I always knew organising a wedding would be a mighty task. For that I was prepared, but for a pandemic I was not. Since my boyfriend of seven years, Max, proposed just after Christmas in 2019, I’ve flitted between frenzied periods of planning and long stretches of inertia; from a resolute belief my wedding could happen this summer to a sharp realisation that it may very well not. It has been hard to keep up momentum when faced with so much uncertainty, having to navigate ever‑changing rules and a fog of unknowns.
The wave of restrictions in 2020 left many couples struggling to adapt as weddings were, at first, banned across much of the world, gradually opening up to parties of 30 during the summer in the UK, only to be halved by September. Thoughts of elopement, postponement and a total change of plan all crossed my mind. As well as reconsiderations: did I really need a boat with fireworks or a floor of moss to walk down the aisle on?
Finally, like so many other brides, I have been given pause to reflect on what I really value, and what – and who – will be most important to make the day feel special. While many couples have delayed and rescheduled, others have embraced smaller ceremonies, slashing guest lists, changing venues and staying local as opposed to holding “destination” weddings. In Italy alone, 9,000 weddings planned by international couples were cancelled or postponed last year. Such a scaling back seems to have triggered a widespread recalibration of the trend for lavish celebrations, the costs of which have nearly doubled in the past 10 years according to wedding-planning platform Bridebook. Its rival, Hitched, says that pre-pandemic, the average cost of a wedding was £32,000, and weddings that cost into the millions are not uncommon events. But while couples may be cutting back on size, they aren’t holding back on style. Signs are that this new attitude and bijou approach isn’t about to disappear with a vaccine. According to Hitched, even when limitations are eased, “half of our couples are cutting their guest list by 25 per cent or more”. It seems many brides are realising that a smaller, more intimate, wedding was all they ever really wanted. I can sympathise – strip away the pomp, pressure and labyrinthine logistics, and you’re left with a more relaxed ceremony, allowing for quality time with each guest as well as your partner.
“Intimate celebrations can actually be more meaningful than larger-scale parties,” says Liz Linkleter, owner and creative director of her eponymous London-based events company, whose weddings have included that of designer Erdem Moralioglu. For Linkleter, personal touches that can make the day feel extra-special are more achievable with smaller numbers. “Go to town on bespoke, artisanal details – a handpainted tablecloth or hand-illustrated plates that can double as keepsakes for guests,” she suggests. When it comes to food, she says that downsizing can open up more possibilities. “You don’t necessarily need to go for a traditional caterer. Your favourite restaurant may have baulked at the idea of a larger group but may well cater for 15.”
Florist Philippa Craddock, who arranged the flowers for the 2018 wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, describes a recent wedding in which the couple appointed a foraging guide and an outdoor wild chef. “They ate with their closest family and friends inside a magical outdoor glass room that we filled with flowers, creating a mini secret garden,” she says. For florals that enhance the space of a smaller event, Wild At Heart’s Nikki Tibbles suggests “lots of beautiful bud vases with seasonal flowers and fragrance”, and recommends allowing upwards of £250 for table flowers for a party of 15. She has also noted an increase in those ordering a bridal bouquet, posies and matching buttonholes. For Craddock, scaled-down numbers can intensify the importance of flowers but not necessarily through grand arrangements – it’s the considered details that are important. “I still feel couples want impact, but in a different way. Before, it meant more of a spectacle for their guests, now it’s solely for themselves and those nearest to create the most incredible atmosphere and memories.”
Adapting to the tone of more intimate celebrations has also influenced bridalwear; the trend towards luxurious yet understated looks is thriving. Moda Operandi editorial director Tatiana Hambro has seen a new kind of sensual glamour emerge over the past year, with Galvan Bridal (dresses from $1,495) being the standout brand this season. “Things are shifting to modern, relaxed and minimal silhouettes versus the elaborate, highly embellished pieces of the past,” she says. And with boutiques closed for much of last year, brides-to-be flocked online: according to website Stillwhite, the world’s largest online wedding dress marketplace, online sales increased from 75 per cent to more than 90 per cent in 2020. Online meant convenience and speed – important for ceremonies organised at short notice – as well as a larger range in one place.
