There's no denying that the pandemic is a joyless beast. As well as stopping us from drinks at the pubs, hugging our loved ones and generally having normalcy, it has robbed us of one of the greatest pleasures in life—weddings. I know I’d give any opportunity to dress up, eat great food and booze and dance all night until I take off my heels and go barefoot. Of course, my missing out is nothing compared to the couples who have had to postpone their nuptials. Thankfully, this month, small weddings are now permitted to take place. Weddings with no more than six people are allowed. However, I have no doubt there will be plenty of brides scrambling to find an outfit. Perhaps the big-day dress they thought they’d be wearing in their grand South of France venue doesn’t quite work at the local city hall or the flouncy tulle full-skirted gown feels over-the-top for a more minimal event.
Elinor on her wedding day
This is where we step in. I have experience in this particular conundrum—what to wear to a civil ceremony—because I did just that in 2014. I had always known I wanted a small non-religious service, so my husband and I settled on Sheffield’s registry office before we went on to have a dinner and big party elsewhere. The dress I chose was simple, from London designers Belle & Bunty, so I felt it worked with the more pared-back nature of our ceremony and yet still worked for the bigger party later on. My colleague and Who What Wear’s EIC, Hannah Almassi, also had a civil ceremony before she and her husband headed off to Spain for the main event later on. While I loved Hannah’s green suit from Zara, she told me that she would now choose something different.
“I think I was so preoccupied with finalising the details of our Spanish wedding (and the adjoining wardrobe!) that getting an outfit together for the civil ceremony kind of slipped my mind—a mistake I regretted as soon as I put on the ill-fitting Zara suit I panic-bought at the last minute,” Hannah revealed to me. “I wanted something low-key, and I’m a big fan of tailoring, but I know from years of experience that Zara trousers never fit my petite hourglass frame well, and I never wear a tapered silhouette, so what on Earth was I thinking? I didn’t have a top or shoes to go with the suit and so those too were a quick choice on the morning of the ceremony. Looking back, I wish I had A) taken the time to think about what I really wanted to wear for the occasion and B) opted for something that was much more ‘me.’ I have a perfectly fab vintage trouser suit that would have been far better—so buying new isn’t always the answer!”
Hannah Almassi in her green Zara suit
While I think she looked fabulous, it’s worth noting that just because the venue and a civil ceremony might not be your first choice, it’s still worth finding something that you love. Below, I spoke to five other brides on how they chose their civil ceremony looks. Some chose a frock they could wear over and over; others wanted an outfit that was different from other pieces they’d seen. All of them look utterly gorgeous, so I hope if you’re planning your imminent wedding, then these looks will give you some inspiration.
"I tried on quite a few more classic wedding styles but wanted something that was more representative of me and that I would actually wear, not just for one day. We moved around a bit on the day too. The wedding was in Stoke Newington and then we had a London Routemaster bus take us to the reception. So on the bus, I was moving around, up and down the stairs drinking champagne. I needed something that I could move and be comfortable in that wasn’t going to get stuck under my feet! The reception was at one of my favourite restaurants in Hackney (Bistrotheque), and I also couldn’t see myself in a big meringue dress navigating the toilets in there. There were only 30 people at the actual wedding, so we also took the opportunity to have a big party at my parents' house in Surrey, which meant I wanted a dress that would do two occasions, so it needed to be suitable for both."
Photo:Courtesy of Thandi
“I fell in love with this Roksanda dress when I saw it on Cate Blanchett at the premiere of one of her movies, and I knew I had to have it, as Roksanda dresses have the most amazing fit. I bought the bouquet the morning of the ceremony from a local florist in Walthamstow (bloom of the block)—they just happened to have roses in the same colour as the ribbon of the dress—it was meant to be!”
"I was looking for a dress that was not too bridal yet one that would still make me feel like a bride. A dress in which I could just be myself and happy to get married in, one that was elegant and romantic. I love Self-Portrait. I always feel like myself whenever I am wearing Self-Portrait. So I went straight to Self-Portrait's website. I did not look at their bridal section. I did not want to limit myself in style and colour. When I saw that dress, I could very easily imagine myself in it, and I went for it. I did not look any further. I did not try any other dresses. I realized later that the dress was in the bridal section, which might have saved me some time if I had gone straight to the bridal section."
“I just wanted a suit that was different than your typical female pantsuit.”
Photo:Courtesy of Anna Barnett
"I went traditional full-on bride out in Italy [where Anna had her big wedding] so wanted a frock I loved and could wear time and time again (which I have) for our London wedding. It’s just the most joyous frock. I still love it four years on.”
Photo:Courtesy of Anna Barnett
Next up, the biggest spring/summer 2021 fashion trends to know.
This piece was published at an earlier date and has been updated.