Tastemakers Series: Caroline Shaw "The Wedding Dresser" Part 1

Over the last few years, couples have stepped up their wedding day fashion. We have seen more customization, attention to detail, and personality. The grooms' style decisions are no longer an after-thought. Instead, couples are being more thoughtful about dressing together. Our couples have never looked better!

Recently, I sat down with Caroline Shaw, a well-known Wedding Dresser here in Chicago, to discuss wedding fashion. Caroline had many interesting insights and valuable tips. Below is our first of many fashion conversations.

Heather: What are some style shifts that you are seeing?

Caroline: My favorite wedding style shift is that more couples now look like they go together! The brides used to coordinate the bridesmaids' dresses with their look. The groomsmen would then be coordinated with the groom. There is now a refreshing shift in thinking that the bride and groom's wedding attire should be thoughtfully coordinated first. There is more distinction between the groom and the groomsmen. Before it was hard to tell who was the groom! Last year, a few of my very fashionable grooms wore fabulous navy tuxedos. They looked divine! This style shift, I am happy to report is definitely carrying over to this year.

There is a return of the glamorous ball gown, a cinched waistlines, and very dramatic veils. I am also seeing lots of cover-ups, which I love! I am seeing more full-length sleeves and less strapless dresses. I think Kate Middleton, Olivia Palermo and others inspired many women to try full-length sleeves. The pendulum is now swinging in the other direction. This is a nice change.

There is a "chic formal" vibe happening. Couples are going for a fashion forward, classic, and timeless style versus traditional formal. Crystals are coming back in the veils. There are many layers of sophistication. Women are not afraid of wearing hair accessories with their veils. Sashes have had their day. There will be some belts; big with clean lines. Deconstructive, three-dimensional dresses will be less prominent. The vintage look will continue to be popular with lots of lace.

Heather: Many people don't know what Wedding Dressers do. How do you help brides and grooms?

Caroline: This is a great question. A lot of people aren't really sure what we do. Most people ask, "You help the bride get dressed, then what?" I think the most important thing is when everything is fitting well, you look and feel amazing. You are not distracted by an ill-fitting dress or tux. You gracefully float through your wedding day with confidence and are able to enjoy every moment.

Ideally, I am involved many months before the wedding. I love being an advocate for my brides at their fittings. This also helps prevent many day-of surprises. It is great fun helping my grooms select their pieces. The men are getting more adventurous and the end results are divine! On the wedding day, I relieve the mothers, sisters and best friends from the stressful responsibility of making sure the bride is dressed and everything is assembled perfectly. The mothers can continue getting ready and then join us at the end of the process.

Getting my brides and grooms dressed is just the beginning. As the clothing reacts to body heat and movement, I make corrections such as adjusting hemlines and waistlines. With all of the movement and hugging there are bound to be buttons popping off and dresses getting snagged. I am there to assist not only the couple but also their parents and the bridal party. There are many vendors attending to decor details, managing timelines and guests. However, with me everyone enjoys an extra layer of personal service. The inner circle has the peace of mind that any wardrobe issues that might arise will be taken care of quickly and will not disrupt their celebration. They are free to comfortably enjoy the day!

Heather: How can brides prevent getting tripped up on their wedding day?

Caroline: Women should ensure that they are getting the proper alterations. One of the biggest nuisances I see is that the dress is too long. Brides are tripping over their gowns all day long! It is horrible.

I have very good relationships with many of the bridal shops in Chicago and personally know the seamstresses. I am a fierce advocate for my brides. If I have the opportunity to be with them at the fittings, I will request particular alterations and then ensure they are done appropriately. If a woman is getting married at a hotel with super plush carpet, I know from experience that the dress has to be shorter or it will trip her.

Many people get confused about dress lengths because they see celebrities on red carpets with dresses that are very long. Dresses are typically not shortened for red carpet events because the actresses don't own the dresses. A woman's wedding dress should not trip her, should not creep down, and should not be too tight. A bride should feel absolutely fabulous in her wedding dress. This dress, of all dresses, should fit her perfectly! You can buy a $50 dress and have great alterations and you will look amazing. You can buy a $20,000 dress, and if it doesn't fit properly, you will be uncomfortable. The fit is everything.

Heather: For those men that want to step-up their wedding day style, what are the basics?

Caroline: Buy your tux and have it fitted properly. It is a bit strange to me that men, on their wedding day, want to wear a tux that has been worn by many men before them. Rented tuxes are typically not customized for the grooms and usually do not fit them properly. When a man has the proper fit, it changes everything. He feels like a million bucks. He knows he looks fantastic. He stands taller. He owns his look. He looks like he belongs with his impeccably dressed bride. Lastly, there is no excuse for clip-on straight ties. Period. And for god sakes, every man should learn how to tie a bow tie! Before his wedding day!

Heather: Thank you, Caroline! I feel like we have just scratched the surface of wedding fashion. We must do this again.

Caroline: We must! We will. Thank you!

About Caroline: Caroline Shaw trained at The Grafton Academy of Dress Design while completing her apprenticeship in a small couture atelier in Dublin, Ireland. While her career has moved between dress boutiques, sewing, fashion and theatre her true love is bridal.

Follow Caroline on Facebook.


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We feel fortunate to live and work in the beautiful, Chicago neighborhood of Logan Square, among many talented artists and entrepreneurs. We believe in the beauty of blending historic with modern. Built in 1916, our European style live-work building, is land-marked by the city of Chicago, full of character and modern style. It is a dream come true to have a charming studio, surrounded by beautiful boulevards, as the foundation of our creative endeavors.

"It is a pleasure to get to know our couples, become part of their inner circle, understand their connections, and hone in on what matters most. Every celebration has its own personality, vibe and feeling. To interpret and translate the feeling, love and joy, we look for the split-second glances, tender touches, belly laughs and genuine smiles. Emotionally connected, we sense magical moments; one must first feel, and then see to be able to interpret. This is the foundation of our creative process."

"Inspired by all art forms: paintings, architecture, fashion, cinema, music and food, we incorporate our sensibilities into everything we do. Blending emotional imagery with a modern and elegant viewpoint is how we tell very personal stories in a nuanced way. We do this so that you may savor your celebration, long after it ends, and remember those feelings forever. It would be our privilege to interpret your unique story."

Heather KingenSmith