(CNN) – The ravages of COVID-19 in the wedding industry had to make its mark somehow. The 2020 ceremonies were postponed around the world, postponed indefinitely or canceled altogether, determined couples adapted to the best of their ability: reducing guest lists by more than two-thirds and making their suits match the required face masks. Some weddings were even virtual, and attendees logged into apps to watch the vows broadcast online.
Other lovers eloped, commemorating their private marriages with little mementos mailed to family and friends, a gesture that trend analysis company WGSN predicts is here to stay.
But last year’s lasting impact on weddings goes beyond the memories. As more people get vaccinated against COVID-19, “normal” life, including social gatherings, is beginning to resume in some countries. And with the reappearance of bridal parties and guests, new fashion trends reveal how the pandemic may have a lingering influence on wedding dress codes.
Using a combination of Google data and social media tags, global fashion search engine Lyst maps the growing demand for certain styles among consumers. In its 2021 wedding report, Lyst found that more and more brides were looking for dresses inspired by the 19th century, in the style of “Bridgerton,” the seductive period drama that captivated 82 million households around the world during the pandemic and became the Netflix’s most popular original series.
That fondness for fantasy soon moved to wedding work tables. The interest in empire-line wedding dresses, with a waist at chest level and a full skirt that seems to have not changed since they were first modeled by women of the era of the Regency in the 19th century, increased by 133%. The demand for corsets for brides too skyrocketed 291%, in keeping with the growing appreciation for corsetry in general. The ladies of ‘Bridgeton’ weren’t quite well-dressed without a diadem of diamonds, and likewise ornate headdresses became a pandemic fashion accessory, with global searches increasing by 156% in 2021, according to Lyst.
Allyson Rees, Senior Strategist at WGSN, says period-inspired embellishments like dropped sleeves and ruffles will continue to influence brides’ silhouettes. “We continue to think that ‘cottagecore’ will be a great style trend for next year,” he said in a telephone interview.
However, according to luxury retailer Net-A-Porter, much of its clientele is choosing timeless dresses rather than age-specific. “A new demand has been created for adaptable, versatile and simple white dresses in elegant and simple silhouettes,” wrote Net-A-Porter’s lead market editor, Libby Page, in an email. “The smaller-scale celebrations have required fewer formal looks and customers come to us looking for something simple and chic.”
Earlier this month, Business of Fashion reported that the pandemic-induced e-commerce fever was sweeping the bridal industry, with “fewer tailored dresses and more dresses bought straight off the shelves.” The rise of speedy ceremonies could be leading many to shy away from extravagant styles and stick to more reliable, classic styles.
Brands with established online stores, such as Net-A-Porter, benefit from this sense of urgency, according to Page. “Some of our best-selling brands have been bridal brands,” he noted. “Our ‘Wedding’ (section) on the site is getting traffic without question.”
Post-pandemic party fever
For Lily Kaizer, owner of Los Angeles-based vintage bridal boutique Happy Isles, there was a moment last summer when she thought the appetite for parties would never return.
“All the frills and the glitz and glamor that go well for us in normal times just, you know, they weren’t what people were looking for,” he said in a telephone interview. “So there was a moment when I said to myself, ‘Is anyone ever going to want a party dress?'”
Kaizer began restocking glittery pieces like turquoise sequin jumpsuits and gold mermaid tail gowns in March 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 seemed to be confirmed, since, according to her, both brides and wedding guests flocked in the hope of unique and unrepeatable styles.
Similarly, Lyst called 2021 “the year of the after party,” reporting a resurgence in party wear, from mini wedding dresses (the interest of which has increased by 170%) to the rhinestone heels.
However, while large-scale celebrations continue to take place, Rees believes the picture is more nuanced. “We have seen that fashion is going in two different directions,” he told CNN. “We are seeing a shift towards more intimate settings: what we call micro-ceremony.”
Rees points out a 160% peak on Pinterest searches for “little backyard weddings” for proof. Smaller groups of friends are another reason, Rees says, for our lingering appreciation for low-key events. While the pandemic put most platonic relationships to the test, swept away some categories of friendship, such as acquaintances.
“In the last year there has been a reduction in our social circle and in our social groups,” Rees said. And so, you know, do you really need to invite your mother’s tennis friend to your wedding?
Here comes the groom
Men’s fashion in general is becoming more fearless, adopting typically feminine shapes and accessories, from Harry Styles’ feather boa at the 2021 Grammys to the puff-sleeved dresses at the men’s show. JW Anderson’s AW21 in Paris.
Gender-fluid styles, such as skirts and dresses, appear to have been adopted by a number of men, appearing both in fashion magazine pages as in the city sidewalks. According to Lyst, boyfriends are no different, as insights report an increase in 26% in searches for “men’s wedding skirts” on their platform since last year. The search engine highlights as inspiration the Emmy Award-winning comedy “Schitt’s Creek,” in which the fashion-obsessed character David Rose, played by Dan Lavy, wears a groom skirt for his special day.
Rees remains unconvinced. “I think it’s a very niche audience for a men’s skirt,” he says. “But we’re seeing a lot more attention being paid to what men wear for their wedding day.”
Traditional styles continue to get a twist, with grooms opting for regular suit cuts in bold colors. Pink may be the new black, according to Lyst, who points out a 33% increase this year in the number of men looking for pink suits on the Internet.
For the more discreet bride and groom, jewelry is fast becoming an easy way to modernize a suit. In May, luxury jewelry Tiffany & Co announced that it would be selling men’s engagement rings for the first time in its 184-year history. When it comes to grooming fashion, Rees agrees that the key is in the details. WGSN reports a spike in groom-centric gift giving, subverting the traditional bridal shower and entertaining the future husband with gifts such as personalized engraved rings. Groom jewelry is on Lyst’s radar too: searches on the platform for engagement watches have risen by 40% this year.
The future of weddings
For Kaizer, the pandemic consolidated vintage as a major player in the bridal market. “During the pandemic, there has definitely been an increase in people collecting vintage,” he said, citing popular resale apps like Poshmark as a driver of the trend. “We’re seeing more vintage bridal-centric businesses emerge.”
With the closure of physical stores due to covid for weeks and the looming environmental crisis, platforms such as Vestiaire and Depop filled an important corner of the retail market and ignited the passion for second hand. Now, according to Kaizer, vintage pieces will become a mainstay of the bridal industry through 2021 and beyond. “They just offer that special and unique thing that is completely blameless.”
As you reflect on future ceremonies, there will still be some markers of where covid once occurred, Rees says. “There may be a little more space between the tables, or now there is always hand sanitizer in your gift bag.”