Purchasing a wedding gown is an exciting excursion (although it can be scary and stressful for some). A lot of brides have dreamed of the perfect princess gown à la Cinderella for years, but there are all kinds of ladies out there who look at a dress maybe once a year and have no clue regarding what they are about to undertake. One thing that is common between these two groups of women is that neither have any idea about what is required in terms of alterations. The following list contains several things prospective brides should keep in mind while they are shopping.
1. Expectations–Unless you look like the model in the picture, presuming the gown will look on you as it does on her is unrealistic. Classic example . . . I had a bride come to me with a gown that would look much better on someone with a Jessica Rabbit figure full of curves, but said bride was extremely slender. As there are no refunds on wedding gowns, I did the best I could for her, but there was no making her look like the model in the picture because their body types were just too different. Keeping your expectations as realistic as possible when selecting a wedding dress will definitely help you escape this type of heartache.
2. Trends–Oftentimes, just following the popular craze in bridal gowns will cause you to err when selecting your dress. I can’t tell you how many times over the years I have had prospective brides who shouldn’t have done so bring me strapless mermaid dresses because they were currently fashionable. Most of these women were either too skinny to fill out the curves or too heavy to look good in this style. Be honest with yourself about your body type. Choose what really highlights your best features rather than adhere to the trends.
3. YOUR dress–Letting your friends, family, or salesperson talk you into something may cause regret. For instance, I had a bride bring me a ball gown with a super high boat neck that her relatives had convinced her to purchase. She had a great figure, but the gown was hiding all of it. I ended up cutting the ball gown into a tulip skirt and the boat neck into a deep V. She would have avoided my alterations fee if she had gone with the dress she wanted instead of the gown her mother and sister talked her into buying. Remember that this gown is YOUR dress. You’ll know when you find the right one.
4. Alterations–If you are purchasing a new gown, plan on a third to a half more than the cost of the dress for alterations. That way, if it comes in less, you are pleasantly surprised and have more for something else on your list. If you are purchasing off the rack, it’s anyone’s guess, unfortunately. I’ve done $100 in alterations on an off-the-rack dress, but I’ve also done $1,300 in alterations on the same type of gown. The latter was for a bride who bought the dress two sizes too large and then lost fifty pounds. Everything I did to the dress shifted something else. In the end, she still came out ahead though, as the retail cost of the gown was $5,000.
5. Size–ALWAYS buy a dress based on your hardest area to fit. For instance, many of my plus-sized brides are pear shaped, which means that the hip will be the hardest area to fit. If this matches your body and you are purchasing anything other than a ball gown, buy the size that fits your hips. If you’re buying a ball gown, then go to the next hardest area, which would be the waist in most pear-shaped women. It’s important to remember, anything can be made smaller. It’s a LOT HARDER to make something bigger. Caveat: if you are purchasing off the rack and you fall
in love with something a lot larger than you are, be prepared for a large alterations fee (see #4). If you can, purchase an off-the-rack dress only a size or two larger than you are for best results.
6. Skirts–Unless you buy an off-the-rack dress that’s already been altered or special order a dress, any gown you buy will be long enough to fit an Amazon. The most I’ve ever had to cut off a dress was 15”, but the young lady was barely five feet tall. In contrast, my tallest bride so far was six feet; however, I still had to cut 4” off her gown. Remember, it’s MUCH easier to make something shorter than it is to make it longer. Unless you plan to wear 6-12” platforms, expect to shorten the skirts.
7. Lace Borders–This is one of the more complicated things we seamstresses have to do. Some borders are easy to move, and then there are those that behave like an art restoration. In my experience, most lace borders take 1-3 hours to move all by themselves. My craziest alteration in this category was a border that was 7” tall at its tallest and 1” tall at its shortest and had a gazillion tchotchkes in between. It took me FOUR HOURS. In some cases, we can shorten the skirts from the waist—unfortunately, I couldn’t do that with the aforementioned example–but it all depends on what’s going on there. Either way, anticipate lace borders on skirts ADDING TIME to the alteration.
8. Beads and Other Bling–These things get in the way of our needles. Many times, we have to remove a swath of beads or bling in order to be able to put the seam through the sewing machine. THEN, we get to put them back on. One bride brought me a gown that was solid crystals from neck to hem. The thing must have weighed fifty pounds! It was quite the challenge to take in the bodice seams on that one. Assume that this will add to your alterations cost, as hand work ALWAYS takes more time than machine.
9. Fittings–Bring shoes and special undergarments to ALL your fittings. Things like strapless bras, shapeware, and petticoats change the way your dress will fit. Do not change what you bring mid fitting stream as this will cause confusion and possibly add to your alterations total. I had a bride bring a soft petticoat to her first fitting and then a hoop skirt to her final fitting. The skirts did not look the same, AND they were shorter with the hoop skirt on. I had to talk her into going back to the soft one because I couldn’t easily add fabric back on.
10. Professionalism–We vendors are here to help make your event magical. We understand how stressful this process can be as we’ve worked with hundreds of brides—or more. We understand about traffic, family, and work issues. We understand that life does get in the way sometimes. Please do us the courtesy of communicating professionally with us when things change, and we will do the same.
Stay tuned for my future blog series, “How to Pick Your Best Wedding Gown,” coming soon! Feel free to post additional questions.
Thank you for being a loyal reader!
Until next time,