When it comes to the sartorial part of wedding planning, the dress tends to become the biggest preoccupation, requiring the most research, tough decision-making and painstaking fittings. But you should think just as hard about what to wear under that dream dress on your big day. Because being the last person to realize you had VPL walking down the aisle or discovering your high-beams were on after you received those wedding photos that cost a small fortune isn't exactly ideal. Plus, you've spent so much time and effort on your overall look, you want your undergarments to help flatter you just as much as your professional blowout and Kardashian-inspired countouring.
So we pinned down Bridal Stylist — yes, this is a thing — Maradee Wahl during the height of her busy season (i.e., right now). Formerly the bridal director at Carolina Herrera, the Los Angeles-based expert is like a celebrity stylist, personal shopper, wedding consultant, day-of trouble shooter and bride whisperer all mixed into one very polished professional. She works with her clients to create the perfect foundation for any wedding dress, an especially important consideration for this season's on-trend (a.k.a., skin-baring) styles.
Scroll down for Wahl's advice, based on dress style, plus a few additional expert tips.
THE ILLUSION DRESS
Unless you're going for Beyoncé at the Met Gala circa 2015, a matching slip or lining will be available with most gowns (even if they were sheer on the runway) and Wahl strongly suggests you purchase it "to make sure that it's appropriate by color, weight, texture and style."
A seasoned tailor that specializes in bridal is also key. They will ensure that the strategically placed embellishments on the otherwise sheer gown remain that way. (Because once a nip/tuck is done on one part of the dress, that paillette floral pastie that covers just the right spot might shift.)
Then, if you need extra smoothing and compressing underneath the slip, try a seamless bodysuit. Tracy Ledgerwood, director/general manager at Maidenform, recommends the line's Seamless Body Briefer ($22.99) because "it's low profile enough to wear under a light airy dress." Or, try Commando's raw-edged Classic Bodysuit Thong ($68), which gives "no separation between top and bottom [for] a continuous line," says the brand's founder Kerry O'Brien.
THE LOW-CUT DRESS
For a J.Lo-at-the-Grammys-level deep-plunge, Wahl swears by two types of innovative bras to keep you supported and your nipples concealed. If your dress has straps or sleeves, there's The Natural Plunge Bra ($28), which offers lift and coverage, a low back and adjustable straps. If you want to go semi-braless — especially optimal for low-back gowns — try the NuBra Seamless Pushup Bra ($45), which adheres right to your skin, strap-free. Depending on your body type (and comfort preference), you could totally free-boob it, but Wahl recommends silicon nipple covers instead of stick-on "Band-Aid" type ones, which can show through the dress.
Or, you could have your tailor sew inserts right into the bodice of the dress. Either way, secure the low neckline with a double-sided tape, like Commando's Matchsticks ($10).
THE BODY-CON DRESS
For this look, shapewear plays a key role beyond slimming. "It really smooths everything," Wahl explains. "It helps the dress slide over the body. So if sometimes the different layers of the dress are not working together seamlessly, having that extra layer of Spanx just makes everything slide down in a really lovely way." Wahl's favorite: The ultra-high-waisted — like up to the bra — Higher Power Panty ($38).
Of course, the right shapewear for you depends on your body type, dress and preferences. For a more comprehensive body-hugging look, Hanes's Ledgerwood suggests either a singlet shaper ($43.99) that allows for a bra of your choice or the Convertible Full Slip ($44.99), which is a compression slip and underwire bra in one. O'Brien recommends the high-waisted Classic Control Thong ($36). "It tames the tummy without squishing the bum," she says. Overall, when it comes to shapewear color, Wahl says "nude is always best" and points to lines like Naja, which produces a more encompassing seven shades of flesh tones.
THE OFF-THE-SHOULDER DRESS
Wahl is a big proponent of a bustier for this romantic silhouette for keeping everything in place and to either minimize or maximize the bust, depending on the bride's overall goals. Her favorite is the Bridal Seduction Bustier by Le Mystére ($125). A smoothing slip or cami, like Commando's Strapless Slip ($78) or Strapless Cami ($48) can also offer streamlining, comfort and support without unsightly straps. But pulling off the look isn't just about the underpinnings. "The number-one rule for off-the-shoulder is that you have to keep your shoulders back." O'Brien says.
THE SLIP DRESS
The downside to the dreamy and slightly suggestive slip dress: the clingy silk texture and shadow-creating white hue that aren't always the most forgiving. Again, it's about seamless shapewear for streamlining and avoiding underwear lines. Wahl loves the biker shorts-esque In-Power Line Firm Control Power Panties ($32) because the diamond panel on the front won't show through the silky dress (unlike shapers with a seam down the center, which will — awkward). As for up top, the near-appendage-like Nu Bra continues the sleek and minimal silhouette.
THE CORSET DRESS
Good news: There's no need to double up on corsetry when you're wearing a bustier dress. "It does act like a bra itself," confirms Wahl. If you'd like a little more oomph, ask your tailor to custom-sew pads into the dress, as opposed to wearing the padding as an underpinning. Instead, concentrate on the bottoms based on your dress silhouette — and have a little fun. "A light blue high-waisted satin brief would be so cute," says Rachael McCrary, Founder and CEO of Jewel Toned shapewear. Or maybe a Commando thong ($22) with a London skyline motif.
THE STRAPLESS DRESS
Strapless dresses are a bridal standby, but then what do you do about that dreaded armpit pudge. "Everyone has this issue," Wahl reassures us. Remember, you'll be trying on a sample size dress at the store first and a gown that's "too tight or cut too high" will cause that underarm fold. So communicate clearly with the fitter during the measurement process to determine whether to raise or lower the neckline as appropriate to your body.
"A push-up bra or bustier can add to the problem, so try different undergarments to see what looks best," Wahl adds, although she is a proponent of the latter for this silhouette. "Also, stick-on cups that latch in the middle can pull the bust together and keeps this area looking smooth."
THE BACKLESS DRESS
For the lowest of low-back dresses, it's all about the bottoms. "I would not wear anything with that dress but a nude thong," says Jewel Toned's McCrary. Wahl agrees, but suggests Commando's Classic High Rise Thong ($32), to avoid underwear lines. "It's kind of counterintuitive," she admits, but a higher waistline will create a continuous line starting from the waist and where the back of the dress begins. For support up top, try the backless NuBra or ask your tailor to sew in padding.
GENERAL RULES OF THUMB
"Bring and try on all the appropriate undergarments at each and every fitting to make sure all the variables are considered," says Wahl. "Check how you look with the whole outfit — underwear to dress — in natural lighting," too. Dressing room mood lighting can have a totally different effect from sunlight. Also,take a flash photo indoors to make sure you're not having a Rihanna at the CFDAs moment — which, granted, was stunning, but probably not the look you're going for on your wedding day.
Wahl also suggests that you try on the dress (or dresses) at the tailor five to six days before the wedding, in case last-minute alterations are needed. You know, in case those bridal bootcamp classes kicked in last minute or maybe you've switched your Paul Andrew stillettos for the Aquazurra block heels and your hem needs to be shortened.
Finally, have an emergency kit on hand on the wedding day. While we suggest mints, Kind bars and a bottle of Prosecco, Wahl won't leave the house without "nipple cover, fashion tape and honestly a big set of safety pins can do a lot of wonders."