Eco-friendly brides share how they reused and upcycled their wedding dresses

Turns out your wedding dress doesn’t have to be a one-and-done item (Picture: Metro.co.uk)

A wedding dress is typically a single-use item.

Even as modern brides and grooms choose to subvert outdated wedding traditions, one custom that prevails is walking down the aisle in a one-of-a-kind outfit.

But investing so much money, time and fabric into a wedding dress that you only wear once makes little sense.

As we become increasingly aware of the fashion industry’s staggering contribution to global warming, wearing an outfit on just one occasion is the ultimate fashion faux pas: 2021’s version of pairing socks with sandals.

Even celebrities have taken notice. On the ‘green’ carpet for the Earthshot award ceremony earlier this month, actress and activist Emma Watson wore an upcycled outfit consisting of a white asymmetrical tulle gown paired with flared black trousers. The look was created by designer Harris Reed using wedding dresses donated to Oxfam.

Watson’s dress caused a storm – and was one of the first times a major celebrity has showcased such an explicitly upcycled look. So does this mean that repurposing garments has gone mainstream?

Maybe. But women have been upcycling their own wedding dresses for several years before celebrities jumped on the trend.

We spoke to four women who did exactly that, and found out the various ways you can give that single use item a new lease of life.

Sandra Barber, 54

Sandra on her wedding day, wearing a dress she designed and sewed herself

I got married in 1985 in a dress I designed and sewed myself. After my wedding, the dress was in storage for 32 years, including the 10 years after my marriage ended.

It was too meaningful to get rid of, but I had no use for it, and my daughters didn’t want it either. What to do with the dress was a problem that weighed on my mind.

I thought about upcycling my dress for a couple of years before I took the plunge. When I finally found the strength to snip into it, it was like shedding a weight I had been hauling around with me. I felt so free and unburdened afterwards!

My wedding dress had so many elements that I’ve got quite a few new garments out of it. The first project was my daughter’s Clockwork Angel cosplay costume, using the skirt from my dress. It was great to see a part of my wedding gown become useful at last.

Sandra's daughter's cosplay costume

Years later, Sandra used the skirt from her dress for a cosplay for her daughter

I also used some of the lace and eyelet detailing for visible mending on some denim shorts for a coworker.

I’m currently turning the cuffs into decorative cuffs for myself – they were always my favourite part of the dress. Now I’ll get to rewear them all the time.

Sandra decorative sleeve

And she’s kept her sleeves for further wear

Katrina Barnish, 62

Katrina on her wedding day

Katrina on her wedding day in 1988

When I got married in 1988, I kept the celebrations as low cost as possible. I made my wedding dress myself, using my mother’s wedding veil as an inset, and creating a headdress by attaching dried flowers and the remaining veil to a coat hanger.

In early lockdown last year, I was inspired by some friends to begin sprouting beans at home. The method involves covering the bean jar with a fine net to allow for regular rinsing.

I hunted through my scrap fabric bin looking for similar material to no avail. Then I remembered where I would find some: my wedding gown!

Katrina's bean sprouts, with mesh from her wedding dress underskirt as netting

When she got into sprouting beans at home, Katrina was in need of a fine net

Katrina's bean sprouts, with mesh from her wedding dress underskirt as netting

The underskirt from her wedding gown did just the trick

I cut strips of net from the underskirts, leaving the dress intact. The material was perfect for the job and is still in regular use on my bean pots. I haven’t returned the dress to the attic though – I’m still pondering its future.

I’m an avid upcycler, but repurposing my wedding dress poses a big challenge. I would certainly cut into other sections though – I always find it immensely satisfying making a new garment from something discarded or damaged.

I stopped buying new clothes a few years ago, and I increasingly try to think ‘do I need this new item?’ before embarking on any clothes making project. And using the resources I find in my attic is one way to completely avoid fast fashion!

Sharaun Young, 64

I’ve been upcycling garments for decades, so when I was planning my second wedding eight years ago, I knew I wanted to make my own dress. I cast around for fabric I could use, and then the idea came to me: I could repurpose my wedding gown from my first marriage in 1974.

That wedding was a disaster, and the gown itself wasn’t all that pretty, looking back. So it felt great to find a new purpose for the garment.

Sharaun's daughter on her wedding day

Sharaun’s daughter on her wedding day

Sharaun on her second wedding day in her upcycled dress

On her second wedding day, Sharaun made her own dress using her daughter’s gown and the one she wore in 1974

Then I realised I had another wedding gown in my closet: the dress I made for my daughter’s wedding. After her marriage failed, she gave the dress back to me to do with what I wanted.

I decided to combine these two garments into one dress, and created a knee length gown with a black layer of ruffle, and a longer hem in the back. It was such a good feeling wearing a dress I’d created myself for my final wedding to the love of my life.

Bidisha Barman, 36

Bidisha on her wedding day x 2

Bidisha has re-worn her wedding saree over and over since her wedding in 2015

I’ve re-worn my wedding saree – a quintessential Red Benarasi Saree typical for Bengali brides – multiple times since my marriage in 2015. I pair it with different blouses to change the look, but I’ve often thought about repurposing the garment into something I would use more often.

I grew up watching my mum and granny upcycling everything – making curtains from sarees or pots from barrels. Women can be possessive about their saree collection, but my mum was always cutting into hers, making them into cute dresses for me when I was a kid.

Bidisha on her wedding day x 2

She grew up seeing her mum and grandma upcycling everything

My mum got married 40 years ago, and recently gifted me her wedding saree. Since I only wear sarees for special occasions, I turned the garment into a more comfortable everyday dress.

Bidisha's mum on her wedding day

Bidisha’s mum on her wedding day, wearing a saree she later gifted to her daughter

Bidisha re-wearing her wedding saree

Bidisha re-wearing her wedding saree

More: Fashion

No brand new item could give me the same satisfaction I get from wearing this piece that I upcycled myself!

Since I started working in the development sector, I’ve noticed so much more fashion waste. It’s sad to see how many clothes we feel we need. At the end of the day, what we’re looking for may be waiting in our wardrobe already.

Do you have a story to share?

Get in touch by emailing MetroLifestyleTeam@Metro.co.uk.


MORE : The clothing fabrics to avoid and embrace if you want to be more eco-friendly


MORE : How to save money by recycling at these high street shops


MORE : Three easy furniture upcycling hacks to update your home

Metro.co.uk’s #Just1Change campaign

In the run up to COP26 and beyond, we will be sharing stories, ideas, and advice about one common theme: The climate crisis.

At a time when the weight of environmental issues feels very heavy and overwhelming, our aim is to deliver content that will not only inform and educate but also offer hope and inspiration.

Here are some of our #Just1Change highlights so far: