Ways to Reuse Your Wedding Dress or Bridesmaid Dress
The Garment Bag In The Back Of Your Closet
If you’ve gotten married and are a woman, then chances are that tucked away at the back of your closet or up in the attic is a garment bag that holds a dress you’ve only worn once: your wedding dress. Perhaps there is a family member who will wear it in the future? Fair enough, leave your wonderful dress safely protected for them.
That garment bag, or possibly bags, may contain a bridesmaid dress that you feel bad about getting rid of because it was stitched just for that wedding, or it was a good friend’s wedding and getting rid of the dress feels like you don’t appreciate being in the wedding party or something along those lines. If this is the case, fear not!
Whether it’s a really big bag with a wedding dress a lá 1981 Princess Diana, or a sleeker bag more along the lines of (former princess) Megan Markle in 2018, instead of letting it hang in its protective cover, let’s take a look at a few alternatives of how you can get more use out of that very special garment and further the love that went into that dress instead of letting it languish in the dark.
To do that, we need to apply the 5 Rs - say what? To a wedding dress or a bridesmaid dress? Sure thing! Let me show you how…
Did you know people used to wear a variety of colours for their wedding gown before the trend to wear white started after Queen Victoria’s wedding in 1840?
How To 'Reduce' Your Wedding Dress
There’s no way to undo buying a wedding dress, so here is some food for thought for anyone you know who will get married in the future:
The UK’s Queen Victoria is often attributed with starting the trend to wear a white wedding gown. Before her, it didn’t matter if you were royalty or not, people wore wedding gowns in a variety of colours, including white. Socialites began wearing white after Queen Victoria, then years later the trend caught on more strongly to give us the wedding industry as we know it today.
Wedding dresses can cost tens of thousands of dollars and bridesmaid dresses hundreds. However, now knowing that before two hundred years ago people wore all sorts of beautiful gowns, why not go back to that and wear a dress in a colour that really makes the bride and bridesmaids shine?
Dare I do as I say? You bet! I wore an eggplant-purple satin evening gown as my wedding dress that I could wear again later when attending other weddings!
Another friend of mine bought a very nice, but sturdy, every-day dress for her wedding that she then donated to her local mosque in Turkey for other women to wear for theirs. The last she heard, three women had been married in it.
When a consignment shop sells an item, the original owner gets a percentage of the sale!
How To ‘Redistribute’ Your Wedding Dress
As mentioned above, donating your wedding dress is a great way to redistribute it. Whether your dress is fancy or plain, white or another colour, someone is going to appreciate having a chance to wear a beautiful dress that maybe they couldn’t afford themselves. This is also a really great way to help the environment by reducing.
If you belong to a religious institution, explain to the leaders what you’d like to do and give them the dress(es). It’s important to get the items out of your house! This way, the leaders can discreetly lend the dress to whoever is in need.
It may sound funny, but put the word out among your family and friends that you would be happy to give you wedding or bridesmaid dress to anyone in need. Perhaps someone could use the bridesmaid dress for a prom? Or there is a wedding brewing among a distant relation or married-in relation that you haven’t heard about? Tell whoever takes the dress to re-gift it on after they’ve used it.
Alternatively, give the dress to a charity. Just walk in and hand it over. They’ll give you a big smile and thanks and do the rest. If you don’t feel comfortable walking in, many charities will do pick-ups of bigger items, have collection boxes around, or just ask a friend to take it for you.
Social networks like freecycle.org will also allow you to give it away for free. You can specify the item is for pick up only, so you don’t have to do anything except walk to the front door.
If you’d like to make a bit of money when redistributing, then try a consignment shop or selling it online, for example eBay.
Is there a fashion design course in a local college? Ask the professor if they’d like your wedding dress for their class to take apart.
Does your town have a sewing or craft store? They might be interested in taking your dress to use the material for other projects.
In summary, here are some ways to redistribute your dress(es):
- give to a family member or friend
- give to a local religious institution
- give to a charity shop
- give to a consignment shop
- sell it online, e.g. eBay
- donate on a social network or freecycle
- give to a local fashion design course
- give to a sewing or craft store
How To ‘Repurpose’ Your Wedding Dress
The definition of ‘repurpose’ is to adapt for use in a different purpose (Oxford dictionary). A bridesmaid dress can be used (possibly with a bit of altering) for attending other functions such as weddings, proms, etc. But a wedding dress… it doesn’t exactly lend itself to being used as something else that easily.
No, but it can be done. Let’s look at some ideas how:
Long before ‘recycling, reduce, reuse’ took off, I found a shop in Kensington Market in Toronto (Canada) that sold trousers made out of old saris. They were compiled of different stripes of silk from different saris, making each pair of trousers completely unique and beautiful. They were far ahead of their time in repurposing cloth to keep it out of the garbage.