The demand for non-traditional designs has also grown. Celenie Seidel, senior womenswear editor at Farfetch, has noticed a change in mentality around what is considered suitable bridalwear: “Today, many brides favour off-the-rack pieces, whether this is a dress from their favourite designer in any colour and length, a suit, or a top and trousers.”
As interest in less conventional looks has grown, more labels have entered the bridal market. “We’re certainly seeing more designers translating their signature aesthetics to bridal collections,” says Seidel. Among these is British designer – and queen of tulle – Molly Goddard, who debuted her first 12-piece bridal collection of ready-to-wear gowns last year (from £1,800). “Weddings are becoming much less traditional and more brides are now looking for dresses that they can wear again and again. I like to think the dresses have a lighthearted and fun energy to them, rather than feeling too serious,” says Goddard. Choosing outfits that can be reworn ties into the mood for versatile wardrobes and environmentally conscious shopping too. “Clients are seeking separates and suiting with a longer shelf life,” says Hambro. “It’s encouraging to see this kind of sustainable thinking becoming increasingly mainstream.”
“I feel the trend for being able to wear elements of your wedding outfit [after the event] is here to stay,” says Kate Halfpenny of bridal boutique Halfpenny London, who recommends allowing between £2,000 and £4,500 for her designs. “The beauty of separates is the wealth of possibilities,” she adds. “You can get the very best of both worlds when it comes to choosing your wedding look.”
A shift in bridalwear styles and attitudes is mirrored in engagement rings and bands. Here, too, there is growing interest in timeless classics and a return to pared-back elegance. Jeweller Anna Sheffield points to solitaires and bezel rosettes, with their clean lines, and Elisa Pantazopoulos of ELI-O jewellery has seen customers move towards styles with fewer flourishes. “Everything has been stripped back in recent months, and the things that really matter have shone through,” she says. “It’s not necessarily about the massive rock but the hand it’s going on.”
It’s a sentiment, and recalibration, that feels timely. Clearly it is the small things – the micro not the macro – that will make my wedding truly special. Although surely some moss wouldn’t hurt…
TV writers Janine Nabers and Etan Marciano married at his childhood home in Ditmas Park, Brooklyn, with 50 guests
When we decided to get married in Brooklyn, the first thing I did was call Lewis Miller – I’ve always thought his floral arrangements were love letters to New York. Although we live in LA, many of our loved ones are on the East Coast, so we held two separate events outside, one on Saturday and the small wedding on Sunday so different groups of friends and family could come. My wedding dress was by Markarian, and on the Saturday I wore an insane two-piece pant suit and cape by Halfpenny London. My husband’s family are Jewish-Moroccan and I’m a black woman from the South, so it was an Afro-Jewish wedding with a night-market theme. It really took a village, and they all killed it. In the end, it turned into a kind of block party – all of my husband’s neighbours have known him since he was a kid, so it spilled out into their lawns and everyone stopped and took pictures.
Kana Yosumi, PR & VIP assistant for Paul Smith, and Yassir Al-Refaie, a director at robotics firm Seyo, married in August at Hackney Town Hall, London. They had six guests
We were given just seven days’ notice by the council to arrange our little ceremony at Hackney Town Hall. It was an interesting experience because it meant we couldn’t over-plan or over-invite. There were no pre-wedding arguments or anxieties, making the day itself genuinely enjoyable and stress-free. We organised everything via the family WhatsApp the day before, and I ordered the flowers and made the bouquets myself. I wore a cream, lace-trim dress by Self-Portrait with blue Manolo Blahniks. Sadly, my parents weren’t able to come over from Japan, so we’re planning another ceremony there later this year. We didn’t want to postpone – we wanted to get the legal side of the marriage done so we can just continue with our lives.
