I’m Not the First to Say “Yes” to My Dress 

By Sarah Baillie

Endangered Species Condoms Coordinator
Population and Sustainability Program
CENTER FOR BIOLOGICAL DIVERSITY

On any given Friday night in college, you could find me parked in front of the common area couch watching “Say Yes to the Dress.” What can I say? I’m a sucker for a good dress-up montage and loved seeing how the brides showcased their personalities.

I was busy planning my course load rather than my own wedding then, but even now that my big day is only a few months away there are things about the show I find I have trouble relating to. The cavern of never-ending dress options was intimidating. And the price points of many of the dresses they featured were easily more than the down payment for my car.

But it wasn’t just sticker shock. The “Say Yes” dress-buying experience highlighted for me just how wasteful the wedding industry can be. The amount of resources and carbon emissions that go into filling bridal boutiques with brand-spanking new organza, tulle, lace and silk is astounding. And all for outfits that are usually worn once.

With more than 2 million nuptials hosted in the United States every year, that’s a lot of new dresses. Polyester is one of the most common fabrics found in wedding dresses, and unfortunately it’s one of the worst for the environment: It is petroleum-based, energy- and water-intensive to manufacture and isn’t biodegradable.

So when it came time for me to start dress shopping for my wedding this past year, I had my heart set on a getting my dress a different way. I wanted something pre-loved that would reflect my personality and my passion for sustainability.

I gave myself over a year to find a dress so I could take my time. I checked vintage and consignment shops in my area to see if any carried wedding dresses.

I hit the jackpot: There’s a store in Tucson, where I live, that specializes in selling used wedding dresses and formal wear. The store actually donates all of its proceeds to aid efforts to stop sex trafficking and support survivors in our community.

Better yet, this isn’t like a normal consignment store. I wouldn’t be digging through racks of outdated, weirdly-sized items in questionable condition. I would get the kind of experience I had seen on reality TV – a hand-picked selection of gently-worn dresses with a cute fitting room with a place for my friends and family to relax and join in the shopping.

They even had staff and volunteers who helped me find what I was looking for, and I was able to book an appointment and avoid the crowds.

So I made an appointment and tried to manage my expectations. I expected my trip to be the first of many.

I tried on all kinds of dresses: They had short dresses, full-length gowns, sequin-covered ensembles and lace numbers. And I couldn’t tell that any of them had been worn before.

Despite my expectations, the dress I said “yes” to was the first one I tried on. My knee-length sheath dress features lace and beading. It will (hopefully) keep me stumble-free walking down the aisle.

But what’s even better was the price tag. My dress rang in at just $50 on sale. And what’s priceless is knowing I made a sustainable choice by eliminating the need to produce a new dress. I actually plan to donate it back or dye it after the wedding so I can wear it in the future.

Not everyone has a boutique like Free Ever After. Vintage and second-hand stores can be good options. But there are more ways than ever to say “I do” to a pre-loved dress. It’s becoming more common for brides to try to recoup some of their costs by reselling their dress. There are whole websites dedicated to facilitating the sales.

After my experience, I highly recommend trying to find something that can check off the old box in the “old, new, borrowed and blue” saying. It will be less of a blow to your budget and help our planet in the process.

 

I streamline my wardrobe

 

Additional Resources

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About Earth Overshoot Day: www.overshootday.org

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