Celebrations: Ingenuity goes long way in finding perfect Orthodox wedding gown

When Talya (nee Strauss) Ilovitz got engaged, her hunt for a dress for her Orthodox wedding felt endless. She never imagined her best option would be a sleeveless white cocktail dress a few sizes too big at a local boutique in her native San Diego.

But after searching widely, every other possibility was either too expensive or

didn’t have sleeves. “I liked this dress more than anything else I could find,” she recalls. So, together with the help of a seamstress, dedicated friends and her sister, artist Avra Strauss, her crack team gave the dress a makeover from top to bottom.

“We cut the arms off a blazer to make sleeves and changed the very straight sheath shape to a mermaid shape that flared out. Then we added four layers of tulle to create a much fuller skirt,” says Strauss. “I also cut fabric into the shape of a few hundred leaves and we attached them with beads to the bottom of the dress. I liked that it was a little bit unusual, with a different texture and shape, and had a feeling of movement.”

Talya and Zev Ilovitz at their wedding in Atherton photo/courtesy of talya ilovitz

The unique gown was covered with three-dimensional, raw-edge leaves that suited her personality. The result? A one-of-a-kind creation, reminiscent of a tree in bloom, evoking the bride’s love of the outdoors.

The stunning long-sleeve gown put an unconventional spin on a look appropriate for an Orthodox ceremony.

As more brides opt for inventive solutions to classic wedding-dress dilemmas, retailers are following suit. Vera Wang and Monique Lhuillier are among the household names of designers now producing bridal gowns in unconventional colors to match their ethereal, dream-like styles, employing shades of blush, nude and even black. In fact, Wang’s upcoming fall 2012 bridal collection relies on colors primarily reserved for underwear rather than outerwear. But these are far from the only unconventional options for contemporary brides.

Transforming undergarments into outerwear has long been a traditional method of creating untraditional attire. In fact, vintage trusseau “dressing gowns,” and other slip dresses once worn only at home, are frequently sold on Etsy.com and other sites as potential wedding dresses for unconventional brides. The site is a great resource for unusual treasures, including an eggshell-and-champagne-colored 1930s boudoir gown with matching peignoir jacket found on a recent search. Silk nightgowns and other unusual pieces that traverse unconventional territory can be easily identified by searching with the keywords “unconventional” or “experimental” to discover wedding dresses with unusual details such as raw edges in silk chiffon or georgette.

Vintage pieces, unusual colors and Ilovitz’s DIY option are among the appeal of the unconventional wedding dress. For some, as the character Carrie Bradshaw illustrated in the feature film “Sex and the City 2,” brides of all ages might prefer a vintage suit. The look not only expressed Bradshaw’s on-screen personality, but the option also, in theory, presents the opportunity of a repeat appearance at other events.

According to Jewish law, there is no halachic requirement to wear white under the chuppah, although it is considered a ritual convention suggesting a spiritual purity. Among Orthodox couples, the groom, too, wears white in the form of a kittel, or ritual robe-like garment placed over a suit. The kittel is reserved for life’s most poignant moments: one’s wedding, Yom Kippur, Passover seders and, ultimately, burial.

For women, the Mishnah (Ta’anit 4:8) discusses the tradition of wearing white dresses as a symbol of spiritual purity. Rabbi Shimon ben Gamliel said, “There were no greater holidays (yamim tovim) for Israel than Tu B’Av and Yom Kippur, for on them the girls of Jerusalem used to go out in borrowed white dresses … and dance in the vineyards. What would they say? ‘Young man, lift up your eyes and see what you choose for yourself …’ ”

These days, Tu B’Av, the 15th of the month of Av, which falls this year on Aug. 2, is commemorated as a Jewish day of love, and is a popular time for weddings.

Like all fashions, bridal attire takes cues from celebrities. When today’s brides say “I don’t” to a conventional gown, their choices may take the form of a two-tone dress. One of the most widely noted examples was Gwen Stefani, who donned a white Galliano dress that dramatically transitioned to a bright coral pink as it reached the floor. Another infamous example of a trend-bucking bride was Vogue contributing editor Lauren Santo Domingo, who cut off her one-of-a-kind Nina Ricci mid-reception.

Some brides opt for more subtle twists, such as adding floral appliques or a contrasting sash, as Vera Wang has done with a vivid black sash against clouds of white skirt for her spring 2012 collection. The look is one of the most anticipated trends for spring 2013, along with her debut of deeper blushing tones for gowns ranging from shocking fire-engine red, to maroon, burgundy and deep wine.

Some brides wearing color flip tradition by dressing their bridesmaids in white, with a colored sash on A-line or empire waists to match the bride’s colored gown.

The operative concern when it comes to an unconventional dress is, will it evoke regret years later when brides look back on their choices? Despite her on-screen “Sex and the City” white bridal attire, when actress Sarah Jessica Parker married Matthew Broderick in 1997, she chose a black dress. In a subsequent interview with Harper’s Bazaar, she admitted if she could do it all over again, she would definitely opt for a beautiful white gown.

As Ilovitz’s experience suggests, with thoughtful attention, even the most personalized white can be far from conventional.