Abby Riley didn't want to look like a princess when she got married. So Riley, 27, walked down the aisle wearing the dress she had always dreamed of -- a tea-length white gown with a polka-dot lace overlay and a poofy skirt supported by layers of blue tulle.
Think Audrey Hepburn, not Princess Di.
"I've always been a nerd for old movies, and back in junior high I'd watch the Turner Classic Movie channel," she said. "One day, there was Audrey Hepburn dancing around with Fred Astaire [in "Funny Face"] in this absolutely gorgeous tea-length, 1950s wedding dress. It was love at first sight. It just stuck with me: That's how I wanted to look on my wedding day."
The Minneapolis resident found her dress at the Loft Bridal and Design in Lakeville. When the shop opened four years ago, owner Sara Nivala was among the first to start stocking the vintage-influenced Stephanie James line. Now, retro and other less traditional styles make up 40 percent of her business. "These brides don't want the big white ball gown," she said. "They want something more unique."
And while Audrey may not unseat Di as the model bride, more women are reaching further into the past to find inspiration for their wedding dresses.
"These girls are not the Cinderella girl," said Rachel Leonard, fashion director of Brides magazine. "They're looking for an individual style. At the end of the day," she said, "they want to look like a bride, no matter what."Mix and match
Call it the "Mad Men" effect. The AMC television show, set in the early 1960s, has influenced runway fashions for several years. Now '60s chic is working its way into weddings.
But Leonard said the retro craze isn't limited to '60s. "Vintage can be defined in many ways, a certain period of time or something influenced from yesterday. Or you can reinvent," she said.
And vintage, Leonard pointed out, doesn't have to be an all-or-nothing look. Some brides incorporate retro touches through accessories such as headpieces, veils, short gloves and peep-toe pumps. Top bridal designers, including Monique Lhuillier, Amsale and Christos, are adding vintage elements to contemporary dresses.
Mixing styles appealed to Beth Hammarlund, 29, of Minneapolis, who said she didn't want to look like a "traditional bride. I never felt particularly princessy and bridey," she said.
White isn't her color, Hammarlund said, and a promise to Mom about not wearing black ruled out the vintage lace dress she liked. So the retirement planner and creative director at fashion publication L'Etoile decided on chartreuse. She enlisted local designer Emma Berg to create a gown that channeled 1930s and 1940s glamour. Hammarlund accessorized with a vintage costume-pearl brooch and 5-inch platform heels. Even the groomsmen got into the Old Hollywood feel, donning vintage tie clips.
"It wasn't totally vintage," Hammarlund said of her wedding, "but it certainly evoked an era gone by."
Because her dress was less traditional, Hammarlund said she "expected to feel like I was getting dressed for a party" rather than her wedding. But she was surprised. "When I got into the dress on the day, I felt pretty special, like just the prettiest girl in the universe."Heritage gowns
Opting for a vintage dress, jewelry or veil can save money. But the attraction goes deeper than dollars, according to Leonard. Many brides, she said, are looking for "roots in this cold computer world we live in." An old dress or accessory "has a heritage and tradition."
That's one of the reasons why Kirsten Mortensen, 32, decided to rework her grandmother's dress.
The other was that Mortensen, art director for Minnesota Monthly, wasn't keen on shopping for dresses. Still, she dutifully went to several stores. "It helped me realize what kind of styles looked good on me, details that I liked and didn't like and, most of all, confirmed that I didn't want any of the dresses I tried," she said.
Instead of buying new, she had a seamstress use the luxurious silk fabric from her "Mor Mor's" 1939 gown to design a more modern, off-the-shoulder dress with a dropped waist. She accessorized it with earrings borrowed from her mother-in-law, her grandmother's brooch and a birdcage veil that she fashioned herself the night before her ceremony with extra dress material, Russian netting and feathers.
On her big day, Mortensen said she felt "glowy," thanks largely to the meaning behind her ensemble. "Both of my mom's parents passed away, but the dress was a way to include them in the wedding day, as well as have a piece that's uniquely mine."
Sara Glassman • 612-673-7177