Can you tell the three high street bargains from the designer dresses? Scroll down to take the quiz
My mother has always maintained I’m not the marrying type. According to her, I’m too “free spirited” and “bohemian” to tie the knot. Knowing my mother, she means I’m just too klutzy and chaotic to organise my own nuptials. Her side of the family is from Chios, so she’s well acquainted with big, fat Greek celebrations, which I’m certainly not cut out for.
I am in a relationship with a lovely man, but at 47, I see marriage as a bonus, not a deal breaker. I’m happily unfussed, and I’m not the only one: data from the UK 2021 census shows that nearly six in 10 UK adults aged between 30-34 have never married or been in a civil partnership, which suggests that people are putting off marriage until later in life.
If you’ve been watching ITV’s dating show My Mum, Your Dad, you’ll have noticed how keen most of the participants – all in their 40s and 50s – are to get hitched, some for the second time.
In this age bracket, you may arguably have more disposable income than you did in your 30s; equally, with more family responsibilities, the opposite may be true. In my case, I have two expensive teenage children to bankroll, so my priority is them, not a splashy wedding party.
The thing is, I do love wedding dresses. But, since I’ve never been part of the club, I’ve never even tried one on. All I know is that I’d like to look glamorous and not waste time with fittings for something bespoke. And if it could be affordable, even better.
So where do you start when you are a complete novice? Could it be at the supermarket? My mother would have a Mediterranean meltdown if she knew (“It’s shopping for happiness not halloumi!”) but it is a very real option. Sainsbury’s has just released a TU bridal collection including a simple white satin slip dress, currently on sale for £40.
According to Emma Benjafield, director of product at Tu Clothing, the aim of this capsule collection “was to create effortless, classic pieces that could be worn during the event itself, but also beyond wedding celebrations.”
I love what this slip dress stands for: it’s not just a bargain, it’s a normaliser. According to recent surveys, the average UK wedding costs around £18,000, so a pretty slip dress has the power to put the focus back on the act of love and union, away from the idea of the “ultimate frock” and the wedding event as “spectacle” which can be an eye-watering spend.
The problem is, I don’t think it is simple enough. It didn’t fit me particularly well, but quite apart from this, the seams puckered and the lining was uneven, even off the peg. Had they kept to a more lingerie-like silhouette, without its awkwardly engineered bias cut, the dress would have been easier to dress up.
You don’t expect couture for 40 quid but stripping out the silly half lining and forgoing the split would work wonders for this model. Adding a pair of jewelled heels and pretty hair clips also really helped to elevate this into a more special look than the price tag suggests.
London-based brand The Own Studio has a luxury slip that’s totally glamorous and slinky. It does everything a bargain supermarket dress obviously can’t do, swishing and swaying in all the right places. It is, however, £2,650 more expensive. That said, the label does offers elegantly tailored separates starting at £550, including sleek ivory crepe trousers and gauzy tops, which are perfect for civil ceremonies.
“In our experience, women in their late 30s and 40s who choose to marry later are looking for what we call ‘relaxed glamour’, something they feel comfortable in, but that still looks and feels very special,” says Jess Kaye, co-founder of The Own Studio. “They do favour styles and fabrics that they can re-style or dye after the wedding. This is a big part of what we do, as ‘re-wearability’ is so important to all our customers.”
New York-based bridal stylist Anny Choi, a former fashion editor at Vogue believes that “brides who are 40 plus know exactly what they want, what looks good on them and how they want to feel on their big day. They are more certain with themselves and don’t let things like Instagram, seasonal trends, or what their friends or certain celebrities are wearing sway them.”
If ever there was a celebrity look to sway me, it would be Bianca Jagger’s iconic YSL white suit, which she wore to wed Mick Jagger in 1971. The affordable option here is Whistles’ £528 white Andie wedding suit (a price tag that shows just how truly cheap the Sainsbury’s range is) which has the kind of fluid loucheness I love, easily zhuzhed up with accessories.
Did it feel as good on as the more expensive £1,320 Bella Freud cream version from Matches? Not quite. I preferred the little kick flare of her trousers and the slimline, feminine shape of the sleeves. That said, I’d possibly get more wear out of the Whistles version by virtue of it being more casual and relaxed – although I’d have to stick to a diet of Prosecco to keep it whiter than white. No hardship there.
On the subject of sleeves, Liane Wiggins, head of womenswear at MatchesFashion, has a few insights to share about the choices being made by their discerning bridal clients. “We continue to see demand for bridal options with sleeve coverage,” she says.
“Sometimes this is because women are feeling conscious about this area, and other times it is due to the time of year they are getting married. E Stott is not a traditional bridal brand but they have amazing detachable elements to their dresses which offer the best of both worlds.”
According to expert wedding stylist Julie Sabatino, who runs top consultancy The Stylish Bride, the 40-plus bride need not look to occasion-wear at all. “My motto is, ‘lean into chic, don’t lean into bride’,” she says. Her new book, Dressed, Styled, And Down the Aisle: Becoming a Stylish Bride includes a chapter on finding the perfect dress.
“One really good exercise is going into your own closet and observing what’s there, noting down necklines, fabrics, prints and embellishments,” she says. “You may see you have a shelf of V-neck sweaters, which suggests that a low, plunging neckline may be your thing. It’s all about finding the real you within those foundation styles.”
I have a thing for layered tulle, but regrettably, there’s nothing pouffy in my wardrobe to suggest this predilection. Monsoon’s hand-embroidered strapless gown is just the ticket then, and comes in at £750. I have to say this gown, complete with flower appliqués that shimmer in the light, made me tingle a bit inside. The dress felt comfortable and secure on top, with a generous cascade of soft tulle to satisfy my balletcore tendencies.
The luxury alternative, an intricately embroidered £3,325 gown by South African designer Kobus Dippenaar, borrowed from fashion rental outfit MyWardrobe HQ, had a similar effect: it felt purposeful and full of possibilities, like a true statement wedding dress should. If I had to choose between them, I’d be a Monsoon princess: I wasn’t so keen on the rental dress’s heavy beading which looked a little too Strictly for my liking.
“For our customers, we see a great interest in brands such as Zimmerman, Needle and Thread and The Vampire’s Wife,” says Georgina Lewarne, head of public relations at MyWardrobe HQ, adding that wedding-day rentals extend into accessories, from cute clutches and designer shades to blue-themed items as a clever way to incorporate the tradition of “something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue” into wedding attire.
“We’re seeing so many brides strip back to basics, opting for classic 1990s minimalist dresses and finely tailored suits,” she says, which makes me think I’m better off with a classic slip dress, should the special occasion ever arise.
So, Sainsbury’s take note: tweak that £40 satin frock and it may create the biggest bridal buzz of 2023.