Does the classic white dress negate any notions of going green? Lia Hynes examines the intricacies of how to make your most indulgent day a sustainably friendly one too.
On the face of it, my approach to wedding dress shopping did not scream sustainability. For one thing, there was not one dress purchased, but two.
Place settings, favours, invitation designs; all held no allure. But as someone who works in fashion, I had a fairly definite idea of what I wanted to wear (or so I thought), and the minute I got engaged, I was straight out of the gate.
What I wanted (again, so I thought) was something atypical. For me, the princess look was something little girls dressed up in. This was an opportunity to buy simply the nicest, probably white - although that wasn’t a definite requirement - dress I could find. And find it I did, a crisp white cotton number by American label Tibi in Harvey Nichols. As I recall, it cost about €600.
It turns out buying your wedding dress when there is over a year of planning to go is not the wisest choice. Because wedding fever gets to us all; in the end, each of us succumbs in some way, getting involved in things we swore we would never care about.
We didn’t get married for over a year after the proposal. And by the time the planning had really properly kicked off, my oh-so-definite tastes had changed entirely. Instead of short and kicky, I wanted long and Carolyn Bessette Kennedy. And I found it. In Folkster’s Kilkenny store, buried on a rail of vintage evening dresses.
And this is where I get back on track with being eco-friendly. Because, dress number one? 100 per cent cotton, it dyed easily in my washing machine, and has since been worn to several other weddings and parties. Dress number two? It cost €120, and well, vintage is about as sustainable as you can get.
Are Wedding Dresses Fast Fashion?
It has been established by now that fashion is not good for the environment; estimates say that 1.2 billion tonnes of carbon emissions were produced by the global fashion industry in 2015. Wedding dresses are not our traditional idea of fast fashion – high street buys we wear a handful of times before casting aside, yes – but how many times does the typical woman wear her wedding dress? Just the once, with any luck.
Vintage Bride, Jenny Vander and Dirty Fabulous are Dublin boutiques with incredible selections of vintage dresses. Oxfam Ireland has two bridal shops, in Bangor and in Dublin. See also Barnardos Bridal in Dun Laoghaire and Wexford.
Irish Actress, Shereen Martin wore a vintage dress for her wedding. “The idea of buying a very expensive dress I would wear once didn’t appeal,” she recalls. “I wasn’t keen on most modern dresses anyway, so I had always thought I would get a second-hand dress. I had done a bunch of Noel Coward plays, Tonight at 8.30, the summer before I got married. They are set in the 1930s, and I loved the dresses in the show. They inspired me to look for a vintage dress when I went shopping for my wedding dress. "In the end, bought a 1950s style dress, there were so many beautiful details on it, and I knew I would wear it again.”
Sustainable Big Days
Not to be a buzzkill, but sustainability is something we all need to get our heads around. Even on our big days – maybe particularly, because as events go, weddings are up there as being particularly wasteful. According to one study by Climate Care, a company which works to offset carbon emissions, over a decade ago a typical wedding can emit 14.5 tonnes of CO2. At the time of the study, the average person was emitting 12 tonnes a year.
Wedding dresses tend to have a sizeable carbon footprint. It is unusual for them to be locally made, so their production involves a notable amount of air miles. Polyester and silk, fabrics typically used in wedding dresses, require treatment processes that can also be harmful to the environment. The day itself includes a host of potential pitfalls. Locations that involve a significant amount of travel on the part of guests, plastic confetti, balloons, copious amounts of paper used in invitations and non-locally sourced ingredients and flowers; it all mounts up.
Ethical Wedding Planning
So what can you do to increase your big day’s sustainability count? As much as you can, stay local on all fronts; food, fashion, venue, flowers. Interrogate your venue and caterer as to their disposal methods and plastic policy. All wedding jewellery should ideally be purchased with ethical mining and sourcing of stones in mind.
For a particularly green big day, the Kippure Estate in Blessington, Co Wicklow, describes itself as an earth-friendly venue. As an ethical wedding location, it allows guests to gather foliage from the forests to add to floral decorations and bouquets and offers organic and locally sourced produce with Fairtrade tea and coffee.
Avoid all paper and go digital with invitations. Honestly, you are sparing yourself so much hassle, as well as saving the world on this one. Opt for a veggie menu. After the big day, the dress needn’t sit gathering dust in your wardrobe until the end of time. Use it to create a family heirloom that will be passed on for generations.
Something Old, Something New(ish), Something Borrowed... Something Green
My aunt made a beautiful communion dress for her eldest daughter from her own wedding dress. Other remodelling suggestions range from the slightly out there, turning your wedding dress into a lingerie set; to the somewhat complicated: fashioning hairbands, accessories and lace jewellery out of the former dress; to the highly unusual, teddy bears and lampshades.
If you are not pushed about keeping the dress, there are a number of good causes that accept wedding dress donations. The Wedding Wish Well, is a charity which organises weddings for people suffering from a terminal illness. Gift of a Wedding offers a similar service and accepts donations of all wedding clothing.
Famously, author and journalist Elizabeth Day sold her wedding dress (after her divorce) to fund the first series of her now hugely successful podcast, How to Fail. Though, the marriage doesn’t have to end for it to be a good idea to sell the dress. Sellmyweddingdress.ie sells dresses, mother of the bride outfits, flower girls dresses, and accessories. Timeless Bridal wear in Trim, Co Meath, accepts pre-worn dresses to be sold in its boutique.
For now, my two wedding dresses sit in my wardrobe. One is regularly taken out by myself, a fall back for summer weddings. The other is a favourite of my four-year-old. She likes to dress up in it, and frankly, I feel no preciousness towards it.
The shoes, Jimmy Choos, are going to my sister-in-law, the veil has done the rounds of various friends’ subsequent wedding days. Most satisfyingly, my cousin recently returned the dress her daughter had worn as my flower girl. A white cotton dress from Penneys it was, you might imagine, the ultimate unsustainable purchase. But she changed the buttons from white to a colourful mixture taken from our grandmother’s collection, which we all played with as children.
In one move, she had changed a disposable dress into something with a touch of an heirloom. It will be kept, treasured, passed down. Worn. Sustained.