Coronavirus: it’s carving a tragic path through the whole of humanity right now.
And, as Sam Boal has been discovering, it’s also carving a devastating swathe through the wedding shop sector.
So, are the days of the wedding dress numbered … or is there hope at the end of the aisle?
IT’S been a tough year for brides. With Covid-19 restrictions surrounding weddings, leaving couples either postponing their nuptials, choosing who they want at their very limited celebration, or even cancelling ceremonies altogether, the relationship between a bride and her wedding dress is evolving.
New coronavirus restrictions allow just 15 people to attend a wedding in England, meaning the concept of an even slightly traditional ceremony is far from feasible, leaving thousands of potential brides across the country unable to plan their dream day. Without a wedding in near-sight, why would a bride feel prepared to spend money on her desired dress?
With ‘traditional’ weddings being a no-go at the moment, some brides are cottoning onto non-traditional wedding attire. From jumpsuits to skirts and corsets, to pant suits; Covid-19 has made new brides step away from the conventional dresses, to something cheaper and more versatile.
Gill Glendenning, 62, owns First Glance bridal shop in Silksworth Lane, Sunderland. She said: “I think the relationships that brides have with wedding dresses is changing due to Covid-19. Wedding dresses were the big thing at a wedding, and the first look at the bride held a lot of significance.
“The photographs you have from the day are usually so important. But now, couples aren’t necessarily going to have professional photographers, there’s such a small number of guests, and they’re not having the dream venue – so why would they buy an expensive dress?”
Mrs Glendenning has owned her business for 12 years, and planned on passing it down to her daughter-in-law, then granddaughter. Yet, with losing roughly 90% of her income due to lockdown, the future is uncertain, as it is for all bridal shops.
She said: “With the numbers allowed at a wedding, the wedding party and the important people that are taking part means that you can’t have anyone extra there at all. Selling wedding dresses isn’t the same as a venue, where they can diversify a bit and fill the wedding gap with different things. I can’t replace the gap with anything.”
In recent years, there has been an increase in brides buying their wedding gowns cheaper online. Covid-19 is accelerating the trend, because the social distancing rules mean wedding dress shops can’t offer the usual special experience.
June Overton, 56, owns Amore Brides in Green Terrace, Sunderland, and said: “There’s always been an online presence, but the problem with the online dresses is that you have no regulation. You have no quality assurance and you can’t return them, making the standard very low.
“The bridal industry has been doing a campaign for some considerable time, called Buyers Beware, where, if it looks too good to be true, it will be.”
Mrs Overton believes brides will always want the experience of shopping in a traditional wedding dress shop, and that the industry still has a future.
She explained: “Brides like and want the bridal shop experience. They want to be able to come here with their nearest and dearest, and try on dresses with the help of someone with experience.
“It’s part of the whole excitement of the lead-up to the wedding. Wedding dresses play a huge part in that, and brides still want them.”
She added: “There is still very much a future for wedding dresses. You will get a bride who wants a pant suit, or something a bit different, but for some brides that simply does not feel special enough.
“This is their wedding day. This is one of the most special days that they are ever going to have, and they want to feel that. They’ve probably dreamt of this since they were a little girl.
“The confidence that a wedding dress will give them will make them feel like it’s an occasion. So I do think that wedding dresses have a massive part to play, we’re just not being allowed to do it at the moment.”
Tracey Waters, 47, owns Misty Waters and is a dressmaker and designer in Sunderland. She said: “I hope the future of wedding dresses isn’t in danger, but everything is changing so much.
“Covid has made everyone look at their lives completely differently. They probably wonder ‘Why have a £2,000 dress when you can go online and get something for £200?’ It depends on the individuals.
Miss Waters believes the way in which people buy their wedding dresses continues to evolve.
She explained: “I have a lot of people who have bought their dresses online, and then what they receive in the post is an absolute travesty, and then they bring it to me to actually sort out for them.
“At the beginning of when things started moving online I got really worried, but at the same time they still have to get their dresses altered, and because I am a dressmaker I can help out with that and do the alterations.”
Since lockdown, Miss Waters has seen her business almost vanish. She said: “I’m getting close to 1% of the business that I had before Covid.
“Last week, for example, I had two people through the door all week. It really is sad times. I diversify, which is good for me. I’ve always done that. I make costumes, masks, memory cushions, and memory teddies, and I’m trying to think of something to make it easier for people stuck in the house.
“I don’t just stop at wedding dresses. I always try to find something else to do, because if I didn’t, I just wouldn’t have the shop anymore.”
Where would you want to buy your wedding dress? Let us know on Twitter @Fashion_North!