Another ‘big day’ for your gown

Helen McClements and Martina Strawbridge Klapokva .
Helen McClements and Martina Strawbridge Klapokva .

Here’s a riddle for you. Mine has lain for almost eight years, balled up in a bag, with wine down the front, a torn hem and mud stains round the bottom. What is it? asks Helen McClements

You may have guessed: it’s my wedding dress.

Martina Stawbridge Klapkova and Helen McClements

Martina Stawbridge Klapkova and Helen McClements

Once it was a beautiful champagne-hued gown by the designer Paloma Blanca, bought in 2010. I had the best of intentions for having it dry-cleaned, but when doubt was cast of ever removing the mulled-wine stain from the skirt, I procrastinated. So now, a dress worth roughly a thousand pounds is lying in the family home, it’s fate as yet undecided.

When I asked a few friends and colleagues about their dresses, many looked sheepish and admitted that theirs too, lie unwashed and unloved in their attics. Most however, looked horrified at the thought of giving them away. “I’m not sure I’m ready to part with mine yet,” said one pal who just celebrated her tenth wedding anniversary, although she, at least, had the wit to have hers cleaned and boxed.

Dry-cleaning dresses is expensive and is only the first step in restoring your dress. Like any delicate garments, dresses need to be folded carefully in air-tight containers away from direct sunlight.

One clever friend of mine from America rented her dress for $45. Having moved house (and indeed country) several times, she is grateful that she doesn’t have a large dress to schlep from place to place. “I had a great day, a beautiful dress and a photo album to prove it,” she quipped.

The Royal wedding got me thinking. We may fantasise over our perfect dress, but wedding days pass in such a flurry of activity and emotion, that we barely have time to appreciate our finery. And to think that Meghan’s Givenchy gown only got a six hour spin before it was swapped for a Stella McCartney!

Does anyone agree that this a massive waste? Unlike Kate or Meghan’s dresses, mine is unlikely to be destined for an exhibition in the V&A some day. It seems a shame that it is languishing in a bag, having only ever enjoyed a few hours in the limelight.

I spoke to Emily Nash, the Royal correspondent for Hello Magazine, and asked her what she had done with her her wedding dress. “It’s boxed up with the vague intention of going to my daughter,” she said. “Should she want it. If not it serves to remind me of my small waist pre-children!” Emily remembers being taken to see Princess Diana’s dress in Cardiff Castle as a child, and says Royal dresses often go ‘on tour’ after the occasion, and so we could expect to see Meghan’s dress turn up later this year.

So since I love dressing up and enjoy a shindig, I have the perfect solution. Why not organise a ‘One Last Whirl’ party, where ladies don their dresses and have a second chance to feel like a princess. After the outing, we could bid them a fond farewell and donate them to a local charity shop, such as Oxfam, which have a bridal branch in Bangor. These stores are always on the look-out for new dresses to replenish their stock. Some brides may struggle to find the perfect dress when constrained by a tight budget, but they may be surprised at the range of choice available if they consider a pre-worn option. In the Bangor shop, prices start at £50 for a short dress and go up to £275. The manageress Gay Jamieson, told me that only 10 per cent of their stock comes from donations, and most of the rest is end of season stock from shops and warehouses.

“Many of our customers aren’t brides at all,” she said, “but people who wish to up-cycle an outfit. Wide skirts are particularly in demand to create 1950s-style dresses.” Her funniest transactions are usually with men seeking to dress the groom up for stag-dos, and she has also sold dresses for women running the Race Across the Bridges in Londonderry, and art-students, creating exciting pieces for projects.

Another reason some brides shun brand-new dresses is because of the environmental damage caused in the production of bridal gowns, since the nature of wanting the ‘perfect’ dress means that a high percentage of waste material is generated in the process. As society grows ever more ecologically conscious, increasing numbers of women are choosing to wear pre-loved dresses. Christina, a bride who bought her dress in the Bradford Branch, summed it up beautifully on Oxfam’s website. She writes: “There is a certain vibe from buying your most important dress in such a lovingly created setting, and being one of a long line of ladies who would rather wear a loved, dear dress with a history.”

Let your wedding dress shine another day for someone else, but perhaps have one last blast in it first.