growing a minimalist wardrobe: wedding dresses.

July 9, 2018

There’s a skinny closet in the smallest bedroom at my mom and dad’s house, a room so small that a twin bed fits in it with only a bit of room to spare. This closet is home mostly to the sparkly dresses that my sisters and I wore to formal dances in high school. The bright red mesh and sequined number that I wore to Junior Prom is in there beside other bedazzled and velvet-strapped numbers. In one twill dress bag are two plain white dresses.

Like my sister Cait before me, I decided to have my wedding dress made for me, rather than buy anything in a shop. By the time I was ready to get married, my tastes had changed significantly from high school and so I traded tulle and beading for far simpler organza and lace. More than that, the idea of entering a bridal boutique made me squirm. The chapter I’d read about the wedding dress industry in Rebecca Mead’s One Perfect Day convinced me that I didn’t want to go the conventional route. I took my quandary to then-local seamstress, Tara Banerjee. She sketched, together we shopped for fabric, and all thanks to her, I was able to wear just the sort of dress I had been picturing in my head but didn’t see reflected back at me in any shops.

After my wedding, I had my dress cleaned and I hung it up in the skinny closet where dresses go to likely never be worn again. But last week, when I was home at my parents’, I decided to slip it on. I can’t say precisely what had stopped me before. Custom? Fear of spoiling it? For who? Wasn’t the point to have a dress made simple enough that it felt like something I’d want to wear again? What’s better than a dress that be worn over and over again? Why not slip on your wedding dress after an afternoon swim and before a summery date night?

So. In case you need it—here’s permission to first, wear absolutely anything to your wedding that you’d like to, and second, to wear it again whenever you very well please.


When I got married on the very hottest day of 2012, I was in the thick of writing survival tips for a life in our tiny New York apartment, but I hadn’t yet started to write about my forays into a more intentionally streamlined closet. I wasn’t clued in to small designers and I had my dress handmade in part because I simply didn’t know where else to look. To be clear: I loved having the opportunity to work with someone on something made just for me. If you’re in LA and looking for someone to make a dress just for you, or to alter something you’ve already found, you’d be right to contact Tara, The Williamsburg Seamster.  But in case that’s not in the cards, here are a few other options for simple dresses that could be wedding dresses, or date-night dresses, or picnic-in-the-park dresses, if that’s your style. It’s a matter of mindset, really.

Dear GoldenI’ve been stalking the antique Edwardian dresses collected by Dear Golden shop owner Lauren Naimola for years now. They’re exquisite. Wedding material and then some, I say. (And by then some, of course I mean after-dinner ice cream shop runs.)

Doen: I love the romantic dresses from Doen. They’re like the modern sister to the vintage beauties found above. (They sent me one of their Primrose dresses earlier this spring and I wore it on my birthday—and on many other regular work days this summer.) Many of their designs come in white (the white Tansy Dress is one that’s currently in stock) and I think lots of them could be just right for an outdoor wedding. 

Elizabeth Suzann: Sometimes formality is less about cut and more about fabric. I could see just about any Elizabeth Suzann design cut from ivory silk working for a simple wedding. An ivory Mara Jumpsuit in silk seems just right for saying vows or sailing into the sunset, don’t you think?

Hackwith Design House: Hackwith Design House has a range of gowns. Some of them are formal enough that you might feel a bit overdressed on a date night, but others, like the Myrtle Dress are more nimble. And it’s out of stock right now, but it’s worth checking back (or checking out their Sustain Shop) for something like last season’s Wrap Dress. Not strictly a wedding gown, but wouldn’t it be lovely?

Mara Hoffman: Mara Hoffman often has at least one beautiful white dress in her summer collection. This year, I love the big-pocketed Agnes Dress. It’d be so lovely to wear on a wedding day and just as great to wear on a summer jaunt to get pizza, napkins, of course, required.

Sugar Candy Mountain: For a simple, rustic wedding in a place with a little nip in the air, why not something like the cotton gauze Naomi Dress?

What about you guys? Formal or simple wedding dresses? To wear one day only, or any old day you like?

For the curious: 

Initial charms this way.

