Millennials preparing to tie the knot are increasingly seeking not just cheaper dress options, but also unique styles that stray far from the traditional wedding gowns of generations past.
In the past month alone, Topshop launched its first line of affordable wedding dresses, H&M dropped a bridal lingerie collection and Everlane announced a collection of occasion dresses, debuting the looks on its site along with the caption, “We see you wedding season.” Now, more than ever, retailers are recognizing the demand for budget-friendly options and are trying their hand at wedding apparel to capitalize on an industry valued at more than $300 billion.
Callie Canfield, senior director of marketing communications at David’s Bridal, said the uptick in affordable bridal offerings can, in part, be attributed to a shift in consumer sentiment. A study conducted by Harris Group last year found that 72 percent of millennials prefer to spend money on experiences rather than things, a preference that permeates into wedding planning. Though wedding spending continues to rise — in 2016 the national average was $35,329 compared to $32,641 in 2015 — millennials are trending toward prioritizing experiential elements rather than pricey dresses.
“For many brides, the perception around spending has absolutely shifted in recent years. Now, brides are looking to create a wedding experience for all of her guests to enjoy, “ she said. “That means, if she has a limited budget, she has to be more conscientious about how much she spends on things like her dress and her flowers, in order to save for experiential components, like a band or great food.”
The emergence of more accessible bridal brands also comes on the heels of J.Crew shuttering its bridal line a few months ago, which held both higher price points and more traditional styles. According to data from millennial marketing agency YPulse, 93 percent of females ages 25-34 say weddings have become too expensive, and 72 percent say they want their wedding dress to be unique and different. MaryLeigh Bliss, chief content officer at YPulse, said this data shows millennials are increasingly eschewing traditional weddings in favor of ceremonies that better fit the personality and style of the couple.
An image from BHLDN’s 2017 bridal campaign
Bliss said reimagining of wedding culture has also opened up the market for brands like BHLDN, Anthropologie’s line of vintage-inspired dresses that launched in 2011 and has consistently performed well for parent company URBN. Other less traditional wedding brands have similarly cashed in on the bridal thrift look. Reformation, for instance, launched its seventh wedding collection last month, with dresses topping out at $600.
“[Millennials are] also wary of budget, especially as the bride and groom paying for their own wedding is more commonplace for this generation,” Bliss said. “In terms of wedding dresses, this opens up opportunities for unexpected retailers to enter the space.”
As more affordable options continue to flood the bridal market, the average price of a wedding or bridal party dress has dropped considerably, from $437.46 in the first quarter of 2016 to $292.80 in the first quarter of 2017, according to data from Edited. The highest performing brand was Asos, which launched its bridal line in March 2016 with looks that range between $90 and $380.
According to Vanessa Spence, womenswear design director at Asos, 9,200 brides walked down the aisle in an Asos dress in 2016, and her team has plans to expand the collection in the future. “It felt like a totally natural evolution for us. Our customers are getting married in loads of different locations, seasons and styles, and we wanted to offer something for everyone,” she said.
Looks from ASOS’s debut bridal collection last year
Spence said an integral part os the success of adding to the Asos portfolio was developing a process for handling and shipping the garments, as they tend to be more ornate and fragile. All items in the collection are handled by a specially developed bridal team that uses a specific process for packing, shipping and returns.
Looking to the future of the bridal market, Shane Clark, senior fashion and accessories editor at Brides magazine, said he anticipates the market for lower-priced, mass-market dresses will continue to grow.
“There was a void in the market. Many women still want the tailored experience of a bridal boutique, but some want something effortless and readily available,” Clark said. “Some women are really into the buy-now-wear-now craze, and bridal collections at Topshop, H&M, Reformation and ASOS make that possible.”
Featured image courtesy of Topshop