16 Types of Wedding Dress Embellishments Explained, From Embroidery to Beading

Not all wedding dress bling is the same—here's the difference between the most common options.
Samantha Iacia - The Knot wedding style expert
by
Samantha Iacia
  • Samantha writes articles for The Knot Worldwide, with a speciality in wedding decor, trends, and fashion
  • Prior to The Knot Worldwide, Samantha was a features and weddings contributor for The Baltimore Sun
  • She is based in Washington, D.C. and holds a Bachelor of Science in journalism
Updated Jun 08, 2022

Wedding gown embellishments are like adding sprinkles to ice cream: technically nonessential, but the ultimate finishing touch to the design. Elaborate beading and embroidery can bring richness and texture to plain wedding dress fabrics. Iridescent sequins and glitter give gowns a decorative twinkle, while layers of fringe add flourish and movement. Some types of embellishments are also a way to tap into the latest wedding dress trends, even if you're trying not to come across as too trendy. And if you're dreaming of a custom look for your wedding day, embellishments will get the job done, since you can personalize your dress with details like beading or appliqués to ensure that you're wearing a truly one-of-a-kind design.

Unless you're well-versed in wedding dress terminology, your head might be spinning with all of the technical lingo, but we've got you covered. This glossary outlines everything you need to know about the most popular types of bridal embellishments, including how and why they're often used on gowns. Brush up on the basics below before you shop for your own wedding dress.

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Some types of bridal embellishments are used in nearly every wedding dress designer's collections, while others are more niche and only added for specific purposes. Most often, you can expect to see timeless embellishments, like floral lace appliqués, beading, sequins, buttons and embroidery featured on a majority of designs when you're trying on dresses.

How Do You Add Wedding Gown Embellishments?

If your bridal gown doesn't have any embellishments at all—or you want to amp up the wow factor on a style that's already embellished—you can ask about your options when you order the dress from the salon. It may be easier and more cost-effective for the designer to make the customizations while they're creating the dress for you versus adding them later.

Your other option is to add embellishments during the wedding dress alterations process. A professional seamstress will be able to help you customize your design, whether that means adding lace to sheer long sleeves, enhancing the skirt with beading or sequins, or sewing buttons down the back of the gown for a classic look. But be prepared to pay more to create your dream wedding dress, depending on the type of customizations you want. Material and labor costs can tack several hundred (or thousands of) dollars onto your baseline alterations fee.

Want an easier solution? You can add embellishments to your look for the big day with the help of temporary pieces, like a sash bedazzled with rhinestones or a bridal cardigan decorated with intricate hand-beading.

Wedding Gown Embellishment Glossary

Appliqués

Hand-cut or laser-cut pieces of fabric that are sewn onto the dress. Lace appliqués are the most common type, typically in a floral design. Appliqués with beads sewn on top of the fabric are called "beaded appliqués," while other types of appliqués are embellished with additional embroidery using metallic or colorful thread.

Beading

Pieces of glass, crystal, gems, pearls or other iridescent material that have been glued or sewn onto the gown. Beads in ivory and silver colors are common for wedding gown embellishments, and the beads can vary in size and shape. Because of the time it takes to sew beads onto a dress by hand, heavily beaded gowns come with a higher price tag—some beaded couture gowns require thousands of hours of work. Popular beaded embellishments include:

  • Bugle beads: Long, tubular-shaped glass beads.
  • Crystal beads: Beads carved out of genuine transparent quartz. Swarovski crystals are highly regarded by many wedding dress designers for their quality and shimmer.
  • Pearl beads: Round or abstract beads made from pearls with an opaque, iridescent finish (often in white, but sometimes in blush, gray or other colors).

Border trim

A type of wedding gown embellishment that is added along the edge of sleeves, necklines, skirt hems or along seams. Trims can be braided, scalloped, ruffled, embroidered, pleated, beaded or fringed.

Bows

A popular bridal embellishment for bodices, skirts, straps and waist sashes. Bows can be sewn into place or tied manually using ribbons.

Buttons

Buttons are a timeless addition to any wedding dress, and they're one of the most popular types of embellishments. They're most commonly used to fasten the back of a gown or the cuffs on sleeves, but they can also be decorative. If you have a train with buttons down the entire back of the skirt, they will be decorative rather than functional—unless you have a dress bustle, which your seamstress can design to hook onto the buttons.

Edging

A decorative finish to a seam or hem in which threads are sewn to prevent the fabric from unraveling. Unlike a border trim, edging doesn't use any type of embellishment (such as pleating or fringe). Some fabrics, like tulle, can be left with a raw or "uncut" edge.

Embroidery

Fancy needlework or stitching on a gown done by hand or machine. Embroidery is most often in floral or swirled patterns and can be used as an accent on wedding dress bodices, sleeves and skirts.

Feathers

Genuine or faux feathers sewn onto wedding dress sleeves, hemlines, bodices and skirts. Feathers can be individually placed for a scattered, abstract look, or used more densely in rows for the most dramatic result.

Fringe

A strip of cut fabric or threads held together by a seam or trim along the top. Fringe is often paired with beading or lace, depending on the style. For a boho effect, fringe can be applied to sleeves and skirts, or used all over the dress for a flapper-inspired bridal look.

Glitter

Tiny metallic flecks that reflect light, creating a sparkly, glistening fabric. Glitter tulle is a popular option for ball gown skirts and is sometimes layered underneath another sheer fabric, like organza, to soften the sparkle.

Paillettes

Paillettes are circular, flat embellishments with a metallic or iridescent finish. These dress embellishments look similar to sequins (more on those below), with a few slight differences. Paillettes are larger than sequins, ranging up to a few inches in diameter, and are attached by one hole at the top (versus the center), which allows them to hang off of the fabric.

Pearls

Authentic or faux pearls used to adorn gowns, headpieces, bags and shoes. Like pearl engagement rings and other jewelry, pearls will add a lustrous element to your wedding dress. These iridescent gems are popular for both classic and ethereal styles, and come in a range of colors, sizes and shapes:

  • Akoya pearls: Pearls with a perfectly round shape and blemish-free sheen. They're considered the most classic type of pearl.
  • Baroque pearls: Pearls that are irregularly shaped, usually in an oblong form. Baroque pearls are chosen for their nontraditional, one-of-a-kind look.
  • Seed pearls: Tiny pearls, either in a round or irregular shape, that are often used for beaded trims and delicate jewelry.

Rhinestones

Light-reflecting embellishments that are made from artificial materials, like glass or acrylic. Rhinestones mimic the look of diamonds and other gemstones but are available at a much lower cost due to their composition. Similar to rare gems, you can find rhinestones in a variety of cuts, sizes and colors, although silver rhinestones are the most popular choice for wedding dresses.

Ruffles

Sometimes referred to as a "frill," a ruffle is a method of gathering fabric to create a scrunched, rippled finish. Ruffles are often added as a trim along seams, necklines or sleeves and can be made from any type fabric. Adding ruffles to a wedding dress skirt creates a whimsical, dramatic effect.

Sash

A removable piece of ribbon or other material that is worn around the waist like a belt. Depending on the style, wedding dress sashes can be tied, buttoned or hooked into place. They're frequently adorned with other embellishments, like beading, rhinestones or embroidery. Sashes are sometimes included with wedding dresses—otherwise, they can easily be purchased from most bridal retailers or handmade by a seamstress.

Sequins

Circular, iridescent plastic discs sewn onto fabric to achieve a glistening effect. Unlike paillettes, sequins are much smaller in diameter (usually only a few centimeters) and are secured flat in place by a hole in the center. White sequins are often used on wedding dresses to add a barely-there hint of shimmer.

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