For many couples, the decision to elope marks a departure from the pomp and circumstance of a traditional wedding. Instead of a full-skirted, organza ballgown, brides who choose to elope typically choose a non-traditional gown that matches the formality of the venue. Though much of the decision depends upon the personality and taste of the bride, there are a few guidelines to keep in mind when choosing the right elopement dress.
Popular Elopement Dress Styles
According to Martha Stewart, the style of a bride's wedding dress should match the style of the event. For a traditional wedding, most brides choose a white or off-white floor-length gown to match the formality of the event. As an elopement typically takes place outside a traditional wedding setting, such as a church or widely attended formal ceremony, brides who choose to elope should also choose a less formal dress.
When searching for the right outfit, consider one of the following options.
Dresses that come in shorter lengths, such as tea-length or knee-length, are good options. For a more grand city hall or courthouse setting, a lace, three-quarter sleeve, tea-length dress is a stunning choice. Full skirts up the formality of your outfit, but a fitted pencil skirt bottom on the dress is sleek and chic.
Though it's not cheap, this $700 Oleg Cassini-designed dress for David's Bridal is more reasonably-priced than most traditional gowns and still echoes a traditional dress option. It's available in white and ivory in sizes 0 through 14. For something a little less fancy, consider a slim-fitting dress that has fewer frills - it's an ideal choice for keeping your wedding day look understated and simple.
Casual Dress Materials
Cotton, linen or jersey dresses offer a more casual feel than gowns made from silk.
- A knee-length, French Connection paneled jersey dress from Bloomingdale's (around $150 in sizes 0 to 10) in white is a great option for a casual courthouse visit.
- A white cotton belted Theory Jalyis M Sunny button-down dress (also from Bloomindale's at about $400 in sizes 00 to 12) is fitting for backyard elopement with just the officiant and a witness or two.
Dress either one up for the ceremony by adding a retro birdcage fastener or veil, and remove the headpiece after the vows to head to a celebratory dinner for two.
Warm Weather Recommendations
For a warm weather destination elopement such as the desert or the beach, pick dresses with flowing fabric so you can stay comfortable and move around unencumbered by layers of tulle. Bohemian-inspired dresses in linen and cotton blends with lightweight lace details and spaghetti straps look stunning in a destination setting.
If this is your look, consider checking out:
- A strappy ivory lace number from Lulus that has a boho beachy vibe and a wallet-friendly price tag (about $75, sizes XS to XL).
- The Tyyliks lace maxi dress, available at Amazon, combines lightweight fabric with a beachy feel at an affordable price (about $40, sizes small through x-large).
Lace dresses in a shorter length are good options. Choosing to elope doesn't mean that you have to forego the romance of the big day.
- Incorporate pretty, romantic details into your elopement by picking a dress with intricate lace overlay from BHLDN for about $450. It comes in ivory from sizes 0 to 12.
- A knee-length lace dress can still be conservative if desired - 3/4 length sleeves on a lace sheath style from Eliza J at Nordstrom looks classic and covered-up. It's about $160, comes in ivory nude, and in both regular and limited petite sizes.
- For ladies who still prefer the long dress look, err on the side of less structured, flowing lace dresses to match the gown to the formality of the day. Pick one up from Twobirds at ShopBop for about $440. It is ivory and one size fits most.
Two-piece wedding dresses are a trendy alternative to a more traditional wedding gown.
- For an elevated, fancier look, a long ivory skirt with a silk top from BHLDN (around $160 to $1,200 in sizes 0 to 14/16) make a beautiful pairing. And if you can't bring yourself to wear two-piece but love the belly-peek, consider an illusion dress.
- The white mesh on this sleek white dress from Alice + Olivia at Nieman Marcus ($400 or less) will keep your belly and legs more covered, but it still hints at the fashionable two-piece trend. It comes in sizes 0 through 10.
- Choose the Bess Bridal two-piece from Amazon (under $300) and you're sure to make a statement. It comes in sizes 2 through 26 plus and numerous colors, although champagne and white are classic choices. The skirt is cut in a more traditional full style than many other elopement options, making it perfect for brides looking for an elopement option with a twist on the classic gown.