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  • Reply linda July 9, 2018 at 11:16 am

    your dress is beautiful and i, too, would definitely wear it post wedding. also, adored vintage is another great shop that carries vintage edwardian style dresses as well as modern versions that i think might be up your alley.

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE July 9, 2018 at 11:23 am

      thank you! and glad to know! checking them out right now!

      • Reply ERIN BOYLE July 9, 2018 at 11:24 am

        adding the link above!

      • Reply Heather Ana July 10, 2018 at 8:18 am

        Ill borrow Princess Diana s Wedding Dress, but wear it off my shoulders and get it fotted…even possibly add one row of doamonds to represent stars around the upper ruffle band.but I’ll have to get a veil and gold n white gold crown…..Something borrowed, something new Something blue the diamonds ….Smiling….Heather Ana .

  • Reply MissEm July 9, 2018 at 11:54 am

    I wish so much I had done that. I got married in 2005, when wedding boutiques were a sea of overpriced, stuffy feeling, strapless dresses. I disliked everything I tried on and ended up paying a thousand for the one I liked best out of the bunch. I still cringe at that. I kept it, but I can’t rewear it (so fancy, also I’ve, um, changed sizes since then), and tbh, I don’t look at it or at photos of it and think, “oh, I loved wearing that”. Actually, I wanted a simple wedding with simple clothes and flowers, but listened to everyone who said no – do something fancy and traditional. So…a huge yes to wearing what you want and finding a way to get it.

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE July 9, 2018 at 12:02 pm

      Oh man, weddings are so fraught, aren’t they? So many options (even more opinions), so much pressure!

  • Reply Mary Kate July 9, 2018 at 11:55 am

    I had a (relatively) short engagement so had to go with what I could find. I ended up finding something akin to what I wanted in this big bridal warehouse in Jersey (I’d say don’t knock the big scary warehouses, they come with more variety and better prices than tiny NYC boutiques!) It’s old-fashioned-looking, long, and lacy, like I wanted, but I can’t envision wearing it on a regular night — it’s rather wedding-y.
    If I’d had more time I would have loved to go on a vintage dress hunt! I also would have loved a band, fancier centerpieces, a thinner body … But overall I decided there was only so much time and energy (and money) I could devote to planning 1 day of my life, so we decided to just do it as soon as we could and let the pieces fall where they may. For me the most important thing was that my husband, our guests, and I had fun. The dress wasn’t perfect, I didn’t lost as much weight as I wanted, the flowers were wholesale, we had a DJ, not a band, and the day was colder than I wanted, but everyone had a blast and that was good enough for me. I am all for a pared-down wedding (+ less pressure from “the industry” to have one’s perfect day.)

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE July 9, 2018 at 12:02 pm


  • Reply Jennifer Odle July 9, 2018 at 1:03 pm

    This is so sweet, Erin! Would you consider writing a wedding-themed post for those of us in the midst of planning ours? I’ve always wondered what your take would be, should you have the chance to do it all over again in 2018. Make-believe, of course 🙂

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE July 9, 2018 at 1:52 pm

      Ha! Wedding planning was really not my forté, as you can tell by the lack of posts about it! But I wrote a piece about it for Gardenista a few years ago that still holds true!

      • Reply Jennifer Odle July 9, 2018 at 3:40 pm

        Thanks for the link! I’m the same way, which is why we’re having a 15-person wedding on the front porch of my partner’s childhood home, on our 10th anniversary (with our two daughters as flower girls!) I am bonkers excited and glad to not be stressed. Also inspired to wear my little white dress again and again afterwards. Great idea!

        • Reply ERIN BOYLE July 9, 2018 at 3:49 pm

          Sounds perfect. xo!

  • Reply Katie July 9, 2018 at 1:06 pm

    Your dress is lovely. I love it when people just do what they want for their weddings and don’t feel like they have to be conventional! I wore a simple, knee length cream dress, in a cotton-silk blend, for my wedding. I chose it for the vintage style and the fact that I can wear it again. I haven’t worn it again yet, but you’ve seen inspired me to pull it out 🙂

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE July 9, 2018 at 1:49 pm

      Yay! Hope you do!

