The new normal of isolation, distancing, uncertainty, and inconvenience that the COVID-19 pandemic has ushered into our daily lives and plans for the future have couples around the world reconsidering how to plan, postpone, and think about their upcoming nuptials. As brides reschedule their weddings for the end of summer, fall/winter, and even into 2021, navigating bridal gown shopping and fittings is yet another challenge they’re facing. In-store appointments, hands-on fittings, and seeking the craftsmanship of the world’s top tailors hard at work side by side at ateliers are all things that require in-person, up-close, and not-so-distanced levels of expertise.

Navigating these challenges, both emotional and logistical, only adds to the stress and anxiety brides-to-be are feeling when planning for one of life’s most celebratory (and fashion-forward) milestones. For those yet to experience it, the bridal shopping process differs from that of the other items in your closet. Most bridal gowns are made to order, meaning that they are produced only once a purchase is confirmed and a deposit is made. These pieces are sold by appointment, in dedicated salons or through designers’ flagship boutiques, and the shopping process can take six months—or even longer for certain customizations or the more indecisive of shoppers. There are mistakes that can be made in the bridal shopping, fitting, and styling process, even without the newfound, unprecedented hurdles this global pandemic poses, but, thankfully, they won’t happen to you.

The time we’re now spending at home affords us the space to strategically plan ahead, whether you’re looking to fit a gown you’ve already purchased, postpone a fitting (or an order) to a later delivery date, adjust your wedding looks to suit a newly postponed date, or shop for your wedding gown—be it for a late-2020 or 2021 event. Here, your expert guide to bridal in the time during and after COVID-19 isolation, based on our years of experience and the expertise of designers, salon owners, and stylists we have on speed dial.

If You’re Getting Married in 2020 but Don’t Have a Wedding Dress, Now Is the Time to Get Decisive

The pandemic’s resulting isolation hit just as the window for brides shopping for September and October 2020 events was beginning to close. Typically, experts suggest you begin shopping around eight months prior to your wedding date, with the plan to place an order for your gown no later than six months in advance. Naturally, that timeline is as flexible as stores and designers allow, and there are always exceptions to every rule. Some dresses can skirt rush fees if they’re ordered in less than six months, while there are some designers overseas who require more time to meet the production deadlines of brides based in the United States. Custom gowns and haute couture pieces require more time, given the number of choices and decisions to be made, and the multiple trips to a designer’s atelier needed for those selections and fittings.

With all that in mind, the health crisis has thrown a wrench into the industry’s standard processes. Appointments have been put on hold, as has the production of gowns nationwide. Stores across the country are problem-solving when and how they can reopen in a time when social distancing is advised, and designers have begun forming plans of action for the next couple of months and the (still uncertain) year ahead.

“We are hopeful we will be able to reopen our stores by May,” Alex Bolen, CEO of Oscar de la Renta, tells BAZAAR Bride. “Our bridal associates are currently working with clients by sending pictures and conducting FaceTime appointments to assist with the measuring process. We will continue to fine-tune our approach regarding appointments and fittings to ensure the health and safety of our team and clients.”

Given that stores plan to reopen as soon as possible, now is the time to do your research and get decisive—this newfound confinement proving more useful than it seems for those still undecided on a gown. Use the personal space, opportunity to reflect, and honesty with yourself to decide what you’re really looking for in a wedding gown. Ask yourself whose opinions truly matters in the process and whose opinion matters most (spoiler alert: It’s yours). Editing down your entourage is a forever tip when it comes to avoiding indecision in the wedding shopping process, but in the age of social distancing, it’s a safety precaution as well.

Think of a time when you dressed up and felt your absolute best, dissect why, and apply those notes to this monumental shopping process. Be open to the idea that what you love in bridal might be a departure from your style norms; be open to the idea that your decision of what to wear down the aisle could be totally predictable. Stop playing devil’s advocate. Stop asking everyone you know, just met, or are soon to be related to for an opinion. Trust your gut.

That self-assurance is going to serve you well once brands reopen their ateliers and stores welcome customers through their doors once again. But given our new reality and priorities, expect the shopping process to shift slightly. Though it might seem like it makes more sense to stick to American labels, given that it could be more of a challenge (although not impossible) to receive pieces from overseas, brands and stores will require the global market to reopen in order to service the U.S. bridal client base. “Creating and crafting a gown is really a global process—it’s almost impossible to source all aspects of a dress in the United States,” explains Mark Ingram, founder of Mark Ingram Atelier. “Almost all the silks and laces come out of Europe, and things like zippers and the rayons and tulles used for petticoats come out of Asia. We’ve outsourced everything major in the production for garments from abroad since World War II, and we’re dependent on our international neighbors for each and every style we sell in some form or fashion. We’ll need to embrace the fact that we’re a global community when we begin shopping again.”

While many of the industry’s icons and tastemakers are based here, it seems that supporting the bridal and bespoke business globally—and not settling—is something worth remembering as well. Many international brands have flagships based in the United States, and most are prioritizing the U.S. market in their plans for how to move forward, reopen business, and cater to their clienteles.

Choosing a simpler gown may also be the solution, says Ingram. “There has been a boom on our end—even before the pandemic outbreak—of simpler gowns that are high style. Dresses that focus on dramatic details, draping, structure, interesting necklines and silhouettes, but that are less focused on beading, lace, and embroideries.” Ingram suggests that those gowns could be worth considering for a quick turnaround, given that most of the embroideries and laces needed for more elaborate styles are sourced from abroad. He also stresses that simpler looks aren’t necessarily that “simple.” “Not everybody has the design talent to pull off simplicity,” he says. “It’s a talent in and of itself to create a perfectly tailored, chic, minimalistic gown.”

One thing is for sure: Decisive women are going to win the day when it comes to wedding dress shopping in the months ahead. Gone are the days of trying on 80-plus wedding dresses before you land the one, as is visiting and revisiting your top choices again and again—only to go home and marinate on your decision one last time. Do a proper gut check about what you’re looking for style-wise, what you like and don’t like, and which brands you’re after. “Becoming a bride is such a memorable life moment that it is important to select a dress that has [one] looking and feeling like your very best self. I think this sentiment holds true for now and the future,” says Laura Kim, co-creative director of Oscar de la Renta.

Virtual Is the New Normal … for Now

If you’ve already tried on dresses, have your measurements on hand, and are ready to take the plunge, ask your consultant or the designer whether your timeline is feasible for them to accommodate before you rule anything out. Keep in mind that time and labor, not money, might be the reason for any delays. However, budgeting more for the increase in shipping costs could give you more options when it comes to working with brands based in Europe, the United Kingdom, Australia, Israel, those that rely on embroideries produced in India, and beyond.

As for American houses, many labels and shops are adapting to social distancing with virtual fittings. It girl labels like CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund runner-up Danielle Frankel, Galvan, and Lein are catering to brides with at-home, virtual try-on sessions. Los Angeles–based boutiques Happy Isles and LOHO Bride are doing the same, allowing brides the chance to shop in the privacy of their own homes, with experts guiding them through Zoom. Per Bolen’s statement, Oscar de la Renta is also working with brides virtually, as are other industry icons like Monique Lhuillier, via the brand’s flagship boutique staff.

The logistics for these fittings are certainly a departure for many, but they’ve become a social-distanced solution for brands looking to reach their clienteles. “What we do is far beyond selling clothes,” Frankel, the creative director and CEO of her namesake label, explains. “We create relationships with these brides. It’s not about selling someone a dress and never seeing them again. As a brand and business owner, the hardest part is to be forgiving—but you have to do it both as a designer and as a human being. When you’re hearing that all your clients are going through a hard time, postponing, and rescheduling, it turns us into much more than a brand—we’re a support system. Right now, it’s about staying afloat and being a place for brides to go to.”

What we do is far beyond selling clothes…When you’re hearing that all your clients are going through a hard time, postponing, and rescheduling, it turns us into much more than a brand—we’re a support system. Right now, it’s about staying afloat and being a place for brides to go to.
–Danielle Frankel–

As for how that process works, Frankel explains it’s a fairly straightforward method. “Any bride who emails the atelier can choose five gowns from the collection, and once the gowns are available, they’re shipped to the bride. Then, we schedule a FaceTime fitting with me personally,” she says. “The bride and I discuss every garment—how each one is supposed to fit, real styling. And the fiancés have been stepping in to help brides into their looks! It’s not how they thought the process would be, but everyone has been really positive about it. The bride is able to keep the gowns for one full day, and the return labels are included to make the process seamless.” At-home fittings with Frankel are dependent on shipping costs and range from approximately $150 to $500.

Here’s How Think About Your Fittings—and Focus on the Finishing Touches

For brides who were scheduled to wed between March and June 2020, it’s likely that your wedding has been postponed, and that’s okay. If you’ve already begun bridal fittings, it may be that those have also been put on pause, and that’s for the best. Fittings should take place and be completed as close to your wedding date as possible. And what’s intended to fit you now might need to be revisited in a few months or in a year from today.

“Fittings have been rescheduled for the immediate term, and once we reopen, we will be offering rushed alterations services to brides. We are also considering in-home alteration appointments,” says Bolen.

