The road to finding the perfect wedding dress is, traditionally, a long and emotional one that involves months of planning and multiple visits to boutiques before the big day.
However, for couples who were scheduled to tie the knot over the past year, the coronavirus pandemic has pressed pause on almost every aspect of wedding planning, with thousands forced to cancel bridal appointments and even their upcoming nuptials.
But if there’s one silver lining to have come out of a year of repeat postponements and tightened budgets, it’s that more and more brides-to-be have realised that a gown doesn’t need to have a four-figure price tag to make it aisle-worthy.
Thanks to a boom in last-minute micro-nuptials, high street wedding dress sales have surged with Bridebook reporting that 67 per cent of brides no longer consider an expensive, made-to-measure gown a priority for their big day, while “casual wedding dress” was googled 158 per cent more in January 2021 than in January 2020.
While most brides will be thankful for savvy ways to save a few extra pennies, it’s not just the cost that makes high street options so appealing to contemporary brides.
Now, stylish women have their pick of an ever-expanding selection of styles that look so good no-one would ever guess you’re not wearing a couture number, with prominent brands such as Rixo, Whistles and Self Portrait delivering looks that effortlessly blur the lines between high-fashion and bridal, spanning everything from show-stopping dresses to jumpsuits, tailoring and mix-and-match separates.
Plus, buying “off the rack” means you actually get to try on a gown in your usual clothing size, have it delivered within a matter of days – compared to the traditional eight-month lead time – and take it anywhere you like for alterations if necessary.
Whether you’ve scaled down your ceremony, chosen to tie the knot at your local registry or want to save some money where you can, 2021 is looking like it could be a more hopeful year for ceremonies. So, to help you find your wedding day look, we’ve rounded up the best high street brands selling sophisticated bridal gowns, jumpsuits and two-pieces that don’t cost a fortune.
You can trust our independent round-ups. We may earn commission from some of the retailers, but we never allow this to influence selections. This revenue helps us to fund journalism across The Independent.
Since launching its first bridal range in 2017, Whistles Wedding has gone from strength to strength. From romantic lace gowns to sleek white suits and co-ords, the brand’s current collection offers something to suit every bride and most pieces are available in UK sizes 4 to 16.
The range is crafted from high-quality fabrics with eye-catching details such as embroidered tulle, organza jacquard and scalloped edges. Among our top picks are the super-elegant mia square neck wedding dress (£499, Whistles.com) and the annie wedding trousers (£229, Whistles.com) and matching blazer (£299, Whistles.com), which gives us serious Bianca Jagger vibes.
Proving that shopping for your dress on the high street doesn’t mean skipping the bridal experience entirely, both the St Christopher’s Place store in London and the Leeds branch offer a dedicated bridal suite where you can try pieces on while sipping champagne. While they are closed during lockdown, the suites are set to reopen once government restrictions have been eased.
Shopping for bridesmaids? Whistles has got you covered there too, offering both midi and maxi dresses in a range of different colours, from pale pink and ivory to turquoise.
This British label is famed for its silky tea dresses in ethereal colours and first branched into bridalwear in 2015 with a range of affordable wedding gowns, jumpsuits and tailoring designed with the modern bride in mind.
Each season the brand launches a new collection inspired by current trends, with its latest offering bohemian ruffles, fashion-forward cuts and romantic details.
The majority of pieces are available in sizes XXS to XL (UK6 to 16) and are made from luxury fabrics such as satin crepe. One of our top picks from Ghost’s most recent collection is the viola dress (£495, Ghost.co.uk), which combines 1970s romance with statement details such as voluminous bell sleeves, a gentle train and fabric-covered buttons.
After five years of catering to stylish wedding guests, Rixo turned its attention to brides with its debut collection in February 2021.
The 26-piece range delivers styles suited to all brides, whether they’re holding out for a bigger celebration or opting for a more intimate ceremony, with everything from separates to feather-trimmed mini dresses, jumpsuits and contemporary tailoring inspired by stylish women such as Bianca Jagger and Kate Moss.
Available in UK sizes 6 to 16, the collection is limited edition and the brand has yet to confirm if it will be releasing more in the future, so you’ll need to act quickly if you want to get your hands on one of these gems.
The collection also includes accessories to complete your look including a silk scarf (£75, Rixo.co.uk), pearl headband (£75, Rixo.co.uk) and long mesh veil (£185, Rixo.co.uk). One of our favourite items is the cordette maxi dress (£975, Rixo.co.uk), which is designed with over-the-top ruffled lace sleeves, a subtle round neck, empire line waist and a bias hip fit.
Rixo also has a dedicated bridal boutique, which is set to open when government lockdown restrictions are eased.
Since its launch in 2017, Kitri has become the go-to destination for fashion-forward wedding guest dresses that don’t break the bank.
And in January 2020, the British brand turned its attention from the congregation to the bride, with the launch of its first nine-piece bridal capsule collection. Kitri’s founder, Haeni Kim, said she decided to start offering bridalwear in response to customer demand, adding that the range caters specifically to those who need multiple dresses, which some 2021 brides might well do if they’re planning a more intimate ceremony now and a bigger do next year.
