Though the way we shop for clothes was already shifting in the years leading up to the pandemic, there's no denying that the retail experience has been entirely transformed over the course of the past several years. When stores closed in 2020, websites were the only place to buy most everything you needed from a fashion perspective, and wedding attire was no exception. Weddings didn’t stop, despite the challenges we faced, and couples quickly realized they could find exactly what they wanted to wear for their big day, from designer wedding gowns to sleek tuxedos, without leaving home.
With the world getting back to things as they once were—and a wedding boom in full effect—have people returned to stores and bridal boutiques to shop, in-person, for wedding attire? And what do industry fashion experts forecast for the future of wedding wear shopping? Here, we speak to three bridal fashion experts about all of this and more.
Meet the Expert
- Mark Ingram is the owner of the bridal boutique Mark Ingram Atelier in New York. The boutique carries luxury evening wear and bridal wear from designers including Monique Lhuillier, Naeem Khan, Carolina Herrera, and Vera Wang.
- Laura McKeever is the senior manager of brand PR, philanthropy, and communications for David’s Bridal. The retailer specializes in occasion wear for all budgets and sizes and has 300 locations across North America and the U.K.
- Mark Zunino is a designer based in Beverly Hills whose creations are a red carpet favorite of celebrities including Beyonce, Angelina Jolie, and Sofia Vergara. His designs are revered for their elegance, sophistication, and dramatic silhouettes.
Are More People Shopping for Wedding Dresses Online?
“We found the return to retail stores was fast, as consumers were eager to get back into an environment and shop,” says Laura McKeever, senior manager of brand PR, philanthropy, and communications for David’s Bridal. "During the pandemic, many brides were still moving forward with their wedding, and finding their dream dress was important to them. Today, we’re still seeing the same excitement in-store as with online traffic.” McKeever says David’s Bridal regularly surveys consumers to understand their shopping preferences and behaviors. The most recent learnings point to the majority of brides researching and seeking inspiration online for their wedding dress, but when it comes down to purchasing, they prefer the in-store experience. “They want to try on the gown, touch it, feel the materials, and fully realize the fit of the dress,” McKeever reports.
Similarly, Mark Ingram, the owner of the luxury bridalwear boutique Mark Ingram Atelier in New York, feels that brides are still prioritizing a bridal boutique experience leading up to their wedding day. Ingram has been a brick-and-mortar bridal retailer for over 20 years and thus is extremely well versed in the complexity of a wedding dress purchase—one he believes is still very much an in-person experience. “A formal dress like a wedding gown has a fit and construction unlike any other dress and has the ability to be transformative,” Ingram says. “An in-salon experience with the guidance of a seasoned professional should give the bride the ultimate results she wants to achieve on her big day. The additional guidance provided about undergarments, accessories, shoes, and knowing how to carry, wear, and maneuver in the gown is as essential as any part of the wedding gown shopping process. And for me, this is all best achieved with in-salon input," he says.
Ingram notes he did dabble in an online bridal retail business, but he ultimately found it to be both a failure and a disappointment. “It confirmed for me, firsthand, that a wedding dress is an extremely loaded purchase, rife with tons of emotions, personal feelings, history, and family dynamics. With all that said, it takes a very particular personality to make this type of purchase without the bells and whistles of seasoned professional guidance and the human touch.”
Still, Ingram agrees that the retail landscape has unequivocally changed and will continue to evolve in the coming months and years. “Prior to COVID, we as a society were moving away from in-person, in-store shopping,” Ingram says. “I increased my personal online purchases by 100 percent. What I have noticed in our return to regular business is people were starved for personal interaction and an immersive sensory experience, which is exactly what shopping for a wedding dress is. I love the idea of ‘retail as theater.’ It has always been a fascination and beloved experience and one I am not yet willing to abandon to a virtual world.”
