News for all Jewish brides who observe a stricter code of dress: modest is trending. Ever since Grace Kelly graced the aisle in 1956, lacing on layers became iconic bridal flair.
The Royal Wedding in 2011 was watched by an estimated 3 billion viewers, but that wasn’t the day’s only matrimonial “coverage”: Princess Kate experienced heaps of attention for her stylish yet sensible, lace-sleeved dress. In 2009, Ivanka Trump received similar attention for her modest sleeves, when she wed an Orthodox Jewish man, Jared Kushner.
The New York Times praised Trump’s look as “sensational.” Although many bridews still opt for strapless dresses or revealing sweetheart necklines, a modest movement is well underway. For Maryland, Washington, D.C., and Northern Virginia brides and bridesmaids who wish to dress modestly, yet forgo the stress and expense of tailoring or building a dress from scratch, there are options. Gemachs – a free loan fund and shorthand for the Jewish maxim gemilut chasadim, “acts of kindness”— have become Greater Washington’s number one resource for modest chuppah-worthy finds.
Don’t let the setting of going dress-hunting in a basement fool you; many gemach curators update their gowns as often as twice a year. Nusy Lefkowitz, part of the trio with Debby Gibber and Rena Klein who run Ahavas Yisroel Sofie Gutman Gown Gemach, keeps her inventory fresh by making an annual trip to rental stores in New York and Lakewood, N.J., she said.
The gemach scene attracts brides of every budget. Lefkowitz said she sees “wealthy women who walk out with gowns” as well as girls who cannot afford to pay the recommended $50 donation. Lefkowitz said the team loves providing “fashionably free dresses,” and she personally feels most happy when she helps a bride she knows would not be able to afford the dress otherwise.
Based in Lefkowitz’s basement in Baltimore, Ahavas Yisroel brings in brides from Baltimore, D.C. and Silver Spring. Which colors and styles are they asking for? “Cream is very popular all year round,” Lefkowitz said, while “blush and navy are very popular, and chiffon and taffeta are trending in New York.” Others head north to the bridal shops in Brooklyn, Monsey and Teaneck in search of the latest, modest trends. That’s what Silver Spring native Renee Temin did when she was hunting for a wedding dress last January.
Temin, who describes herself as “too particular,” was prepared for a days-long search for the perfect dress. She found it in one of the first stores she visited in Lakewood, N.J. “I liked the variety,” Temin said. Before checking out bridal gemachs or schlepping all the way to the tri-state area, some Jewish brides find luck on the Internet.
Although both shops are located in Utah, an area with a large Mormon community, both Beautifully Modest and Latter Day Bride & Prom offer shipping services on all their bride and wedding party gowns. The two companies aim to dispel the common fear that showing less skin means wearing something analogous to a potato sack; Latter Day Bride & Prom’s catalogue features 15 pages of Vogue-worthy dresses with styles from mermaid to ball gown.
Owner of Beautifully Modest Janelle Carlson said she loves providing an alternative to the more exposed wedding designs. “I didn’t want to go against what I believe. I believe in a modest product.” Her inventory ranges from $299 to $1,100 for brides and $50 to $399 for bridesmaids’ dresses.
Every Jewish bride tries to live up to the image of Eishet Chayil, the “Woman of Valor” from the psalms, whose “strength and splendor are her clothing.” What this trend proves is that modesty and splendor can go hand-in-hand.