06/02/2017 04:54 SAST | Updated 06/02/2017 12:22 SAST

How Mossel Bay Was the Unexpected But Perfect Location For A 'Mess the Dress' Photo Shoot

'Messing the dress' refers to a style of photography where the bride is photographed wearing her beautiful dress in an unusual environment

Alice van Wouw

When my sister Jessica approached me about a "mess the dress" shoot, my first reaction was unbridled excitement and a hint of surprise; I would never have thought my very careful and sensible sister would ruin her dress for the for the sake of frivolity.

Let me stop here for a minute in case you have no idea what a "mess the dress" shoot is and put you in the picture. Messing the dress/trashing the dress/rocking the frock and fearless bridal all refer to a style of photography where the bride is photographed wearing her beautiful dress in an unusual environment, for example, in the ocean, in a riverbed or at a littered building site. Some brides take it a step further by literally trashing the dress by turning it into a canvas and throwing paint on it. It is a relatively new concept in South Africa.

Back to Jessica's shoot. I wasted no time organising the shoot before she changed her mind and sanity prevailed. I started by finding a suitable location. But where? We both live in Gauteng, so a beach location seemed unlikely, and while I was up to it I was not sure if Jessica would have approved of being flung into the Jukskei River in Fourways.

An edgier location appealed to me, but I have to admit that I didn't much have the stomach for lugging all my expensive equipment to the Mai Mai market under the M1 in Johannesburg, where the muthi sellers ply their trade and Jessica's budget didn't extend to bodyguards.

My first thought was Mountain Sanctuary Park, that beautiful natural treasure in the Magaliesburg; photographing Jessica in one of the beautiful rock pools. The good people at Mountain Sanctuary Park were excited about the idea but I was a little concerned about getting there early enough and about the number of people who could potentially be at the pools. It would also have meant that Jessica would have had to change into the dress after a bit of a hike. Now anyone who has worn a wedding dress will know that it is a mission to get in and out of the thing; sometimes requiring a plethora of helpers all of whom would have to trek with us to the top of the mountain.

At a loss as to a suitable location, I consulted the one person who knows everything about nothing, that fountain of useless knowledge, my mom. She suggested we tag along with her and my dad when they went on holiday to the Garden Route and find a place there.

You may wonder why Jessica decided to mess up her dress for a few photographs when she could have sold her dress for some much needed cash.

So Jessica, her adoring husband, Duncan, and I took a flight to George; Jessica armed with her wedding dress as hand luggage. Now Jessica and Duncan were already married in August but everyone on the December flight assumed they were travelling to get married and they were greeted with cheers of congratulations. Jessica and Duncan didn't have the heart to tell them that they were, in fact, already married and going to ruin the dress for the sake of a photoshoot.

Alice van Wouw

You may wonder why Jessica decided to mess up her dress for a few photographs when she could have sold her dress for some much needed cash. Or she could have kept it for her future daughter to wear. Well, she reasoned that her daughter would never want to wear her dress, so this was a non-issue. And yes she could have earned some money by selling it, but photographs are worth much more than money. A mess the dress shoot has the advantage of being done after the wedding so there is no stress; no crazy mother and mother-in-law around, no over the top relatives and the weather can be controlled i.e. if it is a bad day, you can just reschedule.

How exciting, the mess the dress shoot was going to happen; Jessica had brought the dress and we were in the Western Cape enjoying the Garden Route trying to find a suitable location. This was December time so the beaches were chock-a-block. The national warning of a spring tide resulting in abnormally high tides with rip currents sent my mother into a frenzy of anxiety.

So we decided that safety comes first and tried to find the safest beach with the softest waves; not as busy as the main Plett beach or the other trendy hotspots. We started by looking up the blue flag beaches along the garden route; these would all surely have lifeguards? The search revealed six blue flag beaches in our close proximity. One of them Brenton-on-Sea was immediately ruled out: a paddle skier had spotted a 4 metre great white shark the day before. Buffalo Bay was also eliminated because a "shiver of sharks" had been seen there (another admission: I had to look up what a shiver of sharks was).

Finally, Santos Beach in Mossel Bay was chosen for the shoot.


On the day of the shoot, we arrived at Santos Beach at just after 05h30 expecting to be the only people on the beach, the lifeguards were no longer a priority because of the safe swimming conditions. We were, however, surprised to find there were a number of people already on the beach walking and even swimming. A lot of the campers were also up and about. We caused quite a stir on the beach with the beautiful Jessica in her wedding dress in the waves; one of the campers even had his binoculars out to watch the action. The shoot went very well, Jessica was never in any danger, the lighting was excellent and I managed to get some beautiful shots.

So why Mossel Bay?

1. Well of course the climate; it is not rated the "most temperate place on earth next to Hawaii" for nothing.

2. There are many great safe locations in addition to Santos Beach. As an example, the channels at the Point could be amazing for a mess the dress shoot and the cliffs are beautiful.

3. The people are so very nice.

There are daily flights between JHB and George which is just down the road.

The mess the dress shoot was a huge success and I would encourage all brides to consider doing it. I now have to convince my other sister to bring her wedding dress from Europe when she comes to visit in February so we can trash it as well.