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I wore my wedding dress to someone else's big day – and got so many compliments

The wedding industry just got a bit more sustainable... I put The Modiste's innovative Modify service to the test

Sustainable wedding dress transformation
Kate Thomas
Lifestyle Managing Editor
Updated: 5 April 2024
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"Never wear white to someone else's wedding" has been drummed into me ever since I secured my very first wedding invite. It therefore felt like breaking the cardinal rule of all bridal festivities when I decided to re-wear my own wedding dress to a friend's wedding. But don't worry – I wasn't hellbent on upstaging the poor bride. Thanks to a clever business idea and seriously incredible design work, my ivory gown was given a new lease of life as a party dress.

The wedding industry has a long way to go before it goes hand-in-hand with sustainability. With more than 22 million weddings held in England and Wales over the last 70 years, wedding fashion has a lot to answer for when it comes to environmental damage. Only four per cent of brides opt to wear a second-hand dress and most are reluctant to part with their one-time wear gown after they say I do. Jennifer Katherine Crooks, founder and managing director of bridal seamstress company The Modiste in High Wycombe, saw a gap in the market – and the Modify Movement was born.

Kate posing in teal wedding dress Modify by Modiste© Kate Thomas
I had my bridal gown turned into a teal wedding guest dress

"Wedding dresses are one of the most unsustainable parts of the wedding industry, apart from tights. The industry is catching up, there's movement into sustainable materials. But at the end of the day, the fact that you've made another thing in the world and only used it once is where sustainability stops," Jennifer says. "We're trying to change the movement. It's about reloving your dress and reusing it again, whether it's [as] a brand new item or just enjoying the off-cuts!"

Breathing new life into wedding dresses

Every bride knows the prickle of horror at dropping a lump sum on a wedding dress you're only going to wear for a few hours. As someone who struggled to find a gown to fit my petite figure and had my dress custom-made, it felt even more wasteful to banish it to a dusty box in the attic.

My original wedding dress was crafted out of silk marocain, which proved tricky to dye - but it turned out perfectly© WOJTEK CHRAPEK
My original wedding dress was crafted out of silk marocain, which proved tricky to dye - but it turned out perfectly

Revamping my dress and creating a new memory with it seemed like the perfect solution. I knew I wanted to keep the shape of the original Andrea Hawkes design, which was simple, elegant and flattered my stocky torso. The possibilities were endless, according to the Modiste team.

I asked Jennifer what the most common requests she gets are. "A lot of people want to turn them into jumpsuits so they can re-wear them for an anniversary. We don't want Modify to look like you're just wearing your wedding dress, we want it to become another fashionable piece," she says.

Luxury silk negligees, robes, miniature dresses,  Christening gowns, and even Christmas baubles are some of their most requested Modify options. 

The Modiste modifications for Modify service© The Modiste
I put my faith in The Modiste bridal dressmaker's innovative Modify service

"One lady kept the net underneath the dress that we cut out for her, turning it into a tutu for her dog to wear down the aisle!," Jennifer revealed. "We often make scrunchies and we're making a bikini for a bride at the moment for her honeymoon.

The Modify design process

Patience is key – and the Modiste team certainly had theirs tested with me! From indecision about the style, sleeve length and colour, I had a change of heart every step of the way but was never made to feel like my concerns were a burden.

Kate wearing Modify dress with Jennifer during alterations© The Modiste
The Modiste's founder and managing director Jennifer hard at work

"Nerves are normal. We'll go, 'The scissors are coming out, are you sure... are you definitely sure?'," Jennifer laughed, reassuring me that I'm not a bridezilla. "We get nervous brides all the time, it's just about being calm about the situation and talking it through and making sure it's right… We're always trying new solutions for these things."

Jennifer and her assistant Demi were kind, accommodating, and reassuring throughout, making it easy to trust them with what might have been a seriously expensive regret.

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Kate wedding dress alterations with scissors © The Modiste
Going in for the chop was a scary moment

"We love what we do, we want the dress to be as perfect as you do. We will carry on going until it is right," Jennifer revealed. "I've been known to go out to brides the night before the wedding in my pyjamas if a bit of lace has ripped off. Hopefully, our passion for dressmaking comes through in our work."

The challenge with my dress stemmed from getting the colour right; I was warned the hue might be muted due to the texture of the silk and was likely to show any imperfections. After endless shade swatches posted to my house and lots of dithering on my part, we finally settled on a bright teal, which Nicola Killeen Textiles dye house helped bring to life.

A leap of faith later and I was standing in Jennifer's High Wycombe boutique, trying on my brand new eveningwear dress.

Redesigning my wedding dress with The Modiste was a leap of faith© WOJTEK CHRAPEK
Redesigning my wedding dress was a leap of faith

The silhouette was familiar but the lace detailing was gone and the train had been chopped to mid-calf and turned into loose, floaty sleeves. Most alarmingly, it was no longer a soft off-white but was now a shocking blue. I loved it.

"I like that we left the lining ivory, you get the idea that it was originally something else," Jennifer said of the nod to my original wedding dress peeking through at the neckline.

Wearing my wedding dress to a wedding

Kate selfie in modified wedding dress © Kate Thomas
The white lining was kept inside the dress, giving a nod to its sentimental origins

The saying goes that you'll never feel more beautiful than on your wedding day, so the chance to wear your most flattering dress to an equally special occasion was an opportunity I couldn't resist.

The invitation was in – a spring wedding at an Oxford college hosted by a very close family friend. The mission – not to tell anyone I was wearing my wedding dress. Wedding guest etiquette still stands, of course!

Apart from the embarrassment of staging a mini photoshoot in the middle of the quad, no one was any wiser. I found the dress comfortable, didn't fiddle with how it sat on my body like I usually would with a high street option, and received countless compliments about the colour.

Kate twirling in Modify by Modiste wedding dress© Kate Thomas
Patience is key – and The Modiste certainly had theirs tested with me!

The bride even exclaimed how soft the material was and how nice the dress looked when I hugged her goodbye at the end of a fantastic party. I smiled knowingly.

A mere 48 hours later, my secret was exposed and she found out I'd worn my wedding dress on her big day. Surprisingly, she loved the idea and is keen to explore similar options when she returns from her honeymoon.

The chance to cherish your most special dress for years to come has an undeniable appeal, particularly with sustainability increasingly at the forefront of our minds when it comes to making fashion choices.

Kate wedding dress from the back © Kate Thomas
The lace detailing at the back of my dress was removed and new sleeves were crafted out of the train

Jennifer reflected: "People find the letting go part hard, but we're into cherishing our clothing at Modify. You might only wear your wedding dress once, but it's about valuing it forever. It can even be using your off-cuts, you don't have to touch the dress at all.

"I come from a costume design background and these women would have five things in their wardrobe that they wore over and over again. They looked after them and valued them, and that's one of the things Modiste is trying to promote, showing the value in how it's been made."

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Kate standing at Oxford college in Modify dress from Modiste in teal © Kate Thomas
The concept enables you to cherish your wedding dress forever - and I'll be bringing mine out on special occasions

As I carefully hung my new dress back up in my wardrobe, I realised I had no regrets. I will remember my joyfully sunny wedding every time I take it off the hanger on special occasions and anniversaries. And isn't that what sustainability is all about, breathing new life into pre-loved clothing?

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