Bridal manufacturers are rolling with an evolving world, with overinformed and indecisive brides, shipping concerns, a tough geopolitical landscape, sustainability objectives and rising costs and inflation.
In a survey of 12,000 couples who plan to wed this year conducted by The Knot, 61 percent said the economy has already impacted their wedding planning and decision-making. And 49 percent pegged inflation and rising costs as another top concern.
Those in the bridal industry describe brides who are flush with information, and often looking for styles that fit their individual tastes, with special touches. Brides as still willing shell out for “the one,” experts said, though the industry could do better providing options for people across the size and gender spectrum. With sourcing issues in the news, some brides are reconsidering where their gowns will be shipped from to avoid any delays.
For retailers, e-tailers, designers and brands, there are still many opportunities in the global bridalwear market. By 2026, bridalwear is expected to reach $69.9 billion in volume, compared to $55.5 billion in 2020, according to the Global Bridal Wear Industry Report. With nearly $26 billion in 2021 sales, the U.S. continues to control the lion’s share of the business with more than 44 percent of market control. In second place is China, which is forecasted to reach $6.8 billion in sales in 2026, the report said.
Broadly, the bridal industry needs to work to cater to a wider and more diverse range of brides, according to The Knot Worldwide’s Lauren Whalley, fashion editor, inclusivity and beauty. “There’s still so much white space in wedding fashion, when it comes to inclusivity and diversity. While strides have been made over the past few years, we still have a long way to go. Everyone should feel seen and represented,” she said. “My hope is that designers prioritize size inclusivity and that different shapes and sizes should be considered from the start of the design process, not as an afterthought.”
For that, the industry would need to hire more models who are plus-size, petite, older and different genders for the runway and campaign imagery, Whalley said. There is also a need for a greater range of sample sizes and overall dress availability in stores, she added.
The quest for self-expression has boosted the continued interest in color and patterns, Whalley noted. In The Knot’s 2022 Attire and Fashion Study, white dresses remained the preferred hue with 83 percent of respondents compared to 91 percent five years ago. Respondents indicated greater interest in floral details and appliqués. “That said, there is an opportunity for unique spins on wedding dresses, whether it’s through the fabric, silhouette, hand-painted details, beadwork or appliqués. It’s all about these little details on the garments that help differentiate one bride from the next and make them feel special as they celebrate their big day,” Whalley said.
Bridesmaids, too, are not feeling the most financially confident. In a survey from David’s Bridal, only 28 percent of bridesmaids said they felt financially confident. As a nod to the current financial uncertainty, the chain has rolled out bridesmaid dresses that retail from $99 to $130, meant to be affordable as bridal-party duty often includes additional expenses like bachelorette weekends, bridal shower gifts and hairstyling and makeup splurges.
After their appointments at David’s Bridal, brides can take home three swatches to help with their color choices for bridesmaid dresses.
Despite the unsteady economy, some bridal manufacturers and retailers are seeing orders for high-end, pricier styles. That is happening despite some having to raise prices by 5 percent to 10 percent, due to cost hikes for raw materials, labor, rerouted production and shipping.
Open Market research indicates brides have been spending larger amounts on their wedding gowns than they have in the past. Additionally, brides also want to customize their gowns, and become a part of the design process. With an increase in spending and customizations, couture manufacturing has greatly benefited.
When it comes to dream dresses, shoppers are willing to invest in quality, said Pronovias’ chief executive officer Amandine Ohayon. The retailer and online operation is seeing good sellouts for its high-end collections Privee and Atelier. Post-pandemic, guest lists are trending smaller than prior to the shutdown, Ohayon said.
In March, Pronovias debuted the “Essence of Love” capsule collection that was inspired by the latest VIP looks. Next up is the launch of the “Pronovias Preview Collection” in May.
Looking ahead, Ohayon said that to capture the increasing sector of Millennials the bridal industry “needs to innovate more than ever.” With a greater variety of styles faster deliveries a must, companies that have the scale and agility to introduce “hot new designs, fast and frequently with shorter lead times” will be the winners, she said.
After several months of focusing on this tactic, Pronovias now has an offering of “fast-track dresses,” which can be delivered in three weeks.
Ballgowns are consistently in demand at Anne Barge, which plans to produce its 2024 spring collection in a new Atlanta design studio. In the past few years, the company’s prices have increased by 5 percent to 10 percent due to increases in fabrics, labor and shipping costs, but the hope is that the new domestic factory will result in greater supply chain control and price stability, according to owner and creative director Shawne Jacobs.
Geopolitical tensions in the past few years “have led to increased awareness of where products are manufactured. Highly skilled talent in pattern making and sewing is not as readily available in the United States, as it is globally,” she said, adding that the domestic location should help to alleviate consumers’ apprehension about potential shipping delays.
Badgley Mischka has also shifted its production. Last year, the company moved its manufacturing from Taiwan and China to England and Europe to ensure there would be no interruptions, according to founders Mark Badgley and James Mischka. Badgley Mischka brides are favoring a clean aesthetic, with minimal beading but a sophisticated sense of style. For 2024, the designers said they are moving toward “a fuller, more modern gown with dramatic detail, like an oversize flower or voluminous bow.” Brides-to-be are in search of original, elegant styles and “the more luxurious, the better,” according to the design duo.
Kleinfeld shoppers are more inclined to spend more this year versus last, but many are purchasing wedding gowns with less notice than before — three to six months in advance, versus six months to a year, according to director of merchandising Dorothy Silver.