The collection offers varying silhouettes designed to suit different body types, with standout pieces like this 1970s-inspired jumpsuit (£69, Kitristudio.com) and this smocked ditsy print dress (£149, Kitristudio.com). If it’s something more traditional you’re after, we suggest the elegant riley wrap dress (£215, Kitristudio.com), which is crafted from lustrous ivory rose jacquard. The range is available in sizes UK6 to 16.
Not content with taking all our money when it comes to our everyday wardrobes, Asos has become a solid favourite with brides too. So much so that, even during a year filled with postponements, one of the retailer’s own-brand wedding dresses was sold every three minutes in 2020.
It’s not hard to see why the range is so popular, as Asos covers all potential sartorial bases with mini, midi and maxi styles, sequins, lace and minimal slips, all in one place. The pieces range from £75 to £375 and there are lots of accessories, shoes and underwear you can buy to finish your big-day look.
One of our favourite styles is the cari wedding dress (£135, Asos.com) made from ivory satin and featuring a plunging neckline, kimono sleeves and a thigh-high split.
As well as its own brand called Asos Editon, which has a “curve” selection too, the retailer also sells bridal gowns from other brands such as Frock and Frill and Amelia Rose. With free delivery on orders over £35 and free, paperless returns, it’s well worth ordering a selection from the Asos bridal range and trying on in the comfort of your own home.
In 2017, the sustainable US brand beloved for its vintage-inspired day dresses launched a wedding line made up of effortlessly elegant styles and gained a cult following among brides-to-be almost overnight.
From frilly sundresses ideal for summer hen parties to satin halterneck styles, jumpsuits and traditional full-length lace gowns, each of Reformation’s offerings are cut to be oh-so flattering and all come in at reasonable prices.
For a gown that’s equally trendy and traditional, we love the stars dress (£460, Thereformation.com), which is slim fitting through the bodice with a full, relaxed skirt and tiered puff sleeves for a more dramatic look. Most styles are available in sizes 4 to 16.
The brand is also a great eco-friendly choice for wedding guests, bridesmaids and mothers-of-the-bride alike. While Reformation is US-based, it offers free express shipping on all international orders, which will three to eight days to arrive.
The Self Portrait bridal edit is one for sartorially savvy brides who want to make a statement when walking down the aisle.
Starting at £270, the brand’s collection is proof that your wedding dress doesn’t have to bankrupt you, delivering a selection of fashion-forward styles to suit every type of ceremony. From mini dresses to tiered Victorian-inspired gowns and tailored party frocks, the entire range is made with serious attention to detail and high-quality fabrics such as guipure lace, taffeta and broderie.
If you’re on the hunt for a tea-length dress, we recommend this dot mesh gown (£340, Self-portrait-studio.com), which is designed with puff sleeves, frill shoulder details, a fitted bodice and a removable diamante belt. All gowns are available in sizes 4 to 16.
Whether you’re looking for a classic floor-length dress, chic registry-office-appropriate tailoring or you’re taking a more free-spirited approach, there’s a stunning piece to suit every bride at Monsoon.
The 26-piece collection goes from shorter styles to full-length ones, with elegant details such as cap sleeves and hand-created embellishments. Monsoon also has a selection of wedding gowns in its sustainable clothing collection, S.E.W., which are created using sustainable, recycled or responsibly sourced organic materials.
Our top pick from the S.E.W. range is the kate dress (£399.20, Monsoon.co.uk), which is made from recycled polyester and designed with a V-shaped neckline, feminine 3D floral beading on the bodice and a floor-length skirt that flows effortlessly down, creating natural pleats. All styles are available in sizes 6 to 22.
The French Connection bridal collection is ideal for contemporary brides and includes everything from lacy gowns to modern mini dresses and trouser suits.
While there’s a style to suit most tastes, we’re quite taken with the eliza dress (£280, Frenchconnection.com), which effortlessly combines a classic fit and flare silhouette with intricate lace for a romantic finish. It also has shoulder straps and a fixed bodice, which is emphasised by an elegant sash at the waist that you can choose to tie at the front or back. We also love the tulle underskirt that creates additional volume that’s perfect for swishing around on the dancefloor. Available in sizes 6 to 16.
There’s plenty on offer for bridesmaids too, with dresses in French Connection’s main collection available in a range of colours and silhouettes, from floral wrap styles to strappy camisoles in red, navy and green.
A great choice for women who don’t want a run-of-the-mill gown, Coast’s wedding collection has plenty to offer for all members of the bridal party, from the bride herself to bridesmaids, flower girls and guests.
While the collection was already affordable, the retailer currently has up to 75 per cent off occasionwear, with savings of over £100. For a more traditional style, this embroidered maxi dress (£87.50, Coastfashion.com) is a great choice, featuring a mesh floral bodice and sleeves alongside a ribbon-tie waist and pleated skirt. Alternatively, we love this pencil dress (£76.30, Coastfashion.com) that is designed with cut-out detailing at the back, floral applique around the waist and flattering short sleeves. Most styles are available to buy in sizes 8 to 18.
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