By now, there's little doubt that Kate Middleton's wedding gown was nothing short of a bridal fashion-quake -- a long-sleeved, full-skirted rush of satin and lace that's likely to sweep away the ubiquitous strapless silhouette in the same way that Carolyn Bessette Kennedy's unfettered slip dress made everyone forget those '80s mega-poufs and faux tiaras.
But look more closely and you'll see that the rise of the regal began well before Catherine ever set foot in Westminster Abbey in her fine-boned gown by Sarah Burton for Alexander McQueen. Coincidence? Prescience? Whatever you call it, a classic-but-modern sensibility is everywhere this spring, from Hollywood's red carpets (where stars like Mandy Moore and Scarlett Johansson looked wonderfully fresh at this year's Academy Awards covering up their shoulders) to New York's party scene (where sleeves-down-to-there abounded at last month's Costume Institute gala honoring McQueen's career) to the recent New York bridal runway shows (which offered a more-than-passing nod to Grace Kelly's 1956 Helen Rose gown, still the ultimate in wedding chic).
The first hint that designers were tiring of the strapless silhouette came nearly two years ago, when businesswoman and social princess Ivanka Trump chose a Vera Wang confection with illusion top and elbow-length sleeves that owed both its delicacy and its modesty to Kelly. In December, Nicole Richie's wedding dress was another homage to Grace, this one a stunning Marchesa with the sort of long sleeves that haven't reigned since Priscilla married Elvis. This spring, Trump's custom-made gown inspired the first White by Vera Wang collection, the designer's new lower-priced line for David's Bridal.
But it's not just Hollywood -- or British -- royalty looking to cover up. Vassa Halatas, of Wedding Dresser Couture by Vassa in Woodmere, noticed the bridal tide shifting last year. "They're tired of the No. 1 most worn silhouette and are asking for higher, more creative necklines and sleeves -- for the fashion statement, if nothing more," says Halatas.
Where to begin your search? Yes, you can buy a surefire copy of Kate's proper princess. Even before William and Catherine said their I do's, copyists, from ABS' Allen B. Schwartz to Kleinfeld designers Michelle and Henry Roth, were working overtime to duplicate the dress. But, let's be honest. Kate's look belongs to Kate. Why not let her have it, and make your very own princess statement. One of the most glamorous gowns of the season is Carolina Herrera's duchesse silk satin piece, with elbow-length sleeves and side panels. The dress evokes '50s fashion priestess Babe Paley, who lived the theory that you can never be too rich or too thin. Oscar de la Renta's more embellished creations recall both princess brides and hippie brides, underscoring that there's a covered-shouldered look for everyone.For those still eager to show off the fruits of their workouts, White by Vera Wang's detachable illusion top offers the option of a modest ceremony dress and a strapless silhouette for the party. (Come to think of it, isn't that what Kate did?)
And, no, the new modesty doesn't mean you have to forgo sexiness. "When you cover up one part of the body, you can reveal another," says Modern Trousseau designer Callie Tien. Her solution: a dress with high neckline, long lace sleeves and super-short hemline. No doubt, your very own prince will approve.