Planning an Ethical Wedding - Part One: Adornments

I'm getting married! When we got engaged in September, I seriously considered having a small ceremony at City Hall and a low key reception with our nearest and dearest. Weddings have a HUGE impact on the environment, and the cost can be astronomical. We decided, though, that it means a lot to us to celebrate with our friends and families and to have a real wedding. And if that mean's that we're buying into the "wedding industrial complex," well we're okay with that. 

I admit that our wedding will be far from zero-impact, but it is important to us that it reflects our values, and that means making ethical decisions, and choosing less harmful elements for our big day. In these months (less than four months! whoa!) leading up to the wedding, I'll write about some of the things that we have taken into consideration during the planning process, and steps we've taken to reduce our impact.  

 

Part 1: Adornments

The Ring

Lots of eco-minded couples opt not to purchase a diamond engagement ring. The diamond industry has contributed to deforestation, habitat destruction, human rights violations, and war. Some of the bigger jewelry companies are starting to offer conflict-free diamonds now, but the money is ultimately going to corporations that do invest in precious stones that are NOT conflict-free. By purchasing from them, you are still supporting harmful business practices. Brilliant Earth brands themselves as not only a completely conflict-free jewelry company, but environmentally friendly as well. They also contribute a portion of their proceeds to education, environmental restoration, and economic development. If you want a modern, ethical ring, they are a great option. There are also a number of Etsy shops that sell ethical ring options. 

My own engagement ring is vintage. I like to imagine that it was once part of another couple's beautiful love story, and that some of their happiness rubbed off on the ring. Vintage rings have virtually no environmental impact, because no new stones or precious metals have to be mined or processed in order to create them. Since the practice of using diamond money to fund war efforts didn't really start until the 1990s, you're pretty much guaranteed that an older diamond is also conflict-free. Plus, vintage jewelry usually costs significantly less than buying new, so there's that! 

I really really love My gorgeous vintage engagement ring! Photo by Natalie Hofert. Ring from Hofert Jewelers.

I really really love My gorgeous vintage engagement ring! Photo by Natalie Hofert. Ring from Hofert Jewelers.

 

The Dress

One of my biggest concerns about wanting an ethical wedding was finding a dress. I already had an idea of what type of style I wanted to wear, and I was worried that I wouldn't find an ethical option. The wedding dress industry functions much like fast fashion; the garments are made overseas in sweatshops, and usually they really are only worn once. There are a few truly lovely ethical wedding dress designers out there, but they can be expensive, and aren't available everywhere. I decided that trying to find a used wedding dress was the best option for me. Buying a used wedding dress is like thrift shopping; there are no resources wasted to create something new, and you're probably keeping something out of the landfill. Plus, it's way cheaper. The best sites I found for used wedding dresses are PreOwnedWeddingDressesTradesy, Nearly Newlywed, and Borrowing Magnolia.

Finding the perfect used dress took a LOT of online research. Hours and hours. But it was absolutely worth it in the long run! I started by making a Pinterest board of dresses I really loved. I made sure to include designer names and style names whenever possible. The next step was to eliminate brands and designers that I wouldn't be able to try on locally. To do that, I looked at the designer websites and found out which were available in local boutiques. I was pleased to find that a lot of them were available in Buffalo, and also included those available in Rochester and Toronto, which are both within a 2 hour drive. Then, I started scouring used wedding dress sites for those brands and styles. I made appointments at the boutiques that carried the styles I was interested in, and went in prepared with notes about which styles and sizes were available used. What I liked most about doing it this way was that I still got to have the experience of going to bridal boutiques with my mom and my girlfriends, and had a great time trying on dresses.

All of my research and boutique visits paid off when I found an online seller who had the exact dress that I felt amazing in. She had purchased it for her wedding but later found one she liked better. The dress was in my size, unaltered, and she was willing to sell it for 50% of what she had originally paid for it. Within a week, I had the dress in my hands, and took it to a local seamstress to start alterations. I feel absolutely amazing in my dress and can't wait to wear it on my wedding day. 

If you're thinking about shopping for a used wedding dress, my advice would be to start as early as you can, do lots and LOTS of research, and be flexible. I would have preferred my dress in a different color, but ultimately I'm really happy with what I found. And I feel really good about finding a more ethical option for such an important part of my day.