So You Want a Custom Wedding Dress

Who doesn’t love unique, one-of-a-kind things? And few things are as important to a bride than her wedding dress. But if you’re seriously thinking of getting a custom wedding dress… Let’s talk about it.

mannequinMany people don’t realize this, but it actually takes a lot of work, a lot of luck, and quite a bit of money to get a custom-made dress that you love. Probably more so than buying a ready-made dress! Here’s the trouble. You know how sometimes you see a wedding dress that looks great – and then you try it on and it doesn’t actually make you look that good? If you’re in a store, no big deal, you move on to another one. But what if you were at a seamstress’, you already spent thousands of dollars on expensive silk and the seamstress’ labor, and suddenly you don’t like it?

And, although awful, it is actually not that unlikely to happen. Choosing a wedding dress without seeing what it looks like – on you – is very difficult. Of course you know what looks good on you, and you may even conscientiously do your research and know to stay away from puffy sleeves or high collars. But a formal dress is not just a collection of elements – it is an integral whole, a durable architectural construction. It’s really difficult for a layperson to visualize what the finished product will look like on them, how it will look with their particular round face, or broad shoulders, or long arms. It may come out quite flattering, but if you don’t look in it quite the way you expected, you may feel just a little bit disappointed.

Suddenly a ready-made dress seems to have its advantages. At least, you know what you’re getting, how you look in it, and what the final price will be. 

A ready-made dress could work for you if:
  • you want a perfect fit.

It may be a little counter-intuitive, but you could have a ready-made wedding dress that fits you very well. That’s what alterations are for. Of course, you’ll want to start with a good foundation – a slightly larger dress and alteration-friendly manufacture. For example, it may be impossible to lengthen a dress that’s a little too short, or let out a dress that’s a little too tight. Sometimes, though, manufacturers find a way to leave a bit of extra fabric in the right places without adding too much bulk, place seams strategically, and offer other ways to make alterations possible.

  • you want a dress that looks a little unusual.

Creativity and personal touch never goes out of fashion, but do start with solid research. Maybe the perfect wedding dress is out there somewhere. If you keep seeing the same dresses over and over again, you need to look elsewhere. Maybe you can find a ready-made dress and then add some unique touches to it.

  • you are particular about the fabric.

Maybe you have a reaction to a particular fabric, or maybe you just want the best quality. Either way, you are likely to find something you like, made from the fabric you want. Remember that all fabrics have advantages and disadvantages to them. If you want silk, and you are not worried about silkworms, you may want to consider that silk is very prone to stains, and hard to clean. On the other hand, polyester resists staining liquids like a duck, and any stains that do happen can be washed away fairly easily.

  • you are pregnant.

First, congratulations! If it’s your first, you may not yet realize that pregnancy affects a woman’s body size in a fairly predictable way, and a tailored, custom fit may not even be what you really need. Comfort, yes. Breathable fabric for the summer, yes. Something that works with low heels. Ready-made maternity wedding dresses do exist.

  • you a practical type, looking for a dress that you can use after the wedding.

Well, try a non-white. Try a shorter length. Try dressing up separates. All these things can sewing machinebe bought ready made.

  • you think that salon dresses are overpriced.

You don’t really want to find out the hard way that making a custom dress can be overpriced, too. Although you’d be paying a bit extra for the brand name, a ready-made dress in the salon wasn’t designed from scratch, and wasn’t sown in Toronto where labor is quite expensive. With ready-made dresses, what you see is what you get – in terms of both looks and price. With custom dresses, until the sewing is complete, there is a lot of uncertainty.

A custom dress could work for you if:
  • you are really into fashion and love a particular, rare designer dress; in addition, you need to have the time and effort to invest into this project.

Depending on the price of the designer dress, yes, it may be possible to get a cheaper replica that is custom-made.

If you really want a custom dress, here’s what to expect:

First, and most important, you need a good seamstress. It may be hard to assess how good a seamstress is, but – and this is, perhaps, rather counter-intuitive – one with a blind tape and scissors‘yes-ma’am’ attitude may be not your best bet. Think about it. She (or he) will be entitled to be paid for her work regardless of whether or not you are happy with the outcome. You certainly don’t want one who is too quick to accept your ideas just so that she gets paid for the work. If you heard of any horror stories with alterations gone badly… well, that’s just alterations. Making anything from scratch is a minefield of things going bad.

Here’s the hard part. Your seamstress needs to be able to visualize the wedding dress on you, decide if it would look good on your particular body, and then manage your expectations in that regard. She needs to be capable of actually sewing the dress properly and on time, along with all other work she has on the go (and if a seamstress is not too busy during a busy wedding season, maybe you don’t want to trust her with your wedding dress either). The following rule is true here more than ever: never underestimate the depths of skill that you do not master yourself. All these things require a lot of skill and experience. While not all expensive seamstresses are great, most good seamstresses are expensive. 

Secondly, you need to treat it as your personal project and invest effort into it. Just like you wouldn’t blindly trust a salesperson to tell you what looks good on you, you shouldn’t blindly rely on a seamstress telling you will look good on you. Spend a lot of time thinking about dresses. Look at fashion designs. Study your fabrics. fabrics.jpeg

You would probably be shopping for the fabrics and other materials yourself. Not just to save your seamstress time, but because you don’t want to trust someone else’s judgment on this. You are you. If you do it yourself, you will know that you are buying what you love.

Be prepared to make yourself available for many appointments with your seamstress as the dress is being sown. That way, you can monitor the progress, give feedback, and get used to the idea of what your dress will look like as it slowly takes shape. Consider whether it would be feasible for you to drop by often given her opening hours and her location.

Third, you need to have the budget for it. All dresses are different – some require yards and yards of more or less expensive fabric, some require painstaking hours of sewing and intricate beadwork – but consider $5,000 a good starting point for a budget. 

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