Have Dental Floss, Will Travel

Mapping the world, one waxy strand at a time…

Dye Job

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.


24 responses to “Dye Job

  1. Kelsey May 22, 2011 at 10:30 pm

    My god, I LOVE it! LOOKS GREAT!

    I’m trying to find a cheeeeap dress as well…we shall see.

  2. Black Knight May 23, 2011 at 2:15 am

    You are too clever!!! I like your black (purple) hand. Long time ago, in the jurassic era, I bought my dress in a beautiful quarter of Rome where now there are only chinese shops. Unbelievable how the things change.

  3. Kim (Book Worm Runs) May 23, 2011 at 5:25 am

    That is awesome!!! So glad it worked out…I love it!! 🙂 Now that dress gets to party on instead of hanging in your closet! 😉

  4. Johann May 23, 2011 at 6:01 am

    Ha, I enjoyed this post and just forwarded it to someone very special for various reasons. One day I’ll share the story with you. This was just perfect right now, thanks!

  5. Anne May 23, 2011 at 8:08 am

    Beautiful! Great job with the dress and sounds like a very cool wedding 🙂

  6. Kari w/ Running Ricig May 23, 2011 at 8:27 am

    awesome job!! It looks awesome and your dress is totally my type of wedding dress. Mine felt like I was wearing a nightgown lol.

  7. Julie (A Case of the Runs) May 23, 2011 at 1:19 pm

    Wow, what an adventure! I am totally into simple weddings/dresses and hope that I will one day score a bargain like yours! It looks like it worked out pretty well!

  8. Jill May 23, 2011 at 2:31 pm

    Omg, I LOVE LOVE LOVE that dress – both times around! What a great idea. I love the lavender bottom, too – good call to keep it. You look awesome, btw!!!!

  9. middleagedrunner May 23, 2011 at 4:15 pm

    I love the dress and think that you have been able to recreate it is fantastic! Beautiful (both as a bridal “gown” and as a party dress!) Nice job…

  10. Shelly May 23, 2011 at 4:26 pm

    Love this!!! I just wish you had posted a full length shot. I’d love to see the dress with the lavendar on the bottom.

  11. Running to Music May 23, 2011 at 6:16 pm

    What a great idea….my dress is mostly lace so I’m afraid its going to live a life in my closet 😦 So smart!

  12. Sarah S @RunningOnWords May 23, 2011 at 7:41 pm

    Full length shot! You are so brave! My dress was way to fancy and had red trim, so I think it’s forever relegated to the closet. Your dress was/is gorgeous, though and you look so pretty!

  13. pawsitivelife May 23, 2011 at 8:09 pm

    Awesome! I would so go for a simple wedding dress and I kinda want a mini. My mom bought my first communion dress when i was a kid simply becuase she wanted to alter it when I was done and make it fit her..so weird

  14. Elise May 24, 2011 at 9:39 pm

    Thats amazing! And such a great idea! I have a white dress (not wedding ;)) that is getting a little dull…and I think some dye could brighten it up!

  15. RunToTheFinish May 25, 2011 at 10:33 am

    A. you looked amazing on your wedding day and totally you!
    B. Are you kidding me, you’re crafty too? Is there anything you can’t do?

    I want to wear my dress again, so I considered making it a knee length dress. I adore every inch of it.

    • Abby May 25, 2011 at 11:26 am

      In reality, I’m probably one of the most un-crafty people in the world 🙂 This was just dumb luck!

      Your dress was absolutely gorgeous – you should totally figure out a way to wear it again!

  16. Julie May 25, 2011 at 11:46 am

    My wedding dress cost about the same as yours! It was even more UNweddingy, though 🙂
    Great job on the dye! I’m sure I would have bungled it all up.

  17. Denise May 26, 2011 at 3:51 pm

    first off…love the wedding dress. so simple and so perfect!! and i think it’s great that you found another use for it. with the new color you can wear it again!

  18. Mallory June 2, 2011 at 10:00 am

    That’s so awesome!!!! I love that you got your dress from JCrew. My wedding dress was from the BCBG Outlet and was $50. I love it!! Ooo I should go home and try it on. Ha.

  19. Scott February 7, 2012 at 11:16 am

    Nice site thanks for posting!

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