Recycle Prom Dress

How many times do you usually wear a prom dress?

It’s a ridiculous question, right? Ridiculous because prom dresses, much like wedding dresses, are typically purchased with the understanding that they’ll be worn just once.

Once! One time for all those hours spent shopping and lurking on Pinterest and trying on dozens of dresses you didn’t love just to find that special one you did. For all that time and effort and stress and indecision, the dresses get discarded as soon as prom is over.

What if there was a way to disrupt this typical consumer cycle? What if there was a way to change how we shop for — and dispose of — prom dresses?

The reasons to do so are clear. Not only does buying a brand-new dress you’ll only wear once make a big dent in your pocketbook, it can also do quite a bit of damage to the environment, too. As recycling company UsAgain explains:

“Common materials for prom dresses include silk, organza and satin, all of which require chemically intensive manufacturing processes and transportation across seas, as they are mainly produced in Asia. Like every article of clothing, a prom dress has an environmental footprint, and it’s quite a large one.”

The fashion industry takes a drastic toll on the environment for virtually all conventionally manufactured garments, but the environmental cost seems particularly steep when it’s being leveraged for an item of clothing that will be worn for so very little time. Surely there’s a better way?

High Fashion, Low Budget

You don’t have to buy a new dress to look fantastic. Photo: Shutterstock

Some high school students are choosing to avoid the mall and instead source a dress for their big night from high-end dress rental outlets like Rent the Runway. Based in New York, the online store currently boasts 265 prom dress styles in addition to its thousands of other dresses, and offers users a way to save money and space in their closet while helping the environment by renting a dress rather than buying one. By signing up, creating an account and spending around $50 to $70, users can rent dresses that retail for hundreds or even thousands of dollars.

Best of all, when your event is over, the dress gets shipped back, cleaned and borrowed by someone else. It’s a great way to stretch the environmental cost of the dress over dozens of wears instead of just one.

Secondhand Doesn’t Mean Second Best

Other teens are buying secondhand dresses through consignment stores, Craigslist and Kijiji, and sites like Prom Again, which offers users the chance to buy (and sell) prom dresses. The selection is huge and the dresses are in perfect condition — after all, they’ve only been worn for a few hours! It’s also incredibly refreshing somehow that buying and renting secondhand formalwear is now acceptable for women because, um, dudes have been doing it for decades and no one’s said a thing!

Now, let’s say you did buy a dress (secondhand or new). What do you do with it when prom is over and those slow dances are fading into distant memories? Well, selling it to one of the consignment or online dress stores we mentioned is definitely one option, but there’s another one that allows recent grads to spread a little goodwill into the world, too.

Looking Good, Doing Good

Band together with friends to do some good this prom season. Photo: Shutterstock

Organizations like The Princess Project and Becca’s Closet collect and distribute prom dresses to those who are unable to afford to purchase them. Becca’s Closet was started in memory of Rebecca Kirtman, a 16-year-old student who passed away in a car crash. Before her death in 2003, Kirtman had collected more than 250 prom dresses for South Florida students in need. Since her passing, hundreds of chapters of Becca’s Closet have sprung up across the country, ready to collect and donate gently used prom dresses.

And how about those of us who are, ahem, perhaps a little older but have been hanging onto prom dresses for, well, no good reason, really? Those of us who are fairly certain that our dresses — while lovely for their time — are completely out of style now? Unfortunately, these dresses likely won’t be accepted by prom dress organizations, but listing them for free on a sale site or donating them to Goodwill means that someone crafty out there will have the opportunity to give new life to an old dress. If you’re handy with a sewing machine, you can even do it yourself! Over at Paris Ciel, they round up 55 gorgeous DIY projects using old prom and wedding dresses, and the results are incredible.

Just like your memories from the evening, your prom dress can live on.

Feature image courtesy of Shutterstock

Read More:
Textile Recycling Initiative Seeks to Save Fashion
Reclaiming the Prom Dress
High School Ag Programs Flourish as Farms Dwindle

By Madeleine Somerville

Madeleine Somerville is the author of All You Need Is Less: An Eco-Friendly Guide to Guilt-Free Green Living and Stress-Free Simplicity. She is a writer, wannabe hippie and lover of soft cheeses. She lives in Edmonton, Canada, with her daughter. You can also find Madeleine at her blog, Sweet Madeleine.