Sustainable dressing for a Big Fat Greek Wedding

When my son and his girlfriend announced they were getting married, it didn’t take long for idle speculation about what I would wear to become a problem that did my head in.

I don’t buy that many new clothes these days and try to make sustainable choices when I do.

According to consulting firm McKinsey and the World Economic Forum, clothing production has at least doubled since 2000, while the average garment is kept for half as long.

 I ran through a sustainable hierarchy for an outfit:

  • Wear something I already have
  • Borrow
  • Rent
  • Buy new from an ethical company.

I’ve read that Greta Thunberg never buys new clothes, borrowing instead from friends for special events. This option works if you’re young, slim and pretty, but most of us have more complex needs.

So began my mission to find a big fat green Greek wedding outfit.

The first option was out because I don’t already own an outfit that’s special enough for a wedding. I know it might surprise some readers to learn that, as someone who writes about compost, I don’t have a wardrobe full of glamorous gowns for red-carpet events. (Perhaps the composting world is indeed full of such events but I just don’t get invited to them.)

My dressiest dress is black so that’s not an option.  Yes, I know that black may well be a very modern stylish choice in some circles, but there is a complication here in that the bride is Greek and the wedding will take place in her home village. I don’t yet know her family and any cultural or religious traditions that may need to be taken into consideration. So I’m wary of committing some cross-cultural faux pas that could possibly echo down the ages, with me being forever referred to as ‘her who wore black to her son’s wedding.’

I looked into renting and also considered my favourite sustainable retailers. I sent off for a beautiful floaty dress from one company but returned it when my husband said I looked like I was wearing a nightie.

Being the mother of the groom, or MOG to use the official industry term (mother of the bride being the MOB), is obviously a big deal. And I can’t be the only MOG/MOB who feels pressured into becoming someone I’m not. (At this point, let me say that if you get irritated by first-world problems you should stop reading now, if you haven’t already.)

In pursuit of an outfit that ticked a long list of boxes, I must have looked at hundreds of outfits over several months. None of them were right. I thought of a friend who spends her life in trousers and loafers but went to her daughter’s wedding in a stiff dress-suit and heels that made her look and feel uncomfortable. I didn’t want that. But there is a kind of blackmail attached to weddings – you have to look as though you’ve made a big effort in order to show that you love the couple. Don’t ask me how it works. But it’s there, this equation between bling and love. Is it the class system, the fashion industry, media pressure? I don’t know. But it’s there, this pressure to adopt a wedding uniform and leave your personality at the door. For some reason we feel funnelled into becoming Joan Collins when we might be more Whoopi Goldberg.

From my experience I can report that most designers assume you have the tall, super-slender figure of the Princess of Wales and that you require the kind of stately dress-coats favoured by members of the royal family at coronations.  

As the days became weeks, I started to lose all perspective and reason – it was like getting the new kitchen all over again.  A sign of how desperate I became is that I asked my husband’s opinion. This is something I usually avoid because I know what I will get. He will say, ‘What are you asking me for? I’m not an expert.’ He will then name an expert in the said field to emphasise just how far away from that person he is and therefore how spectacularly unqualified to offer an opinion.  Depending on the topic in question, I will be informed that he is not Jeremy Clarkson, Gordon Ramsay, David Bailey or Monty Don. In this particular case I was told he is not Gok Wan.

And yet, despite very obviously not being Gok Wan, he managed to weigh in with what sounded suspiciously like opinions.  Apart from the ‘nightie’, other dresses were dismissed as: too boring, too loud, too much, too frumpy and ‘something my nan would have worn’.  Inevitably, when I questioned his verdicts, he complained that he got in trouble for not giving an opinion and in trouble if he did.

‘I don’t know why you’re even asking me,’ he said. ‘I don’t know what you want to look like.’ This must be, in a very crowded field, one of the most ridiculous things my husband has ever said.  What I want to look like? I’m going to my son’s wedding, I want to look nice.  I’m not going to a fancy dress party where I might be wanting to look like, say, Elvis Presley, or a hobbit.

The trouble was that I was trying to compensate for everything I’m not – young, svelte, tall, tanned, stable in high heels – and that’s before I even begin to consider how my delicate Anglo-Irish constitution will cope with Greece in high summer. Since I don’t know my daughter-in-law’s family, I’m obviously anxious to make a good impression, and as a fairly casual person I don’t want to look as though I haven’t dressed up because that might look as though I don’t care about the wedding when the truth is I care too much.  But does making an effort mean I have to be got up like Hyacinth Bucket at a Buckingham Palace garden party?

 I read an article that said the essence of style is to simply be yourself. Stylish people always say this, of course, and it’s alright for them because who they are is a person who’s stylish. I asked myself the question: if I went to this wedding as ‘me’ what would that look like?

Hmmm …..difficult to know the answer to that question when you’re a woman of a certain age with  grown-up kids. I thought back to past versions of me. As a child I loved dressing up and as a teenager in the punk era, I got clothes from Oxfam and customised them. The ethos was about making outfits from whatever you could find and not being told how to dress or be. Obviously, this could not be allowed to continue because there was no profit in it, so like everything else this free spirit was eventually crowded out by conformity and commodification.

I wondered where that girl had gone. The parallels with Shirley Valentine did not escape me. Perhaps I might rediscover the real me in Thessaloniki and never come back to Leeds?  

In the middle of this identity crisis, my son sent me a text informing me that as the MOG I would be  required to do a dance at the wedding – a dance of transition – with the bride. This would not be a problem – according to my son – as he would send me a video so I could practice.   

So now, in addition to the cascade of concerns my outfit had to address (including, in no particular order: heatstroke, sustainability, Greek Orthodox etiquette, and bingo wings) I also had to factor in Zorba’s Dance.  

My husband stepped in to remind me what really mattered – that our son is marrying a wonderful girl we’re delighted to welcome into our family. We’re going to love the wedding and getting to know our new extended Greek family. It’s all about joy. Everything else is small stuff.

 I know, I know….but can’t I have the joy and something to cover bingo wings?

In the end I bought new – but there is a sustainable angle. It’s something I will wear and wear – thanks to a wonderful local dressmaker I discovered. The outfit was a navy chiffon layered dress. I was very happy with it but it bothered me that I wouldn’t wear it often because I much prefer trousers. Getting the dress shortened into a tunic meant I could wear it with palazzo pants, so it’s now an outfit I will wear forever. I plan to get other clothes altered now I’ve realised how easily they can be made just right. Women often say they have nothing to wear when their wardrobes are bursting. Is it because a lot of those clothes don’t fit properly? Using a dressmaker didn’t even enter my head at the start of my search but now it’s right up there on my list of sustainable options.

When did wedding dressing get so out of hand?    

For my wedding in the 90s, both my mother and mother-in-law wore beautiful dress-suits and hats that they rarely wore again, if ever. What a waste.  I doubt that for their own weddings in the early 60s their mothers had bought brand new outfits. And I remember my grandma saying that for her wedding in 1934 she chose a crepe dress that she later dyed forest green and wore many times after the wedding.

Let’s resist the pressure that leads to fast fashion and landfill.   

So now, with my outfit sorted – Big Fat Greek Wedding here we come!


Spare Parts