During her 20 years in the bridal shop, Flora Petakas noticed that a significant segment of the clientele was underserved at best, ignored at worst.
“Once we were finishing the bride’s [dress] decision, the mother would come to me and ask — confidentially, away from the bride, to respectfully not take any time from her appointment — ‘Where can I go for myself?'” says the Union Square Couture founder. “I have never got the right answer.”
The wedding dress shopper’s trusted confidant, often the mother (we’ll get to semantics in a bit), can view restrained evening wear in department stores, visit stores in person, filter through a dizzying sea of choices online. More often than not, however, the offerings are less than inspiring.
“It’s really boring and it feels very dated. I’ve done that research,” he says Francesca Miranda‘s Daniela Jassir. The director of marketing for the Colombia-based luxury bridal and evening wear house points to another way the industry doesn’t cater to this demographic: “The experience is nothing special. And you’re the mother of the bride.”
Remember, this group of overlooked consumers — mainly Gen X women — is ready to spend. In 2018, a study by The Coca-Cola Company and Mass Mutual found that a group of American women aged 50 and over have over $15 trillion in spending power, with Forbes Referring to the cohort as “superconsumers… the healthiest, wealthiest and most active generation in history.” Yet the group is generally ignored by marketers in favor of the coveted millennials and Gen Z.
The stark white room, combined with Big wedding boom in 2022, created the perfect opportunity for Petakas. “There was this pent-up demand and there would be a flurry of weddings,” she says.
After two years of pandemic planning Vera Wang and Monique Lhuillier alum opened Flora on Madison in April. Sharing space (and synergistic customers) with bridal brand Anne Barge, the store is a destination not only for smart, on-trend black tie fashion, but also for a luxury, personalized shopping experience for the beloved advisors who are usually referred to. to as “mother of the bride”.
We should address the terminology that in 2022 feels limiting. That excludes aunts, close family friends and future in-laws; it sexes the engaged couple; and it narrows the marketing (and the sales opportunity).
“‘Mother of the bride’ is a term that will become less relevant as traditional norms continue to be redefined, not only regarding family and relationships, but also gender and identity,” writes Laura Yiannakou, senior strategist at WGSN Fashion, in an e-mail.
Agreeing that the term is “passé” and “outdated,” Petakas has trialled a broader nomenclature, such as “event hostess” while focusing on “evening wear” and “occasion wear” as category descriptors. The Knot uses gender-neutral “attendant of honor,” “best person” and “best attendant” in line with the rest of the industry, according to Shelley Brown, the publication’s senior fashion and beauty editor.
But of course, “a lot of people who would consider themselves ‘mother of the bride’ are very proud to say that the moment they walk through the door,” says Pantora brides designer (and last year’s “Making the Cut” winner) Andrea Pitter.
“Mother of the bride” looks set to remain the main term for the formal wear category, which is seeing a surge in interest and demand in line with this year’s expected 2.6 million weddings. As of June 2022, Google searches for “mother of the bride” and “dresses” hit an all-time high, up 20% since 2021; the phrase has also been searched four times more than “mother of the groom”, from 2004 to now.
Yet style choices are only now evolving (and slowly) to meet the tastes and preferences of the lucrative and discerning super-consumers who grew up on Vogue and MTV (and later obtaining style inspo from the internet and Instagram).
“They know a lot about fashion. They’ve done their research,” says Petakas. “Whereas 10 years ago I would say, [clients would say,] “Get dressed.” That is it does not what I have now.”
“Historically, ‘mom’ vibes were a story of champagne, blue and silver and often very traditional – and what I like to call ‘frumpy,'” says Pitter, citing the archetypal midi-length beaded column on the bodice, but covered up with a modest bolero. “Now they really operate from a place of ‘you only live once’ and are definitely sexier than ever.”
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Lately, mothers and guests of honor have been gravitating towards Pantora’s bridesmaid designs, which are full of draped, shimmery fabrics and body-celebrating elements like sweetheart necklines, high leg slits and peek-a-boo necklines. Petakas’ clientele is also looking for more “body conscious” silhouettes. The stigma surrounding what a particular guest from a previous generation “should” be wearing also evolves with society and the cohort itself.
