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In the spring of 2011, David’s Bridal seized on what would seem to many observers like a golden opportunity. Kate Middleton was marrying Prince William, and millions of people — ultimately more than 22 million in the US — were waiting to see what the bride, already a budding style icon, would wear.
Roughly 100 days after the April 29 wedding, David’s Bridal started selling a replica of Middleton’s gown, which was designed by Alexander McQueen creative director Sarah Burton. With its lace sleeves, plunging neckline, and full skirt, the version from David’s Bridal was a near-perfect likeness.
It didn’t sell.
“We have internal benchmarks we work with to understand traction of a dress. It fell below those,” says Lori Conley, senior vice president of product and design at David’s Bridal.
The problem was that women didn’t want to look like they were in a costume on their wedding day, Conley says. Women were inspired by elements of Middleton’s look, but they ultimately wanted to look like their own person.
When Meghan Markle and Prince Harry get married on Saturday, May 19, David’s Bridal won’t fly into production to recreate Markle’s outfit. Instead, Conley and her team will be looking out for specific design cues to incorporate into future collections.
Though relatively few brides wanted to look exactly like Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge’s dress proved to be enormously influential over time. Before the 2011 royal wedding, 75 percent of the wedding dresses David’s Bridal sold were strapless. Now about 65 percent of brides are choosing some kind of coverage, ranging from tank straps to full sleeves.
In addition to killing the strapless trend, the sparkling belt on Middleton’s less publicized second wedding dress sparked shoppers’ interest in sashes, Conley says.
“It’s still influencing bridal designers today, seven years later,” writes Roberta Correia, the deputy digital director of Brides magazine, in an email. “Long sleeves, V-necks, and lace have been seen all over the bridal runways since, even at the most recent Bridal Fashion Week.”
“H&M released a new dress as part of their wedding collection, which looked almost exactly like Kate’s,” Correia adds.
Not everyone in the bridal industry felt Middleton’s impact that strongly, however.
“We honestly didn’t see much influence from Kate’s dress as our readers aren’t so much into the super-traditional wedding gowns,” wrote Jen Campbell, editor and creative director of the website Green Wedding Shoes, in an email.
Growing consumer interest in Meghan Markle’s style indicates that her wedding dress will probably have a massive effect on the bridal market, but that isn’t likely to happen overnight. Trend adoption is slow in the wedding world — ridiculously sluggish compared to how trends work on Instagram and in fast fashion — because shoppers often want some degree of classicism in their outfits (largely to avoid looking outdated in their wedding photos). Trends move a bit faster for bridesmaids’ dresses, Conley says, which is why her team will also be watching Markle’s bridal party closely.
Consumers may not want to mimic Markle immediately, but some brands are offering them the opportunity to do so anyway.
The direct-to-consumer bridal brand Floravere, which launched last fall, says it will have styles inspired by Markle’s look designed in days and ready for purchase in a matter of weeks. With no wholesale buyers or seasonal collection schedules to get in the way, Floravere can start circulating images of its Markle dress (or dresses) as soon as they’re edited.
“As soon as she goes down the aisle, we can see what’s going to explode, whether it’s silhouette, fabric, or neckline,” says Floravere CEO Molly Kang.
Kang’s goal is to get on those trends early while keeping the design of the dress classic enough that it can live in Floravere’s collection for a long while. Floravere’s best-selling dresses tend to be minimalist — “it’s the girls who never wanted to be a princess,” Kang says — but the design team is adding more romantic styles in an effort to become a destination for a wider range of shoppers.
As for what Markle’s wedding dress will actually look like, Conley and Kang both expressed the hope that she’ll make a statement.
“Coverage is required because of the church,” says Conley. “But her having such a nontraditional background in all facets, I hope she takes more of a fashion risk while still abiding by those rules.”