A Comprehensive Guide to Rewearing a Bridesmaid’s Dress.

My most recent bridesmaids dress: J. Crew Heidi long dress in silk chiffon. Photo from friend.

My most recent bridesmaid’s dress: J. Crew Heidi long dress in silk chiffon. Photo from friend.

“…And the best part is, you can rewear it!” If you’re like me, you’ve heard a bride say these words to you far too many times. Each time, you believe her, and each time, you get burned.

Don’t get me wrong– the bride usually means well and earnestly believes this about the dresses she picks out for her bridesmaids. I don’t hold this misstatement against her. In my experience (always the bridesmaid, mind you), the selection of a bridesmaid’s dress is not a process that any bride takes lightly. There are so many issues to consider and, in some cases, many factions to appease: the color and style of the dress needs to complement the wedding theme and decor; the dress design needs to flatter the figures of most (if not all) of the bridal party; most importantly, the dress can not, under any circumstances, upstage the bride’s own fabulous gown. (Full disclosure: I am that person who can binge watch Say Yes to the Dress and Bridezillas all weekend. I know what’s up.)

I’m at that stage in my life right now where many of my friends are getting married and starting families. For me, it’s a treat to be able to attend their special days and an honor to be a part of their wedding ceremonies. But it’s also stressful occasion for almost everyone involved. Many brides have a lot on their plate, so I completely understand if the versatility of the bridesmaid’s dress (i.e., its “rewearability” post-wedding) falls low on their list of priorities. In my view, a bride’s mindfulness towards her entourage’s preferences– and their various financial constraints–  is always appreciated, but not necessarily expected.

Over ten weddings and four bridesmaid’s dresses later, I still cling to the hope that the notorious reputation these garments have garnered is unfounded. I really can rewear these dresses again… can’t I? Honestly, I’ve never attempted it, so I really don’t know. But hey– it’s worth a try.

After a bit of research, I’ve compiled a review of different ways that bridesmaid’s dresses can (supposedly) be reused after The Big Day. To evaluate proof of concept, I use a dress from my own closet, which I wore in a recent summer wedding. I’d be interested in hearing about others’ experiences with repurposing their dresses in order to make this guide more comprehensive and useful to all current and former bridesmaids!

THE DRESS.

Just a brief introduction to our evaluation tool:

bdress1I wore this long silk chiffon dress for my dear friend’s wedding a few months ago. I think I lucked out with her dress selection. The “spiced wine” hue is beautiful in person and was a striking contrast to the ceremony’s stunning ocean backdrop. Even better, the dress came in petite sizing, so the only alteration that I needed was a simple hem because it was too long. I mention this because I’ve been in weddings where the alterations cost more than the dress itself. Not cool. But I digress…

APPROACH #1: LAYER WITH OTHER GARMENTS AND ACCESSORIES.

This is perhaps the most straightforward approach to transforming the dress for everyday wear. Easier said than done, right? From my perspective, the main challenge with wearing a bridesmaid’s dress outside of a wedding setting is… well, making it not look so bridesmaid-y. Since these types of dresses tend to come in uniformly precious or dramatic hues and in such delicate fabrics, the objectives of this approach are to: 1) break up the overpowering saturation of color, and 2) downplay the formality of the garment.

1. Colorblocking.

While the bright color of this bridesmaid’s dress is lovely, it’s personally too much overall color for my taste. To break up the big burst of fuschia, I’ve experimented with layering other tops over the original bodice.

On left: Black tissue turtleneck, J. Crew; Charm necklace, Madewell; Stacked bracelets, Alex+Ani, Anthropologie, J. Crew; Turquoise beaded sash, J. Crew. Middle: Heart print silk blouse, J. Crew; Turquoise chain-link bracelet, J. Crew. On right: White tunic shirt, Loft; Flower lattice necklace, J. Crew; Turquoise chain-link bracelet, J. Crew; Straw bag, Esprit.

Additionally, I’ve explored layering a flared, knee-length skirt on the bottom. Since the original skirt of the dress is floor length, to achieve this particular look I gathered a sizable portion of the fabric and secured it into a ball with a hair tie. Not gonna lie, it might look ok in the photo but this felt very awkward.

bdress4Above: Wool scarf, Anthropologie; Teardrop gem bracelet, J. Crew; Skirt, H&M; Bronze slingback kitten heels, Talbots.
2. Accessorizing.

As shown in the photos above, I’ve tried to downplay the formal aspects of the dress by layering with more whimsical/casual accessories. Play around with costume jewelry, belts, sashes, bags, scarves, etc.

APPROACH #2: INVEST IN ALTERATIONS.

This is possibly the costliest approach to rewearing a bridesmaid’s dress. Unless you absolutely love the dress and totally commit yourself to wearing it again on multiple occasions (lowering your cost per wear), I would not recommend investing your time and money in alterations. In my opinion, this should be considered the very last resort. The reason I’ve added this approach to the list is because all of my friends told me that I could rewear my bridesmaid’s dress by “just getting it hemmed at the knee.” Personally, I can’t justify carrying out this sort of alteration when I have a handful of other knee-length dresses that I would reach for before this one.