Colorful or Patterned Dresses
Colorful or patterned dresses that downplay the formality of a gown. Eloping in a fabulous destination known for bold colors and prints, like Morocco or Mexico? Choose vibrant patterns that reflect local styles and history of the locale.
- An Aztec print dress could be perfect for a Mexican beach elopement.
- A Marrakesh-inspired ikat and paisley dress will echo the style of your Moroccan escape.
Brides who stay in their hometown can also incorporate color and pattern into their elopement dress.
This $150 beaded sheath dress from Pisarro Nights at Nordstrom has a subtle pattern and eight color options that make it fabulous without being too stiffly formal, and works just as well in Paris, France as it does in Paris, Texas. Pick it up in regular and petite sizes (sizes available depends on color selected).
Consider buying a formal jumpsuit in lieu of a dress. For women who prefer to wear a great pair of pants to a skirt or dress, a dressy jumpsuit is a great option. Not only are jumpsuits back in style, but the right cut and fabric makes them just a beautiful and fluid as a dress. If you choose one in a silk fabric, look for special details that make it a wedding day standout.
- A white or cream silk jumpsuit with a plunging neckline or a keyhole detail (BHLDN for $240) and delicate straps are statement-making styles that a bold bride can rock with pride and comfort. It's available in sizes through 18.
- The Halston Heritage jumpsuit (Amazon for $500) has billowy legs that give the look of a skirt and comes in sizes through 10.
Tips for Choosing the Right Elopement Attire
When choosing an outfit for your elopement, take into consideration the setting for the event.
- A quick ceremony on the beach with just the two of you could call for a flowy long dress that feels lightweight and catches the wind for a romantic billow.
- Planning to hop a plane to Vegas with Elvis as your officiant? Go short, and choose a dress with plenty of pattern, color, and personality - a strapless little sequin number could be just the ticket for a Vegas elopement.
- For a simple courthouse elopement, a coordinating silk top and skirt, knee-length dress or even a chic white pantsuit are all great options to consider.
Most importantly, if you choose to elope make sure that your outfit for the day reflects your own style and personality. This day is about the two of you, and no one else's opinion should come into play when choosing your dress.
Where to Find an Elopement Dress
The process of finding an elopement dress is vastly different from the process of finding a wedding dress. Traditional wedding dress shopping typically involves making an appointment ahead of time, trying on dozens of dresses that are only available in the chosen sample size, and finally placing an order for the chosen dress in your correct size. Once the dress is ordered, it generally takes 6 weeks to 6 months to arrive in store. Once the dress does arrive, the bride endures one to three rounds of alterations carefully timed with the approaching wedding day. For couples who elope, the timing and planning required to find a dress the traditional way is likely not in line with their no-frills taste.
Instead of visiting a wedding dress store, brides eager to elope can save time and money by doing the following:
- Focus on off-the-rack dresses. Dresses with long lead-times are a no-go when time is of the essence. Limit your search to regular stores that carry a great dress selection and your favorite online dress stores to ensure you find something in stock and in your size.
- Scour wedding consignment stores. Consignment stores carry once worn wedding dresses in an array of sizes and styles. A long gown can often be altered into a knee-length to make a dress more elopement-appropriate. Another alternative? Toss your favorite leather or jean jacket over a long traditional gown for a devil-may-care twist on tradition. Getting married in autumn? Cozy fall sweaters and ballet wrap sweaters also make unexpected, lovely pairing over long skirts and dresses.
- If you don't have your heart set on a white dress, consider renting a designer gown for the big day. Websites like Rent the Runway offer the opportunity to borrow from a collection of hundreds of high-end designer dresses. For a small rental fee, brides can choose their favorite pick along with a backup option to wear for the elopement. The quick turnaround time and reputation for excellent customer service make these clothing rental sites ideal for the bride on a tight timeline and budget.
Keep It Simple and Uniquely You
Benefits of choosing elopement over a large, traditional wedding include major cost savings, lower stress levels, and a more private experience. It makes practical sense that the chosen elopement dress should align with these values - it should be budget-friendly, easy to find and purchase, and be a unique celebration of the bride's style. Following styling suggestions should reduce bridal gown headaches and help keep the focus on what matters most - the couple's bright future.