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How David's Bridal went from bridal-dress domination to the 'Walmart of weddings' and its second bankruptcy filing in 5 years

Avery Hartmans   

How David's Bridal went from bridal-dress domination to the 'Walmart of weddings' and its second bankruptcy filing in 5 years
Spencer Platt/Getty Images
  • David's Bridal filed for bankruptcy for the second time on Monday, days after announcing it would lay off over 9,000 employees.
  • David's Bridal got its start as a single boutique in Florida and grew to be the largest bridal retailer in the US.

David's Bridal was founded by David Reisberg in 1950 as a single bridal shop in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. The company was later purchased and expanded under new owners, Philip Youtie and Steven Erlbaum.

David
James A. Finley/AP Photo

In its early years, David's Bridal operated both boutiques and wedding dress warehouses where a bride could get a designer-like wedding dress on the cheap. "We get people who are getting married in two weeks and just don't have the time for all of that," Youtie told the South Florida Sun Sentinel in 1991.

In its early years, David
Anne Cusack/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

The formula worked. By 1999, David's Bridal employed 1,445 people, operated 80 stores in 30 states, and had reported more than $132 million in sales. The company filed for an initial public offering the same year.

The formula worked. By 1999, David
AP

By 2000, David's Bridal was the nation's largest bridal retailer and had caught the attention of May Department Stores, then the parent company of Lord & Taylor. May bought David's Bridal for $436 million as part of a bid to expand its bridal registry business.

By 2000, David
The entrance to a David's Bridal store in Orlando, Florida, in 2018.      John Raoux/AP Images

May later merged with Federated Department Stores — or, as we know it today, Macy's. In order to offload some of its debt, Federated put David's Bridal up for sale, and in 2006, investment firm Leonard Green & Partners bought it for $750 million.

May later merged with Federated Department Stores — or, as we know it today, Macy
Spencer Platt/Getty Images

But the sale came at a time when the bridal industry was beginning to change. While David's Bridal offered some pricier gowns, it was known primarily for affordable wedding dresses, and the lower end of the bridal market had become saturated. Plus, high-end designers had started to launch their own couture bridal lines and brides were starting to spend thousands of dollars on their dream dress.

But the sale came at a time when the bridal industry was beginning to change. While David
Anne Cusack/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

So David's Bridal started chasing after higher-end brides. In 2010, famed bridal designer Vera Wang announced that she would design a collection of stylish but affordable gowns for David's Bridal. Prices started around $600 — by comparison, a typical Vera Wang wedding gown started around $4,000 at the time.

So David
Former David's Bridal CEO Scott Key with designer Vera Wang.      Cindy Ord/Getty Images

Source: The Cut

In 2012, David's Bridal sold again, this time to private equity firm Clayton, Dubilier & Rice. The leveraged buyout valued the retailer at $1.05 billion, but saddled it with debt at a time when the wedding industry was changing rapidly.

In 2012, David
Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Marriage rates were on the decline at the same time that gown shopping continued to evolve. Many brides were spending more than ever on their gowns — $1,564 on average by 2016 — or were opting to shop online at sites like ASOS, Reformation, and Anthropologie's BHLDN line.

Marriage rates were on the decline at the same time that gown shopping continued to evolve. Many brides were spending more than ever on their gowns — $1,564 on average by 2016 — or were opting to shop online at sites like ASOS, Reformation, and Anthropologie
A BHLDN store in 2014.      Patrick Whittemore/MediaNews Group/Boston Herald via Getty Images

Plus, whether accurate or not, David's Bridal had the reputation of "the Walmart of weddings," as Racked put it at the time. The 2010s bride was planning her wedding with the help of Pinterest and Instagram, which encouraged a more customized experience — one that didn't necessarily involve a cookie-cutter dress and a dozen matching bridesmaids dresses.

Plus, whether accurate or not, David
Catherine Delahaye/Getty Images

In 2018, David's Bridal filed for bankruptcy in an effort to offload some of its more than $400 million in debt and revamp the company in the face of those new competitors.

In 2018, David
Spencer Platt/Getty Images

But it emerged less than two months later with a significantly reduced debt load and new ownership — a group of lenders including Oaktree Capital Management.

But it emerged less than two months later with a significantly reduced debt load and new ownership — a group of lenders including Oaktree Capital Management.
Mary Altaffer/AP

Like other retailers, David's Bridal was impacted by the pandemic, which not only significantly curtailed weddings and other events like quinceañeras and proms, but also disrupted supply chains. The company was forced to move production amid overseas COVID lockdowns and use air freight to transport gowns when shipping lanes became clogged.

Like other retailers, David
Spencer Platt/Getty Images

And despite the 2022 wedding boom that followed, David's Bridal has struggled to keep costs down. This month, the company revealed that it would lay off 9,000 employees nationwide and, shortly after, filed for bankruptcy a second time. The company said it would still fulfill customers' orders as it looks to sell the company, but will shut down all of its stores if it can't find a new buyer.

And despite the 2022 wedding boom that followed, David
Spencer Platt/Getty Images

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