The top wedding trends for 2021: Fake cakes, rewearable bridal dresses and two-person ceremonies

As the pandemic continues to affect celebrations across the globe, weddings are seeing a return to chic intimacy as brides and grooms alter the way they see their big day

While the coronavirus pandemic has been responsible for putting hundreds of thousands of weddings across the globe on hold, it has also been the single biggest influence, in recent memory, in changing how brides and grooms are approaching their nuptials.

Owing to the effect Covid-19 has had on people's pockets and livelihoods, not to mention their social lives, 2021 weddings look set to reflect the way we live now, with a simpler, pared-back approach infusing all aspects of the ceremony.

Here’s how happy couples-to-be can wed in 2021, without sacrificing style or happiness on their big day.

Intimate ceremonies 

“Brides and grooms are focused on having an intimate guest list, and holding a casual dinner after the ceremony,” says May Martin, owner of Dubai's Ginger + Poppy Bridal Boutique. “A lot of this is due to restrictions, but I think they are also seeing the beauty in having a small and special ceremony, which they can share with their closest family and friends.”

Intimacy is a sentiment that's being shared globally. "As guest lists shrink, we can see wedding celebrations getting more detailed and personalised for each guest, a trend that's definitely going to be carried forward. Intimate weddings will be at the forefront," predicts Trishant Sidhwani of India's DreamzKrraft, a wedding planning and decorating company.

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Minimal yet well-detailed dresses with floral lace applique or plain satin slip dresses are on trend, and easy and beautiful to wear

Denise O’Neil, founder of Denise Lillie Engagements in the US, adds: "After all that has happened over the past year, I see people focusing more on the ‘why’ they are getting married, rather than the ‘how’.”

That's not to say, however, that indulgence and elegance are off the table this year, because as Stefanie Heller, founder and managing director of JAM Wedding Planners, points out: "Dubai is still the place where couples dream of a luxurious wedding."

Rather, it’s about cutting out the ostentatious bloat and unnecessary expenditure that has seen the global wedding industry swell to become worth about $300 billion.

Garden parties 

The idea of the lavish wedding reception is still a relatively new concept. Before the Second World War, the majority of receptions were held at the bride’s parental home, with a small lunch or afternoon tea served after the vows, while wealthier families might host a ball at a hotel.

“Due to the pandemic, we are seeing couples planning smaller weddings, while weddings that might have been celebrated over a number of days have been reduced to one or two days,” says Heller. “Some of the functions are being held with a small circle of family members. We have many home wedding set-ups as well, with a downsized number of up to 30 guests.”

Hand in hand with the home-hosted celebration is the return of the garden party reception. “Couples and brides still want luxurious set-ups, but on a smaller scale,” Heller adds. “I have seen a move to garden-held weddings, as many of them take place in villas. A garden reception also keeps the budget low, as it doesn’t require as much of an extravagant white-wedding set-up. Couples tend to keep it simple and not overstretch the budget.”

Casual-chic and reusable wedding dresses 

Smaller ceremonies translate to simpler wedding dresses. “I’m definitely seeing a lot more informality with brides looking for a dress this year,” says Martin. “They don’t want to wear anything too traditional and are going for something more fashion forward. Minimal yet well-detailed dresses with floral lace applique or plain satin slip dresses are on trend, and easy and beautiful to wear. They’re a great base to accessorise with statement earrings or a veil.”

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As the year progressed, we started to get a lot of enquiries for 'elopement gowns'

The desire for less-structured formality, in the shape of corsetry or large skirts, was evident in the spring 2021 bridal collections from the likes of Viktor & Rolf and Galvan London; the latter fashion house ditched the phrase "bridal collection" altogether, in favour of showing its "white collection" with ivory jumpsuits and 1990s-style slip dresses.

Bridal trends will be centred around the change in the types of ceremonies couples will be able to go ahead with during the year. “Those who will go ahead with their weddings may have to scale back, so they want the dress to reflect that and go for something understated,” predicts Martin.

“Simpler silhouettes, less detail, bridal separates, versatility within the gown and multi-use purchasing,” lists Barbaranne Heaton, founder and designer of House of Moirai in Dubai, when sharing her predictions for the year's bridalwear trends.

The ability to reuse a wedding dress for other events has become a must for 2021 brides, too.

Martin further expounds on the trends, which she categorises as: minimal silhouettes, “fuss-free, fitted and lightweight cuts with simple detailing”; tailored civilwear such as "pant suits, two-pieces and dress blazers”; rewearable options, in the form of "dresses or two pieces that brides are able to wear again after the wedding”; and gowns that allow for multiple looks; “these are simple enough to be accessorised throughout the day, so they have more than one look”.

Fake cakes, real diamonds, honeymoons on hold 

While so much about the traditional wedding has changed because of the pandemic, one place where Heller hasn't seen a shift is on the third finger of the bride's left hand.

“Wedding and engagement rings haven’t changed,” she says. “They are usually big in this country and have remained so.”

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At about 90 per cent of weddings, nobody eats the cake. It's better to serve dessert instead

The same, however, cannot be said for honeymoons. With international travel subject to ever-changing rules and regulations, Heller says her clients are opting to put off their honeymoon until the pandemic is largely over. That’s not to say brides and grooms are taking the money they’re saving and putting it into other areas of their weddings.

“People are saving,” says Heller. “They’re holding it back until all this is over rather than spending it in another area, such as the ring or the dress.”

One trend that has gained traction over the past few years and looks set to cement its popularity this year is the fake cake.

Consisting of multiple layers of fondant-covered and decorated Styrofoam, the fake cake has only one real layer of edible cake for the purpose of cutting.

“Many are no longer going with the huge, expensive wedding cake,” says Heller. “At about 90 per cent of weddings, nobody eats the cake. It’s better to serve dessert instead.

"I recommend brides have a fake cake that serves about 20 people. This is for the cutting ceremony and the photos and, of course, if any guest wants a slice.”

The lure of eloping

The act that was once considered scandalous has, over the years, moved past the less-than-romantic reasons of necessity and into "love story adventure" territory.

Tellingly, eloping becomes more prevalent during times of global trouble, with one such spike occurring during the Great Depression of the 1920s and 1930s. Although the 2020-2021 wedding season could hardly be deemed on a par, there are obvious financial benefits to be reaped from a two-person wedding.

“Last year was obviously very stop-start within the bridal industry,” says Heaton. “We had a large chunk of our bridal gown orders put on hold in the first half, but then as the year progressed, we started to get a lot of enquiries for 'elopement gowns'.

“I think this has poured into the trends for 2021 due to the uncertain nature of weddings, so we’re still seeing a lot of elopement ceremonies.”

Martin adds: “Many have eloped and got married [with] just the two of them, and will have a bigger celebration in the future like they had originally planned."