The Total Bridal Look

Let’s look at the “Art” of the wedding. Buy that I mean all of the visual aspects that make up your wedding style. Your gown, flowers, reception location, style of photography, your shoes, hair and make-up as well as the bridesmaids dresses and the presentation of the food are all elements that make up the “Art” of your wedding.

These visual elements when put together become the total look; they elicit a certain mood and help define the image you and your fiancĂ© would like to share with your guests. Let me address specifically your beauty needs and the elements involved in pulling together your personal style. All the elements of your dress, hair, make-up, nails, and headpiece need to work together to become the “art” of your “Total Bridal Look.”


Let’s look at a few important elements of design that are relative to style. Understanding each of these elements will make it easier for you to use them when creating your “total bridal look.” Whether you are working with your florist, caterer, or consultant you need to be able to translate your wishes to them that will pull together a great “stylish” wedding experience.

Line Size Shape Position Density Texture

Line: The line of a hairstyle, floral centerpiece, or the composition within a photograph has a direction either horizontally or vertically. Horizontal lines broaden and shorten with the eye following the width. Vertical lines slim and elongate. The line can be dramatic and sophisticated or soft and romantic.

*I remember a very slender and petite bride who was wearing a slim fitted narrow gown. Perfect for her because it made her look taller. But the gown shop suggested a wreath of flowers. Just as the eye was drawn up, the wreath cut off the illusion of height. The horizontal line of the wreath cancelled out any help the vertical gown accomplished in making her seem taller. It took some convincing and a visual demonstration but I got her to change her headpiece.

The line of the dress should match the hair. A long slim fitted wedding gown is complemented with a narrow bob tucked behind the ears or a bunch of curls piled high on the head. The line of a traditional full-skirt wedding gown is horizontal. This style is complemented by a softer romantic and wider hairstyle, perfect with a wreath headpiece.

Staying within these design parameters is a general guideline for most brides. However, a bride with flair for the dramatic and a strong personality can certainly carry off a total look that does not “match”. A slim fitted gown with sexy wild hair may be your flavor.

Size: The finished size of a hairstyle and veil depends on a few factors: How much hair you have, how tall, petite or full figured you are plus the overall line, size, detail, and fullness/length of dress. As an example, apply this size “element” to the flowers. The size and volume of a bouquet should not overpower a petite bride or table setting.

If you choose to wear a slim suit for a daytime wedding it would be important to keep your hairstyle compact and simple. If a full skirt or bustled wedding gown is your style, then go for a larger headpiece and hairstyle. Again, try to match the overall size of dress to you, and size and line of hairstyle to balance.

*I had a bride who was petite but wore a traditional full gown with a chapel length veil. (I lot of dress for a little woman) She also requested that her veil trail longer than the gown! I created a smaller Updo and made her a smaller headpiece to be worn toward the back of the head. I gave her the length she wanted for the veil but it was not gathered too full. It allowed the horizontal line to flow but worked with her proportions. Sometimes too much veiling on top of a petite bride can make her look top heavy.

Shape: The shape of the finished Updo or hairstyle needs to complement the shape of your face as well as the proportions of you in your dress. The shape is the outer line a hairstyle makes. Visualize a wide bob haircut making the outer shape of a triangle. A shag or layered cut has the outer shape of a rectangle. A wedge hairstyle has the shape of a diamond.

Some shapes are reminiscent of periods like the teased crown and flip of the sixties. The feathered back hair of the seventies complemented bell-bottom pants. The narrow shape and closeness to the head of the roaring twenties hair was a visual match to the bound breasts and slim body hugging clothes worn at that time. The next time you see a picture of a Victorian lady in her bustled gown notice that her hair is bustled up in the back as well.

*I had a bride request an Audrey Heparin “look” to her Updo, complete with the chic little bangs. I incorporated her mother’s headpiece from the early sixties into the style and she wore a slim sheath. This created the very slim, vertical “retro” look she wanted.

Position: A hairstyle may be positioned at the top of the head, the middle or at the nape of the neck. A small wedding hat, a comb of flowers, or a headpiece can be used to balance your hairstyle’s position.

*I had an older bride who wanted a fun sexy look for her second wedding. She had a profile style headpiece which is the kind that sits along the side of the face. I had to make sure the hairstyle balanced the position of her veil.

If you choose to wear a traditional one-piece veil make sure you tell the stylist if you’re going to remove it after the ceremony. Ask the stylist to stick some wedding hair jewelry or flowers in your hairstyle so when the veil comes off your hairdo is not bare!

Density: Density has to do with the feeling and look of weight or thickness. If the gown you choose is a heavy satin and the bride’s maids are in velvet, then requesting hairstyles of soft wispy flowing curls will not balance the total look. Instead go for a more detailed barrel type of curl or smooth twist. If your look is softer and more flowing, say a tulle top layer, then the hair could be flowing and the curls softer.

*I remember seeing photos of a wedding party that were all dressed in velvet gowns. But, on top of their heads they wore dainty wreaths of flowers with flowing tiny ribbons that did not complement the density of the velvet or the time of year for the ceremony. (winter!)

Many times I need to lead a bridal client into an understanding of this element of design to produce the correct Updo or hairstyle for her total look. Don’t jump all over the place mixing an antique car with calla lilies and a sushi menu. A Medieval gown does not mix well with a bright contemporary reception setting and big band sound. Lay out all of your elements; write them down, think about them has a whole. Is there a theme, do they flow?

Texture: Texture has the ability to create a feeling with hair similar to density. A hairstyle of glistening finger waves makes a daring strong statement. The texture of detailed braiding supports an ethnic look. The smooth texture of a sleek bob is classic, perfect for the understated Town and Country bride. Look for texture in your dress, flowers, and table linens. Fabric can be braided, gathered, puckered, or smooth. Texture in the hair can be matched to the dress, or it can be done to create contrast.


Now you have a better understanding of the elements of design. The principles of composition are when you use these elements to put together your “total bridal look.” Lets look at three key principles of composition as they relate to style.

Emphasis Contrast Balance

Emphasis: What is to be the main emphasis of your total look? It may be an antique headpiece or your mothers wedding gown from the fifties. You may love your beautiful long red hair and want an Updo to be the main emphasis. Is the back of your gown stunning? The emphasis may be placed there.

As far as the ceremony goes, for some couples, the music is very important. For others it may be the food or stationary.

*For one of my brides the emphasis was her flowers; she and her Mom were florists. So I designed her hair into flowers, complete with white centers and silk leaves. It was a big hit!

Contrast: Contrast accentuates various shapes and lines. There can be contrasting textures in a dress, for example a lace dress with a velvet sash, or an ornate bodice with an unadorned skirt. There can also be contrasting textures in a hairstyle mixing curls with straight. Contrast demands to be noticed and if your bold and confident go for it! Simple bridesmaids dresses set off with exquisite bold flowers is fabulous!

Balance: Let me stress that a balanced look is the most important principle of composition. The hairstyle and headpiece needs to look balanced to the dress and body type. The size of the bouquet balanced to the size of bride. The color and fabric of the maids’ gowns balanced to the time of year.

Just remember the focus of the wedding is the two of you! You’re wedding vows and pledge to each other is sacred. Enjoy your day! All the best to you! Personally, I truly believe in marriage and have enjoyed being married to my wonderful husband for 20years!

By Gretchen Maurer, A Bridal hair specialist, author of The Business of Bridal Beauty, as well as creator of