The rise of the second wedding dress: say “I do” to look number two

When Chloe Sevigny got married last weekend, she celebrated in not one but three stunning white dresses. She walked the aisle in a sheer ruffled dress from Glen Martens’ Jean Paul Gaultier haute couture SS22 collection, changed into a Loewe mini with lacey train for the reception and later partied the night away in a fabulous, and fabulously racy, lace bell-bottomed catsuit from Mugler’s Casey Cadwallader.

Sevigny’s three wedding looks might once have seemed OTT, but these days bridal fashion is rarely a game of hunting for just ‘The One,’ as civil ceremonies, afterparty looks and multi-event weddings mean brides are increasingly on the prowl for dress number two.

“Weddings are back with a bang post-Covid and seem to be bigger and better than ever,” says Lizzie Gray, founder of bridal fashion website Little L. “Brides really want to capitalise on this and we’ve found that more of our brides want to make a weekend of their celebration… So we’ve had lots of brides coming to us for something to wear the night before or the day after the wedding day itself.”

Hamish Shephard, founder of Bridebook, agrees: “Couples are pulling out all the stops from the rehearsal dinner through to the reception – and fashion is absolutely a part of that.” Bridebook estimates that 13 per cent of the average UK couple’s budget goes towards wedding fashion, and its latest UK Wedding Report reveals couples are planning to spend 25 per cent more on their wedding fashion compared to last year. Living costs might be rising but dress spending is on the up.

The appeal of a theatrical mid-party reentrance isn’t the only motivation; bridal outfit changes often have a practical side too, says Shephard. “We often see brides switching out their ballgowns at the reception for outfits that are a little more relaxed, before changing into minidresses or jumpsuits to really let loose at the afterparty.”

Rosie Rowley Poole and Canan Hesselballe, who launched new bridal label Rowley Hesselballe London in February 2020, have found 75 per cent of their customers are looking for second bridal outfit options, particularly mini dresses. “The rise in city hall/ registry style weddings that have taken place where larger weddings were restricted or postponed during Covid has meant brides want to make a clear difference between their smaller, more initiate ceremony and their bigger wedding day celebrations with all of their family and friends, where the more traditional wedding dress is still the most popular choice,” says Poole.

For Christopher Kane, the brains behind all three of the dresses Lena Dunham wore to get married back in September, the party dress is paramount: “Brides often feel the need to give into family pressures and wear more traditional style dresses for the ceremony,” he says. “The elation of slipping into their second dress for evening is not to be underestimated, they can let their hair down and enjoy themselves without the constraints of the ceremony dress.”

Cult Gaia

And certainly the dancefloor-destined options tend to be something sparklier, shorter or sexier. Lea Cranfield, chief buying and merchandising officer at Net-a-Porter says brides are leaning to pared back, modern shapes for their main dress, and sexed-up lace for their evening party looks. Fashion influencer Camille Charriere certainly embraced the latter, when she changed into a revealing dress by London designer Harris Reed crafted from upcycled vintage lace, for her evening party look for her wedding in Paris back in December.

In an age where a wedding hashtag is as common as canapes, the double (or triple) dress trend is most certainly one fuelled by the desire to create a loved-up social media splash. “The need for that perfect Instagram moment is now firmly on the agenda,” says Poole.

Several brands have cottoned on, and now distinguish between their offerings. Rixo, which launched bridal back in February 2021, splits its bridal collection into three sections online: ceremony, registry, and party. Brand founders Orlagh and Henrietta are both getting married themselves this summer “and we both want two dresses: one for the ceremony and one for the party,” says Henrietta.

Rowley Hesselballe

Searches for wedding jumpsuits have quadrupled over the last two years, trouser suits are up 175 per cent and short wedding dresses are up 233 per cent on last year. The beauty of these more relaxed options is that, unlike the mega princess gown, brides are much more likely to be able to wear it again. Vintage and rental wedding dresses are also booming, which allows couples to afford a wider range of high quality options for the same price as they might have spent on a single gown.

Whether borrowed or bought, white or blue, there’s nothing wrong with saying “I Do” to dress number two.