A wedding dress is generally a disposable item.
Even though modern bride and groom choose to subvert outdated wedding traditions, a prevalent custom is to walk down the aisle in one-of-a-kind attire.
But investing so much money, time, and fabric in a wedding dress that you only wear once doesn’t make sense.
As we increasingly realize the fashion industry’s astounding contribution to global warming, wearing one outfit once is the ultimate fashion faux pas: the 2021 version of pairing socks with sandals.
Even celebrities have noticed. On the “green” carpet at the Earthshot awards ceremony earlier this month, actress and activist Emma Watson wore a recycled outfit consisting of a white asymmetric tulle dress paired with black flared pants. The look was created by designer Harris Reed using wedding dresses donated to Oxfam.
Watson’s dress caused a storm – and was one of the first times that a major celebrity has presented such an explicitly recycled look. So does this mean that reuse of clothing has become mainstream?
May be. But women have been recycling their own wedding dresses for several years before celebrities jumped on the trend.
We spoke to four women who have done just that and found out about the different ways to breathe new life into this single use item.
Sandra Barbier, 54 years old
I got married in 1985 in a dress that I designed and sewn myself. After my marriage, the dress was in storage for 32 years, including 10 years after my marriage ended.
It was too important to get rid of, but I didn’t need it and my daughters didn’t want it either. What to do with the dress was a problem on my mind.
I thought about recycling my dress for a few years before I started. When I finally found the strength to sink into it, it was like losing some weight that I was dragging with me. I felt so free and unloaded afterwards!
My wedding dress had so many elements that I brought out quite a few new clothes. The first project was my daughter’s Clockwork Angel cosplay costume, using the skirt from my dress. It was great to see part of my wedding dress finally come in handy.
I also used some of the lace and eyelets to visibly repair some of a coworker’s denim shorts.
I’m turning the cuffs into decorative cuffs for myself – they’ve always been my favorite part of the dress. Now I will be able to put them back all the time.
Katrina Barnish, 62
When I got married in 1988, I kept the celebrations as inexpensive as possible. I made my wedding dress myself, using my mother’s bridal veil as an insert, and creating a headdress by attaching dried flowers and the remaining veil to a hanger.
At the start of last year’s lockdown, I was inspired by friends to start sprouting beans at home. The method involves covering the jar of beans with a fine mesh to allow for regular rinsing.
I rummaged through my fabric trash can looking for a similar material to no avail. Then I remembered where I would find it: my wedding dress!
I cut strips of netting in the petticoats, leaving the dress intact. The material was perfect for the job and is still used regularly on my jars of beans. I haven’t returned the dress to the attic yet – I’m still thinking about its future.
I’m an avid upcycler, but reusing my wedding dress is a big challenge. However, I would definitely cut other sections – I still find it extremely satisfying to make a new garment from a discarded or damaged item.
I stopped buying new clothes a few years ago, and more and more I try to think “do I need this new item?” Before embarking on any clothing-making project. And using the resources I find in my attic is a way to avoid fast fashion altogether!
Sharaun Young, 64 years old
I’ve been recycling clothes for decades, so when I planned my second wedding eight years ago, I knew I wanted to make my own dress. I looked for fabric that I could use, and then the idea came to me: I could reuse my wedding dress from my first wedding in 1974.
This wedding was a disaster, and the dress itself wasn’t that pretty in hindsight. So it was great to find a new purpose for the garment.
Then I realized I had another wedding dress in my closet: the dress I made for my daughter’s wedding. After her marriage broke down, she returned the dress to me to do whatever I wanted.
I decided to combine these two garments into one dress and created a knee length dress with a layer of black ruffles and a longer hem in the back. It was so nice to wear a dress that I myself had created for my last wedding with the love of my life.
Bidisha Barman, 36 years old
I have worn my wedding saree again – a quintessential red Benarasi saree typical of Bengali brides – several times since my wedding in 2015. I have paired it with different blouses to change up the look, but have often thought about reusing the garment into something I would use more often.
I grew up watching my mom and grandmother recycle everything – make curtains with saris or pots with barrels. Women can be possessive about their saree collection, but my mom always cut hers, turning them into cute dresses for me when I was a kid.
My mom got married 40 years ago and recently gave me her wedding sari. Since I only wear sarees for special occasions, I transformed the garment into a more comfortable everyday dress.
No new item could give me the same satisfaction that I get from wearing this piece that I myself recycled!
Since I started working in development, I have noticed a lot more wasted fashion. It’s sad how many clothes we think we need. Ultimately, what we are looking for can already be expected in our wardrobe.
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