A weeklong series about weddings post-pandemic.
Asymmetrical hemlines, daring slits, puffy sleeves, flowery fabrics.
Those are just a few of the trends in wedding dresses. But whether a bride-to-be opts for minimal and modern or vintage-inspired, one of the biggest shifts in wedding dresses may not be the style, but how they're being purchased.
Supply chain issues, rising inflation and a surge in weddings caused by pandemic-related delays have combined to alter how some brides are saying yes to the dress.
Custom dresses are now requiring longer lead times. Instead of allowing the typical four to six months for special orders, "We like to play it safe and say six to eight months," said Colby Tredway, CEO and creative director of Ivory Bridal in St. Louis Park and Flutter in Minneapolis.
Those whose weddings are planned for 2023 or 2024 may not mind the wait for a couture gown, custom design or a right-off-the-runway dress.
Others are frustrated that fallout from the pandemic has made wedding planning a contradiction in terms. They want their dresses and they want them now. That has led to a surge in buying off-the-rack or opting for vintage or rental dresses.
Marie Suchy, the owner of Posh Bridal, has witnessed the change firsthand.
Before COVID, the Hopkins-based boutique sold both special-order as well as off-the-rack dresses. But the lockdowns that shuttered shops, churches and most venues caused some couples to cancel and reschedule their weddings once, twice or even three times.
When the world — and the wedding shops — opened up again, Suchy realized that some brides were shopping for certainty as well as style.
"I noticed women were coming in and wanting to buy dresses off the rack," she said. "Brides weren't necessarily set on dates and places now. They wanted to have the dresses with them so they could get married in a year — or in a month."
Malia Henschel was one of them. The Minnetonka woman got engaged in May. Her wedding is set for October. She knew it would be hard to get the dress of her dreams with a six-month turnaround. She was right. She visited four bridal stores, which had wait times ranging from nine to 11 months.
The fifth store she tried was Posh Bridal.
"I walked in and I walked out with a dress that same day," she said. "I loved the process. It was so easy.
After 12 years in business, Posh Bridal shifted to selling primarily new sample dresses from designers or other stores, Business, said Suchy, is good.
To have and to share
Business isn't just good at Freya Wilde, a Minneapolis wedding dress rental shop.
"Post-COVID, it's been crazy," said co-owner Andrea Collins.
The 300-plus gowns at Freya Wilde (which Collins describes as "the Airbnb of wedding dresses") are privately owned. In the matrimonial version of the sharing economy, owners get a percentage of the "booking fee" for a dress, which can run from $350 to $750 depending on its design and retail value.
Collins said her clients — both the owners who offer their dresses and the brides who rent them — are not a part of the "old mentality around wedding dresses, the 'Oh, I'm going to keep it and I'm going to give it to my daughter.' "
Whether driven by a desire to be sustainable, cost-conscious or to outsmart supply chain issues, rentals are finding their place in the wedding market.
"Somebody can come in with a month's notice and walk out with a designer dress," she said. "There's no hesitation about rental whatsoever."
Finding a dress at Andrea's Vintage Bridal is a "very curated experience," said proprietor Nikolina Erickson-Gunther.
"I prefer booking through e-mail because I barrage our brides with a laundry list of questions," she said. Then, she pulls 10 to 20 dresses for each bride to try on.
The dresses, which range in price from $700 to $1,800, date from the 1930s through the 1990s ("Yes," she said, " '90s dresses are considered vintage"). In addition to being cleaned and restored, many of the dresses are updated — with long sleeves, high collars and "fluffy bows" removed.
Like most wedding dresses, vintage dresses often need to be adjusted to fit modern brides. Those alterations, which are fairly standard, are done by a seamstress who specializes in vintage clothing and construction.
"We're a fully sustainable bridal studio," said Erickson-Gunther of the family-owned Minneapolis shop.
Simpler and smaller
Dress shopping isn't the only aspect of weddings that has changed, of course. With churches and reception venues booked, many celebrations have become smaller and simpler. Some couples have taken a two-stage approach.
Instead of a large, lavish affair, some couples are sharing their vows in backyard or courthouse ceremonies, then holding one or more receptions later.
"I've never had so many requests for dresses that can be flexible" to be worn to more than one event, daytime or nighttime, even in different seasons, said Erickson-Gunther.
While the upheaval in the wedding industry has undoubtedly created stress for some engaged couples, not all of the changes are for the worse.
"It's shifted away from those huge weddings to what it's really about," said Suchy. "The dress is still important, but it's about marrying your partner."