I've only been a bridesmaid once in my life. Thankfully, the dress wasn't bad: a lilac cocktail-length number with a light tulle underlay, it was pretty. To be honest, it was much better than what I had my poor bridesmaids wear at my wedding: purple column dresses in satin that were less-than-flattering (of course, at the time I thought they were beautiful). When we started talking about the fate of these once-worn dresses here at HuffPost Style, we decided to challenge ourselves and figure out how to give these expensive frocks a second life.
Like wedding gowns, bridesmaid dresses are pricey -- I've spent upwards of $300. Sadly, these dresses often suffer the same fate as a wedding gown: they are worn once and then discarded. Very wise people have started programs where these barely-worn frocks can be donated to girls who need them. But if you haven't gotten around to donating your dress and have an inkling of hope that maybe, just maybe, you'll wear it again (I swore to my bridesmaids that the dresses I had chosen were versatile, though I don't know on what planet lilac satin floor-length gowns could ever be versatile), we are here to help.
We put out the call to our staff here at The Huffington Post to bring in their old bridesmaid gowns so we could repurpose them. Ellie Krupnick, our Associate Style Editor, brought in one of the most challenging ensembles. Her outfit, from her cousin's 2006 wedding, is a modest two-piece violet jacket-and-skirt combo made out of something resembling raw silk. She giggled when she handed it to me and said, "Good luck."
I'm not one to back down to a challenge, so I decided to put my styling chops to the test and make it work. I didn't know how, but somehow I would make it look cute. I took it home and threw it on an ottoman (which it promptly slid off of due to the shiny, slippery fabric of the dress). There it sat, in its shiny glory, staring at me, daring me to wear it, for almost a month before one day, fed up with life in general, I decided to make it work. Besides, Ellie had promised me ice cream if I wore it to work, and my sweet tooth was throbbing.
The first thing I did was try it on for size. Now, to be clear: I didn't even attempt to deal with the ruched jacket. I determined that to be beyond the scope of my styling skills. But the floor-length skirt was going down. I slipped it on and was immediately dismayed. The skirt fit fine, meaning, I could zip it up easily enough. But the hem was awkward: It hit just below my shins, and was too wide to be a '50s style wiggle skirt, but not wide enough to be a flowy bohemian moment.
At that point I started chanting my styling mantra (in my head, I'm not that dramatic): "Fake it 'til we make it." I will pin, clip, stick and otherwise fudge clothing for a good shot. (I know, it's cheating. Whatever, at least it's not Photoshop.) I hiked the skirt up around my boobs and tried for a sleeveless moment. Fail: The skirt was too wide and the length was still awkward. If I gathered a few handfuls of material in the back it was almost a chic cocktail sheath. But without a tailor on hand, I'd have to pin it and disguise my styling tricks. Once I managed to roll the dress, creating a cuff at the bust, I yanked it around and went to check myself out in the mirror. Despite the fact that I couldn't breathe and my breasts were begging for mercy, the sheath-like effect I was going for had worked -- until I turned around and saw the gathered, pinned fabric which looked like some sort of tumor.
This is where my other styling mantra came in handy: A button-down oxford shirt and a belt can fix pretty much anything. Sweating, huffing and puffing, I channeled Sharon Stone's oxford-and-ball-gown moment from the 1998 Oscars. I pulled my white shirt on, and then layered a long, skinny cardigan on top (and the dress) and belted it with a wide patent leather belt. The result was a voluminous short skirt with a Carven-ish nerdy girl sweater-and-collar over it. I hoped that my highest heels would add a little sex appeal, and that no one would wonder why I had a lump sticking out of my back.
Despite being hot and uncomfortable in my getup, Ellie did seem impressed. I suggested that she take the skirt to a professional tailor and create a tulip skirt out of it, or just slash it and have it taken in. Whatever the case, I'm still waiting on my ice cream.
Take a look at Ellie in the bridesmaid dress, and my transformation. How'd I do?