Everyone knows that once a girl turns into a soon-to-be-bride, she starts to believe the known universe revolves around the wedding. Thusly, as a soon-to-be-wedded person myself, I wasn't surprised that I started noticing a plethora of wedding-related fashion news—new stores, new websites, new lines. However, I'm slowly discovering that it's not just me—the industry itself is transforming.
The new energy in the bridal market stems from a really basic issue: More and more brides have started opting for off-the-rack dresses over customized gowns. Take me, for example: Firstly, conventional wisdom dictates that I should allot up to six months' time for a customized designer dress—be it from Kleinfeld or Vera Wang—and for good reason. These stores are tackling special requests ("take the sleeves off," "fix the bustle") from countless brides each season, and are dealing with complex gowns—corseting, lace, layers of tulle, the mind reels. However, we're aiming to get hitched in less than six months, which already puts me out of the running for "the dream dress" among many circles. Secondly, I may be a fashion editor with certain connections, but even so, designer dresses (especially custom ones) are incredibly expensive, and in this day and age, even a shopper-for-sport like myself starts to draw the line somewhere.
And so, a doorway has opened for a new kind of bridal market, that's really (let's face it) been spearheaded by J.Crew. J.Crew first introduced its bridal collection in 2005, and in the five years since, has ushered in a wave of less-expensive, off-the-rack bridal offerings. In fact, its brand of one-stop-shopping wedding retail has been so successful, J.Crew is opening a stand-alone wedding salon on the Upper East Side in late spring, mere blocks from Vera Wang herself. As further proof of the triumph of mass-market over custom, Wang has even announced a recent partnership with... wait for it... mall retailer David's Bridal on a lower-price line of dresses. David's Bridal. Let that one sink in.
In the e-commerce space, Net-a-Porter has launched its own bridal boutique, angling itself pretty much in direct competition to J.Crew by offering upscale (yet still off-the-rack) dresses from insider-favored lines like Lanvin and Rick Owens, with Louboutins to match. Urban—the company behind Urban Outfitters and Anthropologie—has also announced plans to launch a wedding line, and even Ann Taylor has introduced a strapless, tiered wedding gown for $495.
Alas, for a gal like me, who's looking for something more personalized and "special" than, say, an Ann Taylor dress, but is also not willing to sign on for a six-month custom piece that she doesn't even get a hand in creating, the options may have become far more varied, but they're not necessarily more satisfying.