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Here Comes the—Tasteful, Modern—Bride

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It can happen to you. Yes, you. Oh, and you over there with the cynical outlook and quite a few notches on your bedpost? Uh-huh, yeah, you too. And you wouldn't be the first petulant young (or "mature," as the case may be) thing to be swept off into—the horror!—matrimony. In fact a nod to recalcitrant colts like Jane Austen's Elizabeth Bennet can't be far off the mark when discussing a boutique with a literary bent's bridal department. So all protesting aside, let's move on to what you might wear should this event—however implausible—occur.

The English Dept. (724 NW 23rd) noticed about a year ago that most of the available bridal wear was... shall we say "fussy," leaving women who appreciate the enduring chic-ness of simplicity, or who don't want to look "like an exploding ball of lace," as co-owner Joy Cohen succinctly puts it, with few options that weren't downright harrowing. And they were right: That end of their business (already booming with artful, classy pieces) has been steadily picking up momentum, and this Sunday they are inviting everyone to view their success in "A Novel Romance," a runway and trunk show displaying well over 20 of the nearly limitless options brides and bridesmaids will find through the store.

With criteria based on high quality, simplicity, variety, and affordability, Cohen and her business partner Elizabeth Dye have selected four lines that allow a bride to be elegant but understated, and that can be used as palettes for customization. Thread, Jenny Yoo, Vera Wang Maids, and Elizabeth Dye's own eponymous line of custom dresses will be on display, and guests are encouraged to take advantage of the trunk show element by spending time with the garments, appreciating their make-up and construction, and perhaps trying some on.

The newest line in their repertoire is Vera Wang Maids. While technically intended as bridesmaids gowns, they are made in the same top-notch quality as Wang's famous wedding gowns, and the English Dept. offers them in traditional bridal colors and full-lengths, so that shrewd brides can wear them as wedding dresses themselves—et voila, they have been wed in Wang.

Some of the styles offered by the store can be bought off the rack, but primarily the dresses are made to order. Regardless, the options are unbelievably affordable for a dress that most women spend thousands on, ranging approximately between $200-1,200, averaging in the $400 neighborhood.

As for bridesmaids, all of the lines carried in the store offer a huge number of variations, with styles commonly available in 40 different colors and three different lengths. This also allows women to shed the archaic and spiteful tradition of the "ugly bridesmaid dress," allowing the members of the bridal party (who are allegedly the bride's friends, after all) to make individual adjustments in the name of flattery and comfort, while remaining a coordinated whole.

In addition to supplying the dresses, Cohen and Dye are friendly, honest fonts of information and recommendations for other aspects of planning your event, from catering companies to make-up artists. Unlike many outfitters, you don't need to make an appointment to begin the consultation process (although if you would like one, they will be more than happy to accommodate), and their generally friendly and approachable style should take the pressure off the proceedings at least somewhat. You probably won't be lacking for things to worry about, after all.

If the "typical" bride is a blushing young thing eager to be powdered and prepped by a host of fawning professionals, gleefully running up daddy's obligatory "father of the bride" bill, and then cinched into an elaborate contraption that is customized to comprise all things sugar and spice, as well as something old, something new, something borrowed and something blue—then who wants to be typical? When asked to conjure a sketch of the women who tend to be attracted by the tactful English Dept. approach, Cohen describes a woman who has been with her partner for a while, planning a wedding that is to be a "sweet celebration" of extending that relationship, practical enough not to want to blow her whole budget on a wedding dress, and stylish enough to know she can find something perfect without having to.

Lastly, you should absolutely feel beautiful on your wedding day, and it's virtually impossible to do so if you're uncomfortable. It stands to reason that if you tend to dress simply, your wedding dress should reflect that quality in your style. So if the prospect of looking like Little Bo Peep meets Gone with the Wind in the notions department makes you feel a little self-conscious, Cohen and Dye should be the first people you announce your intentions to (after your mom and your best friend). ("A Novel Romance," Sun Jan 28, 23 Hoyt, 529 NW 23rd, noon, free)

Tie the knot: marjorie@portlandmercury.com

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