Like plenty of other brides, Katy Lawn spent months planning her wedding. She and her fiancé had their wedding booked for July 2020, but when the pandemic hit, Lawn and her husband-to-be moved their wedding to December. “It was clear a big wedding was still not going to happen, so we made a decision to get married anyway with only close family and move the 'wedding party' to 2022.” For Zeena Shah and her partner, they cancelled their wedding entirely last year and decided to go for it in 2021 instead. “We’re ever the optimists and so decided to just go for it. If there’s anything this year has taught us, it’s that you only live once. There are lots of close friends and family that sadly can’t make it due to international travel restrictions, but we’re just going to have another party next year!”
"If there's anything this year has taught us, it's that you only live once."
These aren’t isolated or unique situations. According to figures last year, over 100,000 weddings were postponed due to the pandemic. The impact on the wedding industry has been huge. From venues to caterers to photographers, the wedding industry was hit hard with an estimated loss of over £5 billion. However, with restrictions easing and hopefully weddings of 30 people being allowed to take place from 17 May, and by June, a complete easing of restrictions, it will mean weddings can take place in a more “normal” way.
It can’t be underestimated how much the pandemic has impacted the wedding industry, but what’s interesting is that there’s one area that has continued to make money: the fashion industry. Despite weddings being smaller or not taking place at all, wedding dresses have continued to sell—and sell well. Lyst, the global fashion shopping platform, just yesterday released a wedding report and revealed that while “in-person fittings remain difficult at this time, online searches for wedding dresses and suits have quadrupled year-on-year.” Proof that bridal fashion has merely moved to the virtual fitting room.
I spoke to a variety of people, from bridal designers to luxury and high-street retailers, who gave me the intel on what the fashion bridal industry looks like right now and beyond. I looked at the trends coming up but also what the biggest brands are when it comes to bridal looks. Behold Who What Wear’s inaugural bridal report. Keep scrolling for everything you need to know.
Due to the reduced nature of weddings, one trend that designers and retailers have repeatedly told me about is the shift to more pared-back looks. Marisa Rooney, who owns Beautiful Brides Liverpool, a curvy bridal boutique, said she pivoted her business when the pandemic hit: “I was receiving enquiries from brides looking for a more casual approach to their day and created my own small in-house collection of dresses with modern and simplistic designs. These styles have been appealing to those who are having micro weddings.”
Designer Kate Halfpenny has said similar: “We have seen an interesting thing. What’s happened is brides have held their hero dress for their big party but then bought more pared-back looks for smaller ceremonies.”
Senior fashion market editor for NET-A-PORTER Libby Page also confirmed a shift toward simpler styles: “Over the last year, we have started to notice a shift in our NET-A-PORTER brides looking for more modern and effortless pieces, such as suiting, slip dresses and interesting co-ordinates that can be worn on their wedding day—as well as beyond.”
Matchesfashion's global fashion officer, Natalie Kingham, added to this, saying that “suits and separates have been popular. (Jackets are up 15% and trousers are up 25% versus last year.) Styles including Gabriela Hearst’s three-piece suit, Alessandra Rich’s sweetheart jacket and pencil skirt set and Blaze Milano’s matching jacket and tailored shorts have been highlights.”
However, on the flip side to the simpler looks, Halfpenny reckons there will be a lot of brides embracing more out-there looks. In her recent collection, details such as oversize bows take centre stage, and looking ahead to bridal trends in 2022, designers such as Prabal Gurung showed off more over-the-top stylings with accentuated accessories.
Lyst reports that interest in feathered gowns will grow, with searches increasing by 128% since January, and there’s a year-on-year increase of 134% in searches for tulle dresses and skirts. Lockdown bride Harriet Hall opted for a bright-pink Molly Goddard dress for her big day, telling me, "A bright-pink tulle gown was the perfect item to get married in that was both wildly over the top and special but also a little bit rebellious. Plus, it was the most fun dress to wear, and it not being white means I can wear it again and again—an added sustainable bonus."
