Caroline Allen wears a Halfpenny London cape and trousers to her lockdown wedding.
I wasn't the first of my inner circle to get engaged, and while I loved fawning over my friends as they tried on billowing gowns of lace, tulle, and taffeta, I knew the whole "say yes to the dress" thing wasn't for me. Instead, I opened my laptop, browsed the Net-a-Porter sale, and chose a non-bridal dress. It came, I tried it on in my flat, I liked it, and the rest is history.
In the almost seven years since I tied the knot, several of my closest friends have all opted for the in-boutique experience. We sipped champagne and shed tears when the bride-to-be emerged wearing The One. Although this wasn't the shopping path I chose for myself, the occasion's specialness wasn't, and still isn't, lost on me. This year, I've had to console more friends than I could have imaged, whose wedding dreams were dashed due to the pandemic.
While some decided to postpone their weddings, others, when restrictions allowed, carried on as planned—albeit with significantly smaller guest lists. It's these women who, whether they realise it or not, have changed the wedding fashion landscape forever.
Bettina Looney celebrates her wedding day with a kiss whilst wearing a beaded jacket dress.
As an editor whose job is to analyse shopping habits and correlate them into articles and features, I've found the wedding style shift witnessed these last few months wholly compelling.
Having postponed her wedding once already, when the second date began to approach with no lockdown end in sight, one of my dearest friends and her fiancé decided to proceed with their ceremony regardless, with a small handful of witnesses present. She was yet to find a dress she loved for her original date, but for her reimagined wedding day, she opted for something she didn't expect—a secondhand gown.
Dawn Tan opts for a silk maxi dress with fluted sleeves and a covered-button front from designer Shona Joy for her lockdown ceremony.
"The thought of wearing someone else's wedding dress hadn't entered my consciousness before lockdown hit," she confides. "However, after realising I wasn't going to have the big white wedding I'd expected, I was open to different ideas of what my wedding dress could be. I found a dress I loved online, but that was only available in boutiques, most of which were closed."
"Then, I stumbled upon it on a secondhand website and bought it right away. Honestly, I probably wouldn't have done that before 2020, but choosing something secondhand felt very appropriate given what was going on in the world. It also opened up my mind to secondhand shopping as a whole."
In my spare time, I volunteer with the Scottish arm of Smart Works Charity, and a local bridal boutique was kind enough to donate to us a sample wedding dress. If you're familiar with how Smart Works operates, you'll know this isn't the type of garment we'd usually expect to receive. We provide unemployed women across the country with free, high-quality interview clothing.
Grateful none the less, with the bridal shop's consent, Smart Works agreed to sell the dress on social media in exchange for a donation to the charity. It was purchased within 30 minutes and helped make a lockdown bride's small ceremony all the more special.
Roberta Benteler wore an Alexandre Vauthier jacket and trousers to her ceremony.
Social media proved to be an integral source of bridal outfit inspiration and place to actually find your lockdown wedding look. Fellow fashion journalist and vintage fashion aficionado Daisy Murray offered to loan her coveted Cecilie Bahnsen white dress to any brides who intended to go ahead with their weddings on a smaller scale but who may not have a dress to wear. It was a touching gesture, one which inspired others to do the same. Then, there are the brands born on Instagram, those which you wouldn't necessarily deem bridal but whose designs loaned themselves perfectly to small ceremony wedding outfits.
Olivia Rose The Label is one such brand we've profiled before on Who What Wear. Its founder, Olivia Rose Havelock, created the most sublime made-to-measure dresses which, complete with puff sleeves, shirred bodices, sweetheart or square necklines, and premium fabrics, make for the ultimate small-ceremony ensembles. Her designs—particularly the Manon Dress in Ivory—were worn by cool brides worldwide in 2020. I'm sure that'll be the case in 2021, too.
"Our edit features non-traditional options, including minidresses, tailoring, and separates, which are perfect for smaller, more intimate ceremonies. Items in the edit have timeless appeal, so they can be worn for multiple occasions and not just kept for the big day. For January 2021, we are excited to launch Blazé Bride, a capsule of directional tailoring by Blazé Milano, and also a collection of dresses from The Vampire's Wife which offer a twist on retro glamour."
Fashion model Aweng Ade-Chuol and her wife Alexus Ade-Chuol look the epitome of chic on their wedding day in New York City.
While a wedding outfit is, for many women, the most expensive piece of clothing they'll buy, that doesn't mean all 2020 brides splurged on designer gowns and suiting.
ASOS is just one affordable fashion hotspot that saw a considerable spike in bridal fashion. My friends at the brand revealed it sold a wedding dress every three minutes during lockdown alone. With the ability to try on and return with ease, even at the height of the pandemic, it's little wonder many brides shopped this way for their small ceremonies.
So what is wedding fashion going to look like in 2021 and beyond? My colleague, Who What Wear assistant editor Nell Block, has written a thorough feature detailing just that, breaking down the most noteworthy looks we can expect to see. For it, she spoke with Megan Ziems, founder of cult bridal brand Grace Loves Lace, who predicted two wedding looks would become the norm. "I've noticed our brides are now buying two dresses: one for the micro-wedding and one for the big celebration later down the track," said Ziems.
Similarly, sustainable wedding dress atelier Miller White has witnessed a shift in the styles of dresses being sought out. "With an increase in town hall weddings over the past few months, there’s been keen interest in minidresses and two-pieces that can be worn again after the wedding (or registry) day," reveals Emma Beaumont, Miller White's founder. "Even now, sustainability is at the forefront of a lot of the conversations I have with my brides, and I think this will be even more integral to their decisions going forward. We use certified organic cotton to create beautiful dresses which have a positive impact upon the environment, the workers, and their livelihoods."
Natalia Vodianova is every inch a radiant bride on her wedding day, for which she chose an elegant belted dress, complete with statement shoulders.
"Thanks to ceremonies being smaller and restrictions in place due to the pandemic, brides are hunting down styles which are adaptable and versatile, or silhouettes which are sleek and simple are popular," a Net-a-Porter insider also explains. Throw in secondhand, loaned, and sustainable pieces and it gives new meaning to the saying, "something old, something new, something borrowed, and something blue."
Regardless of how wedding ceremonies evolve over the next year, we are certain that this shift will lead to more flexibility with what we class as "bridal." From suits to jumpsuits to evening gowns, shopping online for your wedding outfit has become a reality for many that is bound to stick. Keep scrolling to our edit of items that are perfect for small wedding ceremonies.
Image courtesy of Halfpenny London
Jess Reece got married recently wearing a dress and fluffy coat by Halfpenny London.