  • Reply Stacey July 9, 2018 at 1:07 pm

    I’ve never wanted a traditional wedding dress, so when I got engaged 10 years ago I didn’t really know what to do. I casually browsed a few vintage shops hoping that I’d find the right thing, but no luck. Then one day my grandma called me over to her house, and pulled out her mother’s wedding dress from 1915. It was beautiful lace, not too dramatic or old-fashioned, modest but not too modest, and the most beautiful dress I’ve ever seen. My grandma let out a few sections and added some panels, and it fit me perfectly. It meant so much to me to have a dress that I loved AND that had been worn by someone in my family.

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE July 9, 2018 at 1:48 pm

      Amazing! Love that so much!

  • Reply Jen July 9, 2018 at 1:10 pm

    Timely post, as I’m getting married in two weeks and just got my dress!

    It’s a very casual wedding, but I still wanted to get something “special” that I could wear again, and I also don’t think white / cream is very flattering on me. So I ended up with a navy blue eyelet dress by Ted Baker–it’s short, A-line, and has a ruffle over the shoulder. It feels very “me” but not something I’d wear every day and I’m excited to wear it. So, really, just want to reinforce to wear what you want to wear!

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE July 9, 2018 at 1:48 pm

      That sounds so lovely! Congratulations!

  • Reply Mishmeshim July 9, 2018 at 1:30 pm

    Do you manage to wear all these lovely silk pieces from Elizabeth Suzanne with two toddlers? How do you manage the stains/mess/laundry?

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE July 9, 2018 at 1:47 pm

      The only silk pieces I have from Elizabeth Suzann are black, so that makes stains super easy! But more generally, I try to spot treat immediately and mostly I rely on stain bars from La Laundress (or similar) and I wash whites with Nellie’s Oxygen Brightener! Will work on a longer post on the subject—I get a lot of questions about this!

  • Reply Elizabeth July 9, 2018 at 2:02 pm

    I got married in 2009 when strapless confections were pretty much the only thing on the market and there was no such things as pinterest. I really wanted something with sleeves so I made my dress… It had a design vaguely based on dresses from the 1770’s (I was very in love with Sophia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette at the time) merged with my favorite vintage dress pattern from the 1950’s and was created with a silk dupani underlayer and yards and yards of uncrushable wool voile. It was about the best thing my 23-year-old-self could have done though I oscillate between hating the dress and loving it every few years. I was so stressed before my wedding I lost a TON of weight and it didn’t really fit right on the day. Because I had made it I didn’t think to do a final fitting, either.

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE July 9, 2018 at 2:06 pm

      Oh man! Still sounds lovely to me!

  • Reply Hannah July 9, 2018 at 2:56 pm

    Your selection, as always, is lovely Erin, but a gentle reminder that wedding dresses don’t have to be white! Any dress (or outfit) you get married in is a wedding dress. I had a bespoke gray linen dress made for a small gathering to celebrate my elopement and can’t wait to wear it again and again after that day.

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE July 9, 2018 at 3:23 pm

      Of course! The whole point of the post is that you should wear whatever you like! I love white, for weddings or otherwise, so I included white selections! Your gray dress sounds lovely!

      • Reply Francella July 10, 2018 at 1:57 am

        Yes, some of look horrid in stark white and need a pop of color to look alive.

    • Reply Meredith V July 13, 2018 at 3:50 pm

      I had always wanted to get married in green and I did. A shimmery olive green with grey-blue vines and leaves embroidered on the bodice. It was lovely and since it was a bridesmaids dress on sale only cost $75 (back in 2005) As it was too big my grandma tailored it to me and we dealt with the length by adding ruching on both sides for a lovely detail.

      Naturally it’s not exactly what I would choose if I was getting married today, since we change as we age and so do styles – but I’m pleased I broke with tradition to have something more reflective of who I was. And who knows, maybe I’ll find a way to wear it again. I loved my shoes, a superbly detailed olive green shimmery high heel, and have worn them many times since.

  • Reply Alison July 9, 2018 at 3:00 pm

    LOVE this post.

