I have been working with Brides now for over twenty years advising on the dress & the styling to create the look each customer has in mind.

When we first started building up the showcase of bridal samples, making separates was not only logical, it was cost effective. Every time I added another dress combination of corset, skirt & sleeves/strap, I added more pieces that could be mixed & matched with pieces already in the collection. As we were exclusively making one of a kind gowns, having a collection of pieces offered up more looks for customers to try on & it worked really well.


Our Valentina corset with her original skirt (worn over & under the skirt|). With her strap & sleeve options demonstrating how Sleeves & Straps change the look of a dress.

Sleeves & straps:

From experience, sleeves are one of three things that change the look & mood of a dress more than anything else & it is perhaps why so few off the peg dresses come with sleeves. Manufacturers possibly do not want to limit a dress’s appeal. Yet a lot of brides want sleeves. In their most basic form, a straight sleeve will help disguise bingo wings (which are the obsession of many brides young & old & of every body shape), even a semi-transparent one. The simple addition of a sleeve or shoulder treatment can tweak a gown to work for a particular theme or turn an almost right dress into the dress that perfectly fit’s a bride’s vision.

*The others are fabric choice & styling; hair, make-up, accessories.

A cap sleeve for example can add a Pride & Prejudice vibe or suggest 50’s or 60’s depending on the rest of the dress. A floaty/blousy sleeve says Romance, Pre-Raphaelite, Renaissance, Medieval or Boho. A drape & trails off of a shoulder says Grecian or Roman or indeed can look contemporary & a puff or dramatic frill can look modern or Victorian.

As a designer, I love to push a sleeve design beyond a basic cut. There are so many ways to decorate an arm. Whilst the bodice & skirt of a dress are fairly static & the shape & detail do most of the work, our arm movements are expressive & a floaty/blousy sleeve, in particular, can add another level of beauty to a design. They get caught in the breeze, drape beautifully when you embrace & they flutter down the front of your skirt when you hold your bouquet.

At the moment I love to mix open beadwork with feathers or tulle to create sleeves that are original, frivolous & exciting. A nod to the past but translated in a fresh new way.

You only have to look at the sketches I have used in this article, all featuring my Valentina corset design, to see how different a dress looks with a beaded strap or, in this case, a floaty sleeve with a nod to the 18thC.



The element of disguise.

We’ve touched on the bingo wing issue & how any sleeve can help hide or detract, similarly draped or beaded straps can have a similar effect.

There is one other sneaky think a floaty sleeve can do (especially a long one) & that is to disguise wide hips by simply blurring the silhouette around hip & thigh area. It can mean the fitted silhouette you desire but may feel a little too self conscious to go for, goes form the no pile to the yes pile.


Fabric choice:

The weight & drape of a fabric can completely change a design.

At one end we have silk tulles, georgettes, chiffons, crepe back satins, double crepes – all light & fluid with a beautiful drape that are perfect for romantic flowing styles.  At the other taffetas, duchess satins, zibeline, etc. that are crisper & look fabulous creating voluminous ballgowns, dramatic draped skirts & architectural styles.



When I work with clients, personally I favor hair swept up as it suits most clients, lifts faces & adds elegance to the overall look. Soft up do’s & curls are often more flattering than neat hair or poker straight & hair fully down can drag facial features down. Choosing a flattering style is of utmost importance to a bride but that’s a slightly different tangent to what I’m discussing.

How hair is styled can change the overall look dramatically, so it’s worth looking through pinterest or you’re go to inspirations like favourite movie stars to capture that look.

  • Updo’s add elegance & drama,
  • Big, bouncy waves & beachy waves are sexy,
  • Tumbling curls are romantic,
  • A neat bun chic & balletic,
  • Victory rolls & glossy curls are very pin up,
  • For a bohemian vibe choose braids, beach waves, soft curls & messy updo’s,
  • Bolt straight, crimping, texture can all look edgy & modern.

Paris by Chantal Mallett with Red Carpet Glamour styling.

Hollywood Glamour / Red Carpet / Veronica Lake inspired Moodboard:

Gown: Paris by Chantal Mallett Bridal Couture

Shoes: Jimmy Choo

Earrings: the-crystal-rose.com

Make-up: via Pintest

Hair: Alexandre de Paris


Then there is the power of a red lip, a flick of heavy eyeliner, feathery lashes for doe eyes, contouring for a sculpted look & a the youthful dewy natural look, to name a few.

Sparkling accessories add glamour but equally the design & how it’s worn can give a nod to the 20’s or your inner princess or a touch of class to a classic look. Flowers, hair vines & floral crowns soften a look, add a little natural disorder & can dress a look down a touch. Long earrings add glamour & lengthen your neck, chokers on the other hand can shorten a neck (there is that tangent again).



Paris by Chantal Mallett with Ethereal Goddess styling.

Ethereal Goddess inspired Moodboard:

Gown: Paris by Chantal Mallett Bridal Couture

Shoes: Badgley Mischka

Hair comb: percyhandmade.com

Make-up & hair images: via Pinterest

Catwalk: Model Sasha Luss for Bluemarine


When it comes to shoes, I think a closed toe is dressier.

  • A closed toed court or strappy shoe is very classic & works with most looks,
  • A sandal with exposed toes is more boho or covered in rhinestones is very red carpet,
  • T bars with beading very 20’s,
  • A flat sandal quite hippy or boho,
  • A heeled satin or lace boot works with big skirts & is quite sexy & quirky; evocative of Moulin Rouge & burlesque.

I hope you found my insights useful.

I’ve included two styling moodboards showing different styling for the same dress (Paris) to show how you can create different looks by changing hair, make-up & accessories, in this case, Red Carpet/Hollywood Glamour vs. Ethereal Goddess.

Happy Planning,





*All the Valentina variations sketched are created from pieces in our current collection & can be ordered in any of the configurations shown, mixed with other pieces in the collection or used to inspire a new design.