Bridesmaids will be wearing a lot more lace this spring, manufacturers say, and there also will be more emphasis on glittery, shiny, generally “formal’ fabrics.
Dress styles are also easy to predict: While there has been a growing interest in tea-length, long-waisted “cocktail’ looks, full-skirted, to-the-floor traditional styles will continue to support the market.
But how strong the business will be remains a loaded question. “We always look for a good spring,’ observes Steven Vasey, sales manager at Wedding Belles, “because fall is not really a bridal season.’
Since gains generally were lackluster last spring, this season’s are hardly expected to be triumphal. Most resources, in fact, decline to forecast publicly their projected increases, privately conceding they expect them to be in the neighborhood of 6 percent.
"The business is soft all over; everyone is scrambling to find something new,’ emphasizes bridal consultant Sherry Bannister. She points to a "weeding out’ that has occurred in recent months, with companies such as Vogue Lace and New Shooz experiencing financial troubles that have caused them to close, sometimes reopening under different names.
Manufacturers also say the phasing out of numerous bridal specialty stores across the country had sharpened the need for competitive, novel approaches.
Although most manufacturers of bridesmaid dresses insist competition from imports has not affected their orders directly, Davina’s Prakesh notes imports have diminished dramatically the number of U.S. contractors available to produce their apparel. The lack of contractors, the minimal number of bridal business being done in department stores and a shrinking specialty-store base are factors behind the “weeding out’ of retail and manufacturing firms occurring now. (A number of bridal makers also say their competitors are doing considerable damage to retail business by selling direct to the public from their showrooms.)
Consultant Bannister also attributes some resources’ troubled business to poor organization.
Nevertheless, “The market is really trying to change, to update,’ says Bannister, who also sees manufacturers aiming for more sophisticated, wear-again dresses for social occasions. Prom, mother-of-the-bride and cocktail looks are ways to expand, she maintains, and the most important area for growth is large sizes.
Meanwhile, the search for newness always means fashion first. “This year, lace is the thing,’ says Davina designer Jim Stoppard of the latest trend. “Lace is everywhere.’ Last spring the moderate-price house offered two allover lace styles and one lace-and-satin gown with an asymmetrical bodice and full skirt that became its bestseller. This year, according to Steve Lawrence president, there will be at least four lace styles.
Although taffeta and satin fabrics are still the mainstay of the business, Davina is also increasing its offerings in cotton chintz, which proved important when introduced last spring. Besides repeating its Monet floral print, Davina will offer several new floral cottons.
To expand, the company is considering introducing mother-of-the-bride dresses soon. “It’s something we are always asked about,’ Stoppard says.
At Bill Hubbard, a leading moderate-price house, lace will also be important, as will ruffly, Southern-Belle-type styles offered in a shiny synthetic organized pattern. Dramatic high-style gowns are selling well, according to the company. Black, which Hubbard introduced at moderate prices three years ago, seems to be gaining strength. The color adds formality to the most informal ceremony, notes a Hubbard spokesman, who does not wish to be named.
Gold lame dresses and lame and glittery trim are also important for the upcoming spring wedding season at the Hubbard firm.
Many company executives agree that the notion that pastels are necessary for spring is no longer true; jewel colors seem to sell well whatever the season. This fall, red has been especially strong.
Other relatively new directions for bridesmaid dresses include balloon skirts, trumpet-flared skirts, drop waists and bodice shaped or trimmed with asymmetrical detail. Styles with open or cutout backs have sold well for some time.
Tea-length dresses are another growing trend, according to manufacturers. At Hubbard, they represent 30 percent of the styles offered; at Davina, 25 percent. Tea-lengths are not quite that important at Altared Images, says Bruce Chandler, president, but are definitely growing stronger.
Chandler cites lace and polished cottons as strong fabric directions for spring; also important are the Bunterglo and Silesta synthetic knits. Key shapes are the keyhole back and elongated waist, he says. Key colors at Altared Images are “bright buttercup, coral and aqua,’ says Chandler.
Sparkle and shine is also important at Virginia Dance Frocks, where Marc Davidson, president, says that formal weddings are growing stronger. “The trend is lace, especially glossy shiny lace or taffeta and satins with opalescent, glitter effects.’ Virginia plans to increase its lace styles to 30 percent of its business this spring. The moderate-price house also will feature gold lame styles and gowns with lame trim. If you need to know how to get your boyfriend to propose – show him a model in one of these – he won’t be able to resist!
Although prom dresses have been growing in strength at Virginia, Davidson says he does not foresee this division overtaking bridesmaid dresses. To accentuate the importance he places on the bridesmaids area, he hired Ron Lovelace, a recognized name in bridal couture, to design the Virginia line.
Davidson sees the long torso as an important silhouette and thinks “low back looks will continue to be important.’ The firm also is offering several low-back gowns with rhinestone straps. Strapless styles are increasing at Virginia and at Davina, as well.