ONCE upon a time, it was every girl's dream to walk down the aisle in a Vera Wang gown with tiers of tulle and a floor-sweeping train. But for most brides paying astronomical prices for their first homes or facing the repercussions of a slowing economy, saying "yes" to that princess dress happens only in fairy tales. Thankfully, one doesn't have to settle for a chintzy bridal studio rental on the big day. Instead, there are plenty of chic wedding day alternatives that don't break the bank.
In fact, even Monique Lhuillier-wearing snobs would have a hard time identifying a long ball gown with a deep neckline and a trompe l'oeil marble draping print as a design by Swedish fast fashion chain H&M. The brand recently launched several wedding-appropriate dresses as part of its 2016 Conscious Exclusive collection of clothes made from sustainable materials and ornate embellishments. Priced at just S$399, the aforementioned gown is made from a blend of organic linen and mulberry silk, featuring pure cotton floral embroidery. It is available at H&M's Orchard Building flagship store.
"Our Conscious Exclusive collections are a way to show that we can be sustainable and yet fashionable at the same time," says Abby Wee, H&M Singapore's public relations manager. "Bridal wear is a natural step for us as our Conscious Exclusive collection has always been about occasion wear and, in addition to coming up with new and interesting sustainable materials to showcase this year, the design team wanted to include a few wedding dresses that are not only fashionable, but affordable and sustainable too."
Even luxury e-tailer Net-a-Porter has been offering more budget-conscious wedding dresses alongside high fashion options such as a US$18,552 lace-appliqued embroidered tulle gown by Dolce & Gabbana. It has teamed up with contemporary British brand Needle & Thread, known for its vintage-inspired embroidered dresses, on shockingly affordable wedding wear - ranging from traditional white dresses to separates that can be mixed and matched with one's everyday wardrobe. Prices for the timeless pieces start from just US$154 for a tulle maxi skirt, to US$1,318 for an embellished chiffon gown.
"Needle & Thread's bridal wear has been a huge hit since it launched in December last year; the label is known and loved for its romantic, feminine designs with embellished details which our customers love," says Holly Russell, senior buyer for Net-a-Porter.
"So when the opportunity arose for the bridal wear capsule, we knew it would be an instant hit."
Last month, British online fashion giant Asos launched its first bridal collection with multiple styles, selling out in under a month. With pieces such as a S$172 cap-sleeved gown by high street label Chic Chi London causing less damage than renting a gown from a bridal studio, who cares if the budget online buy is crafted from a "sheen-finish fabric" instead of silk organza?
It seems like today's bride-to-be is skipping the pilgrimage to multiple bridal boutiques and hauling on hundreds of dresses that weigh as much as her own body, choosing instead to click for a look befitting her special day. Even homegrown bridal wear designer Eelyn Tang has been stocking her Love, Yu label of ethereal dresses on major international sites such as Shopbop and the online store of US retailer Anthropologie's wedding brand BHLDN. Ms Tang has also launched her own online store www.weloveyu.com less than a year ago, but still offers made-to-measure services to local customers.
"I think the majority of brides still prefer to try on gowns at a physical store as it is an integral part of their wedding experience for them, but e-stores definitely appeal to those who don't have the energy to do that or can't find their dream gowns at their local bridal boutiques," reveals Ms Tang, who adds that about 30 per cent of sales come from online channels.
"Most online stores also allow for exchanges and/or returns and that helps to ease any qualms of purchasing something that doesn't fit as well."
Indeed, online occasion-wear-for-hire boutique Rent A Dress has also branched out into wedding dresses, introducing evening and even main event wedding dresses for a steal. A mermaid-style tulle gown by Marchesa Notte can be loaned for just S$145 - which is a perfect solution for those who could generally fit into off-the-rack threads without the need for alteration. Besides, one could even try the dress on for free.
And while there will always be a bride who would max out her credit limit on a dress she would wear just once in her life, most retailers notice a trend of women prioritising other splurges over the perfect gown.
"The Needle & Thread collection is designed to appeal to a cross-section of women, as every bride is looking for something different," says Ms Russell. "We saw a growing demand for affordable bridal wear from our customers, as not every bride is inclined to spend a large part of their budget on the dress."
As Ms Tang notes, brides come in all shapes, sizes and mind-sets, and the typical Love, Yu bride tends to be unconventional; one who would perhaps hold her wedding on a beach or a vineyard than a hotel ballroom. High street stores are also reaching out to the practical bride who might buy her wedding dress from the same boutique that stocks her favourite pair of jeans or sultry cocktail dress. Ted Baker is one such brand, debuting a bridal range earlier this year called Tie The Knot. With the brand perhaps being more upmarket than the youthful H&M, brides are more likely to swoon over the quality detailing of Ted Baker's embroidered lace Iyla dress than its price tag - £599 (S$1,157). The collection is currently unavailable in stores here, but can be shopped from www.tedbaker.com.
Furthermore, these affordable options tend to be more wearable than the typically poufy wedding gown that requires a village to stuff into a limo. More streamlined, lightweight and weather-appropriate, such designs might also boast greater mileage and can be worn to evening dos or chichi christenings long after the wedding.
"Besides, I see more women these days who aren't brand-conscious and prefer to support smaller independent designers such as ourselves. It's not always because they can't afford an expensive international designer gown," says Ms Tang.
"There are also many modern brides who would rather spend more of their wedding budget on a nice honeymoon experience than a gown they get to wear only once."