Bridesmaid dress: from the closet to the table

Times Staff Writer

THE bridesmaid’s dilemma: What to do with that dreaded, costly, unfortunately colored dress after the big day? In the movie “27 Dresses,” which opens next week, a serial bridesmaid played by Katherine Heigl clogs her closet with billowing chiffon, crepe and crinoline.

Wear that stuff again? Interior designer Susan Maxwell has another idea: Cut it up and decorate. Maxwell says each layer of a long gown represents three to five yards of fabric. That’s enough to cover bar stools or an ottoman. Satin, silk and other fine fabrics can be put to good use as a valance, headboard or pillow shams.

“Since we were young girls, we have fantasized about our wedding day, and in an effort to make it special, we sometimes go over the top in trying to make it unique in pattern, style, fabric and color,” she says. “And that idea snowballs into this big, ballooning thing with huge trains, capes and puffy sleeves.”

Frilly prints can be used sparingly as runners, place mats or other tabletop accent pieces, she says, or as curtain tiebacks or swags on small windows. Ruffles can wrap around a lamp, and beads can glamorize a picture frame.


“Or make a kitchen apron and wear it at parties,” says Maxwell, who says she got the idea to recycle clothes after consulting with too many clients about their overstuffed closets.

For sentimentalists, the Chicago-based designer suggests using swatches from the dress as a liner for a shadow box, a fabric-bound portfolio or a photo board. If, like the character in the movie, you have stood next to brides several times, consider making a patchwork quilt or a throw to drape over a sofa. Use raw or washed silk on one side, cashmere or some other thin, soft fabric on the other.

Feel guilty about cutting up the bride’s carefully chosen design? Just remember that you’re preventing the dress from going to waste, and reinvention is one way to keep alive any good memories associated with the original, Maxwell says. “Reusing it makes sense.”

If the dress is pretty but impractical for you, she suggests donating it to a group such as the Glass Slipper Project or CASA of Los Angeles’ Glamour Gowns program, which provide prom dresses to high school girls.