The Sustainable Wedding Dress

Despite their best intentions, few women these days ever wear their bridesmaid’s dresses again and although it’s probably the most expensive dress they’ll ever own, most women only wear their wedding dress once.

Style icon Keira Knightley famously chose to recycle her beautiful ivory Chanel dress at her wedding in 2013, using her dress as her “something old.” She was lauded for this unusual move, which begs the question: Why is wearing a wedding dress more than once considered so unusual and groundbreaking?

Wedding dresses have traditionally been a symbol of status and wealth. The Western tradition of wearing a white dress is said to have begun with Queen Victoria in 1840. When she married Prince Albert she was already Queen and as such needed to make a statement as the leader of her country. At the time in England, the traditional textile industries were feeling the effects of the Industrial Revolution, and the handmade lace industries were suffering, causing widespread poverty and unemployment among the skilled artisans as machine laces were replacing them. To stimulate and support the industry, Victoria chose to use a large piece of handmade lace in her dress.

The change of attitude towards the Sustainable Wedding Dress

Traditionally, brides would wear their best dress for their wedding, but Victoria’s wedding was so popular it sparked a huge increase in the number of brides who wore white. In the 1840s, however, only wealthy women could afford a white dress. Some with just enough money to manage it would re-dye the dress in darker colors to make it last for further seasons.

During the 1920s, as mass consumer culture began to emerge and disposable income grew among many Americans and Europeans, brides of all classes began to wear white dresses created especially for their wedding.  In the years that followed, the Depression and World War II led many women to revert back to the inexpensive custom of their grandmothers – simply wearing their “best dress” on their wedding day, but the end of the war led to a boom in weddings and “wedding culture” really began to take off. Magazines catering to brides emerged and the first bridal boutiques began to open.  Elaborate white dresses, worn once, became a big part of Western wedding rituals.

The cost of a wedding dress today

However, the pressure on brides to spend big on their wedding dress is dwindling. The average UK bride now spends 25% less on her wedding dress.  Many popular retailers have introduced affordable bridal options and according to research by online fashion marketplace Lyst, the average cost of a wedding dress in the UK in 2017 was £832, down from £1112 in the previous year.

Many women still choose to keep their dress as a memory of their special day, or even as a family heirloom.  In recent years “Trash the Dress” photoshoots have also grown in popularity as a symbol that the bride won’t be needing the dress again now that she is married – and giving other brides the opportunity to wear the dress.

Today’s Sustainable Bride

But why stop there? More women than ever are choosing to shop sustainably – according to a recent report by Unilever, a third of consumers are now choosing to buy from brands they believe are doing social or environmental good.  We’re becoming more aware of our carbon footprint in our daily lives and weddings are no exception.

Many brides are now choosing to move beyond the extravagance and consumption to create more personal, sustainable celebrations, and a big part of that is choosing a dress that can be worn time and again. Fair trade and eco-friendly options are available in all styles of wedding gowns and a simple way to make your dress sustainable is to choose a style that you can re-wear.  

From simple alterations to upcycling the fabric into a different outfit altogether, eco-conscious brides can revitalize their wedding dress and make memories in it for many years to come, just like Queen Victoria.

I hope you enjoyed my second post for Ethical Brand Directory and I will be back with more sustainable wedding blogs soon.


Daniela Degrassi is a lifestyle photographer, founder and editor of The Kind Bride, a resource and inspiration blog for the vegan bride.  She is a passionate sustainable fashion advocate and loves writing, traveling and team work towards a more sustainable tomorrow. 


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