If beading is your thing, the “Bethany” by Savannah Miller (€670) should more than suffice | Photo by Tony Gavin

The Bride

Why the affordable 'high street' wedding dress is not to be sniffed at - one Irish stylist puts it to the test

Larger department stores and high street retailers are now competing for a piece of the bridal market - but do they live up to the quality of their designer counterparts? Irish stylist Lorna Claire Weightman test drives some 'affordable' wedding dresses for THEVOW.ie

I remember vividly as if it was yesterday.

Standing in front of a large mirror, dressed as if I was making my first communion with my mother looking at me as only a mother can when she sees her daughter in what maybe the wedding dress of her dreams. Only that it wasn’t. But that story is for another time.

If you get one dress right in your life, it’s argued that it should be the dress you get married in. That white-slash-ivory number that you wear to commit to the one you love. It’s so romantic. The only issue is it can take hours of shopping, researching and even the odd family row to find the perfect gown. It took me seven shop visits.

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But a lot has changed in how we can source the dress since I went on the adventure of seeking mine. The independent shop owner stills holds the monopoly on wedding dress buying in Ireland, but the larger department stores and European high street retailers are now competing for a piece of the market. Yes, one significant advantage is that they are more affordable with some starting at €200, but do they live up to the quality of their designer counterparts? Well the only way to find out was to take them on a test drive. 

Debenhams have long been the pioneer of the designer collaboration most recently working with Irish designer, Richard Quinn on a capsule occasion wear collection (please note for your wedding guests). But one of its original collaborators was Savannah Miller with her “Nine” collection that launched a number of seasons ago and now includes a collection of wedding dresses - a designer name without the designer price.

Result.

The first dress I tried gave me confidence that they are true to size (I’m in a size 12), which isn’t always the case in high street made clothing. The dress was not void of detail either for its €670; the scallop back exposing subtle lace paneling is one of the most beautiful aspects of this style and will make for a nice “back shot” with a wedding photographer. Another key observation is how well constructed this dress is; seams are form fitting to cinch in at the right spots creating a silhouette that flatters. Actually, this applies to all four dresses I tried.  

Speaking of detail, I wanted a train on my own dress so this next style answered my need. The train on the “Marilyn” dress from Monsoon (£249 from monsoon.co.uk), starts from above the waist allowing it to billow away from your body as you walk down the aisle. This ethereal feature is contrasted by the embellishment on the shoulder meaning you can go easy on accessorising as the dress is doing all the work for you. The length is also quite generous so it can be altered to suit the height of shoe you wish to wear on the big day. 

Should a more embellished or beaded style be your thing, the “Bethany” by Savannah Miller (€670) will more than satisfy. This beaded gown is the most well cut of all the dresses I tried; beads and pearls are well stitched and secure, the cut was elegant and the “fall” of the fabric was incomparable. Despite the heavy beading, the dress is surprisingly light something to consider if you are having a summer wedding. 

If this kind of style isn’t for your big day, it’s worth considering as a second dress for the evening if you plan on a change. The same rationale applies to the high neck embellished style also by Savannah Miller. This feels more like a party dress to me, but ticks all the boxes for bridal attire.

The high neck is comfortable and will suit a petite build or anyone who would like to create more shape around the bust. It feels more casual as well, so perhaps if you are having a wedding abroad with a small ceremony at home before you depart, this could be an option. Think about an edgy cover up for these casual styles like a leather or faux fur jacket to add in some of your personal style.

This experiment in wedding style has taught me a few lessons. Firstly, the affordable dress is not to be sniffed at. There is no compromise on the fabric or cut even though none are 100% natural. In fact, the cut is better on these than some of my own designer dresses in the wardrobe.

Secondly, if you plan on spending above €1,000 on your dress, give some thought to buying two dresses for the price of one so you can factor in an evening change. I couldn’t do this at my own wedding thanks to the cost of the designer gown, but I wish I could have. And lastly, these dresses are easy to alter and re style to make them your own at minimal cost. So if a little dress DIY is also on your agenda, here is the solution.

All photos by Tony Gavin.

Special thanks to Fallon & Byrne for facilitating this special shoot for THEVOW.ie. Fallon & Byrne will host a wedding event for future brides and/or grooms this Sunday 16th September. RSVP by emailing events@fallonandbyrne.com or calling +353 1 472 1011