How I reclaimed my wedding dress after my divorce

March 11 | Guest post by Alayna Cole

We saw an inspired idea for what to do with your dress when you don't get married in it. But what do you do with a perfectly-fitting wedding dress post-divorce?

my wedding dress
Photo of the author by Tara Lee Photography

In 2013, I had a wedding. I wore a knee-length dress of white and ivory lace, which I paid a few hundred dollars to have custom-fit to my shape. It was the first strapless dress that I've ever been able to wear and feel good about myself in. I felt like a beautiful bride.

But how I looked is one of the only awesome things that came out of my wedding. Unfortunately, the marriage itself didn't go to plan. Or rather, it didn't go at all.

After my wedding, I was left with a dress and accessories that I loved (I mean, look at those gloves!) but they were marred by the circumstances that surrounded their debut. There was this dress in my wardrobe that fitted me perfectly but that I couldn't wear, and that I couldn't bring myself to give away. In some ways, I felt like this dress was stopping me from moving on with my life.

So I decided to reclaim my wedding dress. I swallowed my nerves, broke out a different pair of gloves, and dyed it blue. And it was amazing.

Here's the process for anyone wanting to alter their wedding dress, whether it be to spice up their wedding day, to give new life to a dress that marked the beginning of a happy marriage, or — as in my case — to cover some bad memories with a dose of brightly coloured dye.

wedding dress dye kit

For this incredibly simple washing machine method, you will need:

  • A washing machine with an agitator (that is connected to both hot and cold water)
  • Dye in the colour of your choice (and appropriate to the fabric of your dress. I used iDye Poly, as it's effective for polyester or semi-polyester garments)
  • Protective gloves
  • A bucket (that you don't mind colouring a little)
  • A poking stick, for poking your dress beneath the water (again, that you don't mind colouring a little. Try to choose something that won't pierce the fabric of your dress. I used the blunt end of a wooden skewer
  • A sunny day

This is what you need to do:

Fill your washing machine with the hottest water your pipes will allow. Hot water will make sure your colour is the brightest it can possibly be. You will need just enough water to cover your dress so that the fabric can move freely.

Add your dye to the water and allow your washing machine's agitator to distribute the colour evenly through the water. If your dye packet came with a colour intensifier, add that too (unless you're aiming for a more pastel result).

Add your dress. Use your poking stick to ensure all of the fabric is beneath the surface.

dying my wedding dress in the washer

Wash the dress for the longest cycle your washing machine allows. If you have a dress like mine that contains fragile fabric, lace or tulle, then set the machine to delicate settings and ensure that, instead of a spin cycle, the machine simply "holds" the dress. If you don't have that option on your washing machine, just make sure you stop the cycle before it starts spinning to avoid damaging any of those fragile parts.

Allow your washing machine to complete the full hot water cycle with your dress.

Once that's finished, drain the water and allow the dress to go through another cycle with the coldest water your pipes will allow. This will help to set the colour in your newly dyed dress. Again, if your dress is fragile, make the machine "hold" the dress instead of putting it through the spin cycle.

After the cold cycle, it's time to dry the dress. I had to use a bucket to move my dress outside to avoid dripping blue water across my laundry tiles, and I recommend this method to avoid mess.

Untangle the various layers of your dress and hang it outside in the sun so it can dry.

my wedding dress dyed blue

Tip: After your dress is hanging up, check your washing machine. If it is tinged a particular colour, now would be the time to do another empty wash with a whitener in the water to avoid accidentally dyeing your next load of washing.

This might just seem like a simple DIY project, but altering this dress so I could wear it again was an utterly empowering experience. I hope that whether you want to dye a dress for your wedding day or to help you move on from it, the project can help you feel stronger, like it did me.

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  1. This is beautiful. You did something that I probably would be too afraid to do, it's great that you were able to turn that bad experience into something stunning. The dress is amazing and you are a rockstar.

    22 agree
  2. I've dabbled in a little dying recently, and iDye & iDye Poly (by Jacquard) are great dyes and really don't cost much more than the RIT or Tulip brand ones (which don't work on poly fabric, and tend to wash out more). I prefer the stovetop method, but that can require a very large pot depending on the amount of fabric you are trying to dye all at once.

    You can even dip dye (lower in a little fabric at a time), which gives you an ombre effect. I'm doing this for a customer next week actually! I'm dip dying the bottom of a cream convertible dress in turquoise for her upcoming beach wedding. I hope it goes as planned!!

    Coffee and tea also make very easy dyes if you want more natural brown hues. Just mix up a big batch, and dunk your fabric for a while. Different teas can give you different tones, so experiment and have fun!

