Izzy Burton illustration

Today we have the lovely Nik from Little House in Town back with us to share the next stage in her wedding adventure.  If you haven’t already read her introduction guest post about her plans for a relaxed coastal farm wedding then do take a look.

Nik has recently taken up The Wartime Wardrobe Challenge which is a year long ethical clothes rationing project, designed to make those taking part think about how we use our clothes and where they come from.  As such, she is ‘rationed’ on how many items of clothes she can buy for the year, which as you can imagine could prove tricky when you are on the hunt for a wedding dress!

Over to Nik to tell us more…

Choosing an ethical wedding dress: from dream to reality

Looking at my reflection in the Coast fitting room mirror, I suddenly became aware that everyone around me had gone very silent.  Turning around to face my mum and two bridesmaids, I was met with a sea of beaming smiles.

“That’s it,” said my mum.  “That’s the one.”

I’d found my wedding dress.

Trying on wedding dresses in Monsoon (not my actual dress!):
Nik trying on wedding dresses

The best-laid plans

I had never planned to buy a dress.  The purpose of our shopping trip was to sort out the bridesmaids, and perhaps try a few wedding gowns to get an idea of the styles that suited me, but now I was faced with a dilemma – could I justify the purchase of this beautifully perfect, yet completely unexpected, garment that stared back at me in the mirror?

I’m by no means a tree hugger, clad only in hemp and homemade felt, but I do like to think of myself as a conscious clothes shopper – trying not to make unnecessary purchases, minimising waste by mending and upcycling, and considering the origins and environmental impact of the things I buy.  Buying a dress I would only wear once just didn’t sit right.  On top of that, I had decided early on in the planning process that I couldn’t justify having an expensive dress (thrifty Northerner!), and had set myself a budget of £300.  The dress I was wearing had a significantly heftier price tag…

Budget ethical wedding dresses

Despite having a small budget to work with and an ethical conscience to satisfy, I had found that there were actually a surprisingly large number of options available to me.

Wedding dress from Minna:
Minna ethical wedding dress

For any of you in a similar situation, here’s the run-down of the options I considered:

Eco-designer: Couture prices were certainly out of reach for me, but many eco-designers also have ready-to-wear collections that are much more affordable, starting at around £200. Consider Minna, House of Tammam and Sabina Motasem, and keep your eye out for special offers and seasonal/sample sales if that perfect dress is just slightly out of your reach.

Ethical high street: The high street is a great budget option, and with a little consideration can also fulfil the needs of an ethical bride-to-be.  Monsoon are well-known for their ethical policies and, handily, also have a great bridal range.  Depending on your personal ethics ? silk, organic cotton, cellulose-based manmade fabrics (such as Tencel or acetate) and even wool (perhaps not in summer!) are low-impact choices to consider.

Vintage/Second-hand: This is probably the easiest way to be green on your big day – simply choose a dress that has been worn before!  This is especially great if you’ve seen a particular frock that you love, but can’t justify the price tag.  TNWC supplier Swoon Gowns stock a large range of once-worn dresses, so they are a great place to start.  If it’s vintage chic that you’re after, then get rummaging!  Scour charity shops, vintage wedding boutiques, eBay and antiques fairs, or even approach older relatives to see whether they still have their own dresses kicking around.  Bear in mind that you may have to factor in the cost of alterations, repairs or cleaning if you choose an older dress.

Cleo wedding dress from Sabina Motasem:
Cleo wedding dress from Sabina Motasem

Commit to re-sell: This is an option I considered, but decided I didn’t have the willpower for!  If you are confident that you will have no qualms with selling your dress after your wedding day, then you can effectively extend your budget as high as you like, so long as you’re certain you won’t end up over-budget after you sell.  This is also a quick solution to the ethical dilemma, guaranteeing your dress will go on to be worn again.

Upcycle:  Adjusting, dyeing, embellishing or even just choosing a less ‘wedding-y’ style dress, all ensure that your beautiful frock will be given the light of day that it deserves, long after your wedding day has passed.  The key to success with this option is to scrutinise each dress you try on for its upcyclability (is that a word? It is now…) and use it as a factor in making your decision.

Hire: Most people crinkle up their noses when you suggest hiring a wedding dress.  Traditionally, the range of dresses available through hire shops is quite limited and old-fashioned.  However, the key here is to think outside the box.  There are a whole host of online dress hire services springing up, stocking designer brands such as Alice Temperley, Roberto Cavalli and Badgley Mischka.  Wish Want Wear have a great bridal selection, and offer a trial service, so you can ensure your chosen dress fits like a dream.

Dream vs. Reality

Before entering the Coast private fitting room on that fateful day, I was pretty much 100% certain that I would hire my dress.  I’d even taken out wedding insurance purely to cover any damage to the £2,500 Alice Temperley gown that I’d mentally selected and envisaged myself walking down the aisle in.

Hollister bridesmaid dresses

But, sadly, that dress was not to be.  Trying on a similar dress resulted in me looking more at home in Downton Abbey than at a beach wedding in a rugged barn.  The dress I was wearing in the changing room, despite being the polar opposite of my Temperley dream, was perfect in every way.  Made from silk crepe, with an acetate lining, it satisfies my personal ethics.  Having detachable straps and able to be easily shortened and dyed, it will hopefully be worn again and again post-wedding day.  And the price?  Well, I have my bridesmaids to thank for that… they fell in love with a dress that was hugely under the bridesmaid budget – providing exactly the right amount of spare cash to fund the frock!

Isn’t it strange how things always seem to have a way of working out?

A big thanks to Nik for this great guest post about the dilemmas of trying to find a beautiful but ethical wedding dress.  Has anyone else had similar problems?  Like Nik, I considered re-selling my dress afterwards (it was partly what convinced me it was worth the many pennies on the price tag), but I just couldn’t bring myself to do it.  

I’m rather hopeful that my dress, which is made from 100-year old antique lace, will be passed down through the generations, and that one day there will be a great-great- granddaughter who just loves the idea of wearing great-great- grannies wedding dress.  Who knows!

Images: (1) Illustration by Izzy Burton; (2) Brides own picture; (3) Minna; (4) Sabina Motasem; (5) Brides own picture


Erica on 7. March, 2013

A great article and how lovely to share your experience. At Real Green Dress (and there is a clue in the name!) all our vintage wedding and formal gowns and accessories are cleaned and conserved before sale. We aim to be ethically and environmentally sensible in everything we do – even our labels are printed with eco inks on FSC card. Have a fantastic wedding!
Erica, Real Green Dress

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Jenny on 8. March, 2013

Great job Nik! Love the bridesmaids’ dresses!

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