The rise of the reception dress

This story first appeared in the Fall/Winter 2018 issue of Columbus Weddings, published in June 2018.

Thunder rolled in just as Jessie and Josh Anderson's July reception was getting underway at Little Brook Meadows in Lancaster. They hadn't planned on the storm, but nothing was going to keep the couple and their friends from dancing all night—including the formalwear.

As soon as Jessie tossed the bouquet, she tossed—er, gracefully exchanged—her flowing chiffon Lillian West gown from Henri's Cloud Nine in favor of a playful white sundress. Thunder and lightning hadn't been part of the plan, but wearing a second look for the reception always had been.

Finding the dress is an integral part of wedding planning, but for a growing number of brides like Jessie, two dresses are better than one. More and more bridal boutiques and designers are catering to the “second dress” demographic: brides who love the idea of an over-the-top gown, but also want to party at the reception. Bridal boutique buyers are expecting to see double this wedding season, as the reception dress trend is on the rise.

“About one in every 12 brides come in looking for two dresses for the big day,” says Universe Bridal & Prom buyer Teri Misener. “I love the idea. It's the best of both worlds.”

According to Misener, when unconventional venues grew in popularity, so did the demand for functional and affordable second looks. Designers and boutiques are catering to those brides with reception-specific designs in every style.

While many brides still prefer to exchange vows in a traditional-style gown, there is more room for personal taste when it comes to a second look. The reception is the bride's chance to throw the rulebook out the window, without completely breaking Nana's heart.

“Brides often feel compelled to make everybody happy, so they go more traditional for the ceremony, and then do whatever they want for the reception,” Misener says.

The trend shows no sign of slowing for the 2018 wedding season, but the concept of a second dress is nothing new. In the 1930s, it was common for a bride to change from her nuptial gown into a “going away” dress before she was whisked off on a honeymoon. The modern take on the trend allows the fashion-forward bride to embrace her traditional side and showcase her personal style without compromise.

“Many of our brides fall in love with a dress that isn't functional for a reception, so they get a second dress to dance all night,” Misener says. “Brides have so many choices now—they can do whatever they want. There aren't as many rules.”

A quick switch from the showstopper with a 12-foot train to a fun and flirty cocktail dress or jumpsuit signifies the party can get started.

For Jessie and Josh, there was no question they'd spend their July reception as comfortably as possible because they planned to party as hard as they could.

“It felt so good to change! We danced all night,” Jessie says. “I mean, we would have danced all night regardless, but we got to dance a little wilder in our reception clothes.”

Even their wedding party got in on the trend.

“My best man was like, ‘Thank God!' when Jessie finally threw the bouquet and he could change,” Josh says. “It would have been miserable wearing a tux in the heat. I mean, we would have got just as crazy; we'd just be covered in sweat.”

Jessie and Misener both suggest defining your budget and style before shopping for either dress. Consider the venue, weather and how you want to feel at your reception.

Whether you choose the dress or a couple of dresses for your wedding day, remember that enjoying yourself and celebrating with your guests is always the main goal.

“Some people will remember the wedding dress,” Jessie says. “But most people will remember the awesome time they had.”