How to dress for an English country barn wedding… by bridal couturier Phillipa Lepley

World renowned bridal couturier, Phillipa Lepley, dresses hundreds of brides every year for outdoor countryside weddings. Last year she opened a second space on London’s Fulham Road, adjacent to the existing Phillipa Lepley shop in Chelsea. The iconic Victorian glass conservatory is home to her collection of couture bridal pieces, a large all-white fittings area where Phillipa sees her royal and VIP brides and where she can often be found sketching and designing. Jade Beer asks her how to find the perfect dress for a wedding day at Tythe.

Let the setting at Tythe inspire you . . . Lots of my brides are asking for bespoke embroidered tulle overlays, these are additional pieces that can sit on top of a simple, ivory, bias-cut sheath dress or a corseted clean base satin dress. For a wedding at Tythe this might feature hand embroidered wildflowers and leaves that reflect the surroundings. It might be something like the Mexican daisy Erigeron which grows wild, almost like a weed, or perhaps lavender. You might be walking through fields of poppies, so have those embroidered up the side of your dress, or cornflowers, dandelions, cowslips, all elements that will chime with your setting.  Later you can peel the tulle overlay off and have a dazzling sparkling overlay layer for your evening barn dance. A low back is also beautiful.

Keep it relaxed but elegant . . . Something very fluid that moves with you would work so well. Look for gowns made of a light airy tulle or a matt crepe that is very understated with a chiffon overlay. Slipper satin is the very light satin that has a slight sheen to it, it looks wonderful under a layer of tulle. I will always put a lace overlay on top of a slipper satin and then line it in silk satin too, so you have lots of movement and the layers work together very fluidly.

Consider colour . . . I personally don’t like brash, harsh colours, I prefer them to be muted and gentle, more Provencal and softer, created with threads that are very fine and light. Brides are definitely going for colour. I have designed a dress recently with rosemary leaves embroidered onto it, in a very subtle green. Work with the landscape, look around you. All the answers you need will be the surrounding fields, the colours in the trees and the wildflowers in the gardens, the apples in the orchards.

Make sure people can see you . . . If you are in a room with 200 people, particularly when it’s a barn and you have the height of the space to consider too, you need to stand out and be visible to your guests so think about the size of your dress too. You can add volume very easily with big tulle petticoats, or by adding extra train length to say 100 inches.

There’s only one thing to avoid at a country barn wedding . . . A very formal and grand, high-necked Duchess satin dress with long sleeves. But you absolutely could still do a structured dress, with a corset. You could also still make your look very fashionable with a square neck and a lighter lace. If your heart if set on a very structured, grand dress then I would suggest you have it made without any petticoats, so it feels more ethereal and fluid. That would work. Then think about how you will style it. Avoid a statement tiara and earrings and play it down with something more relaxed like a floral crown or headpiece. It will feel much more in keeping with what’s going on around you.

The two dresses in my collection perfect for a Tythe wedding are . . . The Vienna Jasmine Ivy dress. It’s covered in its namesake flowers that form the shape of the sleeves and have been individually placed to frame the straight neckline. Each petal has been sewn by hand. It has a corseted bodice for structure, a full skirt with a 75” train but there are no petticoats, so it moves very freely. The base dress is made from soft pale silk and white silk organza.

The Sophie Symmetrical Scroll dress. An Italian Duchess satin forms the base of this second dress with a scroll pattern French corded lace overlay. The scalloped edging of the lace, over a subtle sweetheart V neckline, perfectly frames the face and the delicate cap sleeves.

 The Vienna Jasmine Ivy Dress  

The Sophie Symmetrical Scroll Dress

If you are struggling to define what you’d like your wedding dress to be, start by . . . leaving all your pre-conceived ideas at the door. When we first meet, I ask all brides to tell me if there is something they really don’t like – that might be long sleeves or a strapless bodice – just enough detail to give me a few pointers. Then I encourage them to try on lots of different things. It’s only when you have tried wearing it that you can really eliminate things or move them further to the top of your wish list.

If you are going to spend a lot of time outside on your wedding day then you must think about . . . incorporating looping techniques into the dress to gather it all up. Imagine you have a beautiful silk tulle veil, framing your whole look, covered in wildflowers and you don’t want to take it off because this is your one time to feel completely bridal, you can loop that up too. So, you have your train and veil gathered up, giving you a gorgeous mountain of fabric at the back which is so feminine and will make it very easy for you to move around. It’s a very personal thing, some brides don’t mind at all and want the dress flowing out behind them regardless of the environment they’re in. They’re not worried if it gets dirty. For others it’s a really important consideration.

More than ever, brides are asking me . . . to personalise their dresses and veils so the embroidery perfectly matches but are positioned so they fall in different places to frame a woman’s entire look. I’m being asked to embroider a couple’s initials and their wedding date but also lots of elements that are meaningful to them, like the names of places where they have been on holidays together, all completely bespoke. Couples are also making much more of the wedding party and often that translates into a second dress for the bride. Some will keep the same base dress and change the overlay which feels more sustainable when you consider the second look is more likely to be one you can wear again for another evening. Likewise, often my brides will use the veil as a drape over the crib when the first baby arrives.

I love barns so much I live in one! . . . In 2018 I fulfilled a long-held ambition and moved into a 19th century barn in Surrey. I’ve always wanted one. I love big open spaces, so I’ve kept my barn as one big room and resisted the urge to cut it into smaller areas. I haven’t filled it with lots of furniture, but I did invest in a huge French trestle table that I work from when I’m at home. I like to feel the sense of space around me. It’s very open plan and always creates a very positive reaction in people when they come, they’re overwhelmed by it, with the huge height and the beams, and how birds will come in and fly around for hours. I find when you spend time in a barn – whether you’re living, working or partying in it – you’re always aware that it once served a very different purpose and that makes it feel special, a real privilege to have access to it again. Ours was an old sheep barn. I have kept everything around it very wild, none of the grounds are manicured, and because of that it’s such an inspirational place for me to live and work.’