“With body acceptance and age acceptance, they live their lives [best] herself,” says Pitter, whose own mother wore a fully beaded strapless Pantora Maids gown to a red carpet event. “Historically, people have wanted to follow tradition, but the beauty of tradition is that we have the opportunity to create our own – and Gen X and millennials are very serious about breaking rules. When you break the rules, you get to tell the story on your own.”
The relaxation of traditional etiquette and expectations of the couple, plus the collective pandemic-driven desire to celebrate the momentous occasion, may also encourage a less rigid dress code — or lack thereof.
“In the past, there was this idea that a ‘mother of the bride’ garment had to be very conservative, muted, understated — in some cases, a little creepy,” says Brown. “Now people are really free to express themselves and not feel like they have to fade into the background.”
Petakas says her clients are looking for some kind of self-expressive statement element — like texture and eye-catching embellishment — to convey their importance in the wedding party: “She wants to stand out. She doesn’t want to be another guest. at her event in a black dress.” Flora on Madison carries a range of high-end designer brands and aesthetics, from Greek goddess-meets-red-carpet glam from Athens-based Costarellos to opulent, sculptural ball gowns by Gemy Maalouf.
Galia Lahav, founder and designer of Galia Lahav, acknowledges that the “mother of the bride” clientele has “become more daring.” They’re currently interested in ethereally flowy dresses with “a twist,” like a statement sleeve, a longer dramatic train and, yes, high leg slits. (The Tel Aviv-based bridal and evening wear house known for dazzling embellishments, sultry silhouettes and close-fitting details.)
WGSN’s Yiannakou notes that the intent behind traditional offerings is also “out of touch” with the consumer behavior demographic. “They don’t want to shop for a single event, but instead are driven by quality and longevity – jewelry that can not only be worn again, but also interchangeable with existing jewelry in their wardrobes,” she says.
Francesca Miranda’s Jassir says her tailored Gen X clientele gravitates toward solid colors in plush silks and taffeta—and not just because it’s a style preference: “It’s a great piece that you can keep forever and you can style it differently [in the future].”
Since spring 2022, Amsale has continued to revitalize and exponentially grow its formalwear offerings, directly in response to requests from maids of honor — usually mothers — at the Madison Avenue flagship. “The wedding guests really struggled with where to buy these fashionable dresses,” says Chief Creative Officer Sarah Swann.
Until this year, the legacy design house founded by the late Ethiopian-American designer Amsale Aberra offered a small capsule of evening wear. Due to intense demand – especially for the big wedding season – Swann and head designer Michael Cho expanded the collection from 25 to 50 “statement” looks for Fall 2022. The updated offering allows guests of honor to express their individuality with “unique jacquards from Italy” and eye-catching hues, like bold fuchsias and “a really bright lime moire,” Swann enthuses.
Amsale’s marketing for autumn 2022 also speaks directly to the knowledgeable and fashion-hungry target group through a stylized lookbook. Glossy, dramatic lighting and editorial photography capture the movement of e.g. a halter midi dress with a watercolor-like pearl pattern or an off-the-shoulder, wide-leg jumpsuit in a rich emerald.
“‘Let’s shoot it in the most raised, beautiful way, so people say, ‘Wow. What is that? I want to see more,'” says Swann, recalling the creative process. “It also caters to a large group of people. Let’s just design exciting dresses that inspire people to want to come see them and try them on.”
As a high-profile example, Victoria Beckham made her own headlines in a slinky petticoat in gunmetal with shimmering French lace embroidery for son Brooklyn’s wedding, an update of one of her own collection pieces (which she also had on to Edward Enninfuls wedding). But these days, maids of honor don’t have to be a former Spice Girl or world-famous fashion designer to express their true selves (and celebrate the special occasion) through what they wear to a loved one’s wedding.