Wedding bells: what do brides want now?
Bridal expert Marian Gale has observed it all – changes in style, lavish spending and the current drive for value
Marian Gale at her shop in The Mall, Donnybrook, Dublin. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill
What have you learnt in 33 years selling bridal wear? That Irish people always love to push out the boat when it comes to weddings. When I started, Lady Di was around and everybody wanted fluff and lace.
Do you remember your first day in business? Yes, I started in 1980 on the Clontarf Road and my dad Terry Gale was alive then and he used to say, ‘no matter what you do, get money over the counter’. I threw a party to open the shop and everybody bought.
I knew the only way I could survive was to have occasion wear. I moved to Donnybrook in 1984 and wouldn’t have survived without it.
What do brides want now? Today, value is uppermost in people’s mind. But talk about austerity – people were queuing for petrol in the 1980s.
Vera Wang no longer sells in Ireland – it was €7,000 for one of her dresses (in the Celtic Tiger years) and dickey bows for the dog to boot. It was nuts. Brides wanted their weddings to be bigger and better and if you had eight bridesmaids, it was eight dresses, eight pairs of shoes, eight pairs of earrings, eight necklaces and eight bouquets and party favours. Those days are gone.
What was your biggest wedding? It was a huge Dublin wedding with 14 flower girls and we had everyone including the mother of the bride and mother of the groom. You still get whole wedding parties coming in. The usual number now is two to four flower girls and two-to-four bridesmaids.
What are the bridal trends? Kate Middleton has been a huge influence on bridal dresses – everyone wants a ton of lace now and nobody wants strapless – that’s passé, gone, had it.
And for every 100 ivory dresses you would only sell one white one.
Everybody wants back details and veils are big at the moment. We do the lace trim veil like Kate Middleton wore, in three lengths and they are selling big time. Everybody wants bigger hats now too.
And what about mother of the bride/groom styles? The mother of the bride always wears a dress and jacket. And a lot of things vis a vis colour are off the radar before the mother of the groom gets her choice – what the bride, bridesmaids and mother of the bride are wearing. Sometimes you’ll get a bride wanting a particular theme for the wedding, such as costume, or black tie, or colour and that might not sit well with the poor old mother of the groom.
What about friction? You just do the best you can. Really, in terms of etiquette, the mother of the bride should have first choice and they often want to take over.
Some brides don’t like that. Nowadays many youngsters pay for everything themselves and the boss is the one who pays – and that can create friction too. But it’s a huge occasion and you want it to go well because it will reflect well on you.
So you have bridezillas and mother of the bridezillas? Bridesmaids are the real bridezillas; if there are four or five, it’s like ‘I’m not wearing that, shorten it, let it out, let it in’.
Some can be quite ungracious and very verbose about what they will or will not wear. And then they usually abandon ship when the bride arrives in a rush from the car at the church and leave her to fix her train by herself.
If my daughter ever gets married, we’ll probably strangle each other! But in the end, it will be her day.
Weddings aren’t just one-day affairs, are they? They are three-day events and they will want an outfit for a sit down dinner the night before, and the mother of the bride on the wedding day, then something smart casual for the barbecue/breakfast the next morning.
What are your best sellers? The Pippa Middleton dress for €599 buttoned down the back with cap sleeves and a lace trim – we also have [what we call] the Kate Middleton dress, but that’s €1,000 and suits those getting married in winter because of the long sleeves.
Are there weight issues? Brides all say they are going to lose a stone – they don’t usually lose that much, however – but you have to allow for it. My biggest bride was a size 22. The Nora dress is perfect for “bingo wings” because it covers the fleshy, wobbly bits. Samples are usually size 10, but we always have sample dresses in the bigger sizes for the girls to try. How can you try a dress if can’t put your big toe into it?
What do you do with samples afterwards? I send them to the Mater Hospital Shop [at 17 Lr Dorset Street, Dublin 1] once a year and I believe these days that you can’t get an appointment for Barnardos Bridal Rooms. Some brides make christening robes out of their dresses and a lot of seven- to eight-year-old flower girls use their dresses as Communion wear.
What about same-sex marriages? Yes, two girls will come in to choose a dress, and usually wear long dresses, so you get two brides. Sometimes they even wear the same, and never tuxedos. This is modern day Ireland.
What about those who go abroad? Many do go to foreign destinations to get married and usually want a dress that will travel – something more pared down as opposed to 20 layers of tulle – you have to think of the weather.
Do you ever go to the weddings? I am a regular in Donnybrook Church, but I certainly don’t go to the weddings – after all I am looking at dresses six days a week! But I suppose it is a journey you are on with them and it is a happy journey.
Do grooms ever come in with the bride? Lads never come in. One young fella did come in once to pay €799 for a dress – it had been a choice between that and an expensive one down town that was €3,000. He said to her, “now we can have a really nice honeymoon”.
Where do you buy bridal wear? I buy twice a year in London. I don’t buy from the US because import duties, VAT and freight make them prohibitive. I get huge inspiration from Hello magazine – and so do brides – because they cover celebrity weddings and there’s a celebrity inside all of them.
Who are your customers? A huge factor is generational; so many people at this stage have bought their Communion dresses, their Confirmation dresses, their debs dresses and then their wedding dresses so they come back and you know the family and that’s a lovely aspect of it.
We also get a lot of foreign nationals who tend to buy straight off the peg so you have to have a stock of dresses, whereas the Irish plan two years in advance.
Do you think the new Great Gatsby movie will have an influence? No, I don’t think so because that 1920s drop waisted H line doesn’t show a girl’s figure and girls want to show off their figures when they get married. And underwear needs to be as smooth and neutral as possible because if the fabric is sheer, the lace detail will come through.
So what did you wear to your own wedding? I got married in Spain in 1981 in a simple ivory silk dress – no meringues for Marian!