A bride tried on 4 gowns before finding a see-through, lace wedding dress with a removable skirt that was perfect for the dance floor

sam lede
She loved having two looks. Robert Carlo
  • Samantha Viola and John Kleinhanz got married in August 2020, cutting their 150 guests down to 50 to comply with New York City’s rules regarding public gatherings amid the pandemic.

  • When shopping for her wedding dress before the pandemic hit, Viola hoped to find a nontraditional gown that was somewhat revealing.

  • She fell in love with a Pnina Tornai dress with transparent head-to-toe lace, and paired it with a removable, tulle skirt that gave her two looks on her wedding day.

  • “It was my dream dress,” Viola said of the custom gown.

  • Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Samantha Viola and John Kleinhanz met online in 2018, got engaged in 2019, and had their wedding in 2020 during the pandemic.

sam and hubs 1
They’ve been together since 2018. Samantha Viola

Samantha Viola, 28, and John Kleinhanz, 29, connected on Hinge. 

The New York-based couple knew right away it was something special, and they got engaged just a year later in August 2019. 

They planned their wedding for August 2020. As the date approached, they made a number of changes to keep their wedding date including moving the event outdoors and cutting down their guest count to comply with New York City’s guidelines regarding public gatherings during the pandemic.

Viola started thinking about her wedding dress right after she got engaged, and shopped for her dress before the pandemic hit.

sam and hubs 2
They got married in August 2020. Samantha Viola

Viola had a close family friend who wanted to help her shop for her wedding dress, and she happened to be coming to visit New York about a month after Viola got engaged.

Viola knew she wanted her to be there when she found her dress, so she scheduled a last-minute appointment they could attend together at Kleinfeld Bridal in September 2019. Viola’s mom and future sister-in-law accompanied her to the appointment as well. 

Although she didn’t have a lot of time to prepare for the appointment, Viola had some idea of what she wanted her wedding dress to look like. She found herself drawn to Pnina Tornai and other designers who made ornate, one-of-a-kind gowns. 

“I have always loved being unique,” Viola told Insider. “I really dislike having something that other people have.” She also wanted the dress to be a bit revealing rather than buttoned up.

Viola didn’t set a budget for her wedding dress, ensuring she would have plenty of options.

The first dress Viola tried on was covered in sparkles.

sam dress 1
The dress felt too young to Viola. Samantha Viola

Viola liked the gown’s silhouette and low-cut neckline, but she didn’t love how it made her look.

“I felt like I was at like a sweet 16, because I do look young for my age,” she said. “It was important to me not to wear something that made me look like I was going to prom.”

The sparkles felt too babyish, so she moved on.

Viola felt like this dress swallowed her.

sam dress 2
She felt it didn’t fit right. Samantha Viola

“I felt like it just didn’t fit my body,” Viola said of the mermaid-cut gown. It also had intricate, shiny detailing on the bodice.

“I’m petite, and it just swallowed me,” Viola added. “It just didn’t look right.” 

This dress didn’t have the classy vibe Viola was going for.

sam dress 3
It was too much for her. Samantha Viola

The mermaid gown was covered in bejeweled detailing, which overwhelmed Viola. 

“It felt like too much for me,” she said of the sleek dress. Her mom wasn’t crazy about the gown either, so she knew it wasn’t the right dress for her.

Viola liked this gown, but it didn’t feel like her wedding dress.

sam dress 4
She didn’t find the dress flattering. Samantha Viola

“I liked this one,” Viola said of the dress, which combined lace and sparkly fabric for a sultry look. “I thought it was unique.”

“But it just did nothing for me,” she said, and she couldn’t really imagine herself wearing it on her wedding day. “It was a beautiful bridal gown, but it just wasn’t me.”

Viola was drawn to this gown before she even tried it.

sam dress 5
Viola loved the gown. Samantha Viola

Viola’s Kleinfeld consultant told her the Pnina Tornai gown was often worn at beach weddings, as the transparent lace and fully see-through skirt is ideal for walking through sand. It also had a low neckline and was backless.

Even though she wasn’t planning a beach wedding, Viola wanted to try the dress on. 

“I just immediately fell in love with it,” Viola said. “I felt beautiful. I felt like it flattered my body type. It felt very bridal, but also not like the classic bride that everybody looks like.”

She knew it was the dress for her.

To make it even more unique, Viola added a removable, tulle skirt to the gown.

sam dress 6
She added a full skirt. Samantha Viola

“I had a friend who wore an overskirt a couple years ago, and I thought it was such a cool idea,” Viola said. “And I always loved the idea of having two looks.”

She found a dress with a full skirt from Pnina Tornai, and she was able to custom order just the skirt so she could slip it over her dress for a more dramatic ceremony gown.

“I would have something that was a little bit easier to dance in at the end of the night, but something that was really grand and made a statement for the ceremony,” she added of why she wanted two skirts.

Viola also bought a coordinating Pnina Tornai veil to make her ceremony look even more stunning.

The cathedral veil was the final touch. Robert Carlo

“I knew that I really wanted a cathedral length veil,” Viola said, and she was inspired by the veil Priyanka Chopra wore when she married Nick Jonas.

