When Brent and I got engaged nearly five years ago, the dress was one of the first do-to’s that I tackled. It was right after J.Crew had launched its wedding dress line, and as soon as I ventured onto their website, I fell in love.
It was a simple ivory colored natural silk dress, cut on a bias (I still don’t really know what that means) with a halter neck and a low back. I ordered it immediately, brought it to my parents’ house as soon as it arrived, and tried it on for my mom.
“It’s beautiful,” she said. “But it’s not very ‘wedding dress-y.'”
We had very few mother-of-the-bride moments in our wedding planning process, but this one of my mom’s few interventions. She worried that I would regret wearing such a simple dress, and suggested that we go look at ‘real’ wedding dresses before I made a decision.
So, I reluctantly sent the dress back to J. Crew, and we set out to find the perfect substitute. We went to boutiques and warehouses, local shops and David’s Bridal. Eventually, I found another dress. It was nice and simple, with just the right amount of “wedding-y.” So, I bought it, brought it home, and hung it in my closet.
The problem was, much as I liked the new dress, I didn’t like it for me, didn’t feel like it was my dress. And in the weeks leading up to the big day, I became convinced that I’d made the wrong decision.
A week before the wedding, I went back on the J. Crew site to see if my first dress was still available. It had already been discontinued. So, on a whim, I logged onto ebay.
And there it was. My exact dress, in my exact size, with the tags still on it – for $23.
I bought it immediately, and paid the extra $10 for express shipping. The dress arrived on Tuesday, I took it in for minor alterations on Wednesday, and picked it up on Friday for our Sunday wedding.
It may not be everyone’s dream wedding dress, but it was perfect for me. And as soon as the wedding was over, I decided that I needed to find a way to wear it again. I called dozens of dress shops, tailors, costume shops, and seamstresses. I wanted to get it dyed, but no one was willing to risk ruining it. As soon as you say “wedding dress,” all bets are off.
Eventually, I abandoned my efforts and hung the dress in my closet, resigned to never wearing it again. That is, until this past January, when I happened upon the blog Young House Love. Brent and I were in the midst of some renovation projects, and after reading through their posts on do-it-yourself bathroom fixtures and built-ins, I stumbled upon Sherry’s step-by-step description of dyeing her own wedding dress.
I emailed Sherry with a couple questions on process and color (I’d originally wanted a chocolate brown, but ultimately decided that black would be safer), and bookmarked the post for safekeeping.
I figured, either my dress would lead a lonely life hanging in my closet, or it would go out in a blaze of technicolor glory. Or, miracle of miracles, the dye would take – and I would end up with a dress that I could wear over and over again.
Fast forward five months. The semester was over and wedding season was about to begin (we’ve got six weddings this spring and summer!). It was time to get cooking.
The last picture of my ivory wedding dress
I followed Sherry’s steps to the letter, starting with a sink-ful of scalding hot water and two bottles of black RIT dye.
My work station (like the color of our kitchen? I painted it the night before my first triathlon, with nervous energy preventing me from falling asleep.)
I started with a spoon but quickly traded it in for swirling the pot with gloved hands. I stirred diligently for 25 minutes, keeping myself entertained by trying to hit the perfect Louis Armstrong and Edith Piaf impressions.
When it was done, the dress looked like this:
And my hands looked like this…
I said a little prayer to the dress-dyeing gods, and hung the finished product up to dry.
It took two days, but by Saturday morning, the natural silk dress had settled into a fantastic midnight purple color, while the polyester liner took in just enough of the dye to become a faint lavender.
The only problem?
While the underlayer had maintained its original size and length, the dress had shrunk considerably from the hot water. Unbeknownst to me, I’m apparently a little bit smaller now than I was when we got married, because it fit perfectly, but when I put it on, a healthy couple inches of liner peeked out from the bottom.
Instead of panicking, on Saturday afternoon I walked around the corner to pay a visit to my mom. We had planned to pin it up, but once I tried it on, we both decided that we liked it better with the lavender border along the bottom. I felt positively bohemian as I tried on a pair of my mom’s earrings from the ’70s and nestled some purple and yellow flowers in my ponytailed hair.
With minutes to spare, Brent and I headed downtown to the rooftop of the Philadelphia Free Library to watch two good friends pledge to each other a lifetime of good books, big adventures, and homemade desserts.
The grad school girls (minus the bride!)
A warm and personal wedding, a fantastic reunion with good friends, and a lively night of dancing capped off with a rousing Rapture-filled rendition of “It’s the End of the World As We know It.” We headed home, DVR-ed Justin Timberlake and Lady Gaga on Saturday Night Live, and I hung my new dress back in the closet – ready and waiting for its next adventure.