    I actually chose wedding separates instead of a dress because I intentionally wanted to wear my wedding outfit again. I have a lovely cream silk tank that makes me feel oh so fancy with just jeans for a date night. My skirt and over top were both blue-grey. The skirt I had the train cut off and hemmed to tea length so it’s a little more everyday/versatile, but is still silk/tulle. I’ve worn it to a friend’s wedding and it’s not a faux pas as most brides still wear white… no one except those present at my wedding would guess my gray fancy pieces were my wedding outfit 🙂 also makes going out for our anniversary fun as I can still wear something from our wedding day (besides shoes!).

    To any bride’s out there who won’t wear there dress again for whatever reason – consider donating it. There are plenty of people who would love a beautiful dress and simply can’t afford it. (OR, consider dying your dress if that’s the reason you wouldn’t pull it from your closet.)

  • Reply Sam July 9, 2018 at 3:13 pm

    I too got married on the hottest, longest day of the year in the Sacramento summer so needed a light dress, plus I’d allocated my wedding budget to other line items. I got a long bridesmaid dress in a white linenish material from Bella Bridesmaids and while I can’t really speak to their sustainability (probably low) they were a really delightful bridal shop experience. I’d gone in because they carry Saja wedding dresses (not linking in case two links kicks the comment to spam but the style is similar – soft, white, flowy and pretty affordable) but none of the styles looked great and then the excellent sales person suggested pulling some bridesmaid dresses that came in lighter colors. I still think it’s a great idea! My dress was extremely affordable and extremely comfortable.

  • Reply Kim July 9, 2018 at 3:31 pm

    You look lovely. My question is was James able to reuse his suit?

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE July 9, 2018 at 3:48 pm

      Oh, for sure! It’s his only suit! He’s worn to every wedding/funeral/formal occasion we’ve been to since we got married!

  • Reply Jess July 9, 2018 at 4:02 pm

    Lovely post! Beyond the re-wearability, simple wedding outfits are just so timeless — my mom’s dress was a simple shape similar to yours but with a sheer overlay on the bodice, chosen from the bridesmaid’s section to reduce frill and cost, worn with a minimal flower crown. I don’t know if I’ll go the wedding route myself but I love that even 30+ years later I could see myself wearing the exact same thing (literally, if it wasn’t polyester).

  • Reply Cecily Graham July 9, 2018 at 4:16 pm

    I had a beautiful sale rail off-the-peg dress – very simple and inexpensive but definitely a wedding dress. I couldn’t have worn it for anything else, so afterwards I donated it to Oxfam. I loved seeing it disappear from its space in their window and hope that the next bride enjoyed wearing it as much as I did. I wonder if she donated it again afterwards?

  • Reply Meredith July 9, 2018 at 4:27 pm

    Beautiful idea, and your beautiful dress really suits you. The dresses you link are gorgeous too… just not made for a body like mine (both in size and silhouette). As is so often the case with these things, I’m faced with choosing between the sustainable/ethical option (which doesn’t fit or flatter my body), and the option that fits and flatters (but isn’t really sustainable ethical). Bespoke would certainly solve that problem, but I would really love to see you feature silhouettes and/or sizes for curvier, fuller bodies from time to time in these minimalist fashion pieces.

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE July 9, 2018 at 4:57 pm

      Meredith: thanks for your note about this. I admit that I’m not always sure what might be the best options for folks here. Both Elizabeth Suzann and Hackwith Design House have expanded sizes but totally understood if those choices still don’t feel right or accommodating. I tried to choose from designers that offer a range of silhouettes but I can see I still missed the mark. I’m going to put together a post with additional resources but would love to know if there’s something in particular that you’d find helpful.

  • Reply Katie July 9, 2018 at 4:28 pm

    Putting me in mind of the scene in The Age of Innocence when it’s explained that ladies always wore their wedding dresses out during their first year of marriage — I think Winona Ryder wears hers to the opera?

    I got married in February in Boston, so more important to me than my dress was my coat! It was a city hall thing, nothing fancy… I ended up splurging on a gorgeous Emerson Fry blazer in grey with white pinstripes. Wear it all the time!

    My actual dress was a beige-y slipdress from Prairie Underground and COMPLETELY inappropriate for the season. I’ve held onto it but never wear it; you’re inspiring me!

