This year’s wedding season is set to make records — there are 2.5 million parties planned in 2022, the most the US has seen since 1984, per market research firm The Wedding Report.
Fashion brands are anticipating similar levels of demand for wedding garb and are responding in kind. This week, multi-brand retailer Intermix is launching the Wedding Edit, a section on the site dedicated to 200 non-traditional bridal looks, including short white dresses, jumpsuits, pantsuits and statement slip dresses. It will also host a pop-up in its New York City Meatpacking boutique for a few weeks to show off its new bridal assortment, which will include some exclusive designs from labels like Jonathan Simkhai, Aknvas, Et Ochs and Manning Cartell.
Intermix’s new bridal venture was a response to customer search data, said chief executive Jyothi Rao: the retailer saw over 300,000 wedding-related searches on its site over the past year.
And in the wake of the pandemic, there’s renewed excitement for wedding-related events beyond just the ceremony and reception, which is fuelling a fresh opportunity in bridal, said Rao.
Intermix isn’t alone in tapping that opportunity. After the past two years were littered with pandemic-related postponements and cancellations, fashion brands across the industry are getting into bridal. LK Bennett debuted bridal in January, as did British high street brand Jane this month. Plus-size label Eloquii’s first bridal collection will go live this summer. Loeffler Randall is launching its first wedding dresses in April, after founder and creative director Jessie Randall saw heightened demand for the brand’s bridal footwear and accessories.
Some are expanding the category’s definition beyond one white gown to include multiple looks for multiple parties, following a pre-Covid trend that only became more popular during the pandemic, where many brides bought one dress for their ceremony and one for their bigger party.
“The data shows that weddings are going to be a much bigger experience than before, where brides are now searching for bridal shower dresses, rehearsal dinner dresses,” said Rao. “The modern-day bride is investing almost as much in the looks before the wedding than the [dress] of the actual wedding itself.”
Existing bridal brands say this wedding season feels different because, in addition to buying multiple looks, brides are also spending more on dresses. The average cost of a wedding dress is now $2,000, according to the Knot, up from $1,600 in 2019.
At BHLDN, the bridal label from Anthropologie, there’s been double-digit growth in spending on traditional bridal gowns and accessories, said Lori Conley, the company’s general merchandise manager. In response to this heightened appetite, BHLDN debuted its first bridal private label in January, bringing bridal designer Maria Korovilas in-house. BHLDN is also stocking more non-traditional looks that feature “novelty fabrics, fringe, feathers and sparkle,” Conley added, to capitalise on the multiple-wedding-dress trend.
Hannah Coffin, founder and chief executive of Needle & Thread, a London-based contemporary ready-to-wear brand that makes bridal gowns, said her company’s higher-priced pieces are selling better than its mid-priced. Dresses selling between £500 and £600 are up 99 percent since last year.
Brands are also investing in more occasion wear for the wedding guest. Chalk it up to social media, but brands are also anticipating guests will splurge on occasion wear as wedding parties come roaring back to life.
“I foresee weddings serving as a real opportunity for people who have spent most of the past two years wearing athleisure while on Zoom … to have their own red carpet moment,” said Alexandra Macon, weddings editor at Vogue and founder of e-commerce site Over the Moon.
Intermix has always sold occasion wear, but its new bridal hub now includes a “guest edit,” with options specifically for wedding guests. In February, J.Crew launched a “Wedding Shop” landing page, and just updated it with new dresses, accessories and footwear for party guests.
“The Millennial customer segment is the fastest-growing [shopper] and they are attending multiple events leading up to the wedding,” said Rao.
With so many brands banking on bridal, brands are looking for ways to stand out. Some traditional retailers have struggled with the category. J.Crew shuttered its bridal business in 2016. Intermix opted to stock non-traditional wedding looks because Rao felt the market had enough popular bridal destinations.
To create a winning assortment, Emilie Ghilaga, buying director at Over The Moon, recommends brands take cues from what’s selling well in bridal.
“If the silhouette works in white for a bride, it will work in other colourways for a client shopping evening wear,” said Ghilaga.