16 Dec 2016
US Brides Still in Love with Lace, but Grooms Don't yet Measure Up
While varying preferences distinguish East Coast partners-to-be from West Coast wives-in-waiting, an abiding love of lace unites the nation, although many grooms still have to be subtly coerced into properly sorting their suit measurements.
Lace continues to be the dominant motif for American brides, with the detailing pretty much ubiquitous at this year's National Bridal Market Chicago. Christina Marulanda, President of New York's Dress Me Chic, a distributor for the Los Angeles Black Label Couture line, said: "Customers love lace and show every sign that they will continue to love lace.
"They also love to show their curves and their backs. If a dress is going to have a sweetheart neck, they want it to be deep. Brides want to show."
Another to note the enduring appeal of lace was Avonlea Roy, Marketing Manager for Salt Lake City-based Maggie Sottero. Highlighting a number of accompanying trends, she said: "Brides love illusion lace and they really love illusion lace backs.
"We are also starting to see some new trends in terms of simple stylisation, Mikado satins and maybe an illusion skirt. Two-piece is also a very big theme, as are bodysuits and detachable trains."
Although lace clearly won the day, that isn't to say that other styles and detailings were wholly marginalised. Australia's Christina Rossi brand, for instance, was clearly among those finding success with other looks. Thomas Smith, the company's US Representative, said: "For us, what's on trend right now is beading detail. For 2017 we have a lot more dresses with beading. We've already taken a lot of orders.
"Lace, though, is still a huge trend for us. We do some very nice lace construction. We've had several buyers walk up and say: 'We can tell your dresses are well made and we're interested in working with you'."
Overall, the consensus at the show was that American brides tend to be a little more conservative than their European counterparts. While US wives-to-be are open to creative wedding themes and venue decoration, they like to play it safe when it comes to the dress itself.
Acknowledging this, Christianne Brunelle, a Director of Modeca, a Dutch bridal wear brand, said: "While everybody wants to be stylish for their wedding, they still want to look like a bride. They don't want to make a big mistake, then have to look back and say: 'What was I thinking when I chose that big floral headband?'"
As with so many other aspects of the US fashion scene, there are also strong regional variations when it comes to the choice of bridal wear. Spelling out the implications of these geographical preferences, Maggie Sottero's Roy said: "A bride in Florida is going to want a very sexy Sofia Vergara style as a way of showing off her figure. In the case of a Midwest bride, she wants to have a very rustic barn-style wedding, so she's going to be looking for a very traditional lace gown.
"Then you have your couture brides in New York and your boho brides in Oregon… Overall, there's a variation in terms of brides' tastes and interests across the nation."
Natalie Lambert, Market Event Director for Alyce of Paris, also saw certain styles and details finding a better market in some parts of the US than in others, saying: "There are definitely market differentials, with certain things selling better in the southwest than in the north. People are more conservative in the north and they're not as interested in beaded dresses."
Seeing a similar spread of preferences, Marulanda said: "I think the East Coast is a bit more structured, with brides there being a little more conservative. The West Coast is more organic and home to a more free-spirited bride."
Liz Dyer, the Regional Sales Manager for two Canadian bridal brands – Callista and Chloe – again saw distinct preferences in evidence across the different US geographical markets. She said: "It's definitely regional. The West Coast is more sophisticated and, in particular, New York is more sophisticated.
"Every trade buyer that comes in wants something different, depending on where they are located. In the south, they enjoy ball gowns, so they appreciate the fuller, heavier lace. That's not so well received in Florida, though, where they like the light, flowing style of gown, which is far more suitable for beach weddings."
Both the Callista and Chloe lines are specifically designed for the fuller-figured bride. Given the country's increasingly well-proportioned population, this is one demographic that is clearly going to expand.
Dyer said: "We really need to cater to curvy brides, those sized 14 to 30. For us, the average size is not four or six, it's 14 or 16. In bridal terms, that translates to a little larger because wedding wear does run smaller."
Dyer was quick to reject any idea, though, that larger brides feel constrained in terms of the style of wedding gown they are willing to wear, saying: "While you might think that, larger ladies still want the same options. They really don't want to give up design for size or fit."
While most exhibitors acknowledged the difference in tastes across the country, Smith saw a need to fine-tune the product mix still further, saying: "You actually have to look at it on a store-by-store basis, as everyone has their own unique customer base. Some store managers will say: 'I can't sell anything with a low back', while others will maintain that they can't sell anything with illusion lace around the neck. You can ask them to try something new, but they're afraid it'll prove to be something they can't get rid of."
With the market quite so resistant to change, Smith believes it is down to brand owners and distributors to work hard in order to persuade retailers to experiment. He said: "Just as brides are pretty definite about what they want to wear, sales people can get pretty obsessed about what they think they can sell. It takes somebody with a new attitude to get in there and try to make a change.
"We can't strong-arm anybody into doing something they don't want to do, but there are ways that we can help bring about a change. We can, for instance, offer loaner dresses to stores, so they can try five or 10 different dresses. They pay for shipping and then they can have them in store for a couple of weeks to see just how they are received."
While bridal concerns were clearly the focus of the majority of exhibitors, grooms were not entirely forgotten. Indeed, one company had taken it upon itself to tackle the relative lack of enthusiasm for attending fittings and so forth shown by many husbands-to-be.
To this end, Chicago-based Xedo has introduced a new virtual fitting service in the wedding tuxedo rental market. Explaining the concept, Jill Abruzzo, an Account Director with the company, said: "Many men don't want to go into stores and sort out their outfits. They are the polar opposite of brides in that respect.
"Now, though, we have launched a system that allows grooms to provide their measurements without ever having to cross the threshold of a rental store. We have also done a huge amount cross-comparison, allowing us to flag up situations where someone has accidentally given us the wrong measurements.
"The system is really very simple. The groom just takes a pair of pants that he knows fits him well and lays them out on the kitchen table. Then he gets a tape measure and works out the length from the crotch to the bottom. That's the inseam and tells us the length of the pants he wants. A similar approach can then be taken with every other measurement.
"Once people get used to the process, it will become very easy and very commonplace. We provide guidelines on just what to do and we encourage people to call our customer service if they are having any problems."
Once the measurements are complete, the rental tuxedo is then delivered two weeks prior to the wedding, allowing time for a replacement to be made should any problems arise. Although this long lead-time requires Xedo to hold a high level of stock, the company still maintains it can compete on price, with Abruzzo saying: "While many high stores charge around US$245 for a rental, our average price is $175 – and that includes home delivery."
The 2016 National Bridal Market Chicago was held at the Merchandise Mart from 8-11 September.
James O'Donnell, Special Correspondent, Chicago