How Changing Views About Marriage and Weddings Are Impacting the Bridal Industry

Like college, marriage is no longer a must for millions of people, as it may have been for their parents or grandparents. While some are opting for cohabitation versus matrimony, others are postponing weddings until they have more life experience.

A 2023 Pew Research Center study determined that relatively few Americans see marriage as essential for people to live a fulfilling life. As of 2021, a quarter of 40-year-olds had never been married, based on U.S. Census Bureau Data — a record high for the past 40 years. As of November 2022, 40 percent of adults 18 or older were single — as in never married, widowed or divorced/separated — according to a study by the National Center for Family & Marriage Research. And 67 percent of people 30 and younger had never been married.

According to a survey of 10,000 couples from The Knot, weddings are getting smaller and more casual — but costing more. The average cost of a wedding increased $5,000 from 2022, to $35,000, according to the survey.

Last year, the average wedding party consisted of eight people versus 10 in 2019, and the average guest list was 115 versus 131 in 2019, according to the survey. Sixty-two percent of respondents had a semi-formal wedding; 65 percent of grooms opted for a suit instead of a tuxedo, and several bridal companies interviewed for this article said shoppers are looking for more nontraditional styes.

Bridal designers are adjusting accordingly, with some playing up more casual styles for couples hosting scaled-back, intimate events, and others adding vintage accents for sustainability-minded brides.

Some designers are offering more colors including black styles.

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While many may not view marriage as essential, plenty of couples are opting in, especially post-pandemic — in 2022, the U.S. saw more than 2 million marriages for the first time since 2019, according to the CDC.

That is welcome news for companies like the bridal juggernaut Pronovias Group, which cited the pandemic’s impact on its fiscal year 2022 business. Despite a 52 percent upswing in revenues to $149 million, figures remained below pre-pandemic levels.

To meet an array of bridal needs, Pronovias has dreamt up its Unconventional Brides Collection, which features crepe wedding trousers, a long-sleeve crepe blazer and a crepe halter top among other contemporary styles. And the Canadian wedding retailer Park & Fifth has unveiled the Un-bridesmaid Collection to give shoppers the options of choosing the fabric, color and length of their dresses. They are also in tune with marriage being less enticing to some. Designer Sally LaPointe said she “totally gets why this shift is happening — there’s too much pressure to make your wedding day to be the biggest day of your life.”

Sally LaPointe

Sally La Pointe

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For designers like her, as well as other forward-thinking ones like Vera Wang, Danielle Frankel and Lela Rose, that knowingness is evident in their collections. LaPointe said that her bride “is completely nontraditional and isn’t afraid to experiment with her look, or buy a piece with the intention of wearing it again after her wedding.”

Brides have been coming to her company “for something that fits outside of their traditional ceremony look for a few years,” the designer said — that “was a point of inspiration to design a bridal collection in the first place.”

Psychologist Tirrell De Gannes said that Millennials don’t see marriage as important, due partially to popular television shows “that trivialize it” — like “Married at First Sight,” ’90-Day Fiancé” or “Love is Blind.”

Well aware that more couples want to celebrate in ways that reflect their personalities in more unexpected ways, De Gannes, who will soon himself wed, said, “It’s great to have the typical, traditional wedding celebration but it’s also great to have that amazing thing that will stand out in terms of memories.”

While the pressure to get married is not what it was many years ago, designer Claire Pettibone, who has had a bridal business for 20 years, said that people are still choosing to tie the knot, albeit her brides in Los Angeles and New York are doing so a little older than previous generations. “With that maturity comes a little bit of confidence and individuality so the weddings are becoming more interesting and less rules-bound,” she said.

Although bridal magazines still influence some brides, Pettibone said shoppers now find the company in myriad ways including Instagram, TikTok, Pinterest, Google searches and word-of-mouth. In turn, her company is being more proactive about being in all of those places, she said. “Before it was more centralized about how to get the word out about your brand, but now you really have to be everywhere,” Pettibone said.

Aside from symbolizing the holy grail for wedding gowns for thousands of brides based on name alone, Vera Wang has struck viral gold when she posts on social media, and her fashion-forward styles appeal to of-the-moment brides. She is known to add a touch of color, including black.

Pettibone is another designer who infuses color into her assortments with blush, Champagne, pinks, blues, lavender and sage, as well as a little black for a more Goth look. Big ballgowns are not her thing, but many of her brides gravitate toward fitted or flowy styles so movement isn’t an issue. To reach more shoppers, Claire Pettibone has partnered with Nicole Bridal, a Philadelphia salon that has now opened a New York location, to take over half of the space for an in-store salon.

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A look from Claire Pettibone.

Anne Barge has seen a shift toward more intimate gatherings with brides keeping their guest lists small to focus on their immediate family and closest friends. “This is a stark contrast from the large 150-plus guest weddings we saw pre-COVID[-19],” said president and creative director Shawne Jacobs.

“Even when they are scaled down, these weddings are often held at family estates or properties where a casual atmosphere is still elevated,” Jacobs said, adding that Anne Barge eveningwear sales have increased as some brides want multiple looks for their wedding day. 

While the median age for a woman to get married rose to 28.4 last year, bridal designer Peter Langner said that enables couples to “gain experience and fulfillment” beforehand. “Very often by the time they get married, they are already living together. So marriage is a point of arrival and no longer a starting point as it once was,” he said.

Brides are also wearing multiple dresses during the festivities, regardless if the guest list has been whittled down. Sometimes, the smaller list comes with a destination wedding, Langner said.

Informal weddings may be popular, but Langner’s clients are still planning big events, he said. “Our brides are looking for an exclusive gown, a dream venue. At these weddings, there is not a florist but a flower designer, not a cook but a chef, not a singer but a band.”

Soucy founder Mariela Torres Soucy is welcoming the changes in weddings, having seen them transpire through bespoke bridal clients, both formal or casual, who are looking for craftsmanship and timeless sophistication.

Cinq’s founder and creative director Macye Wysner said that the trend toward casual weddings is a celebration of individuality and creativity. “Even in the realm of more relaxed and casual weddings, brides still yearn to create a moment that feels most unique to them through their attire,” Wysner said.

Sydney Watters Dunbar, brand director at Watters Designs, said she has seen couples opting for smaller guest lists, more creative venues and out-of-the-box wedding day wardrobes. 

Each of the company’s four brands — Watters, Wtoo, Willowby, and By Watters — aims to home in on specific consumers and non-traditional looks are offered in each. Its newest label, By Watters, is designed to respond quickly to emerging trends to “stay on the pulse of what is next to maintain relevance in the market,” Dunbar said.

This year, brides-to-be are showing more interest in novel fabrics with touches of color and vintage-inspired looks, as well as bohemian-inspired gowns, she said, and want more options in terms of how they shop, which is why Watters Designs is focusing on building and reinforcing its omnichannel retailing within traditional bridal stores, through its own DTC site, and via wedding-focused online boutiques.

The company is also keeping current by targeting shoppers through digital marketing, curated events, influencer partnerships, and sharing user-generated content.

Nadia Manjarrez, founder and creative director of her signature bridal collection, said that convertibility has been a big focus since she launched her label three years ago. Many of her gowns are designed so that they can be transformed from a grand style to a cleaner, simpler look. She also includes at least one style of pants in each collection to accommodate those who want a nontraditional look.

Manjarrez also embraces color for fashion-forward brides favoring subtle shades of blue, pink and peach. The designer also gleans information through her custom bridal business. “By working directly with brides to design custom looks for them, I get first-hand information on what they are looking for and often incorporate that into my next collections,” she said. 

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