After two years of pandemic uncertainty, brides are ready to dress – and their teams are on standby.
“June is the busiest month I can remember,” says Julie Sabatino, owner of The Stylish Bride. “I have had my business for 20 years. I don’t remember anything like that.
Sabatino is recruiting staff for a big summer wedding season. After two years of postponed big events due to the pandemic, 2022 promises to be one of the busiest years in the wedding industry. As one of the most seasoned bridal stylists in the industry—her business predates social media as we know it today—Sabatino has weathered various economic crises: the stock market crash of 2008, the real estate and the pandemic.
“What I’ve seen over the last 20 years is that every time we come out of one of these things, people want to party, and they want bigger and better and more elaborate and more exciting,” she says. “And this time probably the most, because we’ve been locked up for so long.”
Distinct from red carpet or celebrity stylists, bridal styling is more on par with costume design; it’s part of the larger design picture, encompassing venue, geographic location, color schemes, and flowers. While many wedding vendors – caterers and photographers – are considered essential regardless of the event’s budget, bridal stylists are generally synonymous with luxury weddings and greater production value. Sabatino and Gabrielle Hurwitz are often ticked off at weddings alongside many of the industry’s top sellers, including photographers like Jose Villa, Corbin Gurkin and KT Merry, and planners like Mindy Weiss, Marcy Blum and Laurie Arons.
“At least at the luxury level, which most of my clients fall into, obviously they would hire a bridal stylist because they hire the best of the best in terms of planners and photographers, florists, their videographers — [fashion] is the other piece of the puzzle,” says Hurwitz, who launched her styling business in 2018.
Bridal stylists help couples chart a cohesive dress story for all wedding events, from the rehearsal dinner to the ceremony and brunch the next day. Hurwitz noticed that the trend of planning entire wedding weekends continues to grow, and with the many events, multiple looks are required.
“Brides are using this post-pandemic world to really go all out with their fashion for their wedding and kind of make it its own moment,” says Hurwitz. “Most of my clients do full wardrobes for their weekend, and it’s full and an opportunity for them to really dress up and celebrate through fashion.”
“You want the dress to be an extension of yourself, and you want it to look effortless and not overdone,” says Cynthia Cook Smith, a former Vogue editor who turned to the bridal style in 2016. “It’s a lot of pressure to make all these decisions. And so you need someone you trust to guide you and help you stay on track and have fun.
Smith begins working with brides shortly after their engagement. “We usually arrange a phone call and discuss which dresses make sense in their wedding venue, the size of the wedding and its formality. And from there, we’ll decide which stores and designers to try.
She guides brides to looks that stand out while remaining timeless; most of her clients spend between $8,000 and $20,000 on their formal dress. For clients interested in the custom route, she can advise them on options, including smaller customizations with big impact – lengthening a train, changing a neckline or lining – and tapping into her knowledge of emerging designers in vogue for brides straying from traditional bridal mainstays like Carolina Herrera or Oscar de la Renta.
In addition to working with brides on outfit and accessory selection in the months leading up to their wedding, many stylists employ on-site teams to help brides dress and be available to resolve any issues that may arise.
“We’re there prepping, steaming, arranging things – sometimes we had to sew dresses, zippers, stains on things,” says Dara Adams of Veil by Dara Adams. “We’re here for all those emergency moments, and it doesn’t have to be a total buzzkill because you have someone there who can quickly step in and fix the situation so the day can go on. .”
Former Vogue editor and contributor Alexandra Macon co-founded Over the Moon in 2015, a forward-thinking digital wedding company that offers curated e-commerce – including Prabal Gurung’s first bridal collection and an exclusive capsule of Brock Collection non-bridal dresses – as well as editorial content. OTM also offers a styling service, employed by many of the brides featured in the “real weddings” featured on the site; their base option includes head-to-toe styling for four looks curated by OTM stylists. The team is also available via FaceTime or text to lend an editor’s eye or offer advice on customization. Macon notes that the digital footprint allows them to work with couples looking for different levels of support; they intend to expand their team soon, in response to renewed interest in the bridal style.
OTM also taps into their knowledge of upcoming collections and their editorial experience as a selling point, to ensure they steer customers towards choices that don’t feel too “seen” on social media.
Each stylist spoke of the impact of social media on their work, both in terms of how brides reflect on the post-wedding product – the highlighted photo and video reel – and the effect of unrestricted access to wedding pictures.
“I think [working with a bridal stylist] has become more popular as people see it more often on their Instagram feeds and posts,” says Hurwitz. “Social media has put a lot of pressure on people to nail their wedding fashion. And so being able to trust someone else makes them more comfortable with everything.
Sabatino started her business in the early 2000s in response to a lack of information outside of bridal magazines – today the problem is too much information. “[Brides] having such an overload of information and so many photos. What I do for them is cut out the noise and help them focus and focus on what they need to see,” she says. “And at the same time, understand the realities of the dress, because social media is great in so many ways, but presents an image that isn’t always applicable or accurate for the bride.”
Cook notes that his brides will sometimes see an image of their dress worn by another bride on social media and question their choice. “You think your wedding dress is unique to you and your moment,” she says. “It’s not a good feeling to find and buy one of the most important dresses of your life, just to see it on someone else’s body and at their wedding.” While that’s inevitable – small bridal collections paired with a few particularly popular wedding dress designers – Cook notes that sticking to the original dress, rather than finding a new one they don’t have. never seen before, is almost always the right choice.
Sometimes seeing the dress in the context of another wedding can be helpful.
“Brides can see any bride in the world, no matter where they are. And I think that opens their eyes to the possibilities, as magazines are more suited to the taste of the magazine and its target market. “says Adams, who, in addition to her styling business, is a fashion editor for Black Bride Magazine. “But now the inspiration is endless. You can follow hashtags and see brides from around the world and how they use style to create these experiences and events. Brides see that it takes a team to achieve a certain level of aesthetics. It takes multiple creative partners who work in different fields to create something that will give you that moment we see on Instagram.
Although the focus is on the dress, the bride and groom are also a big part of the picture, along with the bridesmaids. Adams notes that her packages include the entire wedding party to create a 360-degree style image.
“We don’t even just offer the bride, because we believe that in order for you to get the transformation and outcome you want, everyone has to look cohesive and well-styled; most definitely the groom,” Adams says.
“Of course, we know the dress, and everyone anticipates the dress, but a lot of work goes into the groom’s attire as well,” she continues, adding that many of the grooms she works with will go the custom route. “So we’re looking at determining the design, the fabric, where it’s going to be made — the fabrics come from Italy or India; Africa for some of my traditional weddings. It really is a complete couples experience.
The goals remain the same when styling same-sex couples, although the approach changes when pairing two dresses or even two costumes to share the limelight. “You want to coordinate but not match, and that can be hard to do, especially when you want to present cohesiveness. [aesthetic]but not the same,” Sabatino says — but those challenges are why couples turn to her expertise.
For Adams, who got his start in editorial style, working in the wedding industry reframed the seriousness and emotional power of clothing. “It gave the clothes meaning for me; what clothes might do in terms of people’s self-esteem or the importance of what we’re wearing for a certain event or something that’s going on in our lives,” she says.
And while most brides will only wear their wedding dress once, it’s likely to be the most photographed outfit they’ll ever wear.
“At the end of the day, the flowers will die. A cake is going to be cut and eaten,” Hurwitz says. “But the photos of you and your partner are what you keep.
“Besides the memories, these are the tangible things you keep from a marriage,” she adds. “You only wear physically [the dress] for 12 hours, but it will have a legacy of its own.