I tried on my wedding dress from 20 years ago – here’s what I would do differently now

When I originally suggested to my editor that I dust off my wedding dress and try it on for the first time since my big day, the Beckhams had not yet done a photoshoot in their own wedding outfits, twenty-five years after their own nuptials. Nor had Fearne Cotton and Jesse Wood, who followed a few days later for their tenth anniversary last week.

So I like to think that I was the one who started this trend of being photographed in old wedding dresses. Although my husband, Mark, had no interest in putting on his suit and having his picture taken with me to celebrate our 20th wedding anniversary in September. So instead you have me and Grenson the dog.

The Beckhams recently pulled out their memorable purple wedding dresses to celebrate their 25th anniversary

The Beckhams recently pulled out their memorable purple wedding dresses to celebrate their 25th anniversary – Instagram / @davidbeckham

The reason I pulled my dress out of the closet? I wanted to figure out how I would do things differently if I were planning my wedding now, all these years later. I didn’t work in fashion at the time, and while I didn’t work in sustainability (which I do now), I wanted to try not to waste, but with an eye toward not wasting money instead of stuff.

We didn’t have cake (who eats cake?) and instead opted for bite-sized baklava. We used a great new thing called an iPod instead of a DJ. There was no band, because I was in it as well as Mark, and so was my dad, so together we made it a brand new family. My two bridesmaids wore oyster-colored bias-cut strappy dresses that they could re-wear if they wanted. But there was one area where I did want to spend a little more money: my own dress.

Hannah RochellHannah Rochell

No band needed: Hannah performs on her wedding day

Here’s the thing about wedding dresses that I didn’t think about at the time. They’re typically a single-use garment (we spend £2.7 billion on 50 million of them in the UK each year). And while I spent a lot of time thinking about how I’d feel looking at my photos in 20 years’ time, I gave little thought to what would happen to my traditional gown after the big day.

I designed it with a local maker. One detail – a contrasting pink lining that was revealed at the bottom of my train by attaching a fabric loop around my wrist – meant that it could technically be worn inside out. I loved the idea and at the time I planned to do that after the wedding, imagining the balls and banquets we would suddenly be invited to as newlyweds. That’s what married couples do, right?

Of course my wedding dress would remain in the loft, never to be worn again. I didn’t bother to have it dry cleaned, so the memory of our dirty dance floor is still on the hem.

Hannah tries on her wedding dress (pink side out), 20 years after her weddingHannah tries on her wedding dress (pink side out), 20 years after her wedding

Hannah tries on her wedding dress (pink side out), 20 years after her wedding – Christopher Pledger

With hindsight, if I had chosen a dress that was more “me” than “classic bride,” perhaps with straps or sleeves and a manageable hem, I might have worn it pink side out to a friend’s wedding in the years that followed. It might have been acceptable with sneakers and a denim jacket (no judgment yet). If my music career had taken off, I might even have worn it ivory side out on stage at Glastonbury (see PJ Harvey’s recent performance for more). Alas, I haven’t played bass in ten years and am still waiting for that banquet invite.

Our anniversary got me thinking: if we were getting married again this year, what would I do differently? I wouldn’t change anything overall (it was an AMAZING wedding), but I would definitely approach my dress with a more sustainable hat (I probably wouldn’t wear a real hat, mind you).

Made to order with the intention of passing it on

I don’t want to discourage people from creating the dress of their dreams, especially if it means using the skills of a local seamstress who can create something unique just for you. I loved the experience and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that I started a career in fashion shortly after.

Hannah pairs her wedding dress with a denim jacket and Adidas trainersHannah pairs her wedding dress with a denim jacket and Adidas trainers

Hannah teams her wedding dress with a denim jacket and Adidas trainers – Christopher Pledger

But these are the dresses that are the hardest to know what to do with afterward. At one point I had planned to frame my dress and hang it on the wall, and I also thought I might pass it on to my future daughter, but we were ultimately lazy with tapestries and couldn’t have children, so it languished in the attic, its unfortunate fate.

Now that I’ve unpacked it for this shoot, I think it’s time to sell or donate it for someone else to use. Although it’s custom-made, it’s fastened with laces rather than buttons or a zipper, which means it technically fits a wide variety of bodies (my body is definitely not the same body it was 20 years ago). If you’re planning on giving your wedding dress a new home, it’s worth considering details like these that will make it wearable for more people than just you.

Buy second hand

We all know that the second-hand clothing market is booming, and wedding dresses are no exception. From charity options promoting the idea – Oxfam and Barnardos have brilliant selections – to designer retailers like The Loop and Retold Vintage, there are plenty of options. Vestiaire Collective, for example, currently has a silk pleated Dior number for under £500 that would do the job nicely.

This is where your local tailor comes in again, as you may want to tweak the fit just right once you get your second-hand beauty in your hands, or repair any damage it may have sustained on its last big day. Alternatively, try one of the increasingly popular tailoring apps: Sojo will collect from your home if you live in London (you can also ship from elsewhere), while The Seam will put you in touch with a local studio you can visit in person.

Rent It

Renting suits for weddings is nothing new, and renting a wedding dress is a great idea that I would definitely consider if I were getting married now. It would give me the opportunity to be super glam for the day, even though I’m usually more of a casual type. It would also mean that I could afford to think about something that I would never be able to think about if I were buying something new.

For example, when I look at By Rotation, I really like the Rixo Bridal dress. It’s only £20 a day and the Sleeper off-the-shoulder dress is £25 a day. For those prices, you could rent several to try on or wear to the evening reception (and then you’ll also be looking at a higher bar bill).

Rixo Bridal DressRixo Bridal Dress

The Rixo Bridal dress is available to hire for £20 per day on a rotation basis

Sleeping wedding dressSleeping wedding dress

Sleeper’s off-the-shoulder can be hired for £25 per day at By Rotation

Something I could wear again

I have what I think is the most likely option to pass up: investing in a casual bridal outfit that is versatile enough to re-wear. A top and skirt in a more relaxed fabric like white linen, for example, would be ideal. Take this top and skirt from Roake Studio , which would look gorgeous for a wedding and would look just as good with jeans/a tee afterwards.

Roake studioRoake studio

Roake studio

Skirt ‘Saffron’, £125 and top ‘Millie’, £75, Roake studio

This independent brand makes to order, so you have the flexibility to add or remove hem lengths to suit you. White linen is even an option across all of their designs, so if a jumpsuit, dress or trouser and top is more your thing, that’s possible too.

Plus, these kinds of outfits are much more likely to work with a pair of shoes I already own – they’ve been a go-to for the last decade and have seen me through many a wedding as a guest. Unlike my actual wedding shoes, a truly awful pair of £30 strappy high street kitten heels that I took off as soon as we finished the photos and walked out of the reception barefoot in…

Leave a Comment