Although it is credited with being one of the first companies to offer wedding and bridal party dresses online, J.Crew’s e-store is ending its love affair with the bridal business. The company is closing its bridal line, which was among the first of its kind when it launched back in 2004. The line was offered exclusively online until 2010 when J.Crew opened a bridal boutique on Madison Avenue in New York City.
The once-popular line offered high-quality, stylish dresses for brides and bridesmaids at an affordable price, popularizing the trend of having bridesmaids wear the same color, with different cuts or styles to fit their personal body type and taste. J.Crew spokeswoman Margo Fooshee told Bloomberg in an email that the retailer will change their focus to “what women like to wear to someone else’s wedding, versus what they would wear to their own.”
So what happened? How did J.Crew go from innovating the space to pulling the plug? Said simply — the e-store stopped making money.
According to the New York Times, the retailer may have been a victim of its own success. By creating bridesmaid dresses so close to evening wear, fewer brides saw the need to buy dresses designed especially for bridesmaids. The New York Times reports that J.Crew’s overall sales were down 6 percent in the first half of fiscal year 2016, on top of losses in 2015. Sources close to the company told the fashion website Racked that finances were the reason for the split. There are simply fewer people shopping for wedding gowns and bridesmaid dresses as compared to those buying special occasion attire, and the materials used to make gowns are more expensive. Rather than create a version of the bridal division with cheaper materials, J.Crew chose to cut the line entirely.
According to IBIS World, weddings are a $3 billion-a-year industry, and there are still a lot of choices out there for brides who are looking to buy their dress online. The typical wedding takes about 13 months to plan, and the average cost of a wedding dress in 2015 was $1,671. Online retailers can offer brides a shorter turnaround time than the average bridal salon and more variety when it comes to price. In fact, just having the word wedding attached to an item is enough to affect the price. According to a report by the research company Edited, retailers charge an average of 3.9 times more for a white bridal dress than an ordinary white dress. Bridesmaid dresses cost an average of 1.8 times more than other, similar dresses.
Anthropologie’s BHLDN line is another example of a retailer that began selling dresses exclusively online but now has bridal shops located around the country. Anthropologie teamed up with designer brand Marchesa earlier this year to offer a couture-inspired collection with wedding gowns that are all under $2,200. However, sales for the Anthropologie Group as a whole decreased 2 percent in the fourth quarter of fiscal year 2016.
Online retailer ModCloth launched its wedding collection online in March. In addition to online stylists, ModCloth hosted a series of In Real Life (IRL) physical pop-ups for brides and bridal parties who want to try before they buy. ModCloth hired three new marketing executives this year to accelerate offline expansion.
In April, H&M launched their Conscious Exclusive Collection, which is sold both online and in stores. Online retailer ASOS also debuted an affordable line of wedding dresses (it already had a selection of bridesmaid dresses) this year. ASOS Bridal Design Director Vanessa Spence told Vogue earlier this year that the bridesmaid line has exceeded expectations: “We have launched it earlier this summer and have seen sale increase. I think we have found a gap in the market for affordable, fashion-relevant bridesmaids dresses to suit every body shape.”
The love affair with online wedding shopping may continue in other ways. According to eBay, searches for “wedding present” were up 33 percent in June last year, compared with the two months prior. eBay data showed that searches were up for other wedding-related items as well, including engagement rings, wedding dresses and bridal party attire, lingerie, and supplies for bachelor/bachelorette parties.
Money can’t buy you love, but wedding gowns and bridesmaids dresses are currently marked down on the J.Crew website up to 70 percent off while supplies last. The retailer announced this fall that total revenue for its second quarter was down 4 percent, or a loss of $8.6 million.