Seamstress secrets! Wedding dress alteration & bridal fitting advice

Guest post by Stiletto
This amazing ombre wedding dress is by KMKDesigns

Unless you are one of those lucky ladies who never, ever has trouble finding items that fit you perfectly straight off the rack, there's a good chance your bridal attire will require alterations.

If you are having something custom-made, you will probably need to have at least two fittings. (In my experience, three fittings for a mass-produced wedding dress is common.)

If at all possible, start with a dress (or outfit) that is your size — or very, very close to it. While it is often possible to size a dress up or down, don't count on being able to take in or let out a dress by more than one or two sizes. Many dresses do not contain enough seam allowance to let out that much -– and with fabrics like velvet and satin, the original seam lines will show. (With satin, original seam lines can resemble track marks, hardly an appropriate look for a special occasion.)

If you have not yet purchased your attire, PLEASE resist the urge to buy something that is on sale but several sizes too big. Garments that are much too large for the intended wearer often need to basically be taken apart and re-cut in order to hang properly on the body. This is such a labor-intensive process it can quickly eat whatever money you saved –- and then some.

Wedding dress alterations and appointments

If you are not the same size all over, keep in mind that it is usually easier to take in a garment than it is to let it out. I myself am top-heavy, so I speak from experience on this. It's almost always easiest (and least costly) to buy the size that best fits the largest part of your body and take in the dress wherever it is too big.

Buyer beware: some bridal shops deliberately order the wrong size. If you are ordering a dress through a bridal shop, check them out thoroughly, and make sure they have your correct measurements. Try to order well in advance so that if they order the wrong size anyway, you have time to either come up with another dress or politely, but firmly, insist that they order the correct size pronto.

If buying online (i.e. buying a vintage dress on eBay), ask for specific measurements. If they are not part of the listing (not all labels are sized the same way), and make sure you know how they compare to yours.

When choosing a tailor, go with a reputable one, not the one that quotes you the lowest rate. You get what you pay for. Believe me, it isn't worth having something done cheaply if you subsequently have to pay someone else to fix the cheap-o job.

Many alteration shops will not give estimates for wedding dresses or other formal gowns over the phone. The shop needs to see the actual dress and see how it currently fits your body to determine EXACTLY what needs to be done and give an accurate estimate. Describing the dress over the phone is really not very helpful, especially since some less-scrupulous brides lie about how much work needs to be done on the dress in order to get a lower quote.

Ask whether an appointment is required. Many independent alterations shops require appointments for bridal fittings to avoid getting fifteen brides in one afternoon. It takes time to fit a bridal gown properly, and you do NOT want the person fitting you to be rushed, fumbling, and sweating profusely while a dozen less-polite brides badger and harass her for not fitting you faster.

Do not demand an appointment on a day when appointments are not available.
My former employer had a very rigid no-bridal-fittings-on-Saturdays rule because on each and every Saturday we were so swamped that we frequently didn't get lunch breaks until 4pm.

If you are a klutz and will be wearing a long dress, consider having it hemmed to hang 1″ from the floor rather than touching the ground. Heavy dress + high heels + possible anxiety = heightened possibility of tripping over one's hem. (I am hopelessly clumsy, and will be designing a ballerina-length dress to a. deter tripping and b. show off my shoes, which will be fabulous.)

If you know of any upcoming changes to your physical dimensions (i.e. newly pregnant, having breast reduction surgery, etc.), tell whomever is making or altering your dress ASAP. Once the fabric is cut, the dress generally can't be made drastically bigger without adding panels or gussets. Similarly, if your E cups are about to become C cups, it's best to wait and have the top fitted after surgery.

Wedding dress fittings

When the fitter is in a rush, it shows in her work. Yes, dashing off to a fitting during your lunch hour or after work may not be the most convenient thing in the world, but you DO want that dress to fit you properly, don't you? Suck it up and book that Wednesday evening appointment.

