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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.

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

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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  • Rebecca

    May 22, 2008 at 10:48 am

    My fav is the halter one from J Crew

  • Lauren

    May 22, 2008 at 11:30 am

    I had a similar outdoorsy wedding but instead of being held at a beach, it was in a woodsy state park. Anyway, I also wanted a light, breezy, untraditional dress and I was very happy with the one I found:
    (more views of the dress in the Flickr set)
    It kind of reminded me of a toga (or whatever the female equivalent of a toga is that the Roman chicks wore). And I kicked off my shoes and went barefoot outside after the ceremony and didn’t worry about getting the bottom hem dirty. I can’t remember off the top of my head what the brand is (I ordered it from a generic wedding dress store), but e-mail me if you’re interested and I will hunt down the details!

  • heels

    May 22, 2008 at 11:41 am

    LOVE the halter beach dress. Simple, elegant, beautiful!

  • the ass editor

    May 22, 2008 at 12:33 pm

    Oh how I love that long halter dress from J. Crew. I am envisioning the photo of your new husband carrying you into the ocean with the skirt of this dress hanging over his arm and into the surf right now. The other ones all just look too much like regular dresses and not special enough to me. And the whole long dress dragging a bit in the sand thing actually looks quite nice. I went to a beach wedding ceremony in Florida and the bride had a more typical but still simple long wedding dress and looked fabulous.
    Also, don’t forget you’ll have the option of a “costume change” if the original dress gets annoying as the night goes on.

  • Allison

    May 22, 2008 at 12:45 pm

    J Crew is a great recommendation, Amy. I had a nice little courthouse wedding, and I got my dress at J Crew. I’ve actually worn the dress to other parties, which is one of the greatest things. Somebody compliments my dress and I say, “Thanks, it’s my wedding dress.”

  • Melissa

    May 22, 2008 at 12:45 pm

    The Muse dress is adorable but Amy makes a very good point about the beach-y breezes. When the BFF got married on the beach last year, we bridesmaids spent the entire ceremony holding our dresses down so as not to give the guests an extra show. With that in mind, I have to second Rebecca and love the JCrew halter.

  • Katie

    May 22, 2008 at 12:47 pm

    I own several of the jcrew “embossed beach dresses.” I have also machine washed them, and they still look lovely.

  • Nichole

    May 22, 2008 at 1:07 pm

    OK- I don’t usually comment, but this was me last year. I got married (officially) last Memorial day Weekend. What I ended up with was NOT a wedding dress. I was a clearance rack special from JC Penny that cost $35. It was more ivory than white, spaghetti strap, had ruching across the belly and a silk lily on the hip. It was just about knee length & perfect for the occasion. A picture here: (under My Photos, there is a pic of the dress and some really bad pics of me in the dress). A plus – the sea water didn’t ruin the dress. I wore it two weeks later to the theatre. And I plan to wear it again. If I am on the right track, you might want to look at something like this:
    or this: Or maybe I am totally off track. Just a thought.

  • kathryn

    May 22, 2008 at 2:00 pm

    I know it’s not cotton or very airy, but I LOVE the Silk Tricotine Rebecca dress from J Crew:
    So beautiful. That gets my vote.

  • MagQ

    May 22, 2008 at 9:29 pm

    Naked Bride here! Thank you for answering me, I was desperate, and thanks to the comments above, I am feeling a little better about myself, because I was straight buggin’ yo! I LOVE LOVE LOVE the choices you gave me. I never thought to look at J Crew, just because I didn’t want to be wearing preppy plaid down the aisle, even though I love the knee length shorts. I really like the first Anthropolgie Pitter Patter dress you suggested and the embossed halter beach dress by J Crew….Decisions decisions. You definitely came through for me. I sew a lot and have thought about making it myself, however I have enough on my plate, work, family, blah blah blah! Thanks again Amalah! I spread your words like the gospel. You saved me. If you like Carolina BBQ and cake, you are more than welcome to hang with us. Thanks again!
    Only Naked under her Fab Dress,

  • Kathryn

    May 22, 2008 at 10:38 pm

    I got married on the beach in my knee-length embossed beach dress from J.Crew, and I loved it. I’ve actually worn my dress several times since then (even to work, with a cardigan over it). (And Amy helped me plan my wedding through the Smackdown lo those many (3) years ago by giving me advice about Aruba–thanks, Amy!)

  • Mary

    May 23, 2008 at 9:34 am

    Excellent array of options Amy! I vote for the long J.Crew halter dress – simple, gorgeous and I bet it would photograph beautifully.
    Congrats on your upcoming nuptials Naked Bride!

  • a

    May 23, 2008 at 1:14 pm

    I got married on the beach in a knee-length white cotton halter dress (very much like the J. Crew halter dress) and a lacy shawl. It was perfect– summer-y, wedding-y, but not too fussy.

  • d

    May 27, 2008 at 1:56 pm

    Oh I can’t wait to hear which you chose. Please update!!!

  • Nicole

    June 19, 2008 at 1:26 pm

    I don’t know if you are done and have the dress already, but I was at a beach wedding the other day and the bride told me her dress was from TARGET! She bought it online from the Isaac Mizrahi collection and it was so inexpensive, but you couldn’t tell. So, she didn’t care if she got it dirty or wet or any of the other concerns of a beach wedding. Just FYI, they do have some nicely cut dresses.
    Hope all goes/went well!