I Called Off My Wedding — and Breathed New Life Into My Bridal Dress

I can still remember the high I felt selecting Stuart Weitzman's tall, mesh Venette boots as my bridal shoes back in 2019. Embroidered with daisies down the leg, they were the perfect wedding heel: bold and one-of-a-kind. As a bride-to-be with a unique sense of style, I wanted exactly nothing blue and any number of things borrowed, as long as they were from designer resale sites.

As soon as I tried on the thigh-highs and confirmed they were comfortable enough to dance in, I knew I wanted a short wedding dress that would complement their grandiosity. In that moment, I vowed to myself that I would deliver. But I never wrote my vows to the groom.

Photo Illustration: Ava Cruz

That's why today, I'm a former bride, standing confident in one of my planned wedding outfits, admitting that I didn't choose my dress while picturing a smile on my then-fiancé's face during our "first look." In fact, I didn't choose my dress for him. I chose it for me — and that's why I still wanted to have my moment in it, even though the wedding was called off.

The dress is a stunning custom take on the Galia Lahav Eloise mini, which I had cropped shorter to fit my 5'1" frame and tweaked to eliminate some tulle, so it didn't overwhelm me. To play up the blooms on the side of my boots, I chose Simone Rocha earrings with emerald gemstones and pearls, thrifted from my favorite resale site, The RealReal.

Though I never made it to the altar in my wedding look, I decided to move forward with a photo shoot for one key reason: self-love. I wanted to show myself appreciation for the meticulously styled fashion moment I planned for my wedding — one that would typically be debuted during a walk down the aisle in front of family and friends but was instead brought to life through the lens of my would-be wedding photographer, Miranda Suess.

Suess Moments

On the day of the photo shoot, an overwhelming sense of sisterhood fueled our energy, and I ended up feeling even more empowered and beautiful than I would have at my canceled wedding.

Suess even created a GIF of me destroying a bouquet of yellow roses. Laura Collins, a florist from A Touch of Elegance, chose the color yellow because she said the bright shade reminded her of my light. The roses also happened to be symbolic to me, as they represented a gift my ex sent to the woman he cheated on me with.

wedding photos by Suess Moments. NJ Wedding photographer at Morristown, NJ wedding venue: The Madison Hotel NJ for the Cohen Wedding on 6.25.22
Suess Moments

I ended up feeling more empowered and beautiful at the photo shoot than I would have at my wedding.

I knew I wanted to donate my dress to someone who'd have just as much admiration for Lahav's inventive couture fashion house, founded in Tel Aviv in the early '80s. After feeling so much support from the all-women crew at my photo shoot who have become my friends, I searched for a charity-focused wedding-dress donation site that also assisted women. I landed upon Brides For a Cause, a nonprofit that raises money for local and national organizations that have a greater impact in funding women's causes, such as education, health, and motherhood.

To participate in the gown recycling program, all I had to do was mail in my wedding dress to the inventory collection, which is then distributed and sold at one of four boutique locations: Portland, OR; Tacoma, WA; Seattle; or Sacramento, CA.

According to BFAC founder Erin Scharf, thousands of women donate their dresses each year. Primarily due to the COVID-19 pandemic, that number spiked in 2021, with many brides replacing their dresses to fit a new theme, deciding to elope instead, carrying out a micro or destination wedding, or even calling off their wedding entirely. That made me feel a little less alone, as did the assurance that my dress wouldn't go to waste, abandoned on a rack somewhere.

wedding photos by Suess Moments. NJ Wedding photographer at Morristown, NJ wedding venue: The Madison Hotel NJ for the Cohen Wedding on 6.25.22
Suess Moments

"Recently, we had a bride come in with a $50 budget," Scharf told POPSUGAR, sharing that most of their pieces start at $150. "We had just received a one-of-kind, super-fun wedding dress with a huge bow in the back. The bow wasn't for everyone, so we marked it at $50. Well, this bride instantly fell in love and got emotional as she was buying the dress because she never thought she'd find a dress within her budget."

I immediately hoped my own dress would bring a bride that much happiness, because I know firsthand how clothes can do that for a person.

That's not to say that posing in my wedding dress and then giving it away was my only option. In fact, there are countless solutions for what to do with a brand-new wedding dress that was unworn for a number of reasons. For example, you can resell your gown at a local consignment store or on eBay, Facebook, Nearly Newlywed, or Still White. You can upcycle it and work with a tailor to fashion it into a new look entirely, maybe even dyeing it in the process. You can cut it up and transform some of your favorite details, such as the beading or lace, into jewelry. It can even become your Halloween costume.

As I posed in front of Suess for some final shots, lying down in the bright blooms the florists had masterfully built around me, the tulle train of my gown brushed against the edge of my boot. I looked down and thought about how it could have trailed along the dunes at my beach ceremony, sweeping up the sand instead.

And that was when I finally recognized my bridal outfit for what it was always meant to be: simply, a choice I had made for me. A choice that I loved. A choice I was sure of.

wedding photos by Suess Moments. NJ Wedding photographer at Morristown, NJ wedding venue: The Madison Hotel NJ for the Cohen Wedding on 6.25.22
Suess Moments

Photographer: Suess Moments; florists: Laura Collins and Beata K. Ember of A Touch of Elegance; hair and makeup artist: Selena Mindali of Beautini; shoot location: Grayscale Studios; rug: Anthropologie

There are only a handful of charity bridal stores across the country that accept wedding-dress donations, including The Brides Project, Adorned in Grace, Wish Upon a Dress, and Brides Across America. Be sure to read up on each organization before you decide where to donate.