No matter your style — classic, bohemian, glamorous, trendy — the first order of bridal fashion business is always the wedding gown. But saying “yes” to the dress is all but the only box a modern bride must tick. Myriad events surround a wedding, like an engagement party, bridal shower, and rehearsal dinner, warrant a special outfit. Other guaranteed-to-be-photographed moments: the bachelorette party, getting-ready suite, and after-party, all of which call for a specific look, too. It’s enough to make a bride’s head spin, but a bridal outfit checklist will help to guide your shopping, whether you’re celebrating with all the wedding festivities or streamlining to just a few.
“Nowadays, it is all about the bridal wardrobe, not just the gown,” Lori Conley, the general merchandise manager for the bridal retailer, BHLDN, tells TZR. According to the wedding wardrobing expert, there’s been a growing trend of extended celebrations, starting with the engagement party through the farewell brunch: “We’re seeing brides filling out their closets with the full range of outfits,” she says.
Net-A-Porter’s senior fashion market editor, Libby Page, has noticed a shift among brides over the past few years. Last season, party attire — be it a second look for the reception or an after-party ensemble — was Net-A-Porter’s most significant growth and in-demand bridal category. Now, sales are led by adaptable, versatile, and easy dresses in sleek, simple silhouettes. “Brides are shopping more responsibly and sustainably, purchasing outfits to celebrate now and for years to come,” Page explains.
Galvan, Gabriela Hearst, The Attico, Jacquemus, and Racil are among Page’s favorite brands for modern bridal wear. Each one makes simple investment pieces that brides can initially wear for wedding-related celebrations but keep in their wardrobes as stylish staples years after.
Terry Hall, the head of retail at Amsale, has also witnessed the bridal wardrobe evolution. “When our founder Amsale Aberra started her namesake label over 30 years ago, brides would buy a look just for the wedding and maybe the rehearsal dinner,” he explains. Since then, the brand has adapted — like with the launch of the Little White Dress collection — offering a range of modern looks to fit various bridal needs.
Hall also notes how social media has impacted modern bridal requirements. “There need to be multiple significant Instagrammable looks,” he adds. “It’s about the bride expressing herself throughout the entire journey and being empowered by fashion.” COVID-19 and postponements have similarly impacted bridal shopping trends. “We’ve actually seen brides buying more pieces,” Hall explains. “Their drawn-out engagements are allowing for more events, and in the cases where they’re having a civil ceremony on the original date, they’re adding a shorter dress for the occasion.”
While some brides will seek out an outfit for every moment, others may need just a few. Conley says, “When I’m giving advice to newly engaged brides on where to start shopping for their wedding looks, I always recommend focusing on the moments when you know you’ll want incredible photos.” She does encourage a reception or after-party look. “Wedding gowns can be cumbersome after wearing them all day long, so it’s nice to have the option to slip into something shorter and more freeing to enjoy your reception,” she reasons.
Conley recommends understated shapes and casual fabrics like eyelet and cotton for moments like welcome cocktails or a post-wedding brunch. Other extras to consider: silky robes and fun sleepwear for the getting-ready suit, and fanciful designs for a bachelorette — Conley highlights Needle & Thread for ultra-femme details like embroidery and beadwork.
Hall mentions shoes and accessories, too. With simple or shorter dresses, he says the trend is for brides to express themselves with unique designs to personalize a look. “A bride might wear a dress for the engagement photo and style it in a way that’s sophisticated and demure, but she could take that same dress and pair it with a statement shoe for the afterparty and dance the night away,” he explains.
For a comprehensive checklist of all the bridal outfits to consider, ahead, Page, Conley, and Hall breakdown their essentials.
The Bridal Outfit: Engagement Party
Conley says an engagement party look is a moment for brides to debut their style as the kickoff to any bridal wardrobe. For formal affairs, her top pick is a sleek charmeuse slip dress. Page, on the other hand, recommends something fun and a little frivolous. “This is the time to experiment with something you wouldn’t usually wear,” the Net-A-Porter editor reasons.
