviously all of them are nearly always lined with an opaque lining in the same color. The lining can even be one of the OPAQUES: satin, taffeta and charmeuse.
Tulle: Whether silk or synthetic, tulle will always be a very open-weave translucent fabric that creates a very whimsical, balletic look. The skirt of this dress is made with layers of tulle:
Chiffon: Chiffon is a tighter and lighter weave than tulle, but the fabric is still very see-through. It is an ideal fabric for a fluid sheath dress like this one:
Lace: Lace offers a very romantic look, but don't be fooled- it's not nearly as old-fashioned-looking as you might think. This lace dress is actually quite modern and a bit sexy:
Organza: The last of the "sheer" fabrics we'll talk about, organza is a stiffer fabric that offers great structure, especially for dresses with pick-ups or sculptural flowers. Because of its translucent quality, it still has a very light overall effect, but its structure also makes it ideal for fuller skirts and 3-dimensional details:
Satin: Probably one of the most common fabrics in the bridal industry, satin is very elegant and suitable to many different silhouettes and styles:
Taffeta: Taffeta gets a bad reputation from how it was so mis-used in so many 80's prom dresses, but it can actually be a very elegant fabric suitable for fall and winter weddings.
Charmeuse: Most commonly used in lingerie and frequently cut on the bias for maximum sex appeal, charmeuse is a slinky fabric for the girl who wants to show off her body:
Fabric is actually the part of the dress that I find the most interesting, so I could wax poetic here for hours if I'm not careful. If you have any questions about a particular fabric, or what makes two fabrics different from each other, or if there is a fabric I didn't talk about and you want to know more, just leave a comment and I'll be sure to reply. Thanks for stopping by!