For the pandemic bride, the ‘wedding wardrobe’ replaces The Dress
Once upon a time the soon-to-be betrothed wrestled with disasters such as seating plans and the weather.
Decisions around flowers, bonbonnière and guest list numbers were carefully considered and the threat of something going wrong – “the catering company forgot the Champagne flutes!” – was detrimental to the success of the Big Day.
In 2021, when snap lockdowns, border closures and ever-changing restrictions make it near impossible to plan ahead, couples are having to cancel, postpone and reschedule (in some cases multiple times). Many have had their hopes of a destination wedding dashed, choosing instead to embrace the micro wedding and forgoing the usual pre-wedding Hens and Bucks celebrations. Others are delaying their nuptials indefinitely.
One designer who took notice of the shift was Helen O’Connor of Thurley, who spent much of Melbourne’s extended lockdown last year designing her inaugural bridal range.
For years, O’Connor had been designing wedding gowns for friends and customers on a private basis – creating pieces with all the Thurley hallmarks (handcrafted, art deco and “celebratory of the female form”) – but when the pandemic hit, the designer saw an opportunity. She hit pause on Thurley and turned her attention to a new venture: Helen O’Connor Bridal.
“Brides are looking for a wedding day that’s still special and amazing, but less full on,” says O’Connor. “The registry wedding is back and couples are wanting to adopt more of an understated approach that you would historically see in an elopement-style wedding.”
Megan Ziems, founder and creative director of Grace Loves Lace which has 17 showrooms locally and internationally, says she is seeing two distinct types of brides emerge from the pandemic. “Those that have come out of lockdown and decided they want to get married in six to eight weeks and are after a great ready-to-wear dress, or those brides that are excited to find their gown but apprehensive about setting a date,” she says.
Both are eschewing traditional silhouettes and looking for something unique and surprising. “They want visual and high-impact dresses that represent celebration and fun and that don’t take bridal too seriously,” says Ziems, pointing to a desire for unique fabrics and trims and added personalisation through accessories and hair pieces.
Accessibility was the key driver behind Vera Wang’s decision to sign a 10-year licensing deal with Barcelona-based Pronovias Group to launch her affordable offshoot bridal brand Vera Wang Bride.
“Pronovias Group enables me to explore a new side of my creativity while growing what I believe will become an even more significant global brand at an intelligent price point,” said Wang in an email. “This has been a major shift in strategy I have long desired to implement.”
Launching in October, the Vera Wang Bride collection will offer gowns priced at 60 per cent lower than her couture styles most often seen on celebrities including Hailey Bieber, Chrissy Teigen and Kim Kardashian.
The New York-based designer says there are far fewer rules for today’s brides compared to 30 years ago – a change she welcomes.
“I’m encouraging individuality. If you want to get married on a beach, or in a yacht or in a church, you should be able to have the freedom and the personal creativity and confidence to wear something that makes you feel happy.”
Instead of traditional satin or lace fabrics, or the OTT meringue gown, brides are opting for something that better reflects their sense of style.
“A lot of them have been looking for something they can’t find,” O’Connor says, referencing the handcrafting detail she offers, as well as the opportunity to create something unexpected that can be worn for the ceremony, restyled for the reception and importantly worn again.
With the Delta strain shuttering bridal boutiques across the country, designers are tweaking their lead times and moving fittings online.
For a simple design by O’Connor (such as the mini tuxedo dress with an oversized bow) brides-to-be can expect to wait one month, three months for something more intricate and six months for a bespoke gown.
And despite the many roadblocks of the pandemic, couples are still desperate to celebrate with their loved ones in person prompting a new take on the reception tradition: the after-party.
Many couples are choosing a low-key ceremony and then planning a bigger celebration once the various restrictions ease, says Ziems.
“The after-party allows couples to celebrate one of their biggest life milestones with family and friends – without the added pressures that come with the traditional ceremony.”
Who needs one wedding when you can have two? And, as Ziems says, it gives brides the opportunity to expand their “wedding wardrobe”. Enter, the party dress.
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