For brides who already have a wedding gown selected or firm idea in mind, Hall says brides often opt for a short dress that echoes the aesthetic. “If she’s wearing a strapless ball gown on her wedding day, she may wear a short strapless A-line look to the engagement party,” he says. “It sets the tone of her aesthetic — it’s not exactly like the wedding gown, but it’s reflective of it.”
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The Bridal Outfit: Engagement Photos
Not everyone opts for an engagement photo session, but for those who do, Conley favors a more casual look that reflects your everyday style. “I think it’s so nice to capture the true essence of who you and your partner are,” she says, recommending a great sweater with jeans and great accessories.
The Bridal Outfit: Bridal Shower
A bridal shower — be it a solo celebration or a shared party with your betrothed — is a great moment to showcase your romantic side. “You can’t go wrong with a romantic lace midi, which is perfect for a brunch, tea, or any other type of soirée,” Conley says.
The Bridal Outfit: Bachelorette
Bachelorette attire can get a bad rap, but to forgo cliché merch, Conley urges brides to utilize the moment and step up their fashion game. A sleek dress in shimmering satin or charmeuse is subtly festive and elegant, while long-sleeve minis (cue the sequins!) are great for those in the mood for a big glamour moment.
Also key are the finishing touches: heels, statement earrings, or a glimmering bracelet stack will amplify the drama.
The Bridal Outfit: Welcome Cocktails
This is one of those outfits that will apply to some brides and not others. If you choose to host a welcome party, be it a dinner or a cocktail soirée, Conley favors an outfit that’s inspired by your location or wedding theme. “Destination wedding? Opt for an off the shoulder dress that will look effortless when you’re seaside,” she says.
The Bridal Outfit: Rehearsal Dinner
The rehearsal dinner is a moment for brides to channel a style vibe in total opposition to their wedding dress or echo it completely — the options are endless! Page says, “You want to look back on this moment in years to come and admire your choice,” recommending chic and timeless silhouettes, like a slip. In agreement, Conley likes a polished midi dress with clean lines for the occasion, but says to go big on accessories, whether with a bold earring or shoe.
Hall says the rehearsal dinner dress is typically very different from the wedding gown: “It’s usually white, but not similar in silhouette or cut to what the bride wants to debut the next day.” For brides wearing a ballgown for “I do’s,” the Amsale executive suggests a fitted rehearsal dinner dress. For those wearing a simpler wedding dress, like a strapless sheath or A-line design, this is the moment to try a halter, one-shoulder, or plunging neckline.
The Bridal Outfit: Getting Ready
While some brides may kickoff their wedding day with a meditation, workout, or breakfast with the bridal party, the first official outfit is the getting-ready look. A robe or pajama set is pretty enough for photos, but practical during the hair and makeup process, be it white, adorned with lace, or printed. “I love specialty details for the bride, like a touch of feathers on her slippers or some fun fringe on her robe,” Conley says. For the feet, faux-fur slippers or satin slides are whimsical and fun.
The Bridal Outfit: After-Party
A continuing trend among modern brides is the second-look party dress for their reception or a late-night after-party. Page suggests a short suit or mini dress that’s easy to dance in, while Conley emphasizes festive details like sequins, beading, and feathers.
The Bridal Outfit: Post-Wedding Brunch
For some, the finale to a wedding weekend is a brunch, be it laidback at a family member’s home or a seated event at a hotel or restaurant. As you rehash the new memories from the big event, Conley says to keep it easy and casual in a crepe jumpsuit or relaxed dress in eyelet or cotton. She also recommends comfortable shoes like flats, white sneakers, or sandals: “You know your feet are going to need a break from tearing up the dance floor!”
The Bridal Outfit: Honeymoon
Whether you’re setting out on a honeymoon right away or have a few months in between, your honeymoon wardrobe is the final moment for bridal-specific wear. Of course, it all depends on location, but a few pieces most newlyweds will enjoy: a white bathing suit, an ivory mini, and an effortless maxi for dinners with your new spouse.
Hall says many brides are loving jumpsuits right now, which work well on a honeymoon at the beach, while touring, and for romantic dinners. “It’s a chic and modern look,” he says.