Once upon a time, shopping for a wedding dress was a special, if not subdued happening – perhaps a mother-and-daughter afternoon excursion. Over the past 15 years or so, however, it’s turned into a ritual, often with an entourage of bridesmaids in tow, hoisting numbered paddles to rate the looks and “I said yes to the dress!” signs that are an Etsy lover’s dream.
Why all the hoopla? Well, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime happening (ideally) that, for many, has been on hiatus. “After being remote for the past two years, experiences are coming back,” explains Angela Greene, store manager at recently opened Lovely Bride in downtown Providence. It’s the 20th location of the national franchise, which was created to meet a middle space between luxury bridal boutiques and bridal store chains with mass-produced products. “We like to say we’re an inclusive, but exclusive, indie bridal shop,” explains Greene.
Wedding dresses there range from $2,000-$6,000, with the majority falling between $2,500 and $4,500, and unlike many bridal boutiques, Lovely Bride offers inclusive sizing to make gorgeous gowns accessible to a range of brides. “The truth is, the average American woman is a size 16, not model thin, and the average-sized bride in New England is between a 16 and a 22,” explains Greene. “Traditionally, when you go to a regular bridal shop, their sample sizes are usually a size 6 or 8. We wanted to get away from that because not everybody’s a model walking down the runway in Paris or New York. Real women are getting married, and they want to feel special, and they want to go to their appointments and feel seen and included.”
Greene lived in New York for a decade before moving back to Southern New England, and says there is a definite aesthetic predominant in the region. “It’s the clean classic look that we specialize in,” says Greene, without the frills and lace. Rhode Island coasts also influence the predominant looks: “We’re seeing a lot of that boho chic vibe – a bohemian modern playful look.”
Christina Melfi, an assistant buyer and floor manager at Alexandra’s Boutique in Fall River, Massachusetts agrees that “clean” – meaning unfussy dresses without lace, sequin, and other details – is one of the leading trends in bridal fashion today. “Fabrics can include a mikado, chiffon, silk, or crepe – anything that’s just clean. It can be classic or boho; it just depends on what material it is.”
Alexandra’s is one of the largest full-service wedding dress boutiques in New England and sells 3,000-4,000 wedding dresses
annually, according to Melfi. When buying from designers and attending fashion shows, they look for dresses that will align with their local customer demand.
“We need to have an emotional reaction to it,” explains Melfi.
In addition to a clean look, Melfi says she’s seeing some of the trends of the ‘90s and early aughts coming back into fashion, pointing to puffy sleeves and “pick ups,” a style that creates a gathered or cascading look designed to flatter the bride’s torso and waistline. “A lot of designers are creating their own modernized version of it, because a lot of brides just don’t like a lot of volume,” says Melfi.
Designer and boutique owner Andi Burr opened her first Love Bird Bridal Shop location in Newport more than a decade ago. Today, she has locations in Mystic and Branford, Connecticut, and a reopened shop in Newport, while her gowns and veils are carried in a handful of boutiques in the US and Canada. She describes the blend of her designs and other like-minded designers she carries as a thoughtfully curated collection for the modern romantic. “Our gowns are a touch of timeless with a hint of boho,” she says, adding that every piece she carries is handmade in North America.
Burr’s dress collection, made from Spanish stretch crepe lined in stretch silk charmeuse, features clean lines, romantic touches, and flattering cuts. “The entire collection is modular. Each bodice style has a first name, and each skirt style has a middle name. Brides have the ability to choose their bodice, their skirt, and their details like lace, buttons, and train length.”
Newport-based wedding and event planner Sherri Klein advises brides to have their venue confirmed before starting their dress search. “I recommend the bride’s wedding gown have the same vibe and the same cohesive look that coincides with the venue,” explains Klein. She also advises brides to order their dress anywhere from eight months to a year from their wedding date as one shouldn’t risk material shortages or shipping delays, plus, a bride needs to allow ample time for alterations.
As for what styles are already trending in 2023, Burr says she’s seeing a ton of dresses with intricate but detachable sleeves, removable overskirts, and dramatic veils, in addition to high slits and bridal pantsuits. “I have been seeing a resurgence of brides who are opting for a two-style look, rather than two dresses… something that differentiates their ceremony look from their reception look is key. I love a good reception reveal!”
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