Covid cancelled weddings around the world in 2020. It also influenced dress codes

Written by Leah Dolan, CNN

The havoc wreaked by Covid-19 on the wedding industry was bound to leave its mark somehow. With 2020 ceremonies across the globe postponed indefinitely or canceled altogether, determined couples adapted as best they could: slashing guest lists by more than two-thirds and matching their outfits to mandatory face coverings. Some weddings even went virtual, with attendees dialing in to meeting apps to watch vows broadcast online.

Other lovebirds eloped, commemorating their private unions with small souvenirs mailed back to family and friends — a gesture that trend forecasting firm WGSN predicts is here to stay.

But the past year’s lasting impact on nuptials goes beyond keepsakes. As more people get vaccinated, “normal” life — including social gatherings — in some countries is beginning to resume. And with bridal parties and guests resurfacing, emerging sartorial trends reveal how the pandemic may have a lingering influence on wedding dress codes.

Four one-of-a-kind vintage wedding gowns hanging in LA bridal boutique, Happy Isles. Credit: Emily Knecht/Courtesy Lily Kaizer/Happy Isles

Shifting silhouettes

Using a combination of Google data and social media tags, global fashion search engine Lyst maps the rising demand of certain styles amongst consumers. In their 2021 wedding report, Lyst found that more brides-to-be were seeking out 19th-century-inspired gowns, à la “Bridgerton” — the seductive period drama that engrossed 82 million households around the world during the pandemic and became Netflix’s most popular original series.That penchant for escapist fantasy soon spilled over into wedding mood boards. Interest in empire line wedding dresses — frocks with a bust-level waist and full skirt that appear largely unchanged from when they were first modeled by Regency-era women in the 1800s — increased by 133%. Demand for bridal corsets also soared 291%, consistent with a growing appreciation for corsetry across the board. The ladies of “Bridgeton” were never fully dressed without a spangled tiara, and likewise embellished headpieces became a hot pandemic accessory with global searches climbing by 156% in 2021, according to Lyst.Audrey Hepburn wears an empire line dress designed by Fernanda Gattinoni for the 1956 film

Audrey Hepburn wears an empire line dress designed by Fernanda Gattinoni for the 1956 film “War and Peace.” Credit: SNAP/Alamy

Allyson Rees, a senior strategist at WGSN, says period-inspired flourishes like capped sleeves and statement ruffles will continue to influence bridal silhouettes. “We still think that cottagecore is going to be a huge styling trend for the year ahead,” she said in a phone interview.

But according to luxury retailer Net-A-Porter, large swathes of their customer base are choosing dresses that are timeless rather than time-specific. “There has been a newly created demand for adaptable, versatile, easy white dresses in sleek, simple silhouettes,” Net-A-Porter Senior Market Editor Libby Page wrote in an email. “Smaller scale celebrations have required fewer formal looks and customers are coming to us in favor of something simple and chic.”

Earlier this month, Business of Fashion reported a pandemic-induced ecommerce rush was sweeping the bridal industry, with “fewer custom gowns and more dresses bought straight off the rack.” The surge of quick-turnaround ceremonies could be leading many to shy away from outlandish styles and stick to classic, more reliable looks.

Brands with established online stores like Net-A-Porter are benefiting from this sense of urgency, Page said. “Some of our top (selling) brands have been bridal brands,” she noted. “Our ‘Wedding’ (section) on site is unquestionably receiving traction.”

Instagram became a key way for Lily Kaizer to reach brides-to-be during the worst of the pandemic.

Instagram became a key way for Lily Kaizer to reach brides-to-be during the worst of the pandemic. Credit: Courtesy Lily Kaizer/Happy Isles

The post-pandemic party bug

For Lily Kaizer, owner of LA-based vintage bridal boutique Happy Isles, there was a time last summer when she thought the appetite for after-parties would never return.

“All the ruffles and the glitz and the glam that do well for us in regular times just, you know, weren’t the thing people were after,” she said in a phone interview. “So there was a moment where I was like, ‘is anyone ever going to want an after-party dress ever again?'”