A long, Pnina Tornai veil with a lace trim was perfect. “That was the icing on the cake,” Viola said of the accessory.

The dress, additional skirt, and veil cost about $12,o00.

Viola made a few alterations to the dress so it would be as comfortable as possible.

sam dress front back
She had the train removed. Robert Carlo

The gown had to be taken in to fit her small frame, but the biggest change Viola made to the dress was removing the train.

“I wanted to be able to dance in it,” she said. “There was a beautiful train, but it just felt unnecessary and it didn’t look good.” Viola tried bustling the train, but she didn’t love it.

“So my seamstress was able to take the train off and just make it one length at the bottom, which was beautiful and ended up being perfect,” she told Insider.

“I was so happy that I had those two styles,” Viola said of her two skirts.

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She loved having two looks. Robert Carlo

She felt like she got the best of both worlds in the dresses.

“The overskirt made me feel like such a princess,” she said.

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The big skirt was elegant. Robert Carlo

“Everybody was just so in love with it, and it was beautiful,” she said of people’s responses to the dress. “But it definitely was heavy, and it was a little bit hot.”

“It was also so much fun to take that off and be able to dance,” she said.

She had a sleeker look. Robert Carlo

“I felt so beautiful,” she said. “It was my dream dress.”

Viola paired the dress with slicked-back hair and natural makeup. GlambyNada did her hair and Aneta Grzesiak with Beautini provided makeup services.

Kleinhanz loved his wife’s wedding day looks.

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They had a first look. Robert Carlo

“He was so happy, and he thought it was beautiful,” Viola said of her husband’s reaction to her dress. “He just thought it was so neat and so unique.”

The couple shared a first look ahead of the wedding, and Kleinhanz didn’t know Viola would be switching into a bigger skirt. 

Robert Carlo was the couple’s photographer, and Ed Neary was their videographer.

Kleinhanz had worried the first look would make the moment Viola walked down the aisle less special, but the second skirt changed everything.

The skirt surprised Kleinhanz. Robert Carlo

“He thought it was the coolest thing ever,” Viola said. “He felt like he was seeing like a whole other person.”

Viola and Kleinhanz were married on a rooftop overlooking New York City.

They got married outside. Robert Carlo

The William Vale Hotel in Brooklyn served as the backdrop for the couples’ nuptials.

The Get Together Events Co. planned the wedding, while Isabel Renaud was the event manager.

Viola’s mom played a big role in her wedding day.

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The bride and her mother. Robert Carlo

Her mom walked her down the aisle, and they shared a first dance at the reception.

The first look was one of Viola’s favorite moments of the day.

The first look almost got rained out. Robert Carlo

It was about to rain when the couple saw each other for the first time on the wedding day.

“We had like 30 seconds before it started to rain,” Viola said. “We hugged, we kissed, we took a picture, and it started to rain.”

She’s running for shelter from the storm in this shot.

“It was just such a special and fun moment,” Viola said of the first look.

They got to be alone. Robert Carlo

They still managed to get a few pretty pictures before the rain came.

“It was just really fun, and it eased the anxiety of the day,” Viola said.

The couple was also grateful they were able to have their wedding as planned.

They were happy the wedding went according to plan. Robert Carlo

They almost had to reschedule their wedding because of the pandemic, and they would’ve gotten married in a backyard ceremony had that been the case.

Of course that would have been fine, but Viola felt like her dress might have been wasted in a less ornate setting.

“I think it looks a lot better with the Manhattan skyline than with the driveway,” she told Insider. “I’m really happy I got to have that.”

To make the wedding happen, Viola and Kleinhanz had to cut their guest list from 150 people to 50, and they had to move the wedding to the hotel’s terrace to adhere to New York City’s rules regarding public gatherings. 

Chairs were also arranged to allow people to social distance during the ceremony and reception.

Viola advises brides to try on dresses they might not expect to look good.

It’s worth it to try on whatever you want. Robert Carlo

She thinks that if you’re drawn to a dress, it’s worth trying on — no matter how unconventional it may be.

“Regardless of what your family or friends or consultant say, try the dress on because you just never know how it’s going to look on you,” she said. 

She also thinks it’s important for brides to trust themselves when finding a dress.

Trust yourself. Robert Carlo

“I think a lot of times brides overthink things,” Viola said. “If you feel like it’s right, just go with it, and it’s going to turn out beautiful.”

“Go with your gut,” she added.

“He doesn’t try to make me anything different,” Viola said of why she loves her husband.

Viola says she and Kleinhanz are different. Robert Carlo

“We’re very different, but we support each other’s differences,” she said. “John loves everything about me.”

She thinks they balance each other out.

sam and hubs dancing
They balance each other. Robert Carlo

“I would say I am definitely more outgoing and loud and love to have fun, and he loves that for me,” she said. “He supports me in it.”

“He’s just an amazing partner,” Viola told Insider of her husband.

The happy couple. Robert Carlo

“He’s just very sweet and loving,” she said. “He kept me positive even through planning a COVID wedding.”

You can follow Viola on Instagram, and you can see more of Carlo’s work here.

If you are in the process of shopping for your wedding dress or have photos from when you shopped and want to talk to Insider for a story, get in touch at [email protected].

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