I do alterations- lots and lots of them, especially at this time of year. Most of the alterations I do are on formals for proms and weddings. Some dresses just need a tuck here and there or a quick hem. Others need major work that could have been averted by educated shopping. As someone who spends much of her time fixing problems, I would like to offer some suggestions before you head out to the local Bridal Shop.
-Consider Style. Just because something is stylish doesn’t mean it will look good on you, even if you have a great figure. If you have an uncommon figure type a mass produced wedding dress might not work for you at all.
-Choose the shop with care. Everyone has a reputation, either good or bad. Look into shop policies and sales techniques. Educate yourself before you start looking at dresses. Some of the smaller shops have a surprisingly nice, carefully curated inventory. They aren’t necessarily more expensive than a chain, and the service is often better.
-Does it come in your size? A sales clerk tried to convince my size 0 niece that they could easily cut a size 6 dress down to fit her. Fortunately her mother knew enough about garment construction to see it was a bad idea. She successfully purchased a dress direct from China in her size (more on that below).
-How is the dress constructed- will alterations be easy or extremely difficult? If you find yourself in love with a dress that will need alterations no matter what size you buy, look into this before you sign on the dotted line. Come back with a friend or professional who knows enough about alterations to figure this out by looking inside the dress. Some shops push women to buy a dress a size larger than the one they tried on. I recently altered one of these dresses. The size 2 bride who tried on a size 2 dress that fit perfectly was pushed into ordering a size 4 dress. When it arrived it was (no surprise) too big. That was when she learned it would cost her $150 for alterations- not counting the bustle on the train. She left, furious, and was directed to me by a relative. When I looked inside the gown, I saw that it had been made to be altered both up and down. Even if she had gained 20 lbs the size 2 would have worked just fine. Sometimes the opposite is true, though.
-Hemline details. Does the dress have hemline details or embroidery that you love? Will you lose those details if the dress needs to be hemmed? A young woman I knew bought a dress just for the embroidery designs around the hem. She is 5’ tall, and the dress was designed for a person 5’ 11”. The only way to raise the hem on this dress was from the bottom, but no one at the shop mentioned that to her, and her purchase was not refundable. In the end she wore the highest heels she could walk in and I built her a Cinderella style petticoat that lifted her skirt up and out. We still lost about an inch of the embroidery.
-Don’t buy under pressure. If you have any doubts or the dress costs more than you had planned to spend, write down the model number of the dress and think it over. If you are ordering a dress, a day or two won’t make any difference. Sometimes the dress can be ordered from the store's website. At one bridal chain I am familiar with, nothing purchased in the store can be returned, though items purchased on their website can be, and arrive in a fraction of the time of dresses ordered through the store.
-Ask questions about in shop alterations. Ask who will pin up the alterations and what experience and training she has in this area. Most alterations are pinned by sales clerks who have never sewn a stitch in their lives, not by the seamstress who will do the work. I have repinned and repaired some of these. Very few shops have someone on the premises to do the actual work. It is generally sent out to area seamstresses. Check with a local seamstress to see what she would charge you.
-Many shops have marked down or discontinued models. This means you buy straight off the rack. If you are an easy to fit size, you might be able to save a lot of money this way.
If you are not satisfied with your bridal shop experience or want to avoid it entirely, there are other options.
-Direct order from
. Do this only with the greatest care and plenty of research. There are lots of horror stories out there. I do know two people who bought their wedding dresses this way and were very satisfied. I have altered other direct from China dresses that were horribly made, and/or several sizes too small. Nearly all mass produced wedding dresses are already made in China China and ordered from there by the dress companies. The dress companies vet the Chinese dressmakers they use and can demand a higher level of quality. If you buy direct from China, you have to do that work yourself. This dress was a successful direct order, requiring only a hem.
-Buy a lightly used dress. Wear your grandmother’s dress, or shop thrift stores, Craigslist, Ebay, and Etsy sellers. There are a lot of beautiful gowns out there that have only been worn once. I did minimal alterations on this beautiful, lightly used dress a couple years ago.
-Get a vintage dress “remodeled” and updated to suit you. I recently remodeled a vintage dress from the 1940's. To see what is involved, read my blog about it.
-Have your dress custom made. This will not cost less, but if you are hard to fit or want something unique it is the best option. The bride I made this dress for is very tall.
This couple wanted a Medieval Wedding, and she was not a standard size, so a custom dress was the way to go. Read my blog about it here.
And this bride knew exactly what she wanted.