With many 2020 weddings postponed due to the global pandemic, there are now more couples than ever eagerly anticipating their big day—and more brides still searching for that all-important dress. For many, sustainability is a growing concern. Lyst’s 2020 wedding report found a 38 percent increase for the terms ‘vintage’, ‘secondhand’ or ‘pre-owned’. And with the dress usually being the most extravagant single-use item there is, it’s no wonder.
The main challenge, says Amy Trinh, the co-founder of bridal label Wed, is that it’s “so difficult to wear [a wedding dress] again without looking like a runaway bride”. Together with her business partner Evan Phillips, she set about revolutionising the bridal market by creating ready-to-wear pieces that can be worn after your wedding.
While the brand has been using deadstock as much as possible, the designers are now planning to upcycle pre-worn wedding dresses, both for brides-to-be and former brides who want a way to wear their gown again. “There are hundreds of thousands of dresses out there; metres and metres of fabric that is sat there, not doing anything,” comments Phillips.
Trinh and Phillips are among a growing number of bridal designers who are considering how to upcycle wedding dresses in a bid to cut waste. Here, three bridal labels share their ideas for giving a pre-used bridal gown a new lease of life.
Wed’s Amy Trinh and Evan Phillips on creating separates from pre-worn gowns
Trinh and Phillips are hoping that by launching an upcycling service, brides can make use of their mothers’ or grandmothers’ old wedding dresses. “There are so many people with this dress that they’ve only worn once and it’s been boxed away,” Trinh says. “We felt that because [wedding dresses are] so emotional, it’d be amazing to do something modern using the fabric from that day.”
Their idea is to use the fabric to create the brand’s ready-to-wear styles, which include whimsical dresses and separates in black and white. “We’re going to unpick all the seams and then cleverly place the fabric in the styles that we have for AW20,” Trinh continues. “We have quite a lot of tops and skirts this year; it’s really important that these pieces can be worn [again].”
The upcycling service also allows clients to work with Trinh and Phillips to create something unique. “It’s 100 per cent bespoke,” Phillips adds. “The way we work is very open; we want to create pieces to suit people, whatever the occasion.”
Tess van Zalinge on turning vintage wedding gowns into suits
Dutch designer Tess van Zalinge has also been using vintage wedding dresses to create modern bridal looks, comprising elaborate gowns, jumpsuits and tailoring. “We have to think about all the waste in the wedding industry,” says van Zalinge. “I wanted to make a wedding collection out of upcycling old dresses, and have zero waste.”
Since launching the collection, van Zalinge has seen a renewed interest from clients wanting to upcycle their own gowns. “A lot of people have asked, ‘Can you design me something that I can wear again, or wear daily?’” This has included transforming dresses into more tailored pieces by interfacing the fabrics. “A lot of vintage wedding dresses are soft and silky. If you want to create a three-piece suit, you need to have good construction underneath,” she explains.
Van Zalinge hopes more brides will consider the afterlife of their wedding dress. “You could buy a dress that you’re going to wear for [just] one day,” she adds, “but you have to think about what you could do with it afterwards.”
Alice Temperley on giving your wedding gown a colourful second life
When Alice Temperley discovered a rail of sample wedding dresses in her warehouse, she decided to transform them into something special. “I said, ‘Under no circumstances is anybody allowed to chuck them.’ They weren’t in perfect [condition] for someone to come in and buy for their wedding — they’d been tried on so many times — but they were highly valuable pieces.”
Instead, Temperley set about upcycling the dresses. “I thought: ‘Let’s shorten some of them, take some of the sleeves off,’” she explains. “I just wanted to give them a new life. When you dye white dresses with all the embroidery, the stitching, the lace, the lining, it’s magic every time you do it. Everything is unique.”
The bridal designer, who has dressed celebrities including model Arizona Muse, actor Milla Jovovich and former tennis player Caroline Wozniacki, used natural dyes made from tree bark and insects to achieve vibrant reds, pinks, blues and greens, before fixing them to the material using apple vinegar. “I wanted it to be totally sustainable,” Temperley explains. “[Craft supplier] George Weil does a great selection of [natural] dyes; the beetles turn into an amazing bright pink colour.”
Although Temperley doesn’t currently have plans to launch an upcycling service, dyeing your wedding dress allows you to get more wear out of it. “A lot of people don’t have the occasion to wear white dresses again,” Temperley says. “There are people you can go to that will dye garments for you; it’s a really good option for people to be able to wear their wedding dresses over and over again.”