    5 agree
    • I have used the stovetop method before but I just didn't have anything big enough for this much fabric. I knew it was a little risky putting lace in the washing machine but my machine has such a nice, slow setting that I hoped it would be fine. And thankfully it was!

      2 agree
  3. Gorgeous! What a marvelous idea, and a fantastic response to your feelings about the dress. Because how could you not wear something that beautiful again?

    8 agree
    • I agree! It fits so perfectly and I remembered having such positive feelings when I was wearing it in the store, so I really wanted to feel like that in it again.

      2 agree
  4. My dress for my first marriage had to be custom-made, as I was an extreme plus-size and wanted a Medieval theme gown. My mother sewed up a dozen yards of light blue material for my gown, and I wore it only that one time.

    I divorced in 2010, and the dress is still in storage in another state (as of 2015). I was asked what I was going to do with it, as there was so much material involved and a lot of it hangs from an Empire waist. I plan on making two casual/work dresses from it. The blue is a really nice color, and would make some nice dresses for everyday wear. But I guess I need to see how I feel about it once I get it back.

    Dye-ing is a wonder process to take the dress with you. It turned out so lovely. I'm glad you found a new life for yours.

  5. I love this, I think reclaiming The Dress is such a great thing to do. I wish I'd thought of dyeing.

    I used the corset bodice from my first marriage as part of a LARP costume (I think I donated the skirt to a charity shop, it had been super cheap to begin with)- like you, I had had it made to fit me, it was beautiful, but it had bad memories. Once I'd repurposed it I never looked back.

    3 agree
    • It's amazing how liberating repurposing The Dress can be. It's like taking it back so it doesn't belong to The Day anymore; now it belongs to me again.

      3 agree
  6. Thank you so much for writing this! I've been toying for ages with the idea of dying my dress so that I can wear it for other things. I think this may have given me the push to actually go ahead and do it (once it's not freezing outside anymore).

    • I definitely think it's time to bite the bullet! What I told myself was that The Dress was going to waste in my wardrobe, so even if the dyeing didn't work how I wanted it to, I hadn't really lost anything. I'm not sure if that will help you take the risk, but it helped me. 🙂

      1 agrees
  7. my wedding was canceled, so i didn't get to wear my dress. i was in time to cancel the order and i did so because i didn't want it to become a corpse in my closet. but i loved that dress so much and i miss it. i am not sure anymore it was a good thing that i was in time to cancel the order. if i had the dress with me, i would have probably dyed it, too – light grey. it was a beautiful, beautiful dress.

    1 agrees
    • That's a shame! Not having to deal with the dramas of divorce is a plus, but missing out on your beautiful dress is very sad. Maybe you should look into buying something similar, beautiful, and custom made, in the colour that you want, just to treat yourself?

      2 agree
    • You know, I think it's neither fair nor smart to only let brides get to spend a lot of money on one awesome dress (or party, for that matter). If you can possibly afford it, I wouldn't let yourself live with that disappointment. Get that dress! And honestly if you get it in a light grey instead of a white, and it's not for a wedding, you might be able to get it much cheaper and won't even have to bother dying it yourself.

      1 agrees
      • it actually comes in several colors… i briefly entertained the idea of just ordering it in grey. but unfortunately i can't justify the expense now. that, and i wouldn't really want to explain it to the (few) people who saw it when the wedding was still on. not that i care about other people's judgement, but i don't want to expose myself too much. i really didn't like the way the bad news were received by some close people, and i constantly feel the need to protect myself. it's a really tiring, and really lonely place to be.
        thanks for your sweet words!

        1 agrees
  8. Please be aware that dyes are very toxic, especially if they are strong enough to dye polyester. Wear gloves, but also goggles and a face mask when using them. And I would caution against doing stove top dying in your kitchen. You do not want to ingest any of this by accident. And if you do, please make sure you don't use your spaghetti pot. 😉

    But as for the topic at hand…I brought my dress to work! I work in a Costume Shop at a college and we were doing a play called "Big Love." It's a play where 50 brides are forced to marry 50 grooms so they all agree to murder their husbands after the ceremony. I thought it was fitting. 😉

    3 agree
  9. It turned out beautifully! One thing I've learned from doing a lot of dyeing (especially natural fibers) is to saturate the garment first with water and wring it out before putting it into the dyebath. This helps the color to absorb evenly and reduce the chance of spotting.

    1 agrees
  10. Am seriously planning on doing this if I'm not able to find my green dress withina few years from now. Of course, very powerfularticle too. Love it and that blue is stunning!!

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