Photo:Courtesy of Harriet Hall
Harriet Hall wearing a pink Molly Goddard dress
Photo:Courtesy of Matchesfashion
Part of the Blazé Milano collection at Matchesfashion
Photo:Courtesy of Matchesfashion; Courtesy of Valentine Avoh
Left to Right: Bernadette dress; Blazé Milano outfit; Chopova Lowena; Valentine Avoh dress
One of the biggest wedding expenses, besides the venue and the food, has to be the dress. Back in 2019, Hitched, a leading wedding website, revealed that the average spend on a wedding dress for brides in the UK was just over £1300. But that’s still a decent amount to buy designer for your big day. According to Lyst, the designers most brides are searching for aren’t the traditional brands you might expect. In fact, the platform predicts “a big year for contemporary labels rather than big luxury names. Searches for Khaite and Retrofête—both favorites among the fashion crowd—are continuously rising (up 63% and 27% respectively year-on-year).” Lyst also revealed that Aje, Cult Gaia and Rat & Boa were starting to prove popular among the bridal set.
NET-A-PORTER has introduced a wider selection of mini and midi dresses for the more intimate ceremonies, from brands including Self-Portrait, Danielle Frankel and Emilia Wickstead. Jumpsuits and tailored separates have also been sought after with Halston’s One-Shoulder jumpsuits and Safiyaa’s Halluana stretch flared pants being some of the luxury retailer’s best-selling styles. Whereas on Matchesfashion, The Vampire’s Wife’s exclusive Giselle style is also a great option for brides looking for something a little different in the designer department.
Photo:Courtesy of Matchesfashion
The Vampire's Wife's bridal collection for Matchesfashion
Photo:Courtesy of Matchesfashion
Emilio Pucci x Tomo Koizumi's bridal collection exclusive to Matchesfashion
Photo:Zeena Shah for WHO WHAT WEAR; Whistles; @sallyomo; Reformation
Left to Right: Zeena Shah wearing Rixo bridal; Whistles wedding dress; ASOS wedding dress; Reformation wedding dress
For clarity, when we talk about affordable wedding dresses, we often mean frocks under £500. While it is still a fair amount of money, in comparison with the average bridal gown, these are much less expensive. Over the past few years, there have been some incredible brands offering affordable wedding dresses that look designer.
Whistles and ASOS have led the pack here, with both brands telling me that they’ve seen an increase in sales over the past year despite the pandemic and fewer weddings taking place. Whistles wedding has over-performed this year, with sales up 40% on the year. Over on ASOS, at the end of April, bridal searches went up 277% from the previous week. But in general, sales have been consistent on the high-street website, with an ASOS Edition bridal dress sold every three minutes during lockdown, and the Sophia dress being the most popular.
Then, sitting somewhere between affordable and designer, contemporary brand Rixo launched its bridal options this year. While some items go up to just under £1000, there are other dresses that cost well under £500—proving that there are so many options for people out there who might not be able to or even want to spend a huge amount of money on a dress for one day.
Photo:Courtesy of ASOS
Part of the ASOS wedding dress collection
Photo:Zeena Shah for WHO WHAT WEAR
Zeena Shah wearing the Rixo bridal collection
Photo:Courtesy of Prabal Gurung; By Rotation; Matchesfashion
Left to Right: Prabal Gurung oversize earrings for bridal 2022 collection; Shrimps bag rental; Carolina Herrera dress for Matchesfashion; Prabal Gurung ring for the bridal 2022 collection
Hold on to your veils because there’s a lot going on with shoes and accessories when it comes to bridal looks. Firstly, Halpenny tells me that veils are making a comeback, and I can see why she says this. It's obvious in her latest collection plus that of Rixo, not to mention celebs like Lily Allen have opted for veils, so it’s hard to disagree with this soon-to-be trending item. According to Lyst, Simone Rocha’s accessories are among the most wanted, which isn’t surprising given the designer’s ability to create such pretty, whimsical bridal-ready pieces.
An interesting and more surprising influence on bridal accessories has been Bridgerton. Lyst reports that more brides were looking for embellished headpieces, with an increase of 156% year on year in searches. Rooney seems to confirm this by telling me that she’s seen her brides “move away from the standard hair accessories such as tiaras and clips” and opt for “more unique pieces such as the halo bands.”
