We think of many ways to upcycle, recycle or prelove. But when it comes to our wedding, do we still have those selfless ideologies?
I took it upon myself as a curious university student photographer, and an upcycle lover/environmental activist, to scope the second-hand shops of West Yorkshire and find a preloved bridal gown. The end goal was to conduct a bridal-styled photo shoot (without using a professional model) and to prove that preloved does not necessarily mean unloved!
I started out by paying a visit to my local charity shops. Surprisingly all three in the very small town of Batley stocked bridal gowns (which had me wondering how common it is for people to donate their wedding dresses to charity). I knew exactly what I was looking for – a sixties bohemian-inspired dress – and I challenged myself to find that dress specifically, as if it were for my own wedding.
After stumbling into the last charity shop, and six dresses later, I somehow found a dress EXACTLY styled to my preference! The dress had a late sixties counterculture vibe to it, with long, netted sleeves that covered the tops of the hands, a simple train that seemed as if it would swish and float as the bride walked, a very elegant faux button-up back that covered the zip, and warm orange beads and delicate embroidery on the front and back along the V neckline. I couldn’t believe it.
After realising that this was the dress for my ‘trial and error’ photo shoot, I discovered that the shop had reduced the price from £30 to £10 just to clear stock! Of course, the price shouldn’t matter much: it is giving to charity, after all. My thoughts are that this information is worth knowing for someone on a budget or not looking to spend too much at all on their wedding because the social aspects of the occasion hold far more importance for them.
When I got the dress home, I put it through a delicate wash to erase the familiar smell of ‘preloved’, and studied it again. It just would have seemed even MORE perfect if it hadn’t had a net sash across the front middle section, held in place with a net rose. So with my trusty scissors I snipped away at the stitching. The rose popped off, and then with a SWOOSH the sash floated away with it. It really was amazing to see the difference a small alteration could make!
On the day of the photo shoot I was excited to work with a previous client of mine, who turned out to be perfect and challenging to work with for this specific project. Because I wanted the shoot to be as close as possible to a real bridal portrait session such as I would usually do on a wedding day, a shy, reserved person was going to be exactly what I needed to achieve my overall goal. Lucy had only done one photo shoot with me before, and this was a lifestyle family shoot with her little boy. With no experience of modelling or taking direction from a professional photographer, she was very nervous.
I found that the dress suited her perfectly. Her slender figure allowed it to hang off her shoulders ever so slightly, which improved the overall look; she was very comfortable in the dress and found herself getting giddy and surprised at the fact that she liked it so much, especially since she knew where I had bought it and how much it had cost.
Lucy soon settled into the 45-minute shoot and found herself letting go and taking the minimal direction that I gave her very well. She held and swished the bottom of the dress, faced her back towards me as she gracefully walked up the stairs leading to the woods, and imagined herself as a sixties hippie girl in a fairy-tale dream. She definitely enjoyed the occasion.
When I asked her how she felt about wearing the dress, whether she felt comfortable, and whether she would wear it again, I found her attitude to it very positive.
The experience made me feel as If I had opened not only Lucy’s eyes to the preloved world, but also those of everyone who saw the dress and the final images. My advice, then, for anyone looking to try something different for their wedding, or even to save a few pennies, is to upcycle.
Gabrielle Steberis is a lifestyle wedding photographer. The full series of photos will soon be available to view. Enquire at firstname.lastname@example.org.