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The Perfect Fit – Everything You Need To Know About Wedding Dress Alterations And Fitting

Whether your dress is being made to measure or is off the peg, alterations and fittings are going to be crucial to nailing that amazing look you have always dreamed of.

A made to measure wedding dress is going to involve several appointments for fittings and final alterations, that goes with the territory, but most brides who are buying off the peg don’t necessarily realise that this is also important for readymade or preloved wedding dresses.

There is no such thing as a standard dress size!

No two women are the same size and shape and most understand how tricky it can be to buy female clothing particularly as sizing varies from one manufacturer to another. Don’t expect your wedding dress to be any different!

The bottom line is you will be very lucky if an off the peg dress fits you perfectly and that’s why a good couturier or bridal boutique will offer a tailoring service as part of their wedding dress package. Adjustments and fitting can make all the difference and will also allow you to embellish and personalise a dress to suit your taste and wedding theme. This applies just as much to a new dress as to a vintage gown bought from an antique shop or auction site.

Adjusting and customising your wedding dress 

A good tailoring service will not just adjust the fit to suit your figure but can also suggest embellishments and additions which will enhance the dress to make it uniquely personal to you and, make it more practical for day long wear. Here are just some ideas that can enhance your wedding gown and make it a showstopper.

  • Adding a bustle to a wedding dress with a train which makes it easier to move around from car to ceremony to reception, there are lots of bustle styles that work with different gowns
  • Add gossamer sleeves to a sleeveless gown or removing sleeves altogether
  • Tailoring the hemline to suit that perfect pair of bridal shoes – this is one of the most common alterations
  • Fit straps to a strapless gown or adding modesty panels to a design that is just a little too revealing
  • Stitch in a hidden pocket – you will be amazed at how useful this can be

How long will the fitting take?

The first fitting appointment is usually the longest so allow around an hour for this. On average, expect to have two to four fittings for an off the peg wedding dress, more if you are going for made to measure.

What to wear for a wedding dress fitting

Source your bridal shoes – altering hemlines is one of the most common requests. The best hemline is one that gently grazes the floor which is not usually a trip hazard but you will need to remember to gently lift the dress if you are going up and down steps or stairs to avoid tripping over the front or putting a heel through the back of the skirt. Some brides change into different shoes for comfort at the wedding reception but if they are lower, then the dress will be too long.

Also think about your underwear especially when it comes to the top half of the dress which may be backless or off the shoulder. Take with you what you intend to wear on the wedding day to every fitting and you can discuss with the seamstress whether a different type of bra or item of lingerie will work better with your style of dress.

If you are accessorising then bring the jewellery or decoration for your hair if you have it as this will help you to create the overall look. A particular length or style of necklace may affect where you want the neckline to sit on the final design. Your hair style will impact on the top part of the dress so arranging your hair loosely in that style – up or down or part and part – will flag up any adjustments that may need to be made.

If you are having a veil either bought from the same shop or sourced separately then this should also accompany you to every fitting as this will alter how the back of the dress looks depending on its length.

Take with you that trusted friend or family member who is going to help you dress on the morning of the wedding; this is particularly important if you are going to have a bustle as they usually require external assistance and the seamstress can demonstrate how to do this.

Some brides have a makeup rehearsal before their final fitting so that they can try on the dress with the hair and makeup they intend to have on the big day. You will need to go to the fitting prepared for this as it won’t be possible to apply makeup during your appointment – this would risk getting it on the dress. If the dress has a particular neckline or style then working out the right hairstyle to suit you and the gown is important as it could affect the alterations.

How much do fittings and alterations cost?

Prices vary hugely depending on what you need to do to the dress. There is usually a charge for the tailoring work, for instance, taking in the waist or adding sleeves or a bustle – this will include new material too. And there could be a cost per fitting as well, it just depends how the fashion house or shop charge for their time.

The simplest and most common alterations are hemming, adjusting the sides of the gown and just fine tuning the fit. Lace or beading work is very time-consuming and will take many hours so charges will be in the hundreds of pounds. Always ask to have the work costed before you agree to anything.

Who to use to tailor and make adjustments

You don’t have to use a tailoring service offered by the bridal boutique or company that you purchase from; you could go to someone else particularly if you have a seamstress or tailor that you already know and trust.

By the same token, if you have bought a preloved dress or acquired one from a family member then you can approach a bridal boutique as some will offer a tailoring and alteration service to the public, not just to customers who have purchased within their own shop.

Timelines for your hemlines

An average figure to work to for wedding dress alterations is around 8-10 weeks. Simple alterations won’t take very long but the boutique could be busy with other customers so your dress may have to wait in line.

Final fittings should be around 4 weeks before the wedding date. It seems like a good plan to get this sorted out months in advance particularly for nervous brides, so you remove the worry of finding the perfect dress. However, body shape can change, even subtly, so the best option is to have a final appointment a few weeks before the wedding even if you have bought the dress months in advance, just to ensure that perfect fit.

Top tips for wedding dress alterations

  • Always start with a dress that suits your height, body shape and skin tones, tailors are not miracle workers and if the dress just doesn’t work for you then no number of adjustments and alterations will change that
  • Listen to the advice of the fitter or seamstress, they will have years of experience and know what will best suit your size and shape as well as being practical on the day – trust their knowledge and expertise gained from years of working with many different brides and dresses
  • If you really don’t like what you hear, take the dress to someone else particularly if you are not using a tailoring service attached to a bridal boutique, not all seamstresses are experienced at working with wedding dresses or they may not be sufficiently familiar with that type of fabric
  • Ask the seamstress about the best way to store the dress when you take it home
  • Make the dress work for you not the other way around
  • When the dress has been fitted and is secure with temporary adjustments, make sure you move around in it and sit down when the seamstress says you can – the dress needs to be comfortable as you will be wearing it for a long time
  • As a rule of thumb, most wedding dress can be altered by one size, some designs may even push to two sizes but anymore will probably require a different choice of gown
  • Don’t expect the gown to fit properly at the first appointment, a good seamstress will adjust the dress over the course of two or three fittings as one alteration will impact on another
  • Never alter a dress into a size or shape that will require you to slim down for the big day – this is a really risky strategy and most seamstresses will advise against it