As for bags, Kingham revealed that “keepsake accessories have also proven popular (bags are up 85% versus last year), with clutch bags from Olympia Le-Tan being best sellers. They look wonderful put on your bookshelf as a memento of the big day.” In terms of shoes, however, there are two differing camps. Matchesfashion has seen a flat-shoe increase of over 125% versus last year for its bridal shoes, whereas Lyst says “high heels are also making their way back to the party scene, with rhinestone heels amongst the most-wanted categories and over 18,000 monthly searches for Amina Muaddi’s crystal slingback pumps.”
Photo:Courtesy of By Rotation
Shrimps bag available to rent from By Rotation
Photo:Courtesy of Halfpenny
Halfpenny's latest collection
Photo:Courtesy of Retold Vintage; By Rotation
Left to Right: Retold Vintage dress; Atelier Colpani rental dress from By Rotation; Retold Vintage collection; Anushree Reddy rental from By Rotation
Sustainable wedding dresses can come in many forms. Whether you’re renting or buying vintage or secondhand, there are a few options if you’re keen to keep your impact on the environment down. Lyst's wedding report last year revealed "online searches for wedding dresses that include the words 'vintage,' 'secondhand' or 'pre-owned' are collectively up 38% year-on-year, averaging close to 19,000 searches a month."
I spoke to Clare Lewis, owner of Retold Vintage, who gave some interesting intel on how brides are shopping with her for vintage dresses. When allowed, she holds fittings for brides like you would do at any other wedding dress shop.
"Ever since I launched bridal last year (pre-pandemic), there has definitely been a keen interest in brides-to-be wanting more sustainable options for their wedding day, which include the dress," Lewis said. "The pandemic, as we know, has meant original plans have sadly had to be changed for a lot of people getting married, and the brides who are coming to me now are simplifying their wedding day, opting for a more intimate and relaxed ceremony with plans for bigger celebrations or parties at a later stage when the restrictions change.
"Therefore, this has hugely changed their ideas on what style they want to wear and how much they want to spend. I find them asking for more nontraditional pieces. Suiting has been a popular request as have simpler, pared-down styles (e.g., a simple white dress they can wear again), and how much they want to spend is less.
"Where the pre-conceptions around wearing secondhand and vintage have dramatically shifted over the past couple of years, I think we can say this is slowly shifting to bridal, too. 'Something old' is definitely as desirable as 'something new' these days."
Left to Right: Amal Clooney in Stella McCartney; Solange Knowles in Stéphane Rolland; Bettina Looney in one of her looks; Meghan Markle in her second outfit
Perhaps seemingly contradictory to the above bridal trend, the wedding wardrobe is still going strong. Not sure what that is? Well, allow me to give you a brief overview. Simply put, it’s a range of different outfits to wear for your big day. It used to mean a dress for the day and perhaps a different evening look. Both Kate Middleton and Meghan Markle did this for their weddings. But then there was Amal Clooney’s array of incredible looks in Venice during her and George’s nuptials in 2014. That same year, Solange Knowles wore a mix of super-chic jumpsuits, capes and gowns for her wedding in New Orleans. Not to mention influencer Bettina Looney's gorgeous outfits for her wedding extravaganza.
However, this concept looks set to go mainstream, mostly in part thanks to the fact that there are plenty of brides who got married in lockdown and are set to have a bigger party later on. Lyst reckons that the after-party will be huge. “Following a year full of Zoom parties and waist-up dressing, partywear is having its big moment again. Fashion-favorite brands including Retrofête, LoveShackFancy, Amina Muaddi and David Koma have all seen a spike in searches ahead of the summer wedding season, while interest for mini bridal dresses has jumped 170% since January,” reveals Lyst.
And with rental apps becoming more popular, there is an even easier way to get this look without compromising your budget or the environment. Founder of rental app By Rotation Eshita Kabra-Davies says, “We have seen an increasing number of brides-to-be rent their 'something borrowed' from our app, and more continue to make enquiries for their big day, including on behalf of their guests. We've also seen several brides list their own wedding dresses on the app, including me. The most popular brands on the platform are Rixo, Jacquemus, Dior and Daily Sleeper. Some users make up to £650 a month as a secondary passive income, so if you're sitting on a Chiquito or feathered Daily Sleeper pyjama set, make the most of your spring cleaning and list your wardrobe for free on the app!"
The Duchess of Cambridge's evening look
One of Bettina Looney's many wedding looks
Next up, the biggest spring/summer 2021 fashion trends to know.