Delicate vines and silk flowers flow from the strapless, ruched bodice to encircle the waist and gather on the train. This is the gown Courtney Finneran wore for her wedding at the Old Mill in Rose Valley in August 2009. The gown is elegant, fun—and eco-friendly. Created from vegetable-dyed silk, the dress was handmade using fair labor practices.
“You would never know that it’s a ‘green’ dress,” says Finneran. “You don’t look at it and think, ‘It’s an eco-friendly dress.’ You look at it and think, ‘That’s an amazingly beautiful dress.’ And that’s why I chose it. I live a very green life, but I still wanted a gorgeous gown.”
Eco-friendly wedding gowns have evolved from their beginnings as burlap sacks and “kumbaya” caftans. Advances in textiles have created better materials with which designers are creating wedding gowns that look much more classical and far less bohemian.
Deborah Lindquist uses repurposed materials and organic linens to create her Hollywood-glam bridal line. For her wedding gowns, Morgan Boszilkov works with hemp blends and peace silk harvested from something akin to free-range worms. Rai-Lynne Broach’s Threadhead Creations line incorporates bamboo, charmeuse hemp and silk blends. Finneran’s gown came from eco-bride pioneer Adele Wechsler, who uses vegetable-dyed silk and peace silk, organic hemp and fabric remnants.
Material isn’t the only thing that makes a wedding gown eco-friendly. What matters is not just what it’s made of—but how it’s made. “The principles of eco-consciousness include fair labor practices, reusable materials and locally grown or locally made products that cut down on fossil fuels burned in transport,” says Lisa Longo, proprietress of Earth Bridal, the eco-boutique nestled inside Nestology in King of Prussia Mall.
Earth Bridal is the descendant of Earth Mart, Longo’s now-shuttered store in Phoenixville. Earth Mart is where Finneran spotted her dream gown. “I knew from the beginning that I would have a green wedding, but I didn’t expect to find a green wedding dress,” says Finneran, an environmental planner who lives in West Chester. “On a whim, I stopped at Earth Mart. This was after first trying traditional wedding boutiques and being disappointed with the choices.”
But love didn’t come cheap. “The dress was out of my price range,” Finneran says. “My mother and my stepmother stepped in and helped pay for the dress. We split the cost into thirds. That made it kind of special, too—that it was from both of them, and me.”
Laura Boyce is marrying Jeff Barge next month at his parents’ home in Bryn Mawr. When Boyce, 24, considered wearing her grandmother’s gown, her family was thrilled at the possibility of the gown seeing its third wedding.
Boyce’s grandmother and mother both had been married in the dress, but it was Boyce’s grandfather who urged her to wear the gown. “My grandmother passed away two years ago,” Boyce says. “I was told that wearing it would make him very happy.”
Boyce turned to Ardmore designer Janice Martin for guidance. “I’ve worked with many heirloom wedding gowns,” Martin says. “Most of the time, the bride seems to be thinking more ‘heirloom’ and less ‘eco-friendly.’ But the fact is that the gowns are very, very eco-friendly.”
Martin’s self-named boutique is the definition of “buy local.” She also uses fair labor practices. “Another eco-friendly point is that I only buy the fabric that I need for a dress,” Martin says. “There isn’t waste like there is at big companies.”
In fact, Martin donates what remnants she does have to Main Line Quilters. “From the extra fabric, they make quilts for homeless shelters,” Martin says.
It’s all good, green stuff. But there is a potential problem. Heirloom gowns may carry sentimental value, but little fashion value. They are, by definition, from another era. Martin has seen it all. “I worked on a gown from the ’70s that was one of the ugliest I’ve seen. There were layers and layers of ruffles. It was Little Bo Beep meets Scarlett O’Hara,” she says.
But the bride wanted to wear her mother’s gown, so Martin remade the dress and recycled the fabric. “In the end, it looked like something Audrey Hepburn would have worn in the 1950s,” she says.
Boyce doesn’t need anything quite so dramatic done to her grandmother’s dress. “Janice is making a new bodice and making it from the material that was in the train,” she says. “Instead of having sleeves, the dress will be strapless. My granddad is happy that I’m wearing the dress, but he’s also laughing about it because, according to him, the dress was originally inexpensive. He said, ‘Look at all the money you’re spending on a $50 dress!’ But, of course, the price isn’t the point. It’s the sentiment.”
What you do with the dress after the wedding can also make it eco-friendly. Donating it to a charity raises money for a good cause and puts the dress back into the world to be worn and cherished by another bride.
Oregon-based Brides Against Breast Cancer (bridesagainstbreastcancer.org) has generated more than $4 million by reselling 50,000 donated dresses. Gowns are also accepted at local thrift stores like those that benefit the Junior League, Bryn Mawr Hospital and Lankenau Hospital. Sabrina Ann Once Worn & Never Worn Bridal in Ardmore—along with websites like WoreItOnce.com, EncoreBridal.com and BravoBride.com—offer options from top-name designers like Monique Lhuillier, Carolina Herrera and Anne Barge.
What did Courtney Finneran do with hers? “I still have it,” she confesses. “I was planning to donate it, because that’s the ‘eco’ thing to do. But I just love the dress. I can’t part with it.”
• Earth Bridal at Nestology, Route 202 at Mall Boulevard, Suite 2700, King of Prussia; (610) 265-4555, nestology.com
• Janice Martin, 41 Cricket Ave., Ardmore; (610) 645-4540, janicemartin.net
• Sabrina Ann Once Worn & Never Worn Bridal, 22 Ardmore Ave., Ardmore; (610) 642-6228, sabrinaann.com