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!

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

  1. Thanks for this great post! Very helpful and useful information for brides to be and good guidelines. Especially love that you spent time discussing alterations…this will be very hepful for brides to be!

  2. This is such useful and important information. Thank you thank you! I'm linking to this post so that my readers can share the love.

  3. Thanks for noting that the foundation fitting should be first on your list – especially if you are over a D cup, as are all of my clients. I can’t tell you how many brides wait to the last minute to arrange for their undergarment then run into massive problems that could have been solved if they had followed your advice. Remember, just because it’s your Special Day, the Laws of Gravity still apply to you!

  4. I so wish I had this before the nightmare issues with my dress.
    Also, as for dress shops ordering the wrong dress, it happened to me. They quoted me $250 in alterations. Which reminds me I need to file a dispute with the BBB. Not the way I wanted to spend my weeks after the wedding.

  5. Many thanks to all of the professionals who have shared thier tips, advice and experiance with us. Its VERY much appreciated!!! Caroline thank you in particular for the estimate on a good tailors time. It definatly helped to explain the amount I had to pay in alterations for a dress.

    The dress in question, I got from a formal dress salon and it started off 2 sizes 2 big. Then it needed hemmed (im very short), brought in from the size difference, it came with a jacket which was ohhhh about 8 inches too long in the arms? lolz ect. Was a lot of work, so I wasn’t really complaining about the amount, just was a bit surprised (only other time Id gotten ad ress tailored was my prom dress that needed hemmed)

    Stiletto, definatly thank you for the advice on having the undergarments ahead of time. I didnt for that dress and have yet to find something that fits comfortably (it requires, w/o the jacket, a strapless and Im a bit top heavy… lol yes i did see the post related to that) and looks right with it. Hopefully Ill find one eventually lolz, the good thing is it was fitted so that as long as I am careful (no running/jumping/bouncing for me lmao, at least not w/o an arm over the gals) it works w/o. I did get lucky, the lady who did the fitting had worked for a mensware store and fitted jackets to guys a lot so she was really able to help with my shoulders (they’re rather large lolz) and she did mention the not looking down thing and why. Its always nice to have someone explain whys.

    Again, my thanks to all of you for your helpful advice, I just wish id read it sooner!! lolz. *copys and pastes into a word doc so she can reference when she goes wedding dress shopping*

  6. As a dressmaker and wedding specialize, your words are so so true some brides expect miracles!!! And most dont want to pay for the time involved in altering their dresses! Really at the minute I find myself struggling and sometimes question why do I do is job???

  7. Since so many seamstresses have commented on this post, I figured I would ask here to see if possible. I have a beaded bodice princess gown with cathedral train. I absolutely adore this dress, and since it was being discontinued, I had to purchase a size that was too small (14p and I’m currently an 18w). I want to add a corset back, and I’m not sure if they will need to add panels/gussets. Is it possible to bring this dress to the proper size? I’m not concerned with the alterations cost as I assumed I would have to pay significantly for alterations for any dress since I’m busty. I also wonder if they can do corseted gusset/panels at the side so it would blend a bit better than plain panels since the entire bodice is beaded. Thanks if anyone can help!

    • I’m in a similar boat…I wanted a designer in a specific cut and color, but wanted to get used (didn’t want to buy a knock off or something), and I found a wonderful ice blue Alfred Angelo ballgown used (at a KILLER discount, so I’m, not worried about shelling out a lot for alterations) at a size 8, but of course it had been altered to the bride before’s specifications (read: turned out to be a much smaller bust, train is enormous), so I need to basically have the entire top of the dress reconstructed. It’s only a one or two size difference, but enough that I’m worried about finding someone who will be able and willing to tackle what is essentially a custom order, even with the big day still a year out. I’m open to all possibilities, but I’m nervous—it’s more of the “change the vintage 50s long sleeve dress into a halter top” ordeal than a simple nip/tuck.

  8. Hi, I am in need of some much needed technical advice, a friend has asked me to do alterations on her dress. My dilemma is that she purchased a tie up back dress, sleeveless that is 12 cm in parts to 20cms to small for her. I have mulled over the dress for a week, and have come to the conclusion that, placing panels into the sides would be the best option to rectify the problem, so that the back area sits correctly. Constructed from Satin fabric, Chiffon and a lining. Do you think this would be the best option, feedback appreciated. A friend helping a friend.

  9. I have a question… I bought a dress that was a 16w and at the time I was a size 18. It was on sale and the last dress in that style because it was being discontinued. Now I knew I could loose the weight, but the problem is I think I’ve lost too much weight. I became pregnant and had a baby almost a year ago and since having my daughter I am now down to a size 10. Can my dress be altered to fit? Or will I need to get a new dress?

    • Hi,

      That totally depends on the construction of the dress and how complicated the bodice is. Your best answer is just to take it to a tailor, and see what they say. They’ll often do consults and give you estimates for the work, and you are not obligated to hire them if you feel like the price is too high.

      • Thank you so much for your response. I decided to sell the dress because I am now a size 10 and it is a size 16w like I previous stated. We are getting married in 5 months and I don’t think they will be able to get all the alterations done on time. Plus we change the date to a summer wedding. Found a really cute dress in my size for $100.00 online.

  10. Hi. Im having some trouble with my wedding dress. I dont want to buy another one.. on my dress I want the zip to be removed and have a lace one on there.. im getting married this december.. HELP..

    Thanks..

    • Take it to a tailor! Zippers get removed/replaced all the time, and if you want a different closure (like a corset lace up) they can do that.

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