There is a phrase in the wedding world known as “trash the dress”. It is also called “fearless bridal” or “rock the frock”. It is a style of wedding photography that contrasts elegant clothing with an environment in which it is out of place. It is generally shot in the style of fashion or glamour photography and often takes place on a beach, but other locations include city streets, rooftops, garbage dumps, fields, and abandoned buildings. The bride often wears a ball gown, prom dress or wedding gown, and may effectively ruin the dress in the process by getting it wet, dirty or in extreme circumstances tearing or destroying the garment.
Most brides do not ever wear their dress again nor do they pass it on to someone else to wear so perhaps immortalizing the dress and that happy time in their life by having such photographs taken is a cool way of making and preserving more memories of their special dress and day. However, what happens to the dress afterwards? If it is ruined beyond repair, thereby rendering its re-use or donation impossible, it will be thrown away to join the rest of the discarded garments and fabrics in our landfills.
I was approached by a photographer friend after my wedding to see if I had any interest in doing a wild trash the dress shoot and I declined. While I can find merit in this idea and decision on the part of a bride, I had decided that when I got married I would not be interested in “trashing” my dress in that way. My heart (and environmental consciousness) could not handle the thought of it, so my wedding dress hung in its bag in a closet. Until now.
At the end of this month, I have a collaborative photo shoot scheduled and while I was putting together the looks for the shoot, I decided that I wanted to have a totally over the top and spectacular piece for the shoot. A dress. It suddenly hit me that NOW was the perfect time to dust off my wedding dress and upcycle it! I would transform it into a wearable art piece that would save it from ending up in the garbage and be another piece to showcase my work and abilities. Not only was my mind ready for this challenge, my heart was finally in the right place to let go of my wedding dress. God knows, my body was in the right place to alter the dress….after almost four years I can’t even zip the thing up anymore anyways!
I knew I wanted to make use of the full tulle skirt of my dress and I had always wanted to use three dimensional butterflies on a dress somehow. To get me started, I stripped down the dress by removing the beaded lace outer layer of tulle on the bodice and skirt so I could see the bare bones of the dress. I also tea bathed the dress in my bathtub to take away the light ivory colour of the fabric and tulle and give it a more aged and antiqued look. I then composed an inspiration board of ideas and key elements. Since the photo shoot was going to be outdoors (in a cemetery to be exact!), I knew I wanted a very nature based quality to the finished dress….perhaps bringing to mind the fairy queen of the dead creatures and butterflies of the forest.
My colour palette and theme were confirmed after I found a set of butterflies in exactly the right tones and shades through a seller on Etsy. They were composed of russet red, amber, gold, chocolate brown, dark khaki and a warm ivory with hits of black to add depth and drama. I selected my fabrics and trims and the final design plan flowed from there.
The panels and structure of the bodice of the dress were enhanced by an unusual floral brocade fabric with braid trim further accenting the seams of the bodice. Chocolate brown beaded lace motifs were applied to the now strapless sweetheart neckline, sides of the bodice and just below the bustline. The same brocade fabric used in the bodice as well as fabrics in a plum toned brown Dupioni silk and teal taffeta with brown velvet flocking were employed to create a three tiered over skirt sewn to the waistline of the dress over the existing tulle skirt. More of the chocolate brown lace motifs encircle the waist of the dress to finish off the addition of the new overskirt. In order to add further drama and colour cohesion, additional pieces of tulle in teal, amber and dark brown were placed at the over skirt opening. Amber and dark teal Swarovski crystals were placed in various spots in the lace motifs for sparkle and a bit of glamour.
The back of the dress was also changed. It originally had a center back zipper closure, which limited the size for the wearer of the dress. A corset style back closure was accomplished with large grommets and brown velvet ribbon. The back hemline of the original dress was longer than the front and that has also been altered so that the hemline is now a more manageable length, especially for outdoor photo shoots.
Last but certainly not least, the butterflies! All of the butterflies were placed on the top most layer of the overskirt, save for one which adorns the top right side of the bodice. The six larger butterflies of the twelve used have had skulls added to them to inject my signature creepy element into the femininity of my designs. The six smaller remaining butterflies were left as is. I struggled for a bit with how to transport and even store this dress with these fragile creatures attached to it and with some help, came up with the idea of attaching them to pin backs so that the butterflies can simply be removed and place in a small box. Once the dress has reached its destination, the butterflies can simply be re-pinned onto the dress. I was careful that no butterflies were placed too far towards the back of the dress as we would not want any of them to be sat upon in the event that someone actually chose to wear the dress to an event!
The dress is now unrecognizable as my former wedding dress. I have accomplished what I set out to do – created a one of a kind, unique piece of upcycled wedding couture as well as saving another wedding dress from being trashed and then discarded. I cannot wait to see it on the model outdoors amongst the trees and stone structures in our chosen location later this month. It will be magical and other worldly I am sure!
I will be posting my writings and photos from the shoot later next month so stay tuned for the continuation of the transformation and new life of my wedding dress.