The future of bridal shopping: Will we be buying wedding dresses online?

A wedding dress is something of a journey.
The future of bridal shopping: Will we be buying wedding dresses online?
LoveShackFancy's new bridal collection

Before the onset of the novel coronavirus, the bridal industry was beginning to look different. With the advancement of online shopping in the last decade, bridal had begun to move in a different direction.

Coupled with the outbreak of coronavirus, which translated to mandated quarantines and the closure of all non-essential services, which includes nearly all retail outlets, planning a wedding became a remote process. Many postponed their big day.

As for dress shopping, online became one of the only options for brides-to-be still planning for their big day.

With weddings back on the cards as part of the Irish Government’s roadmap for reopening the country following the three month lockdown period but with decreased footfall at retail outlets, could online be the future of bridal shopping?

A wedding dress is something of a journey. Preparation for the big day can take place six to 12 months prior, involving trips to various bridal stores with family and bridal party members, a process that involves close communication and physical contact with sales associates, seamstresses, and even designers. In other cases, searching for the right dress involves international travel.

LoveShackFancy
LoveShackFancy

While this closure posed a challenge for many, it was a perfect moment for direct-to-consumer brands like Azazie, Brideside, and Floravere. Furthemore, some salons offered brides-to-be with virtual consultations over Zoom.

Recently, LoveShackFancy debuted a bridal collection for spring/summer 2020 consisting of dresses, tops and skirts for the ‘romantic bride’ and ‘spirited bohemian’ inspired by vintage finds. The collection is available from the brand’s website and in-store at their Los Angeles flagship.

“The current climate has created even more of a push towards online shopping and being able to try on your dress in the comfort of your own home is becoming more appealing,"says founder and creative director Rebecca Hessel Cohen. 

You can still have friends and family as part of the process but doesn’t necessarily need to be in store.

One can choose from an Edwardian inspired lace high neck dress or softly tiered and trimmed in cappuccino pink silk ribbon, off the shoulder dress, or a tiered-frill, empire-line dress, reminiscent of a 1960’s Californian bride when paired with an oversized wide brimmed hat. 

There’s also the provocative two-piece or lace mini dress with the most perfect puff sleeves for a less traditional option.

“Due to the virus, we are seeing weddings take a new form of intimate gatherings to Zoom celebrations, these dresses give an amazing option at an incredible price point to celebrate in,” said Hessel Cohen.

Before the pandemic, in January 2020, MATCHESFASHION.com, the e-commerce platform launched a dedicated curation of modern bridal and event dressing on their website. Having noticed an uptick in event dressing sales, the move towards an online bridal suite was organic.

A Cecilie Bahnsen dress at MATCHESFASHION.com
A Cecilie Bahnsen dress at MATCHESFASHION.com

“We noticed an increase in sales across our eveningwear and modern tailoring categories, particularly in monochrome tones,’ said Natalie Kingham, Fashion & Buying Director at MATCHESFASHION. 

We wanted to create a dedicated area where our clients can find unique pieces for their wedding and special events that can be worn again for many years to come.

For the classic-leaning, one could evoke Carrie Bradshaw in a white satin Vivienne Westwood draped jacket and curved-hem charmeuse skirt. Danish label Ganni proposes sequined ivory wrap dress with crystal button-detail while Christopher Kane’s ivory-white tuxedo dripping with crystal embellishment and his more classic, streamlined gowns in white showcase the breadth of wedding dress possibilities.

“Because our customers are global they are increasingly wanting different types of dresses to get married in whether it is a lighter weight style for hotter climates or something with a more contemporary feel,” said Kingham, nodding to styles from By Walid, Thierry Coulson and Giles,  throwing convention to the wind with some printed alternatives. The star of the show: a Germanier shimmering silver lamé gown trimmed with an oversized cascading ruffle snaking down the dress made from recycled fabric is fit for the environmentally-conscious. All available at the touch of a button.

Tara Fay, an Irish wedding planner, finds that the majority of her clients will buy in a bridal salon but do most of their research online.

However, it is not the rule.

Sarah Macken, the editor-in-chief of women’s fashion and lifestyle magazine Irish Tatler, bought her wedding dress online. Despite being a fashion editor, Macken said she doesn’t particularly enjoy shopping and the idea of shopping for a wedding dress with a phalanx of friends and family was unappealing from the outset.

Macken and her husband held two weddings, one intimate celebration for family and friends in Dublin and one at a registry office in New York with just the two of them. For her Irish wedding, she picked a black Simone Rocha tulle dress embroidered with daisies which she bought on The Outnet. (“I knew I would never go for a typical bridal gown,” she said.) 

For the New York registry office, she selected a white Cecilie Bahnsen gathered puff-sleeve mini dress with an empire waist which she bought on Net-A-Porter.

A Paco Rabanne dress from MATCHESFASHION.com
A Paco Rabanne dress from MATCHESFASHION.com

Online was a no-brainer for Macken. “I had the most amount of choice there and it gave me access to brands I’d really connect with.” In keeping with her philosophy of not buying something to only wear it once, Macken wore both dresses again. To the 2019 Irish Tatler Women of the Year event, she pulled out the Simone Rocha dress. Meanwhile, on her honeymoon to the West Coast of America, she threw on her Cecilie Bahnsen dress again.

But for some, like Dublin-based fashion stylist Corina Gaffey, the age-old process of finding a wedding dress is an experience best enjoyed in the flesh. In light of the pandemic, it could be something that’s appreciated more as people look to support local businesses.

Gaffey wasn’t interested in the traditional bridal experience of visiting salons and trying on dresses. Six months prior to her wedding, her friend, the designer Natalie B. Coleman offered to design a dress. She agreed. With a style of dress in mind, Gaffey and Coleman set out on a collaborative journey.

“It was a lovely time for us to become closer. It was an emotional, beautiful and personal thing to go through together,” said Gaffey about the experience. “I trusted her implicitly. She knew what I wanted, she knew my body shape.” 

For the final fitting, Gaffey gathered her family at Coleman’s Dublin studio. “It helped create so many memories around the wedding that were not just of the day itself. Seeing it be made every step of the way was amazing.” 

Fay agrees that the physical experience is important to the bride-to-be and her party. While she notes that some of her clients are comfortable with shopping online for the big day, she believes visiting a bridal salon is an enduring activity that will last long after restrictions are eased. 

People will always want the experience of going into the store with their mother, sister or best friend.

While Gaffey enlisted Coleman to make her dress, she acknowledges that having a dress designed and made is a “massive expense just to wear something once.” Brides nowadays are changing the way they get married. Not only are they swapping a traditional church wedding to a more intimate registry office procedure, they encompass sustainability into all areas of the planning process. 

From food to floristry, Fay finds that many brides will enquire about ways they can reduce the carbon footprint of their wedding.

Moreover, the dress they buy can be worn again. In other cases, they can modify it. Fay cut her wedding dress into a bodice and a top after her wedding. Hessel-Cohen encourages brides to get creative when it comes to repurposing their dress, proposing they dye it a different colour. The possibilities are endless.

Whether a bride-to-be chooses to purchase their dress through a traditional method such as visiting a bridal salon or having a gown made, or else through online channels, Fay remarks that one thing remains constant. “At some point, whether it’s the month before or the day before, there is some doubt in the bride’s mind, and I tell her, ‘you’re not the first, and you won’t be the last.’” 

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