Rebecca Lowthorpe and Oliver Ziehn married in December 2020 at the Old Marylebone Town Hall, just after the end of the second lockdown in London. They had 11 guests
Covid-19 provided the perfect excuse for me and my husband to have what we always wanted: the tiniest of weddings. We have been together 20 years and have two sons – it just felt weird to have something large after all this time. I wore a dress and coat by Simone Rocha, a designer I’ve always admired. I couldn’t bear the idea of a meringue, but having worked as a fashion editor for so many years, I thought I’d be more subversive than I was. I ended up in a very pretty oversized ivory cloqué dress and a cream lace coat with a big sash at the shoulders. There was something incredibly special about only having 11 guests – the people you can’t imagine doing this big commitment thing without.
Stephanie Rimmer and Andrew Wilson married at Kindred members’ club in Hammersmith, London, in September 2020, with 30 guests
As a doctor, my work is unpredictable and I often don’t know my shifts until just a few weeks beforehand, so we didn’t want to postpone our wedding. But when it had to become a party of 30, instead of 120, we were able to ask the amazing Italian supper club Strazzanti – which we love – to do our food. I had always imagined myself in a dress, but never felt right in the ones I tried. When I put on a silk and velvet jumpsuit by Nikeen Askar, I felt like me, but a much fancier version. I was the first bride to ever wear it – Nikeen made it for me from scratch, first in tulle and then the real thing. Having fittings with the designer himself felt so special. Although it wasn’t the wedding I planned or expected many months before, I wouldn’t change a thing about it now.
Emily Ruby Knight, brand partnership manager at Show Studio, married Daniel Alexander Harris last summer at York House, Twickenham, followed by a meal for 13 people at The Ivy, Richmond
We had only three weeks to prepare for our wedding. Luckily, both my husband and my father (Nick Knight, pictured below) are photographers. My husband took the portraits of us all together before we headed in, and a close friend, Jenifer Corker, managed to make our rings in time – the same design as the rings she made for my parents. I wore a Ghost dress that was perfect: the only thing that felt strange was being at the tailor’s alone wearing a blue surgical mask. Although we had originally planned to have a big wedding in Cornwall – which had to be postponed twice – the day was better than I could have imagined. It was romantic, relaxed and felt true to us as a couple. By 7pm, we were in trackies having a Chinese takeaway in the garden with our siblings, rings on fingers, having had such a special day.
Adrienne Glover, a therapist and public speaker, and her wife, Brittany, a product management executive, married in October 2020 in Candler, North Carolina, without any guests
We had always hoped to elope and wanted a very intimate ceremony. We found an Airbnb with incredible mountain views that we loved. The day was magical. Our friends joined us in the morning – we had brunch together and they helped us to get ready. After they left, we had a private ceremony and were lucky enough to have Calvin Lockett and Nemo Miller playing a song by John Legend, and then our favourite romantic songs. With the help of stylist Dustin Byrd, Brittany wore a Leanne Marshall Nolina top and Claire La Faye trousers paired with Chloé shoes. I chose a Pronovias Imelda gown with Tiffany earrings and blue Manolos. After the ceremony, we were driven through the Blue Ridge mountains in a white Mustang, then back for dinner, cooked by a private chef. Since our honeymoon was cancelled, we stayed all weekend, relaxing and eating leftovers. It was perfect in every way.
Hannah Wills Klein had a Jewish ceremony last August, at Hannah’s family home in Stowe, Vermont, with nine guests
I didn’t love the process of planning a big wedding, so when we downsized I felt somewhat relieved. The health of our loved ones was the number-one deciding factor to cancel our original plans, and we didn’t feel confident postponing with so much uncertainty. We chose to get married outside, under a weeping willow that my father planted in honour of my grandmother. In the morning it was pouring so I accepted that I would have a rainy wedding and purchased more umbrellas than people in anticipation. But the rain stopped and it became the most beautiful sunny day. Our caterer, Hindquarter – who cook everything on an open fire – maintained the same menu as the original event, our floral designer went above and beyond, everything was natural and organic. The dress was bespoke by Markarian, a designer label based in New York where I work in finance. I wanted something classic but with a twist, hence the oversized bow and train. I loved that both elements were removable so I could adapt the dress throughout the evening.
