The hunt for The One (the dress, not the life partner) once involved trawling bridal boutiques before landing on the perfect princess creation, then returning several times over the course of a few months for fittings before the Big Day reveal. However, a year of yoyo lockdowns, repeat postponements and micro-nuptials has made many women re-evaluate the mega meringue altogether.
In a year where budgets were tightened and sustainability shot to fore, high street wedding dress sales have surged and a second-hand wedding dress industry has blossomed. In fact, 67 per cent of brides, according to Bridebook.co.uk, no longer want a couture made-to-measure gown, and "casual wedding dress" was Googled 158 per cent more in January 2021 than in January 2020.
“The needs of someone getting married today are very different to the needs of someone getting married even a year ago,” says Erdem Moralıoğlu, creative director of luxury label Erdem, which last week launched its first off-the-peg bridal range. The year-round collection of seven summery Broderie Anglaise midis and ditsy cotton voile maxi dresses are surprisingly easy-breezy for a designer that usually specialises in full-on princess fantasy.
“When I created the collection, I approached it in a more relaxed way… I love the idea of these pieces working in different contexts and settings.”
Also jumping on the bridal bandwagon is wedding guest dress favourite RIXO, which will debut its first wedding dress capsule at London Fashion Week, which kicks off on Friday. Made using a bespoke minimal crease silk for ultimate practicality, the capsule, which starts at £295, includes a registry office-appropriate jumpsuit and a two-piece skirt and blouse alongside more traditional boho lace options.
“We wanted there to be an everlasting element,” says co-founder Henrietta Rix. “For example the ostrich feather trimmed jacket and silk midi skirt can easily be styled into an everyday wardrobe.”
This growing appetite for wear-again wedding wear is one that motivated ex-Condé Nast Brides editors Lily Dixey and Lizzie Gray to create bridal fashion site Little L, which launched last week and stocks all the best wedding-appropriate dresses and jumpsuits from cool young brands like Harmur and Seren.
“We definitely feel that there has been a gap in the market for an alternative to the traditional wedding look for some time,” says Dixey. “We want to offer pieces that you could walk down the aisle in one week, and wear to a party the next.”
The trend was gaining momentum pre-Covid. Matches launched its fashion-forward bridal section, featuring a tight edit of white dresses from brands like Christopher Kane, Molly Goddard and Galvan, in January 2020; while Browns Fashion launched its edit back in late 2019.
“Even before the pandemic we had started to see a real shift to a more relaxed bride,” says Holly Tenser, Buying Manager at Browns. “I think now more than ever brides are looking for something that is wearable yet chic… there is no longer the understanding that the big white dress is the only way to achieve this.”
Even Browns Bride, normally a go-to for traditional bespoke princess gowns, has noticed women opting not to customise, instead taking designer samples they can wear off the peg. Vivienne Westwood gowns that, as they’re made from natural silk, can later be dyed another colour and Viktor & Rolf’s two-piece ivory suits, which can easily be worked into a post-wedding wardrobe, have both been popular.
London bridal designer Kate Halfpenny has seen a surge in demand for wedding day separates. “I feel the trend for being able to wear elements of your wedding outfit is here to stay,” says Halfpenny. Loungewear label Sleeper meanwhile, famous for its feather-trim pyjamas, launched a bed-ready bridal capsule back in 2017, after noticing women wearing their silky separates for the big day.
If walking the aisle in a pair of white feather-trimmed PJs isn’t peak 2021 bridal, I don’t know what is.