A Thoughtful Approach to Wedding Dress Shopping

 Ethical Wedding Dress Ideas - Vintage, Fair Trade, Made in USA | Birds of a Thread

Next month, Jon and I celebrate our 5th wedding anniversary (holy whaaaat?). Since we tied the knot and signed the ketubah back in 2012, I've watched several friends and relatives plan their own weddings. One of the most difficult and emotionally fraught decisions? That darn dress.

Finding a dress that's flattering, affordable, and "you" is hard enough on its own. But if you're someone who's passionate about ethical fashion, you also take on the extra task of ensuring that your dress is sustainably-made and sweatshop-free.

Spoiler: mine wasn't. Or at least, I'm not sure it wasn't.

We put a lot of thought in to our wedding, and much of it was DIY (with lots of help from friends and family). But after hours of online and vintage shop sleuthing, I decided to buy a relatively inexpensive dress from a local bridal shop. Truthfully, I was so exhausted by that point that I just went with the first dress I liked. It felt good to have something checked off the list!

If I had it to do over, though, I would definitely put more thought in to my decision. Five years later, I'd also have a much wider variety of ethical options to choose from. Here are a few words of advice on finding an ethical wedding dress, whether you decide to go conventional, secondhand/ vintage, or sustainably-made. 


Conventional Wedding Dress Shopping

 Ethical Wedding Dress Ideas - Vintage, Fair Trade, Made in USA | Birds of a Thread
 Ethical Wedding Dress Ideas - Vintage, Fair Trade, Made in USA | Birds of a Thread

There's definitely something to be said for the bridal shop experience. You're surrounded by beautiful dresses, you're usually with friends, you're offered champagne and fancy candy. It definitely puts you in the "I'm special and this is my special day" head space. It also means that you get to to try on a variety of dresses, and get an idea of what they'll look like once they're tailored to fit.

And although I wouldn't usually consider this a perk, conventional dresses are often made of extremely durable, stain-resistant fabric (probably full of chemicals, I know). Case in point: before the ceremony, someone spilled red wine on my dress. It was an tense moment, everyone looking around furtively to see who would lose it first: the bride, the mother of the bride, or the mortified wine-spiller. Fortunately no one did. The wine all but rolled off that industrial-strength, waterproof fabric, and nary a faint stain followed me to the ceremony. Wedding drama averted!

If you do decided to take the conventional route, here are some ways to remain thoughtful throughout the process:

  • Choose a locally-owned, small bridal shop versus a larger chain. I went with Novella Bridal in San Francisco.
  • Ask about the supply chain. Just because a dress isn't fair trade certified doesn't necessarily mean it was made in a sweatshop. Often bridal salons have close relationships with their suppliers and can give you a better idea of where the dress came from, the fabrics' country of origin, etc. They may not be able to provide you with answers to everything, but it's worth taking the time to ask. Alden Wicker provides some good starter questions in her guide to finding an eco wedding dress.
  • Choose a style that you can wear again. With a few modifications, your wedding dress can usually be tweaked for another special occasion. Shorten it, dye it, add or detract sleeves... pin-spiration abounds.

Consignment or Vintage Wedding Dresses

 Vintage Wedding Dress, Flapper Style Ethical Wedding Dress Ideas - Vintage, Fair Trade, Made in USA | Birds of a Thread
 Vintage Wedding Dress, Flapper Style | Birds of a Thread

My sister-in-law, Brye, threw the idea of a white wedding dress out the window with her thrifted, black and gold sequined affair. But even if you're looking for something more traditional, secondhand is a great place to start. Brye found her dress at Xtabay in Portland, which has a bridal salon and a regular vintage section to choose from. Here are a few more options:

Vintage:

Secondhand/ Consignment:


Sustainable, Fair Trade, Made in USA, or Otherwise Ethical Wedding Dresses

 Fair Trade Wedding Dress by Celia Grace | Birds of a Thread
 Fair Trade Wedding Dress by Celia Grace | Birds of a Thread

Let's Be Fair (now part of this blog!) did a beautiful wedding collaboration a couple of years ago with several ethical brands, including eco-friendly, Fair Trade certified dressmaker Celia Grace (pictured above). Celia Grace is part of an ever-growing tribe of conscientious wedding dress makers. Here are a few of my favorites:

Any brands or resources I missed? Let me know!