At the end of 2019, Pinterest – the modern bride’s best friend – announced that online searches for ‘low-waste weddings’ had increased by an impressive 235%, while there was a 41% hike in searches for second-hand wedding dresses. This can hardly come as a shock – our ears are ringing with Greta Thunberg’s prophetic words and we’re all attempting to alter our daily habits to ensure we’re being as kind to the planet as possible. But weddings have been built into a billion pound industry – one which is predicated on the very idea of transience: your wedding day is just that, so you may as well make it one to remember.
At the very centre of this is the issue of The Dress, which has become synonymous with expense and single-use. That, however, seems to be changing. We’re entering a new era of bridalwear, where what you wear has the potential to become a part of your life – not simply gather dust after its one and only outing. Even Princess Beatrice, the latest member of the royal family to be married, chose to borrow a dress from the Queen for her secret wedding – a sustainable alternative to the usual royal practice of commissioning one of fashion's most notable designers to create something entirely new.
Towards the end of January this year, Matchesfashion.com launched its new Wedding & Event Dressing edit, a dedicated space for the modern bride comprised of ready-to-wear, accessories, footwear bags and jewellery, including 250 unique pieces created by designers such as Christopher Kane and Vivienne Westwood especially for the launch. There are dresses – of course there are – like the whimsical romance of Cecilie Bahnsen’s tie-back oversized organza, or the glory of Rochas’ tiered Duchess satin. But there’s also crystal-encrusted tuxedos from Christopher Kane, beaded mini dresses by Ganni and Molly Goddard’s signature shirred tulle – pieces which would all have a life far beyond the wedding day.
‘We wanted to create one place where our customers can find interesting looks by their favourite designers for a wedding or event. So, if you love Molly Goddard you can find a wedding dress by her, or a beautifully cut suit by Racil,’ explains Natalie Kingham, Matchesfashion’s Buying Director. The launch was motivated, in part, by the trend for brides to wear multiple wedding looks, but it’s not just intended for those about to walk down the aisle. With white trending for SS20, and an increase in people searching for white event dresses, this is open to all. Kingham advises trying the cotton ruffle front dress by Khaite for summer day parties, a Rat & Boa frock for big holiday nights, or a JW Anderson white trouser suit with a straw hat for a garden party.
Browns, too, has launched its very own bridal edit, aimed at those looking for an alternative to traditional wedding dresses. ‘We launched this category with the intention to offer our customers pieces that will be worn beyond their wedding day,’ says Heather Gramston, Buying Manager at Browns. ‘We’ve seen an increase in demand for bridal pieces that can be worn more than once and, over the last few years, white as a colour has become one of the most important for us. The need to dress up and spend all your money on a ‘wear once’ piece has now become less desirable.’ Some of the most popular pieces in the edit at the moment include a silk halterneck dress from Michael Lo Sordo, Rotate’s high neck floral mini with voluminous lace sleeves (designed exclusively for Browns) and an Alexander McQueen suit.
Specialist bridal designers are also banking on a new breed of bride. Kate Halfpenny launched her eponymous label in 2005 and has since earned a reputation as the go-to for a modern, unexpected twist on conventional wedding attire. From sweeping satin gowns to tailored trousers and organza tops, Halfpenny’s creations give all the theatricality of a wedding dress without being limited – the separates could easily be mixed and matched with pieces in your wardrobe, while many of the dresses could easily be adapted post-wedding day.
Everything is made-to-order in London, meaning there’s no surplus stock or waste, and some pieces are stocked on Net-a-Porter. ‘I do believe there has been a huge shift in people’s attitude towards the manufacture and footprint of their garments,’ says Halfpenny. ‘We’re making great changes within the business to work with transparent fabric suppliers and we’ve changed all of our stationery and packaging to ensure it’s reusable and recyclable.’
Hermione de Paula’s beautiful embroidery, meanwhile, may not immediately seem like it could be worn more than once in your life but she regards her work as sustainable, owing to the fact that most of her clients re-wear their dresses. ‘Almost all our brides hope to wear their dress again in some form. We have designed the embroidery with a natural break in the artwork so we can trim it away and reimagine the gown into a more wearable midi or a mini.’
Even bridal accessories are subject to the same consideration, as Jane Taylor – who has created hats for the Duchess of Cambridge – explains: ‘More and more brides are thinking about re-wearing their headpieces so are picking colours that are not traditional bridal colours like ivory or white. They’re also choosing to have veils that are removable so they can wear the piece again.’
There’s also the growing rental market, which is prime territory in which prospective brides can find a designer outfit that’s not just more affordable, it’s contributing to a circular economy, too. Take Hurr Collective, the online peer-to-peer wardrobe rental service that’s currently seeing an uptake in searches for wedding dresses. "As generation rent move into the wedding market, upcoming brides are looking to more sustainable options,’ explains Victoria Prew, the company’s CEO and Co-founder. ‘Wedding dress rental is a great way to access one of a kind dresses and we've seen a huge surge in searches for wedding dresses, but also bridesmaids dresses too.’
That’s exactly what climate activist Venetia La Manna did for her wedding day, which she wanted to be as low-waste as possible. ‘My main dress was made by Jane Bourvis, who has the most unbelievable selection of vintage and antique lace,’ she says. ‘For the evening, I rented a beautiful bright yellow dress from Hurr that I absolutely loved wearing.’ In many ways, La Manna represents the new order, which tries to, ahem, marry the growing need to live more sustainably without sacrificing the glamour and romance of a wedding day. As de Paula says, ‘To be able to re-wear your wedding pieces is a respectful and economic use of the hundreds of hours of craftsmanship and resources invested in their creation. It’s about having an outfit with many lives to live.’