How to Upcycle Your Prom or Bridesmaid Dress

After a summer of proms and weddings, your wardrobe might be full of fancy dresses that you’re not sure that you will ever wear again. But your occasion dress doesn’t need to hang unloved in your closet – read on for Regan Lavin’s ideas for giving your prom, bridesmaid or occasion dress a new lease of life. 

Prom dresses cost an average of £220 per year, while the average bridesmaid dress can set you back £114. Rarely do people re-wear fancy dresses such as prom and bridesmaid dresses, so this money (and the environmental cost of making the dress) often goes to waste. However, this does not have to be the case. If you can’t find another occasion to wear your dress and don’t have a friend or family member that would love to take it off your hands (your younger cousin that has her school prom next year perhaps?), here are some suggestions for what you can do with it after the big event to prevent it gathering dust in your wardrobe:

1. Resell

Let’s go back to that £220 price tag, shall we? Fancy dresses are expensive and have the potential to set back your bank account quite a bit. By reselling your dress, you can make back some of that money so that your formal event doesn’t have to hit your wallet so hard, while also enabling someone else to find their dream dress at a slightly lower price-tag and giving the dress a new lease of life. Some places to try include Depop, Poshmark, eBay, Etsy, and Facebook Marketplace.

2. Donate


The high price of formalwear is not something everyone can afford, but by donating your old bridesmaid or prom dress you can enable somebody else to feel like a queen for a day.

You can donate your dress to any local thrift or charity store, or alternatively you can donate to organisations that are specially geared towards providing prom dresses to young women that otherwise couldn’t afford to attend. In the US, Project G.L.A.M. provides economically underprivileged young women with prom dresses, makeup, and accessories so they have everything they need to feel confident, proud and beautiful at their senior prom; while Operation Prom helps low-income students attend their proms by providing free prom dresses and tuxedos. Both accept donations.

Meanwhile in the UK, PromAlly offers the free loan of prom dresses and suits to school children, sixth form students and college students who otherwise couldn’t afford one, relying on donations and charity shop finds.

3. Split it in two

Want to be able to re-wear your dress and maybe mix and match different dresses? Cutting it into two pieces is perfect for you. Take your dress to any local seamstress (or do it yourself if you’re handy with a sewing machine) and split the top half from the bottom. You can wear the top half as a cute top with jeans, or you can pair the top of one dress with the bottom of another for completely new looks for other events. The possibilities quickly become endless.

4. Cut it shorter

If you love your dress but the floor-length skirt is a wee bit much, you could also shorten it and transform it into a cocktail dress. Shortening automatically makes any dress a bit more wearable for a nice dinner out or party.  You could also shorten just the front of the dress to turn it into a high-low dress.


5. Swap dresses with friends

You’ve heard of clothing swaps now get ready for formal clothing swaps! Gather up some mates and have everyone bring any fancy clothing they’re done with. You can get rid of your old dress while finding a new one! This option is great for anyone who wants to know their beloved, sentimental piece is going to a good home with an owner who will love it just as much.

6. Make a Cushion

Get creative and update your home decor at the sane time by turning your gown into a throw pillow.  Alternatively, use the fabric to make dolls clothes, bunting, or even a purse.

7. Turn it into a Halloween costume

Halloween costumes are also a huge source of waste, often involving a lot of plastic, and can get expensive. Kill two birds with one stone and upcycle your dress into a costume. Dress up as a Disney princess; turn a yellow dress into Belle or a pink dress into Sleeping Beauty. Rip it up, pour some fake blood on it, and get it nice and dirty if you want to be a vengeful zombie bride – this also works for most Tim Burton characters.

8. Rent rather than buy


If you haven’t bought your dress yet, consider renting it instead.  Renting is usually cheaper, contributes to a circular apparel lifecycle, and means you don’t have to worry about what to do with the dress when you’re done. Many clothing rental companies also have subscription options so you can pay a rate monthly or yearly and get access to a revolving wardrobe. Popular dress rental options include Rent the Runway, Nothing to Wear, Girl Meets Dress, Front Row, and Style Lend

If you have already bought your dress and it is still in great condition, you could offer it to be loaned to others. Join the Nu Wardrobe or Hurr Collective to give your dresses a new lease of life.

Want to learn more about dressing sustainably for events? Check out our guide to dress rentals.

Interested in finding an eco-friendly formalwear option for someone who would rather wear suits? See our sustainable suits guide.