Pnina Tornai is the top seller at Kleinfeld, the Lebanese Italian designer Tony Ward, Martina Liana and Sarah Nori are a few other key lines. Soft A-line dresses and gowns with deep V-necklines are popular there.
The New York store is catering to brides with robust budgets by offering three types of VIP appointments including a top-tier $750 “Diamond” experience. That top-shelf treatment allows a bride-to-be and her friends have the store all to themselves when it is normally closed on Mondays or Tuesdays, with appointments of varying length. There are 200 VIP appointments already booked from now through July.
The abundance of available information about all things bridal has them “looking and looking and looking” — postponing any commitments as long as possible, Silver said. Kleinfeld is keeping in-store samples at the ready, and vendors are accommodating by stocking up accordingly. Once they do decide, the average spend is between $3,800 and $4,500 for a dress.
Before market, Silver consults with the retailer’s vice president who specializes in risk and profits and gets a shopping list of what’s missing and what’s unnecessary based on price points, styles and body shapes. “That really helps because at some point or another, you look at your stock and think everything looks the same. You want to make sure that you don’t repeat that again and again in bridal market,” Silver said.
Now more than ever, brides are arriving to shop more informed than ever, according to Mark Ingram, who has a signature Midtown store. “And she wants to see quote-unquote everything, which is impossible. To know everything and see everything in bridal is impossible. It makes the decisions harder to make. It’s harder for them to commit to a dress. My philosophy is [to ask], ‘How did you commit to your fiancé? It’s the same thing. There really could be a greater guy out there.’ When you find someone or something you really love, you stick with it. But girls often come in and say, ‘This is the dress that I really love. This is the one.’ But then they continue to shop even after they buy a gown. We know that because they call with so many questions after they’ve made a purchase, asking about other styles.”
Needless to say that can be disconcerting until brides’ dresses are shipped to the store and fittings are underway. However, even at that stage, brides are using comparing themselves to social media images of how they think they are supposed to look. “A certain self-confidence has been lost,” Ingram said.
To try to help them focus and build trust, Ingram has launched a newsletter to help brides learn about him, his store, designer profiles and the brands that are offered. During appointments, staff make 90 percent of the suggestions. “It’s never been a self-service operation and it will never be. You have to come in and trust the process and the talent that we have hired here. You need to come in knowing what you want. If not, we can help you but it will take longer. Use all this time that you are spending on social media to narrow down what you want to look for and how you want to feel on your wedding day.”
The retailer has introduced bridal looks from the Paris-based designer Dylan Parienty, who had trained under Giambattista Valli, and will have a trunk show at the Mark Ingram Atelier. With the absence of strong American bridal brands like Carolina Herrera and Angel Sanchez, “The talent seems to be coming from overseas now,” Ingram said.
Designer Michael Costello said his clients know just what they want and how much they want to spend. But to appeal to all different budgets, it offers a range of options. Although with inflation concerns, women are holding back a little on what they spend on a day-to-day basis, “they’ve never held back when it comes to bridal, especially with us,” he said. “It’s that once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for them to create that magic they’ve always wanted for that one special day.”
Brides-to-be are increasingly more open to various silhouettes, and that something-for-everyone approach offers the greatest opportunity for the bridal market, Costello said. “Before we were always looking for the traditional white dress; that one standout strapless white gown or ballgown. Now there are so many different things and so many designers offering such beautiful pieces. Women are pushing themselves to explore new designs and opening their imagination to new possibilities and I think that’s one of the greatest opportunities that we have in the bridal market right now,” he said.
Enaura’s cofounders Sohil and Nayha Mistry said they have diversified raw material vendors to avoid sourcing issues but the collection’s artisanal hand beadwork can only be done in India, due to cultural aspects. Their shoppers are gravitating towards statement accessories, like gloves.
The bridal company has increased prices due to hikes in labor and logistics costs. Despite that and consumers’ inflation concerns, shoppers still prioritize style and quality for their wedding gowns, according to the Mistrys. Brides are willing to spend a little more to achieve a certain look, they said.
Yellow by Sahar’s owner and creative director Sahar Fotouhi believes the bridal industry has focused on a single traditional image for too long and needs to better embrace individuality, which is where the most potential exists.
Its design process, fabric sourcing and manufacturing are housed in the U.S., France and Italy. Most of Yellow by Sahar’s lace is made on century-old machines in France. “All three are stable industries that have withstood the test of time, so I do not plan on changing production,” Fotouhi said.
The interest in vintage is also gaining ground with environmentally minded shoppers. That is welcome news to Amy Abrams, co-owner of The Manhattan Vintage Show, who has seen this bridal trend evolve with the general interest in vintage and preloved fashion.
The newly launched platform Rowely is another secondhand resource for veils shoes, and other accessories, bridal outfits for bridal showers, engagement parties, rehearsal dinners and bachelorette parties. Rowely has offerings from brands like Zimmermann, Retrofete, Agua by Agua Bendita, LoveShackFancy, Berta, Cult Gaia, Sachin and Babi, Needle & Thread, Loeffler Randall, Bhldn, Alice + Olivia, Jason Wu and Shoshanna.
Aside from being a way to show off a bride’s personal style, “Wearing vintage or incorporating vintage “allows brides to tap into the notion of wearing ‘mom’s dress,’ to appreciate the design and craftsmanship of a past era and convey the message of sustainability that resonates with everyone,” Abrams said.