Don't schedule a fitting right after a workout. Having a wedding dress cleaned isn't cheap, so you don't want to have sweat stains removed BEFORE you actually wear it. Also, fitting someone requires being in close physical proximity. No one likes fitting a client who smells like a locker room, so hit the showers first. (As long as I'm on the subject of odor, please go easy on the cigarettes, perfume, and smelly food.)

Buy your foundation garments before your first fitting, and bring them to ALL of your fittings. Yes, this is completely and absolutely necessary. Even if they don't appear to shape your body much or at all, your foundation garments WILL affect the way the dress hangs on your figure. Every so often, we'd have a bride go through one or two fittings with a certain bra or corset, then bring a different one and wonder why the dress looked so different. Depending upon the design and cut of the dress, wearing the wrong bra can even affect whether the hem hangs evenly –- I've seen it happen. (It goes without saying that if you have a petticoat or crinoline, you should bring that, too.)

Ditto for your shoes. If you have not obtained the perfect shoes before your first fitting, mention this to the fitter and then bring a pair of shoes with a heel height in the range of your ideal shoe (heel height can affect your posture), and ask to have the hem marked at a later fitting. Don't even THINK of standing on tiptoe and insisting your hem be marked that way -– standing on tiptoe for the 5+ minutes required to carefully pin a hem will make you wobble and the hem will not be even.

If the tailor balks at your request for drastic changes to an existing dress, look for someone else who can handle the job. Even some of the best tailors are not well-versed in radically altering clothes (i.e. turning Aunt Susie's long-sleeved 1950s number into a halter dress). Your wedding attire should not be someone else's learning experience, particularly if the garment has sentimental value.

If the tailor recommends against making a particular change, there's probably a good reason why. I personally feel it is fine to ask why s/he is recommending against something, or to get a second opinion from another tailor, but please keep in mind these people are professionals -– they are intimately familiar with garment construction, and may know of a better way to make something look the way you want it to look.

During the actual fitting, please don't move unless the person fitting you indicates it is all right to do so. Moving during a fitting can cause the garment to be fitted unevenly (this is especially true of hems and sleeves) or cause you to be accidentally poked with a pin. (I used to come home with bumps and bruises because some of the less-attentive clients would move during a fitting and bonk me in the face, chest, shoulders, etc.) Not sure when it's okay to move? Just ask. Believe me, it's appreciated.

Do move around to test the fit once you are given the all-clear. Will you be doing a lot of dancing, walking, sitting, etc.? Make sure you can comfortably do all of those things once the dress is pinned. If the dress will inhibit your movement, point it out so the fit can be adjusted accordingly.

Your final dress fitting should be held approximately two weeks prior to the wedding, if possible. Any closer to the big day and there might not be enough time to fix any problems — any further from the big day and there's a chance the dress might not fit. Many brides lose weight from stress, or get swamped with last-minute things and simply forget to eat. (98% of all the brides we worked with lost several pounds during the 4-6 weeks before the wedding, regardless of whether they were trying to do so. No matter how proud you are of your figure, it could happen to you too.)

If your mom/maid of honor/best friend couldn't come dress shopping with you, it's okay to ask the fitter to show her/him how to zip/button/lace up your dress. Assuming you can't get it on without help, that is. Zippers are a no-brainer, but corset-back lacing in particular can be intimidating to those who have never had to handle it.

Good luck!

Offbeat Bride Vendor

This post features vendors from our curated Offbeat Bride Wedding Vendor Directory. They're awesome and we love them.

