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The Off-the-Rack Bride: Casual White Dresses for a Beach Wedding

By Amalah

Oh Great Amalah,
I need you, now more than ever. I am getting married in July on a beach. All is set EXCEPT!!!! for my dress. I am getting married in a small private ceremony in the morning and then all my friends and extended family are coming to *cross your fingers* the most excellent beach party. I am thinking of wearing an airy white cotton dress, eyelet like, however I don’t want to look like the county fair clogger.
I want something simple and not too wedding-y….ie. Knee length and something that if I get tossed in the ocean, almost a guarantee, that I won’t cry over a ruined dress. Can you help me please???
Your devoted reader,
The Naked Bride

Two words for you, or really one initial and one word: J.Crew. THE place for gorgeous and simple wedding dresses that are neither too wedding-y or costly. They almost always have at least two or three dresses that are actually DESIGNED for beach weddings and the wear and tear of sand and saltwater. No tulle or taffeta or extra commas in the price. I love love love these dresses and think J.Crew is awesome for offering brides a lovely, inexpensive line like this.
First up, an extremely literal take on what you requested: a knee-length eyelet ballerina-style dress. I was actually all set to try to sway you away from knee-length eyelet — there’s casual and then there’s, as you put it, country-fair clogger. If your dress is cotton or some other natural fiber, it won’t be ruined by a dip in the ocean, and I must admit that a long dress may look better in pictures than knee length, which can make your legs look stubby if the photographer is not super-careful about the angle. Plus, if you are not very careful, a short white dress can end up looking a little too non-wedding-y and a little too high-school graduation-y. But then I saw this little number and you know what? I love it.
But. Still. I wouldn’t completely lump all long dresses together as too “wedding-y.” There is also the question of wind, i.e., is this a particularly windy beach and will you be desperately wishing for a couple extra feet of airy cotton on your wedding day when your short skirt keeps blowing up?
jcrew%20eyelet.jpgThe Island Eyelet Long Dress. See? Eyelet, but long. Still the very definition of airy and light and free-spirited. After staring at the bodice for awhile and trying to decide if it reminded me of an old-fashioned nightgown, I’ve decided it sort of does, but I sort of love it for that. Perfect for an outdoor venue and bare feet and a daisy chain in your hair. In the proper context, there will be no question that you’re the bride, but paired with flip-flops and some colorful beads you could easily wear this to summer backyard parties. And it’s MACHINE WASHABLE. So hike up the hem and run into the ocean with your new husband for some fantastic pictures and know that the dress will live to be worn another day. (Oh, and it’s fully lined, so you won’t break local obscenity laws after your swim.)
jcrew%20beach.jpgThe Embossed Halter Long Beach Dress. Hell, this one even has “beach” right in the name. This is another cotton dress, although it is dry-clean only, most likely because of the texturing. The length is formal, but a close look at the bodice is extremely reminiscent of every sweet cotton sundress EVER. This is another one that you could probably get wet without worries (fully lined! these words are your friends!), dry-cleaning warning aside, and there’s also the little fact that the dress only costs $195. Lord, wear it long for the vows and then have someone take a pair of scissors to the skirt afterwards and turn it into a cocktail dress for the party.
(It actually does come in a cocktail length, but the white version is sold out in a lot of sizes right now, and I dunno, it’s REALLY casual. I am undecided. While it technically fits the bill, I’m not sure it’s quite…special enough for a wedding dress, but I could probably go either way on it, especially since it’s $78 ON SALE WOOT WOOT.)
Now, if you are recoiling at even these dresses as too wedding-y and you want REALLY simple, check out Anthropologie, which is probably the first store that pops into my head when you start talking “light” and “airy.” A quick look at their white options brings up the Pitter Patter Dress with light blue embroidery, the Ice Memory dress (possibly cons include a linen blend and no mention of a lining) and the Walkabout dress (cons: a little silk that could be ruined, and I can’t really tell from the photo but that thing might be totally see-through even when it’s NOT wet). also has a lot of off-the-rack casual white dresses, although without more specifics on your body shape and the style you have in mind, it’d probably be a waste for me to go on linking to a zillion more dresses. Some of these are way too PROM for me, and a lot of them, while short and flowy, are made from delicate fabrics that would NOT survive a toss in the ocean. I love this BCBG eyelet sundress though, and this Muse Lace Trim Voile Dress.
One last option, depending on time and budget, is to get a dress custom-made. When you’re talking about a simple cotton dress of any length, you aren’t talking about multi-thousand-hour (and dollar) couture, you know? So if you can find a couple dresses that you like, but aren’t quite perfect, try to find a local dressmaker who can combine elements for you. Check with bridal shops and seamstresses, or even some small clothing boutiques can put you in touch with a local designer who can help. Otherwise, just keep checking the catalogs of your favorite ready-to-wear stores — as we get more and more into sundress season you’ll likely find a LOT more options in white.

Published May 21, 2008. Last updated May 21, 2008.
About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch


Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to [email protected].

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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