Last week, British actress Millie Mackintosh covered her old wedding gown in fake blood for a Hallowe’en costume. But there are other ways to reuse one after a divorce, says Sarah Ivens
When British actress Millie Mackintosh chose a demure, £4,000 dress by a little-known Australian designer for her wedding to rapper Professor Green, it inspired thousands of brides-to-be the world over — the plunging white gown by Grace Loves Lace became the most popular wedding dress on the social media site Pinterest.
No one could have predicted that just three years later, the marriage — and the dress — would be in shreds. The couple announced their separation in February this year and, this week, it was reported that, in a thinly veiled message to her ex, Mackintosh had ripped up her dress and coated it in fake blood to make a gruesome costume for a recent Halloween party.
When an elegant march up the aisle leads to divorce, a wedding dress bagged up in a wardrobe or boxed in the attic can become an all-too-painful reminder of hopes dashed and dreams ended. But as Mackintosh has discovered, it can also be used to cathartically heal the hurt.
Post-break-up rituals seem to follow two routes: destroying the dress, or recycling it to make something with value.
My friend Treva had invested a lot in her wedding dress, as she had her marriage, so when it failed she hacked off the train of her gown and ran a physically challenging 5k race through mud and dirty water.
“Towards the end of my marriage, I started exercising and my husband hated it. At one point, before I left, he made a list of all the things I’d have to change and to stop working out was one of them, which was the last straw. I realised he wanted me unfit and weak.”
After the divorce, she ran the race with her girlfriends dressed in tutus as “bridesmaids”.
“We laughed so much, when I hit the first mud pile and the messier my dress got, the cleaner I felt. I wept with joy when we crossed the finish line. I felt liberated.”
Although trashing is hip right now, an aunt confessed that women, unsure as to what they should do with such a symbolic piece of clothing after a marriage has failed, have been doing it for decades.
In the Eighties, she’d cut up hers into neat squares to use as cloths to polish silverware. “My family heirlooms proved much more valuable and enduring than my marriage,” she told me.
A heavy-hearted cousin, currently waiting for her divorce absolute to come through, told me how she had unpicked the stitching of her dress as a reminder to herself that, yes, that dream hadn’t worked out but she was in control and could start again.
“Deconstructing the dress was cathartic, and I plan on dyeing it and making something fabulous once it’s legally over.”
My first wedding dress turned out to be a representation of the marriage to come. It was big, white, flouncy, and sparkly. I looked like a fake princess, which was appropriate because inside I was full of annoying doubts that wouldn’t dissipate. The bones of the corset were bad. The hem became a tripping hazard by the time I had to climb out of our hired white Rolls-Royce at the reception. The spaghetti straps had broken under the strain of my unsupported bosom by the time the speeches started.
The dress looked good from a distance I suppose, but it was — with hindsight — a disaster of hastily stitched pieces that was never going to last.
A few years later, as the relationship was falling apart, I decided to do an artistic study of when a marriage decays for a photography course I was taking in the evenings.
I photographed my best friend Claire wearing the dress in abandoned buildings and rubbish dumps around east London, scowling at the camera as it got caught on brambles and abandoned glass bottles.
We split up the following year, after five years of marriage, and my torn, dirty dress, which I’d crunched up into a ball and put in the bottom of a cupboard after the shoot, was consigned to a bin.
That tornado of taffeta represented my failings, my inability to address our problems levelheadedly, our inability to put in the hard work once the excitement of planning a wedding had finished. Putting it out for the binmen gave me a visceral feeling of closure.
Others take a more practical approach. Samantha Wragg, of Chesterfield, decided to auction off her dress to pay her divorce bills. She told the BBC that her Art Couture dress had attracted bids in excess of £13,000, a substantial increase on the £2,000 her parents paid for it in 2014.
She describes it as being in “great condition but needs dry cleaning before wearing to get rid of the stench of betrayal“, adding: “Hope this dress brings you a lot more happiness than it brought me in the end!“
But not everyone wants to make such a dramatic gesture. My friend Hayley, whose marriage collapsed under the strain of raising two daughters under two, asked her dad to dry clean it and store it in his loft in case one of her girls wanted to wear it on their own big day.
“I’m not superstitious, I don’t think it will be a bad omen,” she insisted. “And besides, my marriage wasn’t all bad. My wedding dress was beautiful and my daughters even more so.”
My second wedding dress was simpler than my first, but it fit perfectly and was made to last. It was a beautiful Marchesa gown, almost plain to the eye until you got close enough to see that gently, intricately, sewn into the bodice were glimmering pearls and peacock feathers of silver metal, twirls of conscientious stitching; hard-earned loveliness.
Thankfully, as it turns out, the second time round I’d chosen the right dress and more importantly, the right man. And that never goes out of style. – The Daily Telegraph