In defense of Trash The Dress

Guest post by Angela from Milestone Images
This business paid a fee to be listed on Offbeat Bride because they feel their products and services are a great fit with offbeat philosophies… and we agree. Learn more about our ads.

You might remember Angela, aka. New York based wedding photographer Milestone Images, from our previous Q&A's. Well, she's back with more awesome wedding porn and a guest post in praise of Trash the Dress sessions. -Megan

I've had a lot of interest in Trash the Dress sessions from OBB readers, and yes, true confession time… I love doing them!  One of the things I love about Offbeat Bride is that Ariel has created a space where such things can be discussed in a fair, thorough, candid way. I know that the concept of Trash the Dress is not for everyone. In fact, when I first learned about it in 2007, I blogged excitedly about how awesome it was, only to have one of my most loyal readers, an “alumni bride” whose wedding I photographed in 2006, point out in the comments how wasteful and decadent it seemed. She felt very, very strongly about it. I was taken aback at first by the strength of her reaction, but I was so grateful for opportunity to really think through the concept of a trash the dress session beyond my initial “Oh, cool!” reaction.

For me, it's about creation, not destruction…

I think one of the things that make these images so provocative to the viewer is that it's a complete reversal of the traditional notion of how wedding dresses are depicted. A wedding dress is so much more than a dress. Yes, there's the emotional component. This is the dress in which you publicly honor and celebrate your union. That is so powerful. Just speaking from my own wedding dress shopping experience — from the shame of not fitting into ANY of the sample sizes to the moment my mom and sister saw me try on the dress I eventually wore and realized, “My god, I feel actually feel good about this one!” It was honestly one of the most emotionally charged purchases I've have ever made.

And yet, wedding dresses, particularly traditional, poofy white gowns, have such a powerful symbolism in pop culture. Traditionally, they represent purity, innocence, virginity, wealth and status. In contemporary culture, they've taken on new symbolism as icons of celebration and new beginnings. Photographs created during trash the dress sessions subvert the traditional implications of how a wedding dress should be worn, and how a woman wearing one should be seen and act. And now my degree in academic feminism is showing, isn't it? Semiotics! Subversion! Visual issues in the media! Cultural studies and critiques! Can I get a shout-out from my fellow women's studies majors? 🙂

Deep thoughts about visual depictions of femininity aside for a moment, with the exception of one client who wanted to do underwater photography in her gown, my clients who have booked these sessions haven't ACTUALLY trashed their dresses. It was more of a relaxed, day after the wedding, “don't-worry-so-much about the dress” session.
Both Heather, the bride sitting on the wall, and Lesley, the bride in the wheelbarrow (Editor's Note: and OBT member southpaw23), are sitting on clear shower curtains. Both of their dresses are completely fine. Lisa, the underwater bride got married in a beach town and took lots of photos with the wedding party down on the sand. Between that and rocking out of the dance floor, the bottom of her dress was in rough shape long before she and her husband booked our session. Their wedding day sounded pretty hectic, as well, and she and her husband didn't get to take as many photos of just the two of them. The TTD session was an opportunity for them to put on their wedding clothes one more time and create memories for the two of them.

Of course, truthfully, there are much nobler destinies for gently used dresses. I get that. As such, I donate a quarter of what I earn from each Trash the Dress sessions to the Susan G. Komen Foundation for breast cancer research. By donating a portion of the proceeds from Trash the Dress sessions, I'm honoring my mother-in-law, a breast cancer survivor, AND recognizing that women who want to do something different with their dresses often feel conflicted about donating them.

The other argument against this kind of session is, of course, what if you daughter wants to wear it someday? I've shot more than fifty weddings. I've only had one bride wear her mother's veil. That's it. On the other hand, my maternal grandmother got married in a chic brown suit in 1944, which is displayed proudly on a dress form in my studio.

That said, the whole pro-TTD argument that says, “Show your man you love him and won't marry anyone else by trashing your dress” thing is bullshit. The end.


If you're like me and Angela, who are of the pro-TTD variety, and you would like to do your very own Trash the Dress session, then you'll be happy to know that Milestone Images is offering 10% off to all Offbeat Brides!!

Or if you're not into Trash the Dress but ARE into having really good wedding photos, you will also be happy to know that Milestone Images is offering 10% off to all Offbeat Brides!!

