November 11, 2019

Are You A Modest Bride? We’ve Got You Covered

Sarah and Laurent Cohen at their December 2016 wedding at the Alexandria Ballroom in downtown Los Angeles. Photos by Wind Productions

At a time when the most popular wedding dresses are sheer, strapless, body-baring showstoppers that leave little to the imagination, the modest bride has few options. Sarah Abesera faced that dilemma when trying to find a gown for her December 2016 wedding to Laurent Cohen.

“I’m Modern Orthodox and I didn’t want to be sleeveless,” she said. “I wanted something classy and modest that would look good with sleeves, and that was hard to find. I saw the same dress over and over at every single store, and it was not calling my name. The only things I liked were $10,000 and above.”

Abesera shopped for months to no avail, and then recalled having stopped by Jinza Couture Bridal a year earlier. Having joined forces with San Francisco-based Jinza Jin after Jin designed her wedding dress, owner and designer Grace Pei opened her West Hollywood store in 2015. Her Elvet collection, priced at $2,500-$8,000, is exclusive to the store.

The sample of a new gown Pei designed in French Alençon lace and silk satin organza had just arrived, and it was a perfect fit on Abesera. It did not have sleeves, but Pei made a long-sleeved silk jacket to go with it.

Rebecca Sarto married at Calamigos Ranch in Malibu on Oct. 15, 2017. Photos by Hello Blue Photos

“The jacket let the lacy detail show and gave me the modest look I wanted while keeping it modern,” said Abesera, who now goes by her married name of Cohen and lives in Pico-Robertson. She and her husband, both French-Moroccan Jews, met through a mutual friend with whom she went to college. Their wedding, at the Alexandria hotel in downtown Los Angeles, was “beautiful, magical,” she said. “Everyone said it was the best wedding they’d ever been to.”

“I wanted sleeves. I liked the idea  of having my shoulders covered, for traditional  reasons, too.”  — Rebecca Rothman Sarto

Pei, who named the gown’s style “Sarah” after Cohen, can customize any gown, adding sleeves or raising necklines for the modest bride. “Clients love our line because it’s modern and timeless,” she said. “Instead of nude panels and deep V’s, it’s classic design with more coverage. It’s a timeless, elegant look.”

That was just what Rebecca Rothman Sarto of Studio City was looking for in a wedding gown. Like Cohen, she had been to many boutiques without finding a dress. “I wanted sleeves,” she said, adding that sexy dresses are “just not me. I liked the idea of having my shoulders covered, for traditional reasons, too.”

She found it at Jinza but had Pei make changes, fully closing the back, raising the front and changing an ivory bodice panel from ivory to nude. “I wanted lace, a lot of beadwork and flowers everywhere,” she said, the latter to reflect the “garden-y, romantic vibe” of Calamigos Ranch in Malibu, where she married Matthew Sarto in October 2017. “The skirt had layers and tiers of silk chiffon. The veil had the lace and flowers all around it,” she added.

Her wedding reflected the Conservative Jewish traditions with which she was raised and incorporated a few personal ones. The tallit used in the ceremony was her grandfather’s. Wrapped in extra fabric from her gown, her bouquet was encircled by a custom-made charm bracelet covered in Swarovski crystals, with three tiny frames holding photos of her grandparents and her dog.

For modest brides whose budgets are tight and can’t afford nuptial extravagances, there’s another option. Los Angeles Hachnassat Kallah (LAHK) is a service that lends brides wedding gowns for a fee of $250-$350, including the veil, tiara and shoes. Accessories alone can be borrowed for $18. But in the charitable lending tradition of gemilut chasadim, no one is ever refused. 

Popular wedding gown styles featuring long sleeves, high necks, beaded bodices, layers of tulle and lace, and princess silhouettes are among the dresses LAHK stocks in a wide range of sizes. According to Devorie Krause, who took over running the service three years ago, “Brides love fit and flare, and ornate tops and full bottoms. White is more popular than ivory or cream.”

Read more from the 2018 Chuppah Edition here.