Frankel plans to operate in the same way. “All our clients that have already purchased gowns with us are waiting until we’re back at the studio for fittings,” she says. Given that each brand will operate in the way that best suits their capabilities, it’s a good idea to touch base with your salon, store, designer, or stylist to come up with a fitting schedule that suits your new wedding date.

Unless your dress was picked up prior to the pandemic outbreak, odds are your gown is being safely stored at your boutique of purchase. Ask your store contact whether it’s possible to store your gown until you’re ready for fittings to rid you of the responsibility of safe-keeping it. Should you need to receive your gown for any reason or already have it at home, keep it in the exact packaging in which it was received. A gown’s packaging should only be opened at the time of your fitting where you plan to fit it. Opening the box or garment bag your gown was delivered in relieves the store of the responsibility of anything that may happen to it while it’s in your possession. Your best bet is to keep it sealed. Resist the urge to try it on or sneak a peek.

There is also the added stylistic worry that a gown will become stale between your original wedding date and the new date you’ve chosen. Given that you’ve chosen this look with longevity and withstanding the test of time in mind, that should fall lower on your list of concerns.

“As a bride-to-be myself, I understand that it’s stressful to consider changing your wedding gown that you’ve dreamed of wearing—but it’s likely that you considered your location, venue, the time of year, and your decor when you chose it. Before you get worked up, are all the factors of your wedding still the same? If any of those things are changing, it may be worth considering a new look,” advises celebrity stylist Micaela Erlanger, who recently added bridal styling services to her impressive roster, which includes the likes of Lupita Nyong’o, Shailene Woodley, and Common. “A lot of things—but not everything—can be tweaked in alterations. You can add sleeves, or perhaps build up the bodice for more coverage—or you can remove the coverage and make something open back for a wedding that’s moving to a warmer destination or time of year.”

Should those tweaks not be feasible, selling any of your looks or your gown (on sites like Nearly Newlywed), donating them to a worthwhile cause (Erlanger recommends Glam4Good, The Bridal Garden, and Brides Across America), restyling your look, or adding another look to the mix (choosing to either wear your original gown for the reception or only for the ceremony) are all potential options. “It could be about adding a cape, shortening the gown, adding a sexy slit, or opting for a more dramatic veil to create a wedding wardrobe that best suits your new setting,” Erlanger adds.

The How to Accessorize: A Perfect Finish to Every Outfit author also stresses the importance of extras. “Changing your accessories can make your dress more seasonally appropriate—from changing the color palette of your bouquet, taking your hair down from an updo, and wearing a cape instead of a veil—or maybe it’s about adding opera-length gloves for a newly minted winter wedding. Your accessories really allow you to transform your look, if the styling is done artfully.”

For those feeling too overwhelmed to problem-solve or who are simply looking to streamline and crisis-manage, consider hiring a bridal stylist. An expert in the field who has relationships with brands worldwide and a knowledge of all that exists in the market can guide you through the process of mapping out multiple and additional looks, as well as handling the fittings you had on the books, those you need to reschedule, or those you have yet to schedule. Their expert advice can also be tapped for fittings, alterations, and ideas on how to restyle your look to make it feel fresh—be it a change in hair or makeup, new accessories, or adding a layering piece.

Now Is The Time To Shop For Your Rehearsal Dinner, After-Party, Brunch, And More

Looks for your rehearsal dinner, after-party, and beyond can tap the by-appointment, made-to-order shopping process of bridal, but it’s not always necessary. There are plenty of ready-to-wear options out there to suit these events, and just because stores have shuttered for the coming weeks or months does not mean shopping on the whole is canceled. In fact, some of our favorite e-shops have navigated working during the pandemic and are giving the fashion obsessed the opportunity to shop as they social distance.

“Farfetch has a program in place to give a push to small, local boutiques that are especially suffering economically at this time,” says Kerry Pieri, the Fashion & Features Director of BAZAAR.com. “Net-a-Porter shut down for a breather to assess the best way forward, and have now reopened their e-doors. Places like Moda Operandi, MatchesFashion, and MyTheresa have continued business to the best of their ability throughout the pandemic to support brands. There’s no perfect way to navigate these waters, but e-comm sites are doing their best to service customers and keep the fashion business, in, well, business.”

There’s no perfect way to navigate these waters, but e-comm sites are doing their best to service customers and keep the fashion business, in, well, business.”
—Kerry Pieri—

Now is the time to shop for all the things you’d normally do closer to the day of. Plan the rehearsal dinner look by considering your ceremony ensemble and not repeating yourself. Your wedding weekend is about tapping into different sides of your bridal personality. If your ceremony style is more classic and traditional, perhaps the night before is your chance to wear a perfectly tailored suit, a sexy slip, or a fully embroidered midi or mini dress. Depending on who’s hosting the rehearsal dinner—your in-laws, family friends, parents—keep the energy of the event in mind as you shop and style yourself for it.