What could you, a friend who sews, or a seamstress make from your wedding dress?
Here are just a few ideas:
- Have a seamstress repurpose and dye your wedding dress into a completely different design so you can use it to go to other functions. If there is a lot of extra material taken off because you had a long train, for example, that material can be used to make something as well (see below). If your seamstress doesn’t dye, as the local dry cleaner as they might.
- Make pillows. You can use them to decorate your bed or on the sofa for everyday use, or you could gift them to your children or other family and friends. If you do have a seamstress take off material to make a different style dress, ask for the material and scraps that were cut off, because chances are you can make a pillow or quilt a pillow cover.
- Make a blanket. You might even have enough fabric to make two.
- Make a quilt.
- Make a wall hanging.
Did you know you can hire people to make a quilt or blanket for you? Ask at your local sewing, craft or haberdashery shop for names.
How To ‘Reuse’ Your Wedding Dress
Depending on the style of your wedding dress, you might be able to wear it, or parts of it, at other events.
After Queen Victoria’s wedding in 1840 to Prince Albert, she wore the handmade lace gown that covered the ivory white silk gown to the christenings and weddings of her nine children, and even permitted one of her daughters to wear the lace as part of her own wedding dress. She donned it again for her Diamond Jubilee portrait in 1897.
While Queen Victoria’s silk gown has gone on to be displayed at Kensington Palace, the lace gown isn't on display because it is now considered too fragile, so it remains in storage. However, what an honour that lace gown got from a lifetime of use! The Queen's wedding veil, however, was placed over her face when she was buried.
Lending your wedding dress to someone to wear is a great way to re-use it. The person will probably appreciate not having to buy one, and you get to relive a happy memory seeing the dress coming down the aisle. In the spirit of a minimalist lifestyle, thank the garment and give it to the person, instead of lending.
If your dress isn’t too conspicuous as a wedding dress, you might be able to add a jacket or shawl to it and wear it to other functions. You don’t need to tell people you’re wearing your wedding dress. Just thank them for their lovely compliments!
Dying your wedding dress a different colour will help you to re-use it without spending a lot of money. Again, this will depend on the style of your dress. A different colour could even disguise it from people who were at your wedding!
How To ‘Recycle’ Your Wedding Dress
One way to interpret ‘recycling your wedding dress’ is literally throwing your dress in the recycling bin. It’s organic matter, so theoretically it will decompose in time. If your waste disposal team is anything like mine, though, they may refuse to take it.
You might have to put it in a (willing!) friend’s compost container or take it directly to the dump.
However…perhaps upcycling will give you different ideas about what you can do it.
How To ‘Upcycle’ Your Wedding Dress
When we talk about upcycling, we mean a “very specific form of recycling that turns waste into a material or product that is of a higher quality” (https://recyclenation.com/2017/02/upcycling-vs-recycling/).
We’re not talking about taking cool knobs from old drawers to paint a different colour and put on your dresser. It’s a fully complete wedding dress or bridesmaid dress, so…
Depending on the dress, adding embellishments such as rhinestones or lace may or may not work. If you think it might, but aren’t sure, ask at the local sewing shop, in an online forum, or even a seamstress or tailor for advice because she/he deals with fabrics and designs professionally, and might have ideas you didn’t consider.
Check your own personal arts and crafts supplies to really make it an upcycling project from what you already have.
You might just need to take off the sleeves, take out the tulle underlay, sew in a few nips and tucks and voila! A brand new upcycled dress! Just google ‘upcycling a dress’ for dozens of ideas that will breathe life into your dress.
If you don’t want to keep the wedding dress at all, consider donating it to a dressmaking or fashion design course at a local college or a sewing, crafting or haberdashery shop for them to use as they see fit. It will be like a goldmine of fabric for them!
Remember to use scraps for other projects like quilting pillow covers or donate them to the sewing or craft shop for other crafters.
The Minimalist Lifestyle Challenge: Letting Your Belongings Go
If it’s your wedding dress you are considering repurposing into a quilt or giving away, it may be hard to go through the process of letting it go. When I went through the process of moving to a minimalist lifestyle from a lifetime of being a hoarder of every sentimental thing imaginable, I found the tips in Marie Kondo’s books ‘Spark Joy’ and ‘The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up’ really helped me a lot. She not only explains how to release our precious objects, but shows you how to organise what you keep so your house is sleeker and easier to live in. I’ve even got my kids in on it!
Marie Kondo - The Minimalism Queen!
Bringing Your Dress New Life
Whether you give your wedding dress or bridesmaid dress(es) to someone else to use, make them into something you get to use every day around your house, or donate them to a course or shop for them to re-purpose as they see fit, your closet will be happier and so will you knowing that you’ve given new life to a garment that can now live in the light of day!
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2020 Amanda Hare