By Barbara Marshall
In the David’s Bridal shop in West Palm Beach, Vicki Reynolds and her daughter, Brittnee, were turning the mother-daughter wedding dress shopping tradition on its head.
Vicki, 48 and 10 years divorced, is the bride; Brittnee, 22, is the bridesmaid.
Nor was Vicki looking for the sedate wedding suit good taste once dictated that older brides wear.
When the Delray Beach dental hygienist marries for the second time in November, she’ll be wearing a $1,000 ivory halter-style wedding gown with a full veil. She’ll celebrate with a $25,000 black tie reception for 50 people on board a 142-foot yacht.
“I’m a little surprised that I want this. But I’m so happy with this man that I want it to be like it’s my first marriage, as if it’s my one and only wedding,” said Reynolds, whose new blended family will join the newlyweds on their honeymoon cruise. “I want to feel like a bride.”
Once, “mature” brides, as the wedding industry calls them, were encouraged not to call attention to their later-in-life nuptials.
Enter the rule-breaking baby boomers embarking on second (or third or fourth) marriages, with disposable incomes and a determination to party.
“It’s a huge trend where older brides find the love of their life, the one they wish they married the first time,” said Dianne Myers, manager of David’s Bridal in West Palm Beach.
The country’s largest bridal chain has seen its older bride business more than double in the past two years while growth in the younger bride market has been more modest, according to Brian Beitler, David’s Bridal’s chief marketing officer.
While the mature market accounts for only two to three percent of overall sales, the company expects the number to continue growing.
Older brides spend more on dresses, too. David’s says they average $700 to $800 on gowns compared to the $500 to $600 that younger brides spend.
And a good portion of those are long white or off-white gowns.
“There aren’t any rules anymore,” said Trina Chaney-Hoo, owner of The Planning Company, a Palm Beach event planning firm.
She arranged a wedding for a 62-year-old first-time bride earlier this year who wore a full-length wedding gown and had an elaborate reception.
“They are absolutely in love,” said Chaney-Hoo. “The bride said, ‘Why shouldn’t I have everything I want?’.”
Only a few years ago, the majority of her brides were 25 to 35, said Chaney-Woo. “Today most of them are 35 to 60-something,” she said.
At the Four Seasons Hotel in Palm Beach, catering manager Stacie Hallinan has also noticed an uptick in middle-aged brides. Weekend wedding parties that include a welcome party, rehearsal dinner, wedding and reception and farewell brunch are common among brides more interested in family and fun than traditional rituals.
“Emily Post may be rolling her eyes, but these brides are creating family reunions during their wedding weekends,” Hallinan said. “They’re renting Jet Skis, hanging out on the beach and getting facials at the spa.”
Their weddings tend to be smaller but with more attention to detail. While younger brides might spend $200 a head for a wedding reception, older brides’ budgets will allow for $250 to $300.
“They might spend $40,000 for 50 people compared to younger brides spending that for 100 or 150,” Hallinan said.
Couples 55 and older made up 8 percent of last year’s $53 billion wedding industry, according to The Wedding Report, which analyzes trends. That’s double the number of older couples who tied in the knot in 2002.
Nationally, these empty nesters with savings and substantial 401ks are spending 10 to 15 percent more than the $26,000 cost of the average wedding.
Chaney-Woo’s Palm Beach brides are pulling out even more stops.
Vera Wang gowns are the norm for her clients, who are mostly local professional women, she said. Many order several-thousand dollar cakes flown in from New York baker Sylvia Weinstock Cakes, known as the “da Vinci” of wedding cakes.
If there’s any blushing among these brides, it’s likely from the cost.
Chaney-Hoo says her middle-aged brides might spend $150,000 to $200,000 on a small high-end wedding. The average for a larger wedding is $400,000 to $600,000, not including the dress or the ring.
Myers, the David’s Bridal manager, hasn’t seen many Bridezilla rages among this demographic, but she’s prepared. nonetheless.
“What sometimes happens these days is that moms and daughters are getting married at the same time,” she said, with a shudder.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.