  • Reply Cynthia July 9, 2018 at 5:01 pm

    I bought a muslin dress with an ecru embroidered neckline off a rack for under $50. I wore it with an ecru embroidered belt on my wedding day, as a muumuu to a college graduation when I was 8 months pg, to another wedding with a pale blue silk scarf as a belt, as a muumuu again pg with number 2 and in need of something for a christening, you get the picture. So fun to get many uses out of a plain and simple and now very memorable dress.

  • Reply Stacy Hyatt July 9, 2018 at 6:55 pm

    Oh man. This has me wishing I could go back to 2013 (when I bought my dress for my 2014 wedding) and do things differently. I don’t regret *the dress* I bought, necessarily, though it was from a boutique and was certainly not a sustainable/ethical choice. It was really pretty and I got so many compliments on it; it truly was a match-made-in-Heaven for my wedding location… but goodness, thinking about the price tag really hurts me to this day. All said and done, after alterations, it cost me *WINCE* $2600. And since my wedding night it has been in a dress bag, now multiple sizes too small, and something I will never wear again.

    Now I’m sitting here fantasizing about how much happier I’d have been to buy a selection of Elizabeth Suzann pieces in ivory silk crepe for my wedding, and maybe l some navy linen for the rehearsal dinner — all for half the cost of what I did spend! Sure, they weren’t available then, but still — it’s fun to dream! I mean, wouldn’t the Josephine Vented Tunic ( paired with the Bell Skirt ( be simply lovely on a bride??? And goodness, you’d certainly be able to mix and match and get so much more use out of 4-5 pieces at $245 each than with a traditional expensive wedding dress!

    I need someone to do that so I can live vicariously through them.

  • Reply Zéphine July 9, 2018 at 6:58 pm

    I love your post!
    Although marriage is not my thing, I was really flattered when a “long time not see” friend contacted me to ask if I would agree to make her wedding dress. She was unhappy with the selection she could fine online or in physical shops, because all she wanted was simple, white summer dress (front and back V neck, princess seams line in the bodice, wide waistband, 3/4 circle skirt to twilr without revealing her underwear, and… pockets!!!). She knew I was a self-taught seamstress, and even if the challenge freaked me out at first, I accepted.
    I drafted the pattern based on her measures, did a couple of muslins to adjust the fit, and we went fabric shopping together. I advised her to choose natural fibers, so she will be able to dye the dress after the wedding and wear it again and again. We found the perfect silk-bamboo blend (it’s gorgeous, luscious , drapey, light and breathable, a real dream to wear), and bought the yardage in white and navy blue, with the idea of making a blue (trial) cocktail dress.
    The cocktail dress is finished, and revealed a couple of adjustments needed for the weeding dress. I’m really excited to work on her special day dress, and I love her idea of a simple, elegant but in-temporal dress line that she would be able to easily wear again and again, whether she decided to keep it white, or to dye it in a less bridal color.

  • Reply Christine Amorose Merrill July 9, 2018 at 8:28 pm

    Still have my dress, and still love wearing it on date night! It has pockets and it’s comfortable and it’s just a delight. My only regret is that I thought the material would be easier to dye and then I could wear it all the time–not quite, but alas! Never a bad idea to have a little white dress in the summer.

  • Reply Kellyn July 9, 2018 at 8:46 pm

    I got mine at the Bridal Garden – a used wedding gown store in NYC.

    SO glad I went the used route – made me feel a lot better about the whole fancy dress thing (I also donated it back to the shop when I was done with it).

  • Reply C July 9, 2018 at 10:16 pm

    What a beautiful dress! I never could stomach spending so much hard earned money (mine or my parents’) on a one-occasion gown. I did however, always dream of my wedding and I wanted to feel beautiful and a little princess-esque (not like a giant cake topper… but not a pantsuit either) so I ended up wandering into a dress shop that was closing down and they were selling all their try-on samples. One of them fit me so for $99 CAD plus about $80 for some alterations, I had a unique, tiered sheath dress that I loved. I look back 7 years later I would definitely make a dress myself that I could easily wear again. Also I would elope because the social pressure around weddings is such a struggle! Avoiding the fights I had when insisting we buck most ‘non negotiable traditions’ because they seemed senseless would return so much joy to the event. I even lobbied for a potluck in lieu of gifts because I wasn’t interested in all the unnecessary things… but I was firmly shut down by my soon-to-be in-laws. Does it feel like culture is shifting around weddings a bit now? I’m really hopeful reading posts like these about alternative ways to wed where we don’t use it as an excuse get caught up in the fever of consumption. Thanks for the lovely read!