If I were to pick out one alteration to make to the current dress to make it more wearable, it would be to hem the skirt into a true maxi or midi length, as I currently don’t have skirts or dresses of this length in my closet.

bdress8Above: Jeweled collar blouse, Ann Taylor; Cross-strap floral platform heels, J. Crew; Teardrop gem bracelet, J. Crew.

Now, let’s entertain this idea more for just a minute. Besides getting the skirt shortened, how else could you alter the dress? You could remove the bodice entirely to create a skirt. Furthermore, if the dress is a ballgown style, you could remove several layers of tulle in the skirt to reduce bulk. Or, you could remove the skirt completely and turn the bodice into a corset or peplum top. You could change up the neckline by adding or removing dress straps (see below). For a dramatic transformation, you could even dye the dress another color!

If you’re not ready to commit to a tailoring overhaul quite yet, you could play around with the dress via temporary means. For instance, if your dress is floor length like mine, you could shorten the skirt to a knee- or midi-length using fabric tape, safety pins, or the hair-tie-fabric-gathering method I mentioned earlier.

While still we’re on the topic of alterations, consider what possibilities might exist if the sewing job didn’t need to result in a wearable garment. You could always use the dress fabric for your next craft project. (Maybe don’t tell the bride. Yet.) Decorative fuschia pillow shams and drapes, anyone?

APPROACH #3: SELECT ALTERNATIVE EVENTS.

If you don’t feel that you can rock your bridesmaid’s dress as casual attire, then it might make more sense to be strategic about the types of events that warrant taking the dress out of your closet again. The main types of occasions that immediately come to mind are: 1) formal events, and 2) ridiculous, irreverent events.

1. Formal events.

You could wear the dress to another formal event. However, I’m not sure if I would wear this gown to another wedding because I’d rather not have to field questions about whether I’m in the wedding party (“Well, aren’t you dressed up!”). Again, the key to making this piece work outside of the wedding environment involves the methods I described in Approach #1: colorblocking and accessorizing to appropriately fit the occasion. Here are a couple of ideas I have for rewearing this dress for other formal events or evening dinner/cocktail parties this season:

On left: Tuxedo blazer, J. Crew; Multi chain necklace, Ann Taylor; Skinny black leather belt, Gap; On right: Wool floral scarf, Anthropologie; Black tissue turtleneck, J. Crew; Skinny black leather belt, Gap; Bracelets, J. Crew.
2. Irreverent events.

Rather than wearing the bridesmaid’s dress for a serious function, you could go in the completely opposite direction. Play up the costume-like aspects of the gown by wearing it as a Halloween costume. Don a pair of wings and a glitter-coated wand and voilà! You’re instantly a fairy princess.

Or… why not host an ugly dress party for your favorite bride-to-be? With the holiday season around the corner, you could also entertain guests with an ugly holiday sweater + bridesmaid’s dress party!

APPROACH #4: PAYING THE FASHION FORWARD.

Sometimes, you just have to accept the fact that any attempt at physically transforming the dress simply won’t work for you. Maybe the dress doesn’t reflect your personal style at all. Like a square peg can’t be fit into a round hole, perhaps the dress just can’t be integrated into your current wardrobe no matter how hard you try. If you don’t foresee an event in the near future that would necessitate wearing such a dress, simply pay the fashion forward by: 1) reselling the dress, or 2) donating it.

1. Reselling.

There are a few ways you could go about reselling your dress. One popular method is through eBay (in fact, this is how I purchased my latest bridesmaid’s dress!). You could also sell your dress via a local consignment shop. For some tips on how to successfully consign your old garments, check out this post.

2. Donating.

When I was in high school many of my friends saved up their allowances and paychecks for weeks to buy a gown for a formal dance. I also had friends who couldn’t afford the extravagance and consequently didn’t attend any of these special events, including prom. Fortunately, there are now organizations across the country that accept donations of formal dresses and accessories, including The Princess Project, Fairy Godmothers, Inc., and Operation Prom. Your dress can make a difference in a young gal’s life.

THE UPSHOT.

Rewearing a bridesmaid’s dress is not as easy as it seems. It is possible, but in order to do it, the dress itself (i.e., the design, fabric, color) needs to provide an appropriate canvas for the new outfit. For example, silk chiffon is probably more amenable to repeat wear than charmeuse or tulle, and a short a-line or fit-and-flare style is probably more versatile than a long ballgown. Perhaps the best litmus test for whether your bridesmaid’s dress is rewearable is just asking yourself: if I made the most minimal of changes to this dress by layering it with other pieces or making a simple alteration, would I really reach for it before any of the other options I currently have in my closet?

In case you are wondering, all of my old bridesmaid’s dresses will be reused. I’ve decided to pass three of them down to my cousin’s daughter, who has just entered high school, and to repurpose the fourth one for a future holiday craft project. Stay tuned for that DIY post.

That’s the end of my list for now, but please feel free to share your bridesmaid’s dress stories and experiences, I would love to hear them!

– j.

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