The bridal collections presented for Spring 2021, though abbreviated, provided some much-needed hope and optimism. But the usual trend-spotting for the next season proved to be a challenge — not just because of the limited sampling of styles to assess, but also because of an uncertain global landscape, due to the ongoing Covid-19 crisis.
To start, the formats for many Spring and Fall 2021 weddings have already been altered, in response to social distancing measures, travel disruptions and shelter-in-place measures worldwide. A recent survey by The Knot among U.S. couples who originally planned their weddings for March through August 2020 found that 52% are pushing their celebrations to later this year, while 33% are rescheduling to 2021; 14% are unsure of a new wedding date. Editor-in-Chief Kristen Maxwell Cooper says couples who have rescheduled for next year may opt for a civil, virtual or intimate immediate-family-only ceremony in the short term, to legalize the union this year. But they're anticipating — or hoping for — a return to normal in 2021, when they can achieve their original wedding vision with family and friends.
On a call, Maxwell Cooper says brides are looking for an "element of surprise with their wedding fashion… We're seeing multiple looks: one for their virtual civil ceremony that they're having now and then saving their original dress or look for later down the road." That is, of course, in addition to the ongoing popularity of multiple bridal ensembles: rehearsal dinner, reception, after-party and post-wedding brunch.
Sarah Abbasi, founder and Creative Director of luxury direct-to-consumer bridal brand Sahroo has heard similar feedback from her clients. Those still holding a smaller 2020 wedding are gravitating towards her "super duper minimal and most pared back pieces ever," she says. Clients with immediate needs are gravitating toward her Bianca line of raw silk mix-and-match trouser, blazer, tunic and crop top separates (top).
"People are doing smaller events, but they still want to look nice," Abbasi says. "We have a lot of brides saying, 'What do you have in stock right now?'" While her workshops in Pakistan remain closed (as she continues to pay her furloughed artisans), Abbasi is offering brides discounted samples from her New York showroom to arrive in between seven to 10 days.
"No one has said, 'Oh gosh, we want to buy one of the feathered pieces.' Like, nobody," she adds. "I don't know if people find it appropriate to look so over-the-top right now."
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Pragmatism also plays a part.
"A lot of people are looking for less poofy styles, less dramatic, as you can imagine," says Danielle Wen, founder of customizable DTC brand Lace & Liberty. "Everyone is trying to save a little and not be spending tons in this environment." She's experienced some clients reducing their dress budgets by around 20% to 25%.
Looking to both address needs for the end of 2020 and events into 2021, Lace & Liberty is collaborating with wedding content and e-commerce site Green Wedding Shoes on a capsule to launch later this summer. The range of "very minimal, easy-to-wear" dresses will be accessibly-priced under $1,000, and offer "fun" accessories to personalize looks with veils and detachable skirts, ranging from $200 to $400.
But looking forward to next year, will brides and designers trend toward more restrained, classic, clean styles in response to looming uncertainty? Or, will couples — and the bridal industry — want to make the most of enjoying large group gatherings with the most festive, elaborate interpretations of wedding style?
"I really feel like when we get out of this pandemic, people are going to be looking for more reasons to celebrate," says Maxwell Cooper. "They're really going to be taking advantage of that moment and be together with family and friends and celebrate these big moments that truly make up our lives."
Despite the possibility that guest counts may decrease due to willingness to travel and because rescheduled dates may fall on a weekday — Monday weddings are emerging as most optimal for re-aligning vendors — she doesn't see the factors affecting what brides will want to wear.
Wen agrees: "Everyone still wants to look great. I feel like this is one thing that isn't completely upended."
Via virtual styling appointments she's recently conducted with clients, Abbasi has heard similar feedback, including from one bride planning for a June 2021 wedding, who she says "gravitated toward our most over-the-top piece: our feathered caftan." Abbasi also notes a continuation of a sentiment already going strong pre-pandemic: Brides want to focus on authenticity, which now feels even more significant when we've been separated from friends and family for months on end.
Wen's clients can opt for a customizable dress, for maximum individuality, but some of her 2021 brides are expressing themselves through more adventurous, seize-the-day approaches: "We have a lot more interest in color. Still the light blue, gray and blush ranges, but we've had people who've done mustard or burgundy. A little bit 'out there' colors."
