From the aisle to the altar: Vendors of T-shirts, shorts, bikinis and boots are now dressing brides

From the aisle to the altar: Vendors of T-shirts, shorts, bikinis and boots are now dressing brides

Wedding dress shopping may never be the same again.

Instead of getting your entire bridal party together to spend a few hours in a boutique trying on a few dresses for the perfect find at a hefty price tag of $1,000 or more, some retailers offer to make wedding dress hunting as easy as buying a T-shirt off the rack.

Taking cues from Millennials and Gen Zers who are turning stuffy traditions on their heads and marking life’s important moments — like weddings — in their own way, a string of affordable fashion brands have jumped into the wedding industry to satisfy thrifty shoppers with cheap wedding dresses.

Abercrombie, Forever 21, Boot Barn, Shein and Lulus, better known for their tank tops, shorts, ripped jeans, bikinis, cowboy boots and sparkly dresses tailored for Beyoncé and Taylor Swift concertgoers, are trying to get bridal wear at a price which is cheaper.

The movement is not a complete problem. For one, it allows these mass-market brands to get a piece of the more than $100 billion US wedding industry, according to The Knot Worldwide, a wedding planning and vendor marketplace.

“These companies see bridal as a natural extension of their business since they are already present in many of these product categories,” said Janine Stichter, managing director and analyst of retail and consumer lifestyle brands with global financial services and market research firm BTIG.

Also, many of their core customers are older GenZs and younger Millennials who are in an attractive age demographic for getting married and attending weddings, he said.

“The move into wedding dresses makes sense as long as it’s not a distraction from their core business,” says Stichter.

One stop shop for jeans and wedding dresses
Teen favorite label Abercrombie & Fitch — which has undergone a major metamorphosis by shedding its overtly sexualized marketing strategy of the past for more on-trend, age-appropriate, parent-approved clothing — continues its evolution, by going after brides.

The retailer in March launched the A&F Bridal Shop, a collection of more than 100 pieces for brides, bridal parties and wedding guests, all priced from $80 to $150.

In addition to dresses, the collection includes items such as bikinis, pajamas and skirts for other wedding-related events.

“Our customers live for the long weekend, and when we ask them about their upcoming exciting vacation, we hear so many of them talk about wedding weekends, side-by-side weddings, and the all-important question of what to wear. , which this collection is perfectly designed to answer,” Carey Collins Krug, chief marketing officer of Abercrombie & Fitch Co., said in a statement announcing the launch.
In April, fast fashion brand Forever 21 launched its first bridal collection, priced from $9 to about $50. The outfit includes dresses, sleepwear, accessories, such as a wedding-ready cowboy hat with a veil attached to it. A white strapless satin and lace midi dress from her bridal shop has a price tag of $24.29, while another altar-ready white split halter midi dress will set a bride back just $27. That’s a bargain compared to last year’s average wedding dress cost of $2,000.

California-based fashion chain Lulus also got involved by opening its first bridal boutique, with dresses ranging from $100 to $270, in Los Angeles in February.

“At Lulus, brides don’t have to compromise. Achieving that luxurious look without breaking their budget isn’t a dream, it’s a reality,” said Crystal Landsem, CEO of Lulus, in a statement in February.

The stand-alone bridal boutique builds on Lulus 2019’s entry into bridal wear and “allows the brand to offer its customers an online experience that puts its customers first for real-life brides,” the retailer said in a press release.

That’s a smart move, said Allyson Rees, senior insight strategist at trend forecasting and analytics firm WGSN, in an interview with CNN.

“For this bridal collection to reach Gen Z, it is important that the brand taps into the way Gen Z shops. Gen Z is always online, but 97% of US Gen Z still shop in stores,” said Rees. “Wedding dress,

in particular, and the tradition of trying it on, is a ritual that Gen Z still wants to take part in. So brands need to create engaging in-store experiences that encourage engagement.”

Less traditional
As the oldest GenZ reach marriageable age in their mid-20s, they are increasingly putting their own spin on marriage and letting go of some old traditions.

Part of this is also driven by younger consumers who don’t follow these rules who are forced to use a higher cost sensitivity than Millennials.

“The cost of living crisis has affected Gen Z, and they feel very insecure about their finances,” Rees said. “More than half live paycheck to paycheck and a third live with their peersparents. It is therefore no surprise that fast fashion, which has seen its market share increase in recent years due to the cost of living crisis, is tapping into the need for affordable and on-trend wedding fashion.”

At the same time, wedding fashion is now becoming less traditional, he said. With wedding dresses in particular, one trend that emerged during the pandemic was the popularity of black wedding dresses.

“Generation Z is very much picking up where the Millennials left off. So it’s not uncommon for brides to wear alternative colors to white, or to change outfits several times during the event. So this is an area where fast fashion brands can really fill the void, ” said Rees.

Shein, which launched in 2012 and has since grown into the world’s largest online-only fast fashion retailer, also sells bridal and wedding dresses. Wedding dresses cost on average between $50 and $100, up to a maximum of $200. Over Memorial Day weekend, the retailer will open a wedding-related pop-up shop in Las Vegas to showcase its new wedding gowns and bridesmaid dresses.

“Affordability is important for Gen Z customers, who often balance the desire for stylish and trendy style with the need for options that won’t break the bank,” said Lisa Zlotnick, a spokeswoman for Shein, in an interview with CNN. “As wedding dresses change from traditional, occasion-specific dresses to versatile and stylish dresses that can be worn on multiple occasions, we aim to ensure our offering meets this growing demand.”

Even Boot Barn, which sells cowboy boots and western wear, has gotten in on the wedding bandwagon for the first time, with a collection of western-themed bridal wear, cowboy boots, hats and accessories priced mostly at $400 and under.

“There has been a surge in country weddings and casual garden weddings coming out of the pandemic as people want to get married outside. It’s also a budget-friendly option,” said Isha Nicole, senior vice president of marketing with Boot Barn, in an interview.

“Couples are trying to move from something formal and rigid to a wedding that embraces a different atmosphere. We saw this trend and it seemed like the right time to support our customers,” said Nicole.

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