Covid has called off weddings around the world in 2020. It also influenced dress codes

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Written by Lea Dolan, CNN

The havoc wreaked by Covid-19 on the wedding industry was bound to leave its mark one way or another. With 2020 ceremonies around the world postponed indefinitely or canceled altogether, determined couples have adjusted the best they could: shrinking guest lists by more than two-thirds and match their outfits with the mandatory face coverings. Some weddings have even gone virtual, with attendees logging into meeting apps to watch the wishes broadcast online.

Other lovebirds have fled, commemorating their private unions with little keepsakes mailed back to family and friends – a gesture that trend forecasting company WGSN says is here to stay.

But the lasting impact of last year on the nuptials goes beyond memories. As more people get vaccinated, “normal” life – including social gatherings – in some countries is starting to pick up. And with bridal parties and guests resurfacing, emerging dress trends reveal how the pandemic may have a lingering influence on wedding dress codes.

Four one-of-a-kind vintage wedding dresses hanging in LA’s bridal boutique, Happy Isles. Credit: Emily Knecht / Courtesy of Lily Kaizer / Happy Isles

Moving silhouettes

Using a combination of Google data and social media tags, the global fashion search engine Lyst maps the growing demand for certain styles among consumers. In their Marriage report 2021, Lyst discovered that more and more brides-to-be were looking for 19th-century inspired dresses, a la “Bridgerton” – the alluring period drama that absorbed 82 million homes worldwide during the pandemic and became Netflix’s Most Popular Original Series.
This penchant for escape fantasy quickly spread to wedding moodboards. Interest in empire line wedding dresses – dresses with a bustline waist and full skirt that seem largely unchanged since they were first modeled by Women of the Regency era in the 1800s – increased by 133%. Demand for bridal corsets has also skyrocketed 291%, consistent with a growing appreciation for corsetry at all levels. The ladies of “Bridgeton” were never fully dressed without a glittery tiara, and equally embellished headdresses have become a hot pandemic accessory with global research rising by. 156% in 2021, according to Lyst.
Audrey Hepburn wears an empire dress designed by Fernanda Gattinoni for the 1956 film "War and peace."

Audrey Hepburn wears an empire dress designed by Fernanda Gattinoni for the 1956 film “War and Peace”. Credit: SNAP / Alay

Allyson Rees, senior strategist at WGSN, says era-inspired flourishes like hooded sleeves and trendy ruffles will continue to influence bridal silhouettes. “We still think cottagecore is going to be a huge style trend for the coming year,” she said in a phone interview.

But according to luxury retailer Net-A-Porter, much of its customer base chooses dresses that are timeless rather than time-specific. “There has been a newly created demand for adaptable, versatile and easy white dresses in simple, elegant silhouettes,” wrote Libby Page, editor of the Net-A-Porter Marketplace, in an email. “Smaller scale celebrations have required less formal looks and customers come to us for something simple and chic.”

Earlier this month, Business of Fashion reported that a pandemic-induced e-commerce rush was sweeping the bridal industry, with “fewer custom dresses and more dresses bought straight from the rack.” The wave of fast-rotating ceremonies could cause many to shy away from extravagant styles and stick to classic, more reliable looks.

Brands with established online stores like Net-A-Porter benefit from this sense of urgency, Page said. “Some of our top selling brands are bridal brands,” she noted. “Our ‘Marriage’ (section) on the site is definitely getting traction.”

Instagram has become a key way for Lily Kaizer to reach brides-to-be during the worst of the pandemic.

Instagram has become a key way for Lily Kaizer to reach brides-to-be during the worst of the pandemic. Credit: Courtesy of Lily Kaizer / Happy Isles

The post-pandemic party bug

For Lily Kaizer, owner of Los Angeles-based vintage bridal boutique Happy Isles, there was a time last summer when she thought the appetite for afters would never return.

“All the ruffles and sequins and glamor that we normally like, you know, weren’t what people were looking for,” she said in a phone interview. “So there was a point where I was like, ‘will anyone ever want an evening dress again?