The same strategy applies to your after-party—except this time, there are no rules. Have fun, throw caution to the wind, and choose a look that makes it clear it’s time to party. Trust us: There isn’t a guest, family member, or dear friend who won’t want to dance all night when COVID-19 isolation is a not-so-distant memory. Dress for the party we’re all craving—be it in all-over embellishments, a super-short hemline, a sheer skirt, or the bustier-and-trousers fit you never knew you wanted but just had to have.

Calling All 2021 Brides: New Collections Also Have a New Normal

The strategy for all 2021 brides appears to be hurry up … and wait. It’s fair to want to use your time at home to plan, strategize, and get ahead of a standard timeline, but that’s where all your online research, work with a planner, consults with a stylist, and exchanges with your other creative partners will come in. With that in mind, you have the luxury of time right now. Brands are most focused on getting current orders out to 2020 brides waiting in the wings for their gowns and fittings, and are currently in holding patterns when it comes to producing their latest collections for spring 2021, which were slated to release in mid-April. New collections will certainly be delayed from late-May to mid-June at the earliest, should the world be able to return to work slowly but surely in the coming months. And when they do, expect a slow trickle of new options as brands recoup and reorganize, bring employees back to the office, and navigate how to produce, photograph, and promote their latest pieces in the mid- to post-pandemic climate.

“If everything is open by June, and we hope it will be, brides will see the collections right away in whatever way they are comfortable—in trunk shows, virtually, and via the images of the new collection we’ll release for brides to be inspired by,” says Lhuillier. “The new collection will celebrate romance in a breathtaking, new way. I’ve used this time at home to reflect and dive even more into what brides are looking for, where the industry is moving, and how we can be a part of that.”

“The government is telling us April 30, and we can go back to work slowly,” says Ingram. “But it’s hard to socially distance from brides. I think we’re going to go back to a slower, more specialized, one-on-one experience with longer appointments and larger fitting rooms. That feels like (as of now) it will be later in May and into June. As for getting back to normal, I’m not seeing that being feasible into later in the summertime.”

As for stocking the 2021 collections in stores, Ingram explains that this downtime will certainly affect his cycle. “Our buys from October last year have not been received yet, and the constant flood of new, new, new collections over the past few years has created a dynamic where gowns don’t have enough time to be appreciated and sit in the stores. Our source of revenue—selling dresses—hasn’t been happening the past few months, and it’s what we use to purchase new pieces. We’re, of course, going to invest and support the new collections, but it will be a more edited buy based on the trunk show cycle, which will be pushed back to later dates,” he says. Ingram explains that every store is going to have a list of priorities to address before they’re ready to purchase the upcoming collections. “You need to get your people in first. Then, the dresses that are on order before the pandemic are on the docket next; we’ll need to recoup before we move forward.”

I’ve used this time at home to reflect and dive even more into what brides are looking for, where the industry is moving, and how we can be a part of that.”
—Monique Lhuillier—

Industry icon Vera Wang has made the decision to skip April, the brand tells BAZAAR Bride, focusing its attention on the October 2020 market. October would typically be the time for brands to showcase the fall 2021 collection, but considering the brand will forgo the spring 2021 season, expect that offering to be a wider array of options for next year’s slew of brides.

As for Oscar de la Renta, the brand is hopeful that it will have new pieces to show in the coming months. “Optimistically, we are most likely looking at a date closer to the middle or end of May,” Bolen says. “Much of the production is dependent on international vendors, and as regional timelines are shifting, it is difficult to target an exact date.”

Regarding size, many are speculating that collections will be smaller and more edited as a result of COVID-19, but it seems as though brands plan to stay on track, simply pushing the release dates of their planned collections. “We had originally planned for 10 looks, and ultimately, I think that’s what we will show. A lot of the design work had been completed before the team went into quarantine,” confirms Kim.

The brides of 2021 are, therefore, left with the time to research all that currently exists in the market and can hold out for the new styles that brands hope to release by summertime. What was once known as wedding season (the months of June through September being the ideal time to wed) will this year be more of a shopping season, with the 2020’s first weddings taking place at the end of August and into September–November.

As for what brides can expect aesthetically with the spring 2021 collections, “I wanted a collection that was not only regal, but playful, bold, bright, and joyful,” says Lhuillier. “The recent isolation, sadness, and period of reflection we’re in now means that more than ever, people are going to want to celebrate life and love with the most important people in their lives. We’re going to be focused on the things that matter, and celebrating in a meaningful, personal way. For this season, I always wanted something interesting, something I hadn’t seen before. I can’t want to get back to work, finish it, and move forward.”