Brides also continue to show interest in strong trends from previous seasons, too, which have been veering toward ease and minimalism, like flowing A-line silhouettes.
"I think people want something a lot more light and airy these days," says Wen. But "that's where the trend is anyways, regardless of the pandemic. I don't know if people are like, 'Oh well, there's a pandemic, I should dress less poofy.'"
Savannah Miller, designer of her self-named bridal line, held virtual sales appointments with key markets around the world for her Spring 2021 collection, which she completed and shot in February. The Carole Lombard-inspired gowns continue her signature clean, bias-cut silhouettes, but with a play on luxurious textures, including billowing Chantilly lace sleeves (below) and pearl-embellished chiffon layers.
Miller says that buyers are still snapping up her consistent bestsellers from seasons past, including a clean slip silhouette with a delicate lace panel and draping at the back (below). Kelly Cook, David's Bridal Chief Marketing Officer, tells Fashionista over e-mail that the look has been big among its customer for a while now, too: "Before the pandemic, a growing trend for us was the clean and modern look — very simplistic, elegant and chic, and we are still seeing huge success there," she writes.
Wen, however, has seen a change in buying behavior through Lace & Liberty's popular at-home try-on program, which more brands have been experimenting with during the shut-downs. "They're making decisions based on trying a lot less dresses on rather than going [into salons] and trying 30 dresses or so," she says. "They're less … dramatic about it."
The current global climate might also influence how couples view the value of a wedding look, outside of the price tag.
"Having a piece you wear once and then never wear again — especially in a time like this — is even more dated. What is the longevity here?" asks Abbasi. Sahroo brides "self-select" and look to the New York-based label for sustainably-produced and multi-functional wedding separates, which are easy to restyle, she says. Perhaps crisis will encourage brides to put more emphasis on re-wearable pieces, to benefit the most from the investment.
Looking beyond Spring 2021, designers are keeping global sentiments in mind while designing. In a prescient move last November, Abassi made the decision to consolidate Sahroo.
"We wanted to focus our business to be more innovative and implement ways we could be more environmentally or socially responsible," she explains. "Doing two collections a year took all our resources and our time into that." Abbasi was in the midst of designing the Fall 2021 collections for market appoints in October, but "scrapped" and "redid the whole thing" once the pandemic began, in an effort to acknowledge and address wedding needs in a post-crisis landscape.
"If we keep doing things and we ignore what's happening around us, that's the worst idea ever," she says. "You have to be really, really conscientious."
While Abbasi isn't ready to reveal specifics, she will share an emphasis on versatility — not just in functionality and styling, but also innovative methods, that lend themselves to re-wear post-wedding. "Why has it been for so long that you can only wear a bridal piece once? That's not sustainable in any way," she says.
Miller, who just submitted sample drawings for Fall 2021 to her factory in China, also found her designs influenced by the global turmoil.
"I've done a lot more embroidery and embellishment development this upcoming season. It just felt really optimistic and bright and sparkly," she says of incorporating more elaborate textures, such as laser cut lace and "cool embroidery just hopefully lift everyone’s spirits a little bit."
The designer is also looking ahead in a practical sense: "I'm also developing really beautiful masks out of silk and lace appliqué. If it's true and we do have to wear masks all the time, at least you can still look pretty."
But with a focus on authenticity and an unpredictable landscape ahead, no one is betting on specific trends at the moment.
"Really, time will tell," says The Knot's Maxwell Cooper. "We don't know if Covid-19 will result in designers and couples more willing to take fashion risks. Because, why not? Life is short. Or whether or not people will go the opposite direction and say that more timeless styles will prevail."
Miller has been locked down at home in the UK and virtually overseeing her international sales teams and factories — which are in full production — from her kitchen table. She's valued the opportunity to connect one-on-one with her brides via Zoom to help style them in capes and accessories for their rescheduled or reformatted celebrations. (As a wholesaler, she rarely meets her end-client.)
"I'll be very interested to see the effect of this on the world and the environment and how we can all work a bit more productively and be less unconscious about our levels of consumption of natural resources," Miller says. "Because I'm on the plane at least once every six weeks — long haul flights to the States and to China — and actually we've managed to do it just fine."
Perhaps the most significant trend in bridal 2021 may be happening behind the scenes.