Celebrated red carpet designer Mark Zunino agrees that fashion is an exciting time of rebirth when it comes to retail, which he is fully embracing with all his clients—including brides-to-be. Zunino, who’s created wedding dresses for Denise Richards and RHONJ’s Teresa Giudice, believes that nothing compares to trying on the gown in a boutique setting, but online purchases can be successful if you are a savvy shopper. “With online [shopping], you have to have the patience and time to purchase a dress, try it on, return it if it’s not a fit, then start the search all over again,” Zunino says. “If you are not in that mindset, it can mean a lot of precious time is lost.”
Working virtually is something Zunino has been doing for years with his A-list clients, and he says the difference with this more hybrid process is that it's a consultative creation from the outset. Once the design is determined and measurements are taken, Zunino and his team work to create the dress, then ship the initial garment to the client. “We have several fittings over Zoom with a fitter on-site with the client, then have the dress shipped back to us for alterations so we can continue the design process until the dress is perfect.”
At David’s Bridal, McKeever says they have a similar approach to working with clients who are purchasing wedding dresses, bridesmaids' attire, and accessories online. “We have a robust virtual stylist program which we launched two weeks after the pandemic began in response to our temporary store closures,” she explains. “It proved so popular that we have continued to build on it and today have over 300 virtual stylists available daily to take appointments.”
According to McKeever, working with a virtual stylist is very similar to an in-person appointment. “Your stylist will walk you through your pre-appointment questionnaire to understand your vision and the details of your wedding,” she says. “From there, styles are pulled and during your virtual appointment, you can check out the materials up-close and ask all the questions. We also offer the ability to view gowns in 3D/AR online which allows you to view the gown details as if it’s right there in your home.”
What to Know Before Shopping for a Wedding Dress Online
If you are going the online route for wedding dress shopping, McKeever has a few insider tips to keep in mind. Understanding your true size tops the list; bridal sizing is not the same as ready-to-wear and David’s Bridal has a measuring guide online to help you with this. Another tool the brand offers is a silhouette guide that can shape your perfect wedding style story. Most importantly, McKeever recommends staying open to anything when you’re shopping. “Remember that everything can be customized to fit you and your exact vision so you feel amazing in your wedding dress for your big day.”
The Best Online Wedding Retailers to Shop Now
This e-tail (an abbreviation for an electronic retailer) exclusive brand is focused on fashion-forward styles for brides and bridal parties at an incredible price point. Their dynamic collection of styles is available in an inclusive size range from 0-30 and they have a wedding dress to suit every style of wedding, from black-tie formal to a beachy destination celebration. Azazie's bridesmaid collections are especially on point, and they recently partnered with designer Pnina Tornai for a beautiful bridesmaid dress collab.
Consider this now-iconic brand your go-to place for whimsical, artful, and unique wedding looks for brides, bridesmaids, MOBs, and other attendants. BHLDN offers virtual styling services to help guide shoppers through the process, making it an easy and seamless transaction. The collection of fashion-forward wedding accessories is second-to-none and you’ll find everything from shoes to jewelry and every length and style of veils in stock here.
Offers a complete range of wedding wear and accessories for everyone: brides, bridesmaids, flower girls, mothers, and more. The brand provides all the tools you need to shop smart online, and you can even pick up gift items and décor staples while you’re here. We especially love their affordable collections from luxury designers including Melissa Sweet and Oleg Cassini.
If you are looking for unique wedding attire, this is the place to find it. Etsy’s community of global vendors has all the style angles covered for you and your entire wedding party. It’s also a great place to shop for specialty items for multicultural celebrations. The only problem you’ll have shopping on this online platform is being spoiled for choice.
This menswear retailer looks after all the style needs of grooms and groomsmen, from suiting to accessories like suspenders, bowties, socks, pocket squares, and cufflinks. All suiting is made-to-measure, a feature we especially love. The brand also offers an incredible range of modern silhouettes, fabrics, and colorways.
This brand is beloved for its fashion-forward, sustainable styles that include everything from bridal wear to bridesmaids' dresses, wedding guest attire, and accessories. With sustainability being a cornerstone of Reformation’s philosophy, you can feel you are making a difference with your wedding day purchases. (Fun fact: Multiple dresses from the brand were recently worn by Jennifer Lopez for her chic Parisian mini-moon.)