Trashing the Dress, Reliving the Dream

Written by    Last updated: February 20, 2009

You discovered your dream dress, convinced yourself to blow a fortune on it and spent your perfect wedding day feeling like a princess. Now, with the ink dry on your marriage certificate and your honeymoon tan fading fast, you have to choose what to do with your fairytale frock.

You can store it in plastic and leave it to fester in the back of a wardrobe, or take another option – Trash the Dress, the photographic farewell to your gorgeous gown. This is the perfect opportunity to slip your big day dress back on and send it off in style.

There are two ideas behind dress trashing: one is to create unusual pictures, the other is to deliberately violate the dress. Either way you get some fun, distinctive photographs that are a world away from traditional wedding portraits.

The “dress trashing” concept began in America and is now taking the UK by storm. The man credited with starting the trend is John Michael Cooper, a Las Vegas photographer who has been taking what he calls “antibridal” pictures since 2000. His aim was to apply ideas from the worlds of fashion and cinema to wedding photography by putting brides in unusual locations; capturing them muddying their meringues in burnt‐down forests and disused buildings.

The craze spread when New Orleans‐based photographer Mark Eric launched www.trashthedress.com in 2006 to showcase his best Trash the Dress moments and allow brides and photographers to post their images. Photographs on the website include one bride butchering her dress with scissors and several up to their waists in sea water. Its UK counterpart, www.trash‐the‐dress.co.uk, has less extreme examples, where brides have been photographed in uncharacteristic settings like woods or farmland.

But the central theme is not just arty rebellion – pictures can be inspired and creative, reflecting the bride’s personality in a way that posed wedding photography cannot. You could even choose to make your shoot a girls’ day out with your bridesmaids, or an intimate affair with your husband.

Leanne Metcalfe, 25, from Sheffield, married in May this year. She trashed her dress in Clumber Park in Worksop, Nottinghamshire, after reading about the sessions on wedding forums. ‘The weather on the day of our wedding was really dull, so the photos don’t really do my dress any justice. My friend had just set up a wedding photography business and took pictures of our wedding day to build up a portfolio, but was interested in other wedding related photography, so I suggested a Trash the Dress shoot with her as a test.’

Leanne did not want to entirely trash her dress, choosing instead to play around with different ideas including climbing trees and posing in an ice cream van. ‘I took a number of items with me to the shoot; veil, tiara, my trusty CAT rigger boots, my hen night sash and wand, my bouquet, and we just played around with what we had. Clumber Park had so many different nooks and hiding places to take some lovely pictures, some quite formal and some really fun ones!’

Jane Peacock, of Concept Photographic in Poole, Dorset, has been photographing Trash the Dress shoots, which she calls Wedding Divas, for 18 months. She says her work focuses more on creation than destruction. ‘Many of our clients are really pleased that we call it something else, they know then they don’t have to totally trash the dress and it will live to see another wardrobe. Of course when they do buy fully into it then we are more than thrilled to go with it.’

The pictures have clearly struck a chord with brides, revealing their complex feelings about their wedding gowns – all the fuss, fittings and expense leaves them with an item they will wear only once. But the Trash the Dress concept has sparked wider debate beyond a curiosity in the quirky images. Many brides have said they Trashed the Dress as a sign of commitment to their husbands, but some traditionalists see the act as showing disrespect for marriage.

Opinion is divided over the merits of Trash the Dress photography, and in our forums the argument is getting heated! Some hate the idea ‘Definitely not, I want to keep it to show my kids, if I hadn’t wanted to keep it I’d have saved myself some money and hired a dress. I didn’t save up and spend that much money to ruin it.’ Others adore it ‘I love the idea of celebrating the dress. You have got married in the dress of your dreams, you are never ever going to wear it again, so why not!’

Jenni Sutton, 24, of Kent, says her Trash the Dress shoot will allow her to defy convention in a way she won’t be able to on her big day in August 2010. ‘Trash the Dress gives you an opportunity to take interesting shots in the only dress everyone ever remembers you in,’ she explains.

Jenni disagrees with the case against Trash the Dress, seeing it as a personal custom tailored to the personality of each individual bride. ‘I love photography and have very specific ideas about it. I have to find a photographer who can translate my ideas into photos,’ she says, adding that she is considering a reportage‐style shoot on the beach and at a funfair. ‘Some girls won’t want to jump into the sea and may want to sit on swings or go on merry go rounds,’ she acknowledges.

While some people interpret the images as a comment on modern marriage, Jane dismisses the idea that the popularity of Trash the Dress lies anywhere other than in the experimentation with wedding photography. ‘It’s fun to work with people who are wanting to do something a little off the wall. It gives us the opportunity to explore more exciting avenues in photography.’ She says. ‘As with all phenomena it will be a fashion, but what a brilliant way to spend time.’

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