Kaizer began re-stocking resplendent pieces — think turquoise sequined jumpsuits and gold mermaid-tail gowns — in March this year, following a gut instinct that led her to believe “these bigger weddings are coming back, maybe bigger than ever.” By May, her suspicions seemed to be confirmed, as she says brides and wedding guests alike poured in hoping to bag unique, one-off looks.

Similarly, Lyst dubbed 2021 “the year of the after party,” reporting a resurgence on partywear including mini bridal dresses (interest for which is up by 170%) to rhinestone heels.

However, while large-scale celebrations are certainly taking place, Rees believes the picture is more nuanced. “(WGSN) have seen it go in two different directions,” she told CNN. “We’re seeing a shift to more intimate settings — what we’re calling micro-mony.”

Rees points to a 160% spike in searches for “small backyard weddings” on Pinterest as evidence. Leaner friendship groups are another reason, Rees says, for our lingering appreciation for low-profile events. While the pandemic put a strain on most platonic relationships, it razed some friendship categories — like acquaintances — to the ground.

“There’s been a shrinkage in the last year of our social circle and our social groups,” Rees said. “And so, you know, do you really need to invite your mother’s friend from tennis to your wedding?”

Lily Kaizer, owner of vintage bridal boutique Happy Isles.

Lily Kaizer, owner of vintage bridal boutique Happy Isles. Credit: Noua Unu Studio/Lily Kaizer/Happ

Here comes the groom

Menswear in general is becoming evermore intrepid, embracing typically feminine shapes and accessories, from Harry Styles’s acerbic feather boa at the 2021 Grammy’s to the puff-sleeved frocks at J.W. Anderson’s AW21 menswear show in Paris.Gender-fluid styles like skirts and dresses seem to have been embraced by a range of men, appearing both in the pages of fashion magazines and out on city sidewalks. According to Lyst, grooms are no different, with insights reporting a 26% increase in searches for “men’s wedding skirts” on their platform since last year. The retail search engine highlights the Emmy Award-winning sitcom “Schitt’s Creek” as a source of inspiration, in which fashion-obsessed character David Rose, played by Dan Lavy, sports a groom skirt for his special day.

Rees remains unconvinced. “I think it’s a very niche audience for a men’s skirt,” she said. “But we are seeing a lot more attention being put into what men are wearing for their wedding day.”

Traditional looks are still receiving a twist, with grooms opting for regular suit cuts in daring colors. Pink may be the new black, reports Lyst, pointing to a 33% increase this year in the number of men looking at pink suits online. For the more understated grooms, jewelry is one fast becoming one low-fuss way to modernize an outfit. In May, luxury jewelers Tiffany & Co announced they would be selling men’s engagement rings for the first time in their 184-year-history. When it comes to groom fashion, Rees agrees the devil is in the details. WGSN reports an uptick in groom-centric gift-giving, subverting the traditional bridal shower and lavishing the husband-to-be with presents like custom rings complete with engraving. Groom jewelry is on Lyst’s radar, too — with platform searches for engagement watches jumping over 40% this year.Bold patterns and striking colors are set to dominate groom fashion in the coming years.

Bold patterns and striking colors are set to dominate groom fashion in the coming years. Credit: Courtesy Lyst

The future of weddings

For Kaizer, the pandemic solidified vintage as a big player in the bridal market. “Over the pandemic, there’s definitely been a rise in people collecting vintage,” she said, citing popular resale apps like Poshmark as a driver of the trend. “We’re seeing more vintage bridal focussed businesses popping up.”

With Covid shuttering physical stores for weeks at a time and the environmental crisis looming large, platforms like Vestiaire and Depop filled an important corner in the retail market and ignited a passion for second-hand. Now, Kaizer says, vintage pieces will become a mainstay in the wedding industry through 2021 and beyond. “They just offer that special, unique thing that’s completely guilt free.”

Reflecting on future ceremonies, there will still be some markers of where coronavirus once was, Rees says. “There might be a little bit more space between tables, or maybe there is always hand sanitizer now in your goodie bag.”

Top image: a digital collage of upcoming 2021 wedding trends, courtesy of Lyst.