So get in touch with Milestone Images and feel free to do whatever you want in your wedding dress! -Megan

Comments on In defense of Trash The Dress

  1. I’m SO with you! Honestly, when the bride was choosing the dress, she probably WAS NOT thinking about how the dress might be used after the wedding. It’s the nature of the wedding! It’s a one-day magical surprise rainbow glitter day. The trash the dress shoot milks a little of that magic and offers the bride a unique vantage point from which to remember her dress and thereby, her nuptials.
    To me, it no more says “I want to waste wealth” than any other component of a wedding. Which is pretty much just an opportunity to, y’know, display wealth. Such is the biz, man.
    There are plenty of opportunities for brides to benefit others through the wedding planning process. And brides SHOULD, in whatever capacity they choose. Whether it’s patronizing small businesses, donating her dress or sending all their gifts to charity, I just think all brides should bear in mind their opportunities to help someone else.
    And if a bride wants to pay for her wedding in pop cans then do a TTD shoot in a pigpen, it’s her property and therefore her prerogative. And I’ll probably fawn over the photos!

    • Yes this! —> “And if a bride wants to pay for her wedding in pop cans then do a TTD shoot in a pigpen, it’s her property and therefore her prerogative. And I’ll probably fawn over the photos!”

  2. I *LOVE* TTD photos! My only issue is that I can’t seem to find anyone in the metro-Detroit area that doesn’t suck ass. I actually met with a photographer that seemed really fun but when we met, instructed me (yeah, instructed) that formal (ie., stuffy) portraits would be done in addition to candids because “when you look back, you’ll realize that’s what you really want.” I was out the door before he could piss me off anymore!

    • Jen! We’re getting married in Detroit in August and although I haven’t had true face time with our photographer yet — we live in Atlanta — I know they shoot “Wear The Dress” sessions, which, it seems can really be TTD. Anyway, their website is http://www.mod4.com. Good luck!

  3. Omg, the underwater bride is at Playland! (that’s where I grew up). Very awesome pictures.
    We are spending more than twice as much on photography as we did on the wedding dress (including alterations and accessories). So I would think that our pictures would be more valuable than the dress. Especially since these pictures are AWESOME!! So I’m totally for it! 🙂

  4. I am so there: That said, the whole pro-TTD argument that says, “Show your man you love him and won’t marry anyone else by trashing your dress” thing is bullshit. The end.
    even if I were to marry someone else, or ten someone elses, I wouldn’t wear the same dress!

    even though I still have my wedding dress, I have no daughters to wear it so that’s silly too.

    unless it was borrowed, it’s the bride’s dress and she can enjoy it any way that works for her – it’s the union that’s important not the wedding trappings.

  5. These photos are gorgeous! I love the subversion of them (shout out from the feminist academic type here!) and I also love that they are having fun. My wedding dress is being purchased as something I can wear again, but if it wasn’t I might consider doing this. Yes, some brides wear vintage dresses, but it isn’t part of my family tradition (my mom’s is one I would never, ever wear, even if I could fit into it as it is much shorter than I’d go out in public in). If it’s just going to hang in a closet I’d rather do something fun with it. Depending on what you do, it could still be donated after being cleaned. If it needs a little repair, that’s still cheaper than a whole dress!

    • YES!!! That’s what I’ve always advocated: take the most fun route. I’m taking bits of my mom’s dress and my aunt’s dress (she always wanted a daughter, and I’m the closest she’s got!) and sewing them into my store-bought gown. It’s like the teddy bear you had as a kid. You loved it so much that at the end of the day it looked aweful!

      Also, I know I’ll probably be all jittery on the actual wedding day and we’ll probably get some great candids, but who knows how those stiff pictures will look. I wanna roll around in the desert and jump in a sprinkler and have tons of fun with my new hubby! (and really smooch on him! None of that “okay hows about a little peck on the cheek” bs!)

      All in all, I think that we will enjoy our TTD session more than our actual wedding photos. Plus we’re having friends take photos at the wedding, so we may be able to splurge a little and get a “real” photog for the TTD session! 🙂 -Good luck and have fun!

  6. Nice photos, plus I am really glad you pointed out that the hand-me-down dress is an extreme rarity. I haven’t exactly see a rush toward mom-vintage 70s and 80s dresses among the 20-something brides on here. Besides, even though we’re about the dress size, I am 5″8′ and my mom was 5″2′. Hand me down? Not gonna happen!

    • My mom had a GREAT short little strapless number with a big ugle lace aplique on the front and lttle sleevelets(?). I tried it on last night and if I lost a good 15 lbs I could rock it, but I wanna be dancing around and not worrying about busting a seem! (a cool way to incorporate it is to incorporate it some other way: make a handkerchief out of it, sew some bits into your dress, etc. That’s what I’m doing and my mom is pumped!)

  7. We’re planning an “after the aisle” shoot which to me, is a much nicer way of saying TTD. And it won’t be so much ‘trashing’ as it will be getting beautiful pics that we won’t have time for that day. Besides, I’m not the most graceful person out there so the dress will probably end up getting trashed just by me wearing it for the day!

