Alexandra Desmond investigates brides’ increasingly popular desire to choose an environmentally-conscious and sustainable dress and proves that being eco-friendly doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice on style.
A generation that is increasingly conscious of our impact on the planet, it is no surprise that we’re seeing a surge in couples wishing to incorporate their values and eco-friendly approach to their wedding day. When it comes to wedding dresses, there is perhaps no item of clothing as unsustainable as these, given that they are normally only ever worn once and remain hanging in a closet for decades to come. So what exactly is considered a sustainable dress and how can you adopt a more environmentally friendly approach to wedding dress shopping? From researching brand’s credentials to wearing rented or borrowed gowns, here’s some easy to incorporate methods for a greener approach.
Do Your Due Diligence
Research different brands and see what practices they follow when creating their dresses. The most important things to look for are the fabrics used and where the garments are being produced. When it comes to the fabrics used in the dresses, find out whether these are organic and natural, and try to avoid anything synthetic. You should also ask where the pieces are made and ensure the workers are being paid a fair wage. The internet and social media is an easy way to do your research and don’t be afraid to reach out and ask the company if you still have any questions. Most sustainable brands are proud of their eco-approach and are completely transparent about the creative process. Kate Halfpenny of Halfpenny London is just one of the many designers who are constantly trying to be more conscious of the impact the bridalwear industry has on the environment, with her new ‘Unveiled’ collection featuring a selection of lovingly crafted modern veils. Kate minimises waste by ensuring all offcuts and dead stock fabrics are lovingly worked in to her pieces where possible, often crafted into exquisite floral appliqués or other such embellishments. If Kate can’t find a use for certain leftover fabrics, she donates them to schools and universities to allow budding designers breathe a new life into them so nothing goes to waste. Other sustainable brands we love for wedding dresses include Reformation, Grace Loves Lace, Wear Your Love, Rita Colson, Leila Hafzi and Stella McCartney, as worn by Meghan Markle for her wedding reception.
Wear It Again
Wedding dresses are considered unsustainable partly due to their limited one-time use. While we may all want to wear them again and again, not many occasions call for a flowing white dress complete with a train, but if you rethink your approach to bridalwear, you may be surprised to find you can still achieve that polished bridal look by taking a slightly different approach. The introduction of separates is something which is constantly on the rise, by breaking down your outfit into a top and a skirt, you can increase the longevity of your outfit by wearing them both separately again in the future. The beauty of separates is that they allow for mix and matching for those who may be different sizes on top and bottom, allowing brides to choose the most flattering combination to suit their body shape. It also gives way for a more personalised approach to choosing your preferred style, by combining a top, jacket, skirt or pants, you can change up your outfit to achieve the perfect look for you. Sharon Hoey is an Irish designer who has expanded her collection to offer a range of separates which can be combined to create the most romantic look. With her Pretty in Pink collection made entirely in Ireland, shopping locally also sees a drastic reduction in the carbon footprint of the entire process, “From our perspective, we try to buy from Europe as much as possible and stick to reputable sources, a lot of fabrics we use come from a mill in Italy where we know the workers are all paid and treated fairly.” Another well-known designer offering an extensive range of dresses, jumpsuits and separates which can be worn time and again after the wedding is Roland Mouret with his bridalwear range, the White Collection.
Consider Wearing Something Pre-loved
The idea of a second hand or borrowed dress is certainly on the rise since Princess Beatrice’s wedding last year which saw her borrow a dress from her grandmother, the Queen. The bride remodelled the dress to her taste and had it fitted to her shape by the Queen’s dresser Angela Kelly and dressmaker Stewart Parvin. While we may not have the Queen’s wardrobe to spy through, the concept of wearing some preloved is in fact applicable to the greater public also. I myself speak from experience as I also wore a borrowed dress for my nuptials last August. As I had begun designing a dress with Sharon Hoey last year, this all unfortunately ground to a halt with lockdown last summer. We were unable to continue work on this due to the restrictions and my now-husband and I still wished to be married on our original date, so I had to think outside the box when it came to choosing what to wear. A good friend offered up her dress and urged me to alter it in any way I wished, she was delighted that this dress which brought her so much happiness would see the light of day once more and with a few alterations, I was able to put my own stamp on it. If you don’t have a close friend or family member, look to one of the vintage stores or websites such as Vestiaire Collective or SellMyWeddingDress.ie – you could be pleasantly surprised at what you find. This idea brings a whole new life to the old adage of something borrowed!
Rent A Dress
If you don’t want to commit to actually buying a dress, renting is a wonderful sustainable alternative, as seen by Carrie Symonds for her recent wedding to British Prime Minister Boris Johnson. This is a great option whether you are the bride or a guest at a wedding, renting significantly reduces the amount of clothing that will eventually end up as waste. The good news is, rental fashion has been growing in popularity since it was first introduced over a decade ago and so, there are lots of options available should you decide to explore this route. One of the more popular boutiques offering bridal rental is Covet in Powerscourt Town Centre. Stocking labels such as Badgley Mischka, Rachel Gilbert, Jenny Yoo, Tadashi, their own Covet label and a range of designer vintage pieces including Valentino, Dolce & Gabbana and Oscar de la Renta, renting can also mean dresses which would have been previously far outside your price range are now more accessible. Owner of Covet, Aleana O’Shea explains how flexible the service is, “We book a dress out for two weeks for a bride. We alter all dresses, fix beads, clean and pretty much make them look as close to new as possible. We can add sleeves, belts, bows, crystal appliqués…anything the bride desires as all alterations are only temporary.” If you’re worried about any damage that may be caused to the dresses throughout the celebrations, that’s also taken care of. “All clients take out a damage indemnity on their dresses which is 10% of the rental price. It covers them for any stains, rips, anything along those lines so no bride ever has to worry. We have a full studio of fabrics, zips and buttons and we can fix everything. We tell brides to just have fun and not worry!”
Pay It Forward
If you have already found your dream dress or find yourself falling in love with a gown that doesn’t score highly on the sustainability side of things, don’t worry as you can still play your part. There are plenty of charities who would be more than grateful to receive your dress as a donation and you can take comfort in knowing it won’t lay hanging in a wardrobe for years to come. Barnardos Bridal have outlets in Dun Laoghaire and Wexford, Oxfam are based in Dublin and Bangor, and St. Vincent De Paul accept donations anywhere in Ireland. Other notable charities are Gift of a Wedding and the Wishing Well Foundation who both plan and fund weddings for terminally ill women. Another wonderful charity who are always on the lookout for wedding gowns is Angel Gowns for Angel Babies, an organisation who transform wedding and communion dresses into gowns for babies who pass away in the Neonatal Intensive Care Units (NICU) in hospitals around Ireland. As these babies are often too small to fit into normal baby clothes, this charity provides grieving parents with something beautiful to bury their child in. One dress can make up to 12 outfits which are then distributed to NICU’s throughout the country.