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How Many Lives Can A Formal Outfit Have?

Settle in for sustainable fashion story time. 📖☕

The bottom half of a woman wearing a dress hand-painted with multi-colored feathers blowing in the wind


To me, one of the most important parts of my hand-painted clothing work is showcasing the value of reimagining what's already here rather than always buying new. This is especially relevant in formal wear, which in most cases only sees one use. Painting makes a piece new again without the waste! One dress can live lifetime after lifetime...

Fancy calligraphy text saying once upon a time in 2006,

15-year-old-me experienced love at first sight. I was searching for an outfit to wear for an upcoming high school formal event, and found The One. Never before had I seen a dress that so perfectly suited (teenaged) me. It was at a thrift store (already my favorite way to shop by then) so this dress had a whole lifetime or more even before I came into the story! It needed a little altering to fit me, but was ready in time for us to dance the night away together at that event.

teenage girl posing in a pastel blue, green, and yellow gown with a fan and long white gloves

That pose though 😂

 I loved the dress enough to keep it around, despite not wearing it much over the next many years. As is often discovered, I found it was more fun (and socially acceptable) to find a new outfit for each new event. When I began painting clothing in 2014, the seed was planted for how I might make this old favorite new again.

I had an idea of the kind of design I wanted to paint on the dress, but it didn't fit with my usual Halloween projects, so I sat on it until 2019. An invitation to a cousin's wedding provided the excuse I'd been waiting for to dive into this project.

A woman painting feathers and wind on the bottom of a gown

I was still in my "working on the floor" era then.

At the time, it was the biggest piece I'd worked on yet, and it took me several months to complete. I even did some rare sewing, removing the top embellishment for a more updated silhouette.

A spaghetti strap, pastel-colored silk gown with hand-painted feathers and wind on it

The dress was just as fun to wear to that wedding as the original had been to my first high school dance. The event took place in a tree house complex in the forests of Washington, and I loved how the design fit in so perfectly with those surroundings!

A woman in a hand-painted gown standing in a forest. The pictures shows the bottom of the gown from behind.

By May of 2023, what was now the Feather dress (or fondly, the "Colors of the Wind" dress) was ready for its next adventure. I had officially entered the fashion world by that time, and had the opportunity to put her on the runway! The night was a lovely fashion show charity event benefiting a nonprofit grief camp for children. You can read my blog about it here.

The dress modeled by Melissa Mangili at the RealPro Foundation Charity Fashion show.

Just like me in 2006, a woman attending that event fell in love at first sight. She reached out to me about purchasing the piece so she could wear it to her niece's wedding later in the year. "It's exactly what I've been looking for," she told me. "Everything about it would be perfect!" I knew that it was time for this dress to bring joy to somebody else's story.

A woman sitting at a wedding table in a hand-painted dress with her arm around a man's shoulders

Looking amazing on its new person at the wedding. 💖

I hope this one-of-a-kind gown gets many more adventures, and touches the lives of many more people! Future upcycling and/or gifting could allow its story to continue for years, perhaps even past its existence as a clothing item. (Will pieces of it end up as abstract art framed on a wall, or turned into silk pillows?)

The moral of this story is that a dress' story need not end in the landfill. We can open our eyes to the opportunities found in re-working old favorites and re-thinking the way we approach formal wear. Don't be afraid to wear something more than once, or to have it changed again and again. And don't forget that upcycling can take many forms--not just painting!

If you find yourself with an event on the horizon this year and would like to see yourself in a truly unique outfit that gives an old treasure new life, let's get in touch and add our own chapter to this sustainable fairy tale. 😊

A pet rabbit snuggling next to someone reading a book. Text underneath says and they lived happily ever after

I hope you enjoy story time as much as the Studio Assistant does!

Until next time,


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