  8. I agree the pictures can be fantastic, but I am wearing my fiance’s maternal grandmother’s dress (you can see it on me here: dress!). I absolutely can’t trash that! Plus, I’m having a second non-wedding medieval dress made to change into after the ceremony, which I specifically designed to wear again – it’s green and gold.

    Anyway, some of us ARE planning futures for our dresses. I wonder how common this is.

    • *raises hand* I specifically selected the design for my corset/skirt combo because I thought it would be awesome to wear again.

      That said, if I didn’t have those plans, I think it would be a lot of fun to do an “after the aisle” session. I’d also lean towards possibly donating my dress, if I wasn’t so emotionally attached to it.

      I think the bottom line is simply this: a wedding dress is the property of the bride, and whether she wants to Trash it, donate it, preserve it or wear it out again is completely up to her.

    • Oh, I’m DEFINITELY planning a future for mine! Mine will be a green dress- and, after our wedding, I’m going to get it shortened, and wear it as a cocktail dress. I’m definitely not shelling out big doleros (am getting it made, which can be costly) for a dress I’m never going to wear again!

  9. At the outset, your pictures are *lovely,* so this comment is responding to the interesting intellectual arguments you made surrounding the TTD phenomenon, not at all to your work or your business. So, like Ariel, I’m not a fan of the Trash the Dress phenomenon, and I while I think your arguments about subverting femininity are really interesting, I’m not sure I consider them convincing.

    I think several things. I think first, that we, as a cultural have fetishized images of women in wedding dresses, as a way to limit the roles of women in a traditional way incentivized by, well, the pretty. So I think that as much as we talk about TTD images subverting traditional femininity, I think it’s equally valid to argue that TTD images actually extend the fetishization of women in wedding dresses beyond the wedding day. I think for the images to truly be subverted, we’d need to see something that violently and directly conflicts with our cultural image of a bride – and ideally comments on our cultural image of a bride – i.e., a woman in a wedding dress acting as a prostitute.

    Second, and most important, after the wedding, I view my (non-traditional, not bought through the wedding industry) wedding dress as an important ritual object. It’s something I wore at a important life transition. So, in that sense, I consider it to be a object imbued with some power. Since my dress is beautiful and 60 years old, and I’m personally attached to it, I’m keeping it. God knows if it will ever be worn again (or would even stand up to being worn in 20 or 30 years) but it’s still a heirloom for me. I wouldn’t trash, say, my mothers all lace baptismal gown – that would be beyond a waste – so I’m not going to trash my wedding dress. But even if I were not keeping it, I think a dress worn at such a important moment is something that I would want to give new life to – to give to someone else, for example. Not to trash.

    But I think finally, for me, the issue is our modern disposable hyper-consumer culture. We live in a culture where everything is disposable, where we don’t put worth in objects, and we waste and waste and waste. So for me, the TTD phenomenon is the end result of hyper-consumerism. Now, not even our wedding dresses are things of value that are worth reusing. Now, even they can be trashed and disposed of.

    So those are my thoughts. That said, I’m not against destroying for the sake of creation. I just think the messages we send when we use the words and concept “Trash The Dress” are ones of waste and fetishization. Generally. It’s possible I could be convinced otherwise. But thus far I haven’t been.

    (And I do love the photo of the bride in the pool…)

    • I would say, though, that the idea of buying a dress that you wear once is also a concept (but a societally accepted one) of waste and indulgence. Then again I don’t view my dress as a ritual object – I view it as an article of clothing that I wore when I said a vow and signed a paper (I made the life transition when my FH and I agreed we wanted to build a life together; as the mom said in “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” -“It’s done.”)

    • I 100% agree with you Meg; it’s incredibly wasteful. Actually, buying a dress we only intend to wear once is probably wasteful too. Although, having seen your dress…you could totally rock that vintage frock again.

      Like many others, I bought my dress with the specific idea that I could wear it again (in altered form). I just can’t justify spending that much money (in my personal instance) on something to only wear once OR that I would completely destroy.

    • I feel like this image (the first I ever saw of the Trash the Dress phenom) by john michael cooper “violently and directly conflicts with our cultural image of a bride” http://www.earth13.com/2008/12/retiring-joan-and-ophelia/ , but most are just slightly out of the ordinary photo shoots with a snarky name.. AND, if you look at his blog, he who started it all with those photos is quite sick of the idea as well..now he’s shooting families as anti-heroes!

  10. i’d have to say I cant trash my dress, I would give it away to my daughter if she wanted to wear it. I would definitely hand it down. I am all for seeing others do it LOL! Cause it is really fun, i love expression i love photography! MUAH!

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