Wedding dress shopping is unsustainable: how to change tact

Jessica Davis
Photo credit: Courtesy of Mother of Pearl

From Harper's BAZAAR

Once upon a time, the biggest decision a bride-to-be faced was over colour schemes, flowers or whether or not to wear a veil. Today, like all purchases, being environmentally-conscious about what we’re buying is a priority. A wedding dress, you could argue, is one of the most unsustainable purchases you can buy. You spend a lot of money to wear it only once after which point it remains in a darkened corner of your wardrobe.

With this and the planet's future in mind, there are some ways you can find ‘the one’ in a smarter, more sustainable way. There's a clear appetite for a new approach - the search term "low-waste wedding" was up by 235 per cent on Pinterest, so there's plenty of us wanting to say "I do" in a greener way. It begs the question, are brides now turning away from the traditional wedding gown?

From ethical bridal brands to renting your dress, these are the best ways to ensure you’re making a greener decisions.

Get to know a brand's credentials

One of the easiest ways to make sure your wedding dress is more sustainable is to buy from a brand that prioritises environmentally-friendly thinking and practices. Eco-fashion used to bear the stereotype of beige colour palettes and itchy fabrics, but now, there’s are plenty of ethical brands available that don’t sacrifice style.

Mother of Pearl is one such label. Creative director Amy Powney advises upcoming brides to question a company's credentials before investing. “If you can, I would opt for organic, natural fabrics where possible and ask the brand where the piece has been produced and if they pay their garment workers a living wage.”

Photo credit: Courtesy of Mother of Pearl

Checking a brand’s supply chain, materials and energy usage are all important when shopping, and it's no different in the bridal market.

“It’s the same as any other products; I always suggest doing a bit of research and ask questions if you’re uncertain,” Powney notes. “Social media is such an easy way to speak quickly and directly to brands. When making such a special purchase, you want to make sure you are buying from a brand that aligns with your values." Powney recommends Reformation and Stella McCartney for beautiful, sustainable wedding dresses.

Re-think traditions

As well as shopping from ethical labels, it's important to consider the longevity of your purchase - will it be something you can again? When we think of bridalwear, white classic dresses with long trains immediately spring to mind, but if you want to take a more sustainable approach, then steering away from this ideal could be the answer. Opting for a more wearable look means you’ll get more wear out of your purchase, therefore making it more of a sustainable buy.

“The modernity of our time is sustainability,” designer Roland Mouret tells me. “My advice to the modern bride is to wear different separates that can come together to create a bridal look. She can put them back in the wardrobe and wear them separately, so after the wedding she can wear them for years to come.”

Photo credit: Courtesy of Roland Mouret

Mouret recently designed his first bridalwear range, the White Collection, which focuses on timeless style rather than trends, so each piece can be re-styled with other looks or re-worn for other occasions. His collection comprises of dresses, jumpsuits and separates that all have longevity, which will work hard for you beyond your wedding day.

“I really think you can bring style with magic for brides with a long skirt, a top and a jacket and tie with a small detail like a bouquet or something for the hair,” says Mouret. “This brings a personal touch that makes a bridal outfit unique and amazing. Brides are really symbolic as a reflection of our society and individuality now is really important."

Support a good cause

If you can’t imagine yourself in anything other than a traditional white gown on your wedding day, then fear not. Buying your dream dress, despite it not being that wearable, still doesn’t mean it has to be completely unsustainable. There are plenty of organisations and charities out there which you can support, who will use your money for good.

Brides Do Good, founded four years ago, is built on the idea of connecting women to protect vulnerable girls. By donating, selling or purchasing your wedding dress from the charity, you’re supporting and impacting the lives of other girls in need all over the world.

Up to two thirds of funds raised from sales are invested in charity programmes that empower girls, educate communities and aim to put an end to child marriage.

“Excessive clothing production is a big issue in the UK, and leads to millions of pounds worth of leftover stock being sent to landfill each year, with the wedding industry being no exception,” Brides Do Good founder Chantal Khoueiry explains.


“An increasing number of brides are spending thousands of pounds on a designer dress for their big day that will only be worn once before being left at the back of a wardrobe, and never seeing the light of day again," she adds. "As a result, beautiful and expensive gowns are going to waste – and the traditional white wedding dress is fast becoming a symbol of excessive spending.”

Photo credit: Courtesy of Louise Roe

Louise Roe is among many brides who have used the charity. “It was a very quick decision, about a week after the wedding,” she explained. “My mum was a little sad, sadder than me to see my dress go, but I did keep the lace capelet, as a memento.”

Roe was intrigued by the charity's #onlyagirl campaign, which raises awareness of the indecency and injustice of child marriage in the UK. “I was blown away by the shocking statistics on child brides. Today, a child is forced into marriage every two seconds, and it occurs in many developed countries - places you wouldn’t imagine such a thing happening.”

Consider wearing second-hand

As we all know by now, shopping second-hand or vintage is one of the best ways to stay green when it comes to fashion, and bridal is no different. Searches for "thrifted wedding dress" have seen a 41 per cent increase on Pinterest.

A wedding dress, usually a one-wear-only item, is by definition one of the most unsustainable pieces you can ever purchase,” Mother of Pearl’s Powney tells me.I’ve heard some great stories of brides-to-be finding their perfect outfit in charity shops and websites like eBay and Vestiaire Collective.”

Still White, a second-hand wedding dress website, is proof that buying pre-loved dresses helps the planet. By reselling over 20,000 dresses, they’ve saved 216,000 kg of carbon emissions, 180 million litres of water and $20 million.

This might require a bit more leg-work on your end by hitting charity shops or second-hand stores to see what you can find, but you will have a clearer conscience by the end of it. Make sure you keep an open mind and always remember that pieces can be tailored after you buy them to make them more perfect.

Embrace rental

Just like opting for second-hand over brand new, renting is a great sustainable option. Every time you rent, you participate in the shared clothing economy. Renting a dress or a suit for wedding reduces the amount of clothing that eventually ends up in the bottom of your wardrobe or landfill. Basically, renting on your big day is a great circular option.

Although rental fashion isn’t a new phenomenon (Rent the Runway, for example, has been in operation for over 10 years), an increase in environmental concerns has made hiring clothes more popular than ever.

Photo credit: Cavan Images - Getty Images

There’s a clear thirst for sharing when it comes to fashion - Rent the Runway was valued at one billion dollars in May 2019. The site stocks bridal rental too, with specific packages tailored to the bride and bridesmaids, as well as options for different wedding events from the hen-do to the honeymoon.

Like all purchases, shopping in today’s climate crisis means really thinking and questioning what we buy and where we buy it from. The same goes for your wedding day, which Powney sums up perfectly: “We all need to take responsibility and do everything we can to look after people and the planet at the same time, whatever we are producing, including bridal.”

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