Michelle Ruggiero Franklin wanted red. Yes, a red wedding gown. And at every shop, the song was the same.
"They'd say, 'We have white dresses with red accents, or we can add a ribbon,' " she recalls. "I'm like, 'No, I don't think you understand. I want my dress to be . . . all red.' "
Franklin, a Shirley native who handles human resources for a local auto dealership, was frustrated. "Everybody tells you, 'Oh, when you find the dress, you'll know -- you'll get this feeling,' " she says. "I thought, I'm never gonna have that, because I can't even find a dress to put on."
Then she found the Bridal Suite of Centereach. It had dresses from Jovani, technically a "mothers" line, but all red. "The first dress they showed me was the one I bought," says Franklin, triumphant.
The number of brides opting for colorful gowns is increasing, say bridal shop owners. Pink, peach, blue, lavender. Even red -- Vera Wang's spring 2013 collection is ablaze in shades of cardinal, vermilion, crimson and dahlia.
"Most brides today want to be unique," says designer Anne Barge, "and there is no better way to achieve that than with an unexpected color."
Ivory is still the most popular shade in bridal gowns. Red is rare (though a traditional bridal shade in China). But pastels are gaining for a small but growing group of women.
"We'll do a whisper of pink, a hint of peach or silver," says Dan Rentillo, design director for David's Bridal. "The customer who wants color is someone looking for something different. She has a unique personality and way of expressing herself."
Then there's Nicole Dina Gmoch of Middletown, N.J. She works in finance and never wanted a white dress.
"Call me crazy, but I always wanted something avant-garde," she notes.
"When the saleswoman pulled the dress out of her backroom, my mom's jaw dropped -- not in a good way," Gmoch remembers. "She said it looked like someone dipped the dress in tea."
But when Gmoch tried it on, "Mom started to tear," she recalls. "She said it was stunning."
It's a typical reaction.
"Often a client comes into the shop expecting to find a white gown, but stumbles upon a color," says Sania Recupero, manager of The Wedding Salon of Manhasset and Vera Wang of Manhasset. "They get surprised, and fall in love with it."
And it doesn't stop at color.
"I've also found many brides are not opposed to pattern," says designer Claire Pettibone. Long a fan of color and a distinctive, vintage look, Pettibone's current collection was inspired by antique gold, French toile and tapestries.
"Unwritten rules that have long hemmed in brides have been jettisoned," says designer Ines Di Santo, who has even shown black bridal gowns. Color, she notes, is just one more way for brides to express their personalities.
"You can't enjoy the day if you feel you have to do all these things that people expect," says Franklin.
Ultimately, it's about confidence, Gmoch concurs.
"You have to be 100 percent confident wearing the gown," she says, "and know you'll turn heads when you walk down the aisle."