Our real bride columnist Rachel is getting married in September this year. We’re following her journey of planning a feminist meets rock ‘n roll wedding. You can catch up with the series here, or subscribe to the magazine to read them first!
I’ve watched Say Yes to The Dress with my mum for years, so when the first big COVID lockdown ended and all the bridal boutiques were only allowing one or two people to accompany the bride, I felt fine about not taking a big entourage. More often than not, a big group can end in tears, and not the I-just-found-my-dream-dress kind! My auntie is a keen dressmaker, and generously gifted me a budget for my wedding dress, so I went with her and my mum.
To start with, for me, wearing white (or ivory, whatever) is always how I’ve pictured myself on my wedding day. Not because I want to present myself as pure and celebrate my pre-marriage chastity, but because it’s what I want to do. I also want to wear a veil. Not because I want to demonstrate modesty in the presence of God and my future husband, but because they feel fabulous and look amazing. That’s just my personal approach. Whatever anyone wants to wear on their wedding day, if it makes them feel their most confident, comfortable and happy, they should just do it.
Besides colour, there were four things I wanted to be sure of about my dress:
1. I wanted it to be made by an ethical, environmentally conscious brand that values its employees.
2. I wanted a dress that worked with the parts of my body I am not confident about, without feeling caged-in by corsetry and boning.
3. Given that this is the most expensive item of clothing I’ll ever own – and the fact that wearing anything just once is neither sustainable or responsible, even if it is a wedding dress – I wanted to be able to repurpose the dress and wear it again.
4. I wanted it to make me feel like Galadriel, elf queen of Lothlórien… because I’m a massive geek.
For me, the place that offered all of these things was Katya Katya in London. Before I went to Katya Katya, however, I went to Maisie Darling in Lutterworth. My fiancé and I are having a humanist ceremony, which is still not considered a legal marriage in England or Wales (lots of petitions to sign online about that idiocy if you want to look into it). To get the legal bit done we’re heading to the registry in my hometown the day before the big day. I was planning to wear a dress I already own for this, but my auntie’s gift means I’ve been able to find a wedding dress for this ceremony too. I plan to sell this dress after the wedding (on stillwhite.com or bridalreloved.co.uk) and will be donating the money to Girls Not Brides, a global partnership committed to ending child marriage and enabling girls all over the world to fulfil their potential.
When I first saw Katya Katya dresses on Pinterest, I fell in love. And when I discovered their strong ethos – in-house production exclusively using fabrics from Italy and France to reduce ecological footprint; ensuring great working conditions for employees and paying them all a national living wage; offering a dress-shortening service after the wedding so the dress can be worn again – I knew without doubt that I wanted to find my dress with them. Not only that, but pretty much all the elements of their dresses are interchangeable. For example, as someone who doesn’t feel confident about her upper arms, Katya Katya will be adding sleeves to my dress. Female-led, Katya Katya really seem to understand how to help their brides feel their most confident.
Like many people, I have a complicated relationship with my body. Mine stems from my coeliac disease. Until I cut out gluten in my mid-twenties, I was very thin because my body couldn’t absorb nutrients properly. After nine years of problems, I ended up in hospital and was put on a course of steroids. I gained weight very quickly and – even though I understand I am now healthy and my body is stronger (and, I should add from my rational brain, that I am still very much a slim person) – my perception of my body has been difficult ever since. I was nervous about wedding dress shopping, having convinced myself that none of the sample sizes were going to fit and I’d leave feeling terrible.
Charlotte at Maisie Darling was incredible. She encouraged me to try dresses I would never have picked, dresses which made me feel more body confident than I’d been in years. I found a gorgeous tea length dress from House of Mooshki, a British brand dedicated to celebrating women’s bodies, no matter the size, shape or age, making each individual bride feel amazing. They also happen to have the largest range of colours I’ve seen, in case wearing white or ivory isn’t your jam.
Of course, budgets come into play when finding your dress, and as with many an eco-conscious ethos, this all comes with a certain amount of privilege. But I have learned there are heaps of creative ways to offset your bridal footprint and make your wedding dress a more ethical purchase, while still celebrating how beautiful and confident you feel on your wedding day! You can simply avoid fast fashion where possible. You can research brands to find out about their approaches to employee welfare and their attitudes towards the women’s bodies they’re dressing. You can donate your wedding dress after your wedding (or the money you make from selling it) to a worthwhile cause. You can repurpose your dress and wear it again. Or you can find a preloved dress online. Whatever you might choose to do, you’ll be able to find a way to make this element of your wedding work for you.
I have also learned a lesson about the harsh male gaze I often peer through when looking at my own body that I want to share: DON’T listen to the voice in your head shouting at you about all your flaws. You would never go wedding dress shopping with your best friend and tell her any of those things. You wouldn’t even think them. You’d just think she looks beautiful and happy. So be your own best friend and let yourself feel beautiful. Oh, and don’t wear bright orange knickers to your appointment like I did!
Rachel is a writer, singer and singing teacher. She has performed in vintage and swing wedding bands since 2015. Rachel lives with her fiancé in South West London, where she is currently writing her debut novel.
- Words: Rachel Bettesworth