Lauren Dupuy, a freelance marketing consultant, and her husband Benjamin, who works in private equity, married under Tier 2 restrictions in October 2020 at Chelsea Town Hall in London, followed by dinner for 15 at Annabel’s
It was not my dream to get married four weeks after giving birth, but our wedding had been cancelled four times. We had planned to have the ceremony at Villa Ephrussi in the South of France – where I first met my husband, who is French. But in the end, we got married in a London register office and had just a week to prepare. Thankfully, my lace bodice and cape were so sassy they made me feel like myself again after giving birth. My jumpsuit was designed by Rime Arodaky and I wore it with a pair of Manolos… and some heavy-duty Spanx! The registrar did a fantastic job at making it upbeat with only eight guests in the room – the rest of our families took part virtually. We had dinner in the flower room at Annabel’s at the most breathtaking table; I commissioned artist Tatiana Alida to design the menus and placards. It’s small details like those that made it feel special, even if we were missing some of those closest to us.
Rebecca Rose, creative director of fragrance brand To The Fairest, and Nicholas Bacon, a vet, married in July, just after the first UK lockdown had been lifted, at St Mary the Virgin in Godmanchester, Cambridgeshire, with nine guests and the vicar
Our wedding felt like a family day out – in slightly unusual clothing. The private rehearsal with the vicar a few days before had been quite emotional – the pandemic has made it feel at times that the world is spinning off its axis – but on the day, the four of us (Nicholas, myself and his two teenage children) had breakfast at home before piling into a car to the church. With our large celebration postponed, a big white dress and morning suit no longer seemed appropriate but I still wanted some glamour, so wore a calf-length Nina Ricci dress with ivory corded lace over silk and a headpiece by Scottish milliner Maggie Mowbray. And we had sensational floral displays inside the church. I turned the flowers into paperweights as mementos. In many ways, the pressure was off: there was no big theatrical event, just an intimate ceremony with close family – and our dog, Juno, who sat on my mother’s lap – and I’m very grateful that we had that opportunity.
Hannah Sheikh, a financial regulation lawyer, and Haider Anwar, who works in tech sales, married in September 2020 at Hylands House, Essex, with 25 guests
My husband and I are of Asian heritage so culturally, when it comes to weddings, we go all-out. To include everyone, we hired professional live-streamers and sent out traditional sweets and hampers to family and friends so they could join our reception virtually. I was able to get a custom-made dress designed in six weeks – a stunning ballgown structure with a train as long as I am tall – thanks to the wonderful Turkish designer Dovita Bridal. I got to spend a day having a laugh with the people I love, in a great dress.
Tiffany Leece Lodge, philanthropy manager at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, and Richard Lodge, a stockbroker, married in Sydney, in June (up to 20 attendees permitted), at St Mark’s Anglican Church, followed by lunch for 20 at Mimi’s restaurant
We completely changed the concept of our wedding, cancelling 170 guests just 11 days before our planned ceremony, and switching the venue, format and menu. The only thing that stayed the same was my dress, by Adam Dixon. My husband had secretly arranged for some of my closest friends to be waiting outside the church, they were all cheering as we came out. It was the biggest surprise. We chose Mimi’s for our wedding lunch, a gorgeous restaurant in Coogee on the beach. We’d been there for a meal when it first opened and loved its relaxed yet refined feel, so the decision to reschedule there was an easy one. I had French linen napkins made and custom-monogrammed for each guest, and Ruinart champagne and flowers all along the table. It was emotional, personal and fun.