Destination wedding dress: formal or footloose?

Getting married on a beach, mountaintop, remote villa or rustic rural setting is a romantic ideal for many brides.

But what does that mean for the wedding dress?

Should you go formal or footloose? Will your gown fit in your suitcase?

A bride having a “destination wedding” should think about versatility when choosing a gown. She must be “concerned about being comfortable, more so than your typical bride. She has to contend with weather and terrain, making her gown choice critical to how at-ease she feels on her special day,” says Lori Conley, senior buyer for David’s Bridal.

Christine Pagulayan of Toronto and her fiancé, Ian McIntyre, jetted to Costa Rica in 2013 for a resort wedding.

“I had a (dress) style in mind: strapless, low back, white with ruching. Initially, I thought about going short, since we were going to get married on a beach, but I then realized that even if it may be heavy or sweaty, I wanted a real wedding dress. So we found one that had a gorgeous train, but it also had a bustle so I could dance,” Pagulayan says.

Some dress trends for destination brides:

Light fabrics and short hems

Many traveling brides favor lightweight, airy fabrics.

Pictures: A-line wedding dresses

“Chiffon and organza are always favorites. Full trains can be cumbersome if you’re navigating sand or grass,” says Conley, of David’s.

“A lot of brides opt for the ease of a sweep train,” which just grazes the floor.

David’s destination-friendly dresses include styles in full or tea-length tulle, soft lace or chiffon, Conley says. ( )

Fabrics that travel well for brides wanting a more structured gown include silk gazar, georgette and crepe, which are “lighter-weight versions of silk faille and Mikado,” says Carrie Goldberg, associate fashion editor for Martha Stewart Weddings.

Short styles, meanwhile, can be fun, and have the added benefit of showing off a pretty pair of shoes.

J. Crew’s Karina short dress, for instance, has a flapper-esque fringe, and is covered in corded lace. ( )


“Tops and bottoms are not only easier to pack, they allow for mixing and matching fabric and fit to get a silhouette that feels unique to your personal style,” says Goldberg.

Separates work for any destination, she says: “A full organza skirt may appeal to a bride getting married on the beach; pairing it with a delicate silk camisole suits the location. The same skirt would suit a mountaintop affair when paired with a fur bolero or a fine knit.”

J.Crew’s Sloane poly-cotton long skirt has a simple, draped profile; a silk cami top embellished with beads, crystals, sequins and paillettes in a floral motif creates a dressy look, albeit more relaxed than a form-fitting gown.

At David’s Bridal, there’s the crisp Mikado cropped top balanced by a flowing, organza ball-gown skirt, creating a modern silhouette.


Let the venue inform your choice of hue, Goldberg says.

“A sunset wedding in Napa pairs beautifully with a blush gown, while the colors of an Amalfi Coast wedding may inspire the bride to opt for something blue.”


For bridesmaids — or perhaps even the bride — White House Black Market has a clever option: a short or long pull-on gown with a customizable top. You can adjust the straps on the “Genius” dress to make a halter, one-shoulder or cap-sleeved version. Easy to pack, affordable and available in a range of colors, these might be a good option for a group of bridesmaids. ( )


Flats or wedges are ideal for beach or garden: “The more surface area the sole of your shoes have, the easier it will be to walk,” says Conley.

Keep in mind that satin or grosgrain might get stained by grass or sand.

Another option for beach brides is “foot jewelry,” an accessory that does away with the need for an actual shoe. Fashioned of pearls, silks, rhinestones and shells, these can easily be made to complement the gown. ( )


If your wedding destination is, say, a villa or castle in Europe, you might want to go full-on princess with the dress.

Kleinfeld Bridal has some Cinderella-like confections from designers like Hayley Paige, Maggie Sottero, Badgley Mischka and others. ( )

For wintry venues, think of a cream coat trimmed with sparkle; sheer or opaque long sleeves; an embroidered bolero jacket; satin or silk gloves.

BHLDN has a selection of beaded and lacy capelets, while Reem Acra offers bridal furs in various hues. On your feet, satin pumps are classic but ivory suede boots might add dash.

Transporting the dress

Pagulayan was able to stow her gown on the plane in a special compartment for wedding dresses. Some carriers might let you store your dress in business class even if you’re flying coach; check with the airline ahead of time.

Experts recommend packing the dress in a sturdy garment bag rather than a box, so it can be stored more places. Label the bag both inside and out, and add a “Fragile” sticker. Arrive early at the airport, as the dress bag might require extra screening.

You can also ship the dress ahead of time.

Also see: cheap wedding dresses