Kaizer began restocking resplendent pieces – think turquoise sequined jumpsuits and gold mermaid tail dresses – in March of this year, following an instinct that led her to believe that “these bigger weddings are coming back, maybe bigger than ever ”. In May, her suspicions appeared to be confirmed, as she says brides and wedding guests have flocked in hopes of sporting unique and unique looks.

Similarly, Lyst dubbed 2021 “the year of the after party,” signaling a resurgence in party wear, including mini wedding dresses (interest of which is rising by 170%) with rhinestone heels.

However, while large-scale celebrations are sure to take place, Rees believes the picture is more nuanced. “(WGSN) saw it go in two different directions,” she told CNN. “We are seeing a shift towards more intimate settings – what we call micro-currency.”

Rees points to a 160% peak in searches for “small backyard weddings” on Pinterest as evidence. Thinner friendship groups are another reason, Rees says, for our lingering appreciation for low-key events. As the pandemic has put a strain on most platonic relationships, he razed certain categories of friendship – like acquaintances – to the ground.

“There has been a shrinkage over the last year of our social circle and our social groups,” Rees said. “So, you know, do you really need to invite your mom’s tennis friend to your wedding?”

Lily Kaizer, owner of the vintage Happy Isles bridal boutique.

Lily Kaizer, owner of vintage wedding boutique Happy Isles. Credit: Noua Unu Studio / Lily Kaizer / Happ

Here is the groom

Men’s fashion in general is becoming more and more intrepid, embracing typically feminine shapes and accessories, from Harry Styles’ acerbic feather boa at Grammy’s 2021 to the puff sleeve dresses of the AW21 of JW Anderson men’s parade in Paris.
Flowing styles like skirts and dresses seem to have been adopted by a range of men, appearing both in the pages of fashion magazines and on the city sidewalks. According to Lyst, the bride and groom are no different, with reports reporting a 26% Increased searches for “men’s wedding skirts” on their platform since last year. Retail search engine highlights Emmy Award-winning sitcom “Schitt’s Creek” as inspiration, in which fashion-obsessed character David Rose, played by Dan Lavy, wears a groom skirt for his special day.

Rees remains skeptical. “I think it’s a very specialized audience for a men’s skirt,” she said. “But we’re seeing a lot more attention being paid to what men wear on their wedding day.”

Traditional looks are always given a twist, with the bride and groom opting for regular tailored cuts in bold colors. Pink could be the new black, Lyst reports, pointing to a 33% this year increase the number of men looking at pink suits online.
For the more discreet bride and groom, jewelry is an increasingly easy way to modernize an outfit. In May, luxury jewelers Tiffany & Co announced they will be selling men’s engagement rings for the first time in 184 years of history. When it comes to groom’s fashion, Rees agrees the devil is in the details. WGSN reports an increase in groom-centric gifts, overturning the traditional bridal shower and lavishing the future husband with gifts such as personalized rings with engraving. Groom jewelry is on Lyst’s radar too – with platform searches for engagement watches jumping over it 40% this year.
Bold patterns and vibrant colors are expected to dominate bridal fashion in the years to come.

Bold patterns and vibrant colors are expected to dominate bridal fashion in the years to come. Credit: Courtesy Lyst

The future of weddings

For Kaizer, the pandemic solidified the vintage as a major player in the bridal market. “During the pandemic there has certainly been an increase in the number of people collecting vintage,” she said, citing popular resale apps like Poshmark as the driving force behind the trend. “We are seeing more and more companies focused on the vintage bride appearing.”

As Covid closes physical stores for weeks and the environmental crisis looms, platforms like Vestiaire and Depop have occupied a significant corner of the retail market and sparked a passion for the occasion. Now, says Kaizer, vintage pieces will become a mainstay of the wedding industry until 2021 and beyond. “They’re just offering that special and unique thing that’s totally guilt-free.”

Thinking about future ceremonies, there will still be markers of where the coronavirus once stood, Rees says. “There might be a little more space between the tables, or maybe there’s still hand sanitizer now in your goody bag.”

Top image: A digital collage of upcoming wedding trends in 2021, courtesy of Lyst.


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