Q: I'm a senior this year, and being an environmentalist, I'd like to wear an eco-friendly dress to prom. However, everything I've found is extremely expensive, and I've had limited luck with looking for good vintage stores where I live. Any advice on where I can find a nice dress that's sustainable?
A: You already noticed that the words "eco-friendly" and "inexpensive" don’t exactly travel in the same fashion circles, especially when you throw a formal event into the mix. That point was painfully obvious on Oscar night. Most of the heavily tanned, tweezed and buffed starlets sauntered down the red carpet in (hopefully borrowed) frilly silk, taffeta and lace gowns that probably will never be worn again.
A precious few actors donned sustainable gear on the big day, including Colin Firth, who reportedly wore a bamboo tux. Treehugger.com noted only one red carpet gown that was truly green on Oscar night. Suzy Amis Cameron, wife of Avatar director James Cameron (and pictured above), challenged designers to create an Oscar-worthy dress using sustainable materials. The winning design by Michigan State University student Jillian Granz was an Avatar-blue, one-shoulder gown featuring sustainable fabric and nontoxic dyes. Even Granz admitted that it wasn’t easy going green. Since the clock is ticking, here are a few options to help you land a chic and sustainable dress in time for your prom.
Shop for green material: You can find sustainable fashion that won’t break the bank, but it requires a little work. Look for local boutiques in your neighborhood that specialize in sustainable material such as organic cotton, bamboo, hemp, linen or ahimsa (peace) silk, made from silkworms that have lived a full life cycle. I found a few cute options online from EcoSkin and Elroy that you may want to try. Etsy also has quite a few unique options using renewable fabric.
Hire a seamstress: If time permits, a seamstress can transform organic cotton or hemp material into the dress of your dreams. Check local fabric stores for recycled or sustainable material. Online retailers such as Fabric.com or Etsy also carry funky fabric. Coco Chanel worked wonders with simple jersey material. Surely your seamstress can fashion an organic cotton ensemble that will make you the belle of the ball.
Tweak a secondhand dress. Since you had no luck with vintage stores, take a pass through consignment stores or The Salvation Army locations in your area. In a previous column, I mentioned strategic shopping tips that could yield big benefits.
Think Golden Globes vs. Oscar style. Rather than sweet confections that look like the top of a wedding cake, focus on a chic cocktail dress with a timeless silhouette. Strapless or halter-style classics will graduate from prom night to college formal with ease. Make the look your own by piling on accessories like an Olsen twin on a fashion bender. Try a shiny, cropped jacket, bold earrings or a cluster of vintage brooches.
Pay it forward: Once your prom is a memory, donate that dress to help another young fashionista. (Imagine what could happen if Oscar nominees and their celebrity designers did the same!) Donatemydress.org has an extensive list of dress donation chapters around the country. If you don’t have a drop-off site near your hometown, download tips to create your own dress drive. Cinderella's Closet also provides prom gear for girls who have a financial need. For a list of locations, visit the Cinderella's Closet site or Google "Cinderella's Closet prom dress donation" to find a group near you.
One more thing: Turn the whole prom green! You and your dress will be the center of attention if you seize the chance to make your entire prom green. Join the event committee and make sure trash gets sorted and recycled after the event. Avoid gas-guzzling limo rides for two and encourage groups to carpool. Opt for pesticide-free flowers or craft a bouquet based on what’s in your garden. In this digital age, ask about paperless ticketing options and, most of all, have a great time!
Photo: ZUMA Press; thumbnail photo: Jupiterimages; MNN homepage photo: MrPants/iStockphoto