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Brides breaking rules: Alternatives to the big white wedding dress

Many of today’s brides are opting for more affordable garments that can be worn again

The idea of an expensive dress worn for one day and then consigned to the attic is beginning to look like an outmoded concept. Photograph: Paula O’Hara

Brides who break rules may – or may not – break banks. Bridal wear is often one of the biggest expenses of a wedding – in big-budget nuptials, the more extravagant the gown, the more costly. However, many of today’s modern brides are choosing alternative approaches to the big creamy white princess meringues with huge price tags, and opting instead for something different or more affordable that can be worn again.

With sustainability such a hot topic at the moment, the idea of an expensive dress worn for one day and then consigned to the attic is beginning to look like an outmoded concept. While there are talented Irish wedding dress designers making a living creating fairytale affairs for fairytale occasions, there are now many other visually striking and stylish options to satisfy matrimonial demands. Whatever about cost, wedding dresses are very emotional, public affairs.

“I don’t want a single-use wedding dress,” says stylist Ciara O’Donovan, who will be getting married in Dublin in July. Every aspect of her wedding will be masterminded with sustainability in mind.

“I will be looking for something second hand, vintage or from Oxfam, and then get a designer like Natalie Coleman for example to make a veil or a headpiece to go with it – that becomes a keepsake afterwards – and shoes that I can wear again, and really special accessories,” she says. “People all around me are having these conversations.”

Stylish alternative: the Gracie jumpsuit by designer Vivienne O’Connor (€315) features boning and silicone to ensure durability.
Made from neoprene crepe and comes in a range of colours. Photograph: Sasko Lazarov
Ready-made wedding dress: Monsoon’s bridal satin bow midi dress for €332
Pink bride: silk organza tiered skirt (€2,295), feather and silk organza bow bodice (€2,195), Swarovski-embellished hair slide from (€145), all made to order by Claire O’Connor. Photograph: Kristin Brynn Costello

Fashion editor Sarah O’Hegarty Macken got married last December at the Cliff House at Lyons, a Christmas wedding, in a black dress embroidered with roses by Simone Rocha.

“White doesn’t suit me – it makes me look washed out – so although I toyed with the idea, at that time of year it was not for me and I really wanted something I could wear again. I found the dress online in the Outnet, though it was a bit of a struggle as it was in the United States and two sizes too large, but I got it anyway and got Zip Yard to alter it. You often lose yourself when it comes to dressing up, but this was more my style.”

Artist Ana Ospina’s dress was an ankle-length white gown made by Alice Halliday from a vintage tablecloth and doily, with a detachable section so it could be worn for day or evening, long or short. “All the bits were very cleverly used so nothing was wasted. I never had anything made for me before and liked the idea of something special and vintage style rather than mass-produced.

"Cost was also a factor. I didn’t want to spend thousands, and preferred to have it made by someone I knew which put money back into the local community. We formed a wonderful bond through the experience and still work together. I have been meaning to dye it ever since the wedding but haven’t got around to it yet.”

For those going the ready-made route, high street brands Monsoon, H&M, Asos and Whistles have affordable bridal ranges in varying styles, while Mother of Pearl, an award-winning sustainable brand in the United Kingdom, has dreamy organic silk separates trimmed with pearls that can be worn again in different ways.

Double faced 100% cashmere coat with handbead embellishment (€3,495), black silk satin trousers (€795), organza bow headband (€385), Swarovski embellished hair slides from €145, all made to order, by Claire O Connor. Photograph: Kristin Brynn Costello
Arbus Rose jacquard jumpsuit (€250) by Kitri
Dress and veil from Barnardos, priced €700
Pink Oasis maxi from Zalando, priced €119
This fairytale dress (€4,410) is by Niamh Lynch of, a newcomer to the wedding scene. It is made with French corded lace and features pearl button detailing with detachable sleeves. Photograph: Paula O’Hara

Shops and sites worth visiting for bridal wear with a difference include Dirty Fabulous, BHLDN, The Outnet, Netaporter, Needle&Thread, Archive 12, Self Portrait, The White Gallery, Folkster, Stillwhite (like an eBay for wedding dresses and accessories), and Covet (where dresses can be hired).

And the charity shop Barnardos has its own bridal rooms in Dún Laoghaire and Wexford, with dresses from €250 upwards. On another level entirely, Matches (see overleaf) have a newly launched dedicated space for wedding wear – including creative affairs for the really adventurous.

Irish designers, however, do know how to make the heart beat a little faster. Helen Cody makes magical outfits fashioned from antique silks and satins, Claire Garvey’s fantastical creations know no bounds, while newcomers Niamh Lynch of (who worked with John and Simone Rocha) and Claire O’Connor ( have dress codes that either reinvent the white with imagination or offer something entirely different made for longevity – ideally like the marriage itself.