  • Reply Bettie July 10, 2018 at 7:14 am

    Would I have done things differently 35 years ago? More train, less sleeves, definitely but definitely not my Mother’s pick of gowns…..but at the end of the day, looking back, what truly matters is that I married the right person and that is the one thing I would never change!

    • Reply Elizabeth July 10, 2018 at 2:22 pm

      That is the everlasting truth. Marry the right person and the dress is an afterthought…

  • Reply Lauren July 10, 2018 at 11:28 am

    So happy to see these recommendations! I discovered a few similar labels on my own before my wedding last January. I wore a linen dress by the independent label Black Crane. It’s called the Poet Dress, and I own it in eggshell and oatmeal. For my wedding I wore the eggshell dress with contrasting belt — oh, and I loved it! Here is the stock photo from Need Supply for reference:

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE July 10, 2018 at 11:31 am

      Yes! Longtime admirer of Black Crane! Your dress looks beautiful!

  • Reply Mel July 10, 2018 at 11:58 am

    Great dress and sandals! Love the simplicity of the style. I wore a strapless J.Crew dress, made with taffeta – in hindsight wish the material was a bit more everyday wear – as I would love to reuse it. I’d also love to know what brand and or where you got the white sandals you were in many of your summer photos? I am looking for some simple, but elegant summer footwear, without a lot of luck.

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE July 10, 2018 at 12:05 pm

      Thanks! My dress material is actually a little on the fancy side too! I had written that it’s cotton in a previous post, but rewearing it reminded me that most of it actually isn’t! Whoops! If memory serves I think it’s also (maybe?) a taffeta and it definitely has a silk charmeuse lining—so a little more shimmery than plain cotton! Still wearing it! The sandals are these slides from Nisolo. I love them.

      • Reply Mel July 11, 2018 at 10:53 am

        Thanks for the info Erin!

  • Reply CM July 10, 2018 at 1:42 pm

    I never leave comments, but I love this post. I know so many friends who have succumbed to the pressure to wear a giant tulle confection that isn’t “them,” admitted to regretting it, and certainly will never wear it again. My husband’s mother is an excellent seamstress and made my dress out of white cotton with tiny black polka dots. I dealt with my fair share of consternation and suggestions that it wasn’t what I really wanted and would regret it, but they were wrong, and I still wear my dress. Nothing felt more opposite from the impersonal experience of being clipped into an oversized, visibly dirty sample dress while a bored saleswoman intoned “How do you feel in this one?” than having a perfectly-me dress made for me by my new mother-in-law. I know I’m lucky to have had that option, and I’m glad you did too.

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE July 10, 2018 at 2:25 pm

      Love the sound of those little polka dots!

  • Reply Robin July 12, 2018 at 11:56 am

    Hi Erin! I love this post. I worked in luxury bridal in NYC when I got engaged, so of course everyone expected a truly spectacular dress. I had so much anxiety I picked a dress very quickly just to get it over with, and ended up regretting it (turns out I regretted the choice in groom, too). So, *if* I ever get married again, I’ll be sure to refer back to your site.

    Question: do you know the length of the chain for your charms? I’m hoping to order a charm+chain, and can’t decide between the 18″ and the 20″.

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE July 12, 2018 at 12:45 pm

      Mine is actually on a 22-inch chain!

  • Reply Nina July 12, 2018 at 2:37 pm

    We eloped and got married in fiji – in handlede matching shirt and mumu. Bright blue with pink flowers. I shortened my dress and wear it as a summer dress, my husband grew out of his shirt…
    We had the big party on our 1. anniversary, huge bbq in the backyard, everyone invited, and the last guests left next day after leftovers brunch.

  • Reply Kelley July 18, 2018 at 1:42 pm

    The dresses are certainly beautiful, but are not meant for those of us with large breasts. Oh well. :/

  • Reply Anonymous April 25, 2019 at 6:38 am

    Wonderful, thanks for sharing this with us .

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