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Tips to Trash the Dress

Tips to Trash the Dress

Updated: May 23, 2022

Can't decide if you want to ruin your elegant dress of your in dreams in an alternative setting photography under extreme circumstance? Expect the dress to get soaked, stained torn or even destroyed all for the chance to capture a once-in-a-lifetime photos. How creative can bridal or Prom princesses get when they find ways to “alter” their beautiful wedding gown?  Here's tips to trash the dress whether you wear a wedding gown, Prom gown or evening formal.

How Trash the Dress Got Started
Wedding photographer John Micheal Cooper gets credit for launching the idea of trashing the dress at a 2001 wedding in Last Vegas.  But several years earlier, in October 1998, Meg Cummings, from the show Sunset Beach, sprinted into the waves of the Pacific Ocean when her nuptials where abruptly interrupted. More recently, "Trash the Dress" photography gained attention when bride-to-be Shelby Swink was left at the altar by her husband-to-bed. Her choice to trash the dress with paint went viral.

What does it mean to trash the dress?
The loosely used term “trashed” could easily be used for any dress that comes within inches of a trash can, rain drop or a field in need of mowing. Some opt for a more reserved approach with choosing an exotic location and merely getting the hem and underskirt dirty. Sometimes "trashing" just means grass stains on the hemline. Others go to the extremes with more permanent ideas such as paint-balling, swimming, mudding, or even using food. Who can we thank for this trend? None other than wedding photographer John Michael Cooper.  In an attempt to bring new light to traditional wedding photography sessions, from Las Vegas, Nevada, convinced the couples to go the extra mile. "In fashion photography, they often put really pretty people in very ugly places. I'm applying that technique to weddings...I had no idea it would be so popular" Cooper told the New York Times during a 2007 interview. However, before Cooper, the October 1998 soap opera Sunset Beach featured Meg Cummings “trashing” her dress as she ran into the ocean after a guest did not hold their piece at her wedding.

IMG: J Cole Photography

Symbolism of “Trash the Dress”
While Cooper may be the father of the "Trash the Dress" concept, some speculate that this act was for brides to show their husbands that they were fully committed. By trashing their dress, they would demonstrate their life-long love - never needing the dress again. Some believe that many brides wanted to enhance their photographic memories and create an artistic and creative experience.  Who wouldn't want to wear their wedding dress just one more time? Like Swink, “Trash the Dress” sessions have become a way for women to manage engagements that never make it to the altar or wives in divorce situations. These photo sessions tend to feature the more muddy, paint-drive, destructive route.

Tips for Trash the Dress Photo Shoots
  1. Choose the right material for your bridal gown - be sure to pick a dress and fabric that will work well given your choice of "Trash the Dress" antics.  Dresses with loads of lace, beautiful beading and intricate hand-crafted attributes will not all hold up to the elements of your shoot.

  2. Location, location, location! - Choose a location with a lot of interesting aspects! Some of the top locations include:

    • Beach – you can draw your name in the sand, sit on rock pools, find driftwood, frolic through sand dunes and beautiful scenery that goes on for miles!

    • Country – forests, woodland, wheat fields, rivers, streams, lakes, hillsides, wild animals and nature all around you

    • Theme park – definitely check with your location ahead of time as they may not allow you onto the rides in your dress however the theme park provides an awesome backdrop for bright pictures and perfect natural facials when it comes to smiling!

    • City – you can find some awesome urban settings to serve as your scenery; find some places around town that would fit your personality - think outside of the box! Playgrounds and abandon buildings (as long as safe) create ideal backgrounds.

    • Favorite places – make a list of your favorite places that you have visited as a couple; this could be your first date, your first kiss, where you got engaged, something special from your family, or anywhere that means a lot to the two of you!

  3. Have someone with you - maid of honor, groom, bridesmaids.  Consider having the bridal party participate by trashing their dresses.  Or gets your BFFs together for a trash the Prom dress party after the big night night.

  4. Tell the Mother of the Bride! Be sure that mom knows what you are planning on doing. Moms tend to be the typical nah-sayers when it comes to trashing your wedding gown!

  5. Talk to your photographer - be sure to ask lots of questions and be prepared with all of the materials that you will need (including a change of clothes).

  6. Choose an experienced photographer!

Our Favorites
We polled our Fashion Team to find out their favorite ways to trash a dress.  The results are in:

  • Roll in the sand, grass or snow!
  • Drive through the mud - very messy but loads of fun!
  • Become the cake - oh so sweet!
  • Swim in it - we prefer the ocean over a pool any day!
  • Paint - become a colorful masterpiece!

But is it ruined?
If you are going to go the "Trash the Dress" route, your location and choice of medium are an essential factor in know if your dress will survive.  In most cases, your dress can be cleaned by a professional or, if you know how, by you! Definitely talk to your photographer a) to make sure they have done the "Trash the Dress" session before and b) to know if this type of session is right for you. After such an amazing, yet crazy, event like a wedding, who wouldn't want to take a little break to have a lot of fun.  Sometimes you just have to let loose and trash your dress!