Bridesmaids. Retailers and suppliers discuss what’s on offer and how best to serve those often-demanding friends of the bride. Jill Eckersley discovers they want more than a one-time dress…
So what’s happening in the bridesmaids’ market? The message coming through from retailers and suppliers is that young millennials are increasingly looking for sustainability and favouring dresses that can be worn on more than one occasion.
Another trend is for more bridesmaids – the Wedding Industry Facts and Economics website says that almost one in ten weddings will now include five or more maids, although two or three is still the most popular number.
“The average number of maids in our bridal parties is four to six,” agrees Fiona from Olivia Cameron Bridal in Falkirk. “It’s rare for them to pay for their own dresses, it’s normally the bride or her parents who pay. We find that a bride usually chooses the theme, then each of the maids will pick a style that suits her figure, often all choosing the same colour. Our most popular fabric is still chiffon, which complements most tulle, lace or chiffon bridal gowns, though we’ve also seen an increase in the sale of mikado satin to go with classic mikado wedding dresses. The average cost of a bridesmaid’s gown in our store is £240, plus about £60 for alterations.
“With destination weddings, we are stockists of Sorella Vita who have outlets all over the world. If a girl arrives a week or so before the wedding we can offer a quick turnaround alteration service here, and for a non-local wedding we can ship the dress out for alterations nearer her home.
“We don’t find that high street or online sales are affecting our business. Although our brides are price-conscious they are also quality-conscious and are prepared to pay for something different!”
By contrast, Maria Musgrove from Pantiles Bride in Royal Tunbridge Wells is finding that more and more bridesmaids are choosing to buy online from ASOS or boohoo or in the high street from stores like Oasis and John Lewis.
“We have about 20 bridal appointments a week and perhaps only two or three bridesmaids a month,” she says. “It seems more common these days for a bridal party to include four bridesmaids. With the dresses we sell at £180-£300, that adds up, especially as we usually find it’s the bride who is paying.
“We advise that brides come in with their chief bridesmaid only, though they don’t always listen! One popular trend is to order dresses in the same colour and fabric but different styles to suit maids who might be very different in size and looks. If a bride buys her dress from us we can offer a ten percent discount on her bridesmaids’ dresses, though I sometimes wonder if it’s worth it for us. We do sell more to brides who are just having perhaps one or two maids, bearing in mind the price of alterations, too.
“We have even thought of changing our bridesmaids’ section to promwear. Trends in promwear seem to be more flashy and red-carpet, though, with a lot of low backs and slinky cut-outs, and how many brides want that sort of look for their maids?”
From the suppliers’ point of view, Hayley from Romantica of Devon says that most of their retailers carry bridesmaids’ ranges as well.
“That means their brides can find their own dream dress and perfect dresses for their maids at the same time,” she explains. “Stockists who don’t carry our bridesmaids’ collection may carry our prom dresses, which can be suitable for any occasion, including a wedding.
“ As far as current silhouettes and features are concerned, glitter fabrics have caused quite a stir this season, especially as the fabric we use has a bit of stretch to make it comfortable to wear – like our brand new Beth gown. Gowns with a subtle touch of draping or gathered details have also been popular as they flatter any size or shape. Illusion necklines also sell well and are an elegant choice. For 2020 we shall be seeing cold-shoulder styles, jewel tones like our India gown, which is stunning in a rich peacock hue. And straight off the red carpet, sexy thigh-high slits will be on-trend for 2020, too.”
Grace from Kelsey Rose agrees that metallics are having a moment. “Soft metallic tones are the essence of our 2020 collection – subtle shimmer and sparkle make for a very glamorous bridal party. Traditional chiffons or tulles have saturated the market and are covered by e-tailers like ASOS.
“We hear from our stockists that dresses need to be suitable for more than one event. We are also finding that fewer bridal stores carry bridesmaids, but we’re seeing a rise in bridesmaid stand-alone stores, which can give more of a specialised service.”
Michele from Dessy is another expert who feels that today’s bridesmaids are looking for more than a single-use dress.
“We offer more than 400 styles in multiple fabrications and more than 80 colour options, so Dessy gowns can also be worn as destination wedding dresses, occasion, and cruisewear. We recently introduced the Loop dress by Carlos Saavedra, which we believe is the ultimate ‘convertible’ dress and retails at £185. It has a double-layer eternity scarf to create individual necklines and sleeves. It’s machine washable and dryer-safe, so perfect for travelling.
“Jumpsuits and pockets are also on-trend and are the perfect style for bridesmaids wanting to carry a tissue for their tears of joy or hide their phone! We shall be seeing more layers, ruffles and pleats in luxurious fabrics in the new season as well.”
Chrissy at Morilee feels that demand for bridesmaids hasn’t changed. “Our customer base placed their orders at Harrogate where we had our samples and colours on display,” she says. “Popular colours look to be purples – eggplant in our range – a pale green we call sea grass, pinks such as peony and desert rose, and dark red Claret and Bordeaux. We have also introduced new earthy red and brown tones, cinnamon and spice.
“Stretch velvets, flutter sleeves and the ever-popular boho look are still with us and popular silhouettes continue to be A-line and fit and flare.”
Another retailer view
If you’re a retailer thinking of introducing a bridesmaids’ range, think carefully. Some bridal parties appreciate the convenience of being able to order all their dresses from the same boutique, but it doesn’t work for everyone. Rebecca from The Dressing Rooms in the West Midlands has a cautionary tale!
“We had a huge extension here last year, which doubled our floor size, to accommodate our bridesmaids and menswear shop. However we didn’t find that selling bridesmaids dresses was cost effective so we removed that department, retrained our staff, and switched over to doing more bridal appointments.
“We can now have six bridal appointments running simultaneously instead of three and we’re planning to introduce a seventh. I feel liberated! No more problem bridesmaids, who are pregnant, planning on getting pregnant, wanting to wear platform shoes to make their dresses too short, not happy with the style, wanting to upstage the bride, thinking they are more important than the bride, denying that they’ve gained three stones, denying that they’ve lost three stones, the list just goes on and on and on… it’s not for me, I’m afraid!”