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Adding a Unique Accessory Can Bring a New Dimension to a Bride’s Look

Debra designs headpieces for a unique accent to an outfit such as one that Britton is wearing.

When people think about bridal outfits, it’s usually the dress that draws the most attention. For a bride, finding the right dress can be a huge part of planning her wedding and feeling beautiful and confident for the big day. But, a wedding dress’s beauty can be amplified significantly by the addition of a unique accessory – a veil, hat, bow, or sash that accentuates the uniqueness of a dress and adds an entirely new dimension to a bride’s look.


Debra Shirley, a designer working for NWLA, a Santa Monica-based bridal shop, handcrafts these one-of-a-kind bridal accessories. Her work is intricate and curated to seamlessly blend into a bride’s outfit. While a simple veil might only take a few hours to make, more elaborate lace pieces can require up to two days of careful work – all of which Debra does on her own, by hand.


Debra studied millinery, or hat-making, at fashion school in Chicago, where she learned the basis of what makes up her craft today. She has been designing for over 20 years, and her expertise shines through in her attention to detail.


In making a custom veil or headpiece, Debra says that she draws inspiration from the bride’s dress. “The wedding gown itself inspires me,” she shared. “Beautiful lace on a gown, for example, could inspire a veil that has the same matching lace at the bottom, to create a lovely frame around the bride.”


Consequently, the very first step in designing a veil or headpiece is meeting with the bride, her family, and her gown to make sure that every aspect of the look is cohesive. “I never want to take away from the bride or her gown. I want the veil to be something that enhances her [look],” Debra shared. “After our meeting, she can now imagine her wedding day ensemble from head to toe.”


Often, she is asked to design pieces that draw from a mother, or grandmother’s wedding dress or veil. These are her favorites, as she feels that their sentimental value is unmatched. “A really special piece evolves, because you’ve got something from the past that’s been updated as a modern veil,” she said. “It’s very lovely and special, because you’re getting a piece that nobody else in the world has.”


Her favorite design to date was one such piece: an incredibly unique, multi-generational veil that she custom-made for a bride.“I took lace from the bride’s dress and components from both her mother and grandmother’s dresses, so [the veil] represented three generations of brides,” Debra shared. “It was such a one-of-a-kind piece, and I'll never forget it.”


Recently, Debra has noticed a shift in veil trends towards the more extreme. She has enjoyed experimenting with more involved designs and creating veils meant to draw more attention.


“This year, we’re noticing that brides are willing to go more dramatic with their veil,” she said. “Many want a ‘veil moment,’ where the dress might be more understated, but the veil is more of a presence. That’s been really fun to play with.”


Ultimately, Debra’s job is to help make brides’ dreams come true – tying their outfits together and perfecting their wedding looks. 


“My favorite element of it is being able to work with the bride and help her envision her perfect look as a whole,” she said. “A lot of the time, the bride gets focused on the gown, but really the gown is just one element.”


To reach Debra, please call 312-420-1041, or call Nadia at NWLA at 424-238-5202.

By Gigi Appelbaum-Schwartz

Photo by Bernadette Lucier

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