Comments on Seamstress secrets! Wedding dress alteration & bridal fitting advice

  1. I think this is the most comprehensive dress fitting article I've encountered. Thank you!!!

  2. i think most people underestimate the value of dress alterations. i certainly didn't learn how important it was until i went through the process with my own off the rack wedding dress. i bought my dress at a very upscale department store for a steal. the hem, which the designer had kept raw, was the only alteration i thought necessary; otherwise the dress fit like a glove. i couldn't have been more happy. or so i thought. since i'd never been to an alterations shop before, i asked around to some friends who i knew would give me good advice and decided on a shop that came highly recommended by several different people. i wandered into the shop thinking i only needed a quick hem stitch and was totally blown away when the seamstress started pinning all over the dress, explaining every nip and tuck as she went. the dress that fit like a glove was transformed into a second skin. it was mind blowing and gave me such an appreciation for the craft.

  3. Great post, but I can't help but ask who the lovely bride is with the white gown and the tons of multi-colored ribbon (nd blue shoes!). I am so taken with that look. Well, all of the looks, actually, but multicolored ribbon = LOVE.

  4. Can I ask – WHY do bridal shops order them the wrong size? Is it because they assume/hope that you'll get alterations through them and make some more money? I was in a wedding in September and the strapless dress that came for me was so big that when it was zipped up it fell to the floor! It was ridiculous. We couldn't figure out how they could have gotten it so wrong…

      • Most bridal shops would rather not bother with alterations, but they know that to sell dresses, they must offer them. The bridal shops I have or still do work for, don’t make much (if any) money on the alterations after they pay the seamstress.

    • I know that this is an out of date comment, but as someone who works in a bridal shop that does not offer tailoring (but recommends tailors we know), brides are often many different dress sizes depending on which measurement you are looking at (a 4 in the bust, a 8 at the waist, an 14 in the hips. What size to order? Well, the biggest one, depending on the fit of the dress, ie, ballgown vs mermaid). I think most brides do not realize that many mid range dresses are not made to her specific measurements, rather ordered as close as possible, especially on a mass production level. I can imagine a scenario where unscrupulous sales people misorder on purpose to make money in their own alteration departments, but most sizing issues stem from the fact that most people are not one size! If you’ve ever shopped for event dresses, you’ll have experienced some of the same things. Just saying, it’s not all evilness!

  5. This is an absolutely amazing post. It's being filed away under my big folder of wedding crap!

  6. Thank you for this. I am ordering my dress from an on-line store and will need to get it altered. By the maker's request, it will be left unhemmed to ensure it's long enough (I'm very tall) and that I can have the train shortened (I hate the look of a bustle). I'm going to be looking long and hard for a tailor that has at least some experience in handling historical garments!

  7. As a professional, I'd like to add — Don't try to watch what your tailor is doing! You may be afraid of getting poked, cut, or just be interested in watching their work, but don't! We are highly trained NOT to stab you with whatever pointy implement we have in our hands. Furthermore, if you're constantly twisting around or looking down, it's going to alter the fit and hang of your dress — this is especially true on hems (if you're leaning down to see what the tailor is doing on the floor, your hem will be too short — see what happens some time when you are wearing a long skirt), but is really true for the entire dress. Just be patient and trust your tailor — we're out to make you look perfect, so as long as you have faith, you will.

  8. As a former bridal salon employee, I'm delighted with the comments on fit. Wedding dresses are their own beast. My usual spiel was, "Don't pay attention to the number on the tag in the back of your dress. This is entirely different from anything you've ever worn before."

    The only other advice I would offer is to make sure your bridal foundations FIT. At the salon I worked in, I found it best to go up a band size on those long-line bras with the foam padding. So many women were upset to wear a 38 over a 36, but it greatly reduced the appearance of "back fat". If it's uncomfortable the day you try it on for 90 minutes, how good is it going to feel after 3 hours?

  9. Hey this is designer Joi from Dress Forms. I just want to clarify that the princess lasertron polka dotted gown in the picture is not an alteration, but a custom design. Good information for potential brides. My best piece of advice is be an educated consumer and plan ahead. Also, different things work for different people and different body sizes. Make sure whoever you work with will customize to you and not some preset ideas about fit, fashion, fabric etc. . .

Read more comments

Comments are closed.