How to Transition Your Wedding Dress Across Seasons, According to Designers

A new date doesn't mean you need a new dress.
by Sarah Hanlon

Sometimes, wedding plans change—but that doesn't mean you have to overhaul the original details, including your wedding dress. A variety of factors can influence the style of your gown, like the venue, time of year and type of ceremony, and should there be changes, you might feel like you need a different dress to complement your new event. Here's the good news: You don't have to give up your dream gown because of a change of plans. There are plenty of transitional wedding dress tips to help make your gown fit the season and ceremony style

After all, changing your wedding dress last minute can be stressful, overwhelming and expensive. And since there are plenty of ways to creatively repurpose your dress across seasons, there's no need to panic. To help, we've tapped industry experts to share their best transitional wedding dress tips. From hemlines to detachable elements, you'll learn how to make the dress you have work for any venue or season. Once you have a few ideas, consult with your bridal salon and/or designer about ways to transition your gown according to its style. After all, it's your wedding day look, and you should wear an outfit that makes you feel your absolute best.

Accessorize Thoughtfully

Before you reach out to a local seamstress with a list of ideas to alter your dress, remember you don't have to conform to traditional wedding fashion rules. While some styles or silhouettes might be synonymous with certain seasons, it's okay—and often encouraged—to wear whatever you want for your wedding. "Fewer brides are allowing the formality of the venue or the season to dictate the dress," says Leslie Voorhees, founder of Anomalie. "What's most important is that you're wearing a dress you're really excited about." 

However, if you do want to alter your wedding look, there are a few simple options. One transitional wedding dress tip that doesn't involve alterations is to accessorize thoughtfully. Think about your new date and how accessories can elevate your look. If your wedding will take place during fall or winter, a cozy cover up will instantly make your ensemble cold weather-appropriate. "Fur or faux fur shawls are a great option," Voorhees suggests. "You could also opt for a tulle capelet with dense lace appliques." If fur isn't your style, consider a custom leather or denim jacket to keep warm for any outdoor portions of your big day. 

Transitioning a winter dress for a summer wedding may prove to be more complicated, but it can be done. Go for a colorful accessory, like statement earrings, a barrette or a bright headband. "Headpieces immediately make a statement and add regalness to a bride's look," says Jalona Marie Falkner, owner of Jalona Marie Bridal. "They're the first thing I grab when I feel a look is missing something special."

To solidify your summer style, opt for open-toed wedding sandals. Whether you go for a woven wedge or block heel, sandals will immediately make your look warm weather-worthy. Or, for a winter wedding, go for a classic pair of pumps or flats

Modify the Neckline

Beyond accessorizing, consider working with a local seamstress or tailor for alterations. While it's certainly not necessary, small tweaks may help your transition your wedding dress across seasons. The neckline is a defining feature that can modify any dress style. "Changing a neckline is the most notable alteration that can be done to the dress," says a design rep for bridal company Azazie. "We recommend that brides try different necklines to see what they're comfortable with prior to choosing a new alteration."

Work with your seamstress to add straps to a strapless dress to winterize the look. You can also inquire about adding lace overlay to the neckline to make it appear higher—or, if you have a plunging neckline, added fabric will help cover up more. It may be possible to take some fabric away too if your new date will be during warmer months. 

A pro tip: It's easier to add more fabric as opposed to removing it. Deconstructing the top of your dress may alter the fit, so any potential changes may be minimal. Work with an experienced seamstress to weigh all of your options, and go with the alteration that makes you feel most confident. 

Experiment with Sleeve Lengths

Another way to create a transitional wedding dress is to change the sleeve length. If you're concerned about long sleeves being too warm for your new date, work with a seamstress to decrease the length. "Ask your tailor to shorten the sleeves to be three-quarter length," Voorhees says. "Or, alternatively, go for cap sleeves, which are trending right now."

You can also ask your pro to transform lace sleeves into barely-there sheer sleeves. "Changing a heavy lace sleeve to an illusion sleeve with touches of lace here and there can lighten up a gown beautifully," says Falkner. "You could also do the same on the back of the dress." 

While you can add sleeves to a dress, it may not be the most comfortable option. Add-on sleeves may require snaps or fastens in the dress, which can prove to be constricting or uncomfortable. Instead, ask your pro to add off-the-shoulder swag sleeves. While it won't provide warmth, it'll give the effect of sleeves, which can drastically change the overall look of your dress. (Plus, there are plenty of accessories to keep warm if you need them.) 

Hem the Skirt

In addition to the neckline, you can also alter your skirt to transition your look. To winterize your gown, consider adding a longer train or investing in a long veil. Extra fabric will instantly make your outfit look more winter-ready. 

Alternatively, consider raising the dress hemline for a wedding in warmer months. Tea-length and high-low dresses are great length options for their versatility. "There's been a resurgence of the high-low dress, and we're also seeing a lot of tea-length dresses," says Voorhees. "Both styles can bridge the gap of formality and seasons very well. They're fancy and fun, and they can work for any setting."

Remember, though, that hemming your skirt is permanent. "Shortening the hemline is an option, but once it's cut you can't go back," says the Azazie rep. "The best alternative is to pin a long train and create a new look with a bustle. This allows the bride to wear the train down the aisle, but comfortably pin it up for the reception."

Include Elements Like Detachable Capes or Skirts

A transitional wedding dress is a buzzy term for a gown that has detachable elements. Some brides opt for a transitional wedding dress to alter their look from ceremony to reception without getting a second wedding dress. Even if your dress wasn't originally a transitional design, work with your seamstress to create a custom add-on, like a detachable skirt. "We've created plenty of detachable sheer or layered overskirts that go all the way around the waist to cover the dress underneath," Voorhees says. "We've also done skirts that go almost all the way around to show the front of the dress." If you have a slim-fit dress, you can emulate this look. Ask your pro to create a sheer tulle or layered overskirt to wear on top of your dress during part of your big day, then take it away to reveal a second look. 

Detachable elements can go beyond a skirt too. "Detachable sleeves, like jeweled arm cuffs, hemlines and trains can all transform a dress in surprising ways," says Falkner. 

You can also modernize your wedding ensemble with a cape (à la Hilary Duff). "My favorite way to transition a summer dress into a colder-weather gown is a cape," Falkner adds. "They are fun to wear, always stylish, and can add as much glam or elegance as you want."

"We've seen lots of capes recently," Voorhees echoes. "They're a cool, modern version of the veil. You can attach them at the shoulders or the waist." Attach your cape to the dress during the ceremony in lieu of a traditional veil for an effortlessly chic look. (This is also a functional way to keep warm if you think you'll get cold.) Then, remove it during the ceremony to show off the back of your gown. 

Ultimately, go with alterations that make you feel confident. Your wedding dress should make you feel your best. The time or place of your wedding won't matter when you're wearing a look you love.

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