Everything you need to know about having your wedding dress custom-made

Updated Jun 5 2017
arielmstallings
Image courtesy of Wedding Dress Fantasy.
Image courtesy of Wedding Dress Fantasy.

A while back I ranted about how I think brides are best off having their wedding dresses custom made — you'll get a better fit, exactly the design you want, and won't have to suffer the attitudes and obscene prices of a bridal boutique. (And remember: custom dresses don't always cost a fortune! My wedding gown was a combination of a custom corset and skirt, with a total cost of $500.)

There was some grumbling in the comments about "Ok, fine: but how do you find a custom dressmaker?" My best advice is start in your immediate circle and work your way out — do you know any seamstresses or amazing sewers? Do any of your friends or family known any? If not, search online or in the Yellow Pages for someone locally. Being able to do fittings in person is a big bonus. If there's no-one in town you like, then start looking online for seamstresses with styles you like who will work with you via email.

The ladies of the Offbeat Bride Tribe came to the rescue with lots more tips on picking a custom dressmaker, as well as specific dressmaker recommendations:

If any local college has a fashion program, you might be referred to someone that way, either a prof or a student. I'd definitely go in with a design and fabric swatches in hand. If they start telling you about how they don't need any references or what not, leave!

When selecting a seamstress, see photos from a portfolio AND actual dresses. And talk to past clients if you can. Photos can look amazing compared to looking at them up close. Although it is very important to know what you want when it comes to style, it is just as important to make sure the seamstress has sewn other dresses in that same style. Find out if they have had to make their own patterns in the past, and see how those have turned out.

A good tip for finding a seamstress is calling the costume department of your local theatre. Costume ladies are kickass stichers and love creative challenges. Also, be wary of buying really cheap fabric. Most of the time, cheap fabric makes a dress look cheap.
Ask to see some samples, pay attention to quality, look at the seams, ask to see photographs, etc. Once you find a seamstress you like, bring in as many photos as possible to show garment construction, color, style, fabric, etc. Your seamstress will probably have her own opinions on what will work fabric-wise. Settle on what you need and go fabric shopping or take her with you to do so. Then turn it over to her. Be brutally honest at the fitting.

Can't find 'em local? GO ONLINE!

If you just can't find a seamstress near by, there are some truly phenomenal indie dressmakers who work online:

(PS: If you're a dressmaker or seamstress, get in touch with us about placement on Offbeat Bride!)

There's also the option of outsourcing your dressmaking overseas, which has saved many offbeat brides huge wads of cash (although it also comes with thorny ethical questions). Here are just three of literally hundreds of options:

Be aware that going this route can also cause major hassles.

And now I'll open it up to the peanut gallery: Did you have your wedding dress custom made? How did you pick your seamstress? Any tips or advice?

  1. Adeleine in 39,

    I just moved to the Portland area and want to get my dress custom made. I literally moved here a week ago from Nebraska and don't know my way around AT ALL. What is the name of your dress maker and what is her phone number??

    Thank you, and happy wedding day soon!

  2. Im getting a custom dress because the style i want simply doesnt come in a store.(an authentic tea length 1950's styled dress)
    luckily my grandma knows a lady who makes wedding dresses who will do it for me.

    but i keep hearing everywhere that it is a bad idea to get a custom gown. All of the wedding shows(like say yes to the dress) and magazines all say that you will regret it.
    which makes me nervous cause im a total perfectionist and i strive for good quality clothing whenever i shop..and i will notice any imperfection.

    Its nice to see people saying otherwise, and that they had a great experience getting a custom dress. It deffinately calms my nerves.

  3. "All of the wedding shows(like say yes to the dress) and magazines all say that you will regret it."

    That's because wedding shows and magazines are part of the mainstream wedding industry, and are supported by national dress shop chains and big name designer labels. Of COURSE they don't want you spending your money with some no-name independent dressmaker — it's less money they're making off of advertisements and show booths.

  4. cynzia ,
    the one and only girl to respond to my pleas for help. thank u very much for the tip. i am thinking about haveing it made but should i not follow thru with that ur site was VERY VERY VERY helpful thank u soooo much

  5. I am also a designer who has done custom work for over ten years in North Carolina. I have worked on everything from pageant gowns for Miss America to Wedding gowns and done renaissance and historical costuming and dance and theatre costuming. I say all that because there are a few things I've learned doing this that I wanted to share.

    1. Make sure your personalities don't clash. If you don't like the person your working with you will not have a good experience. First impressions really do matter. A consultation is not a contract so if you don't feel right walk away and find someone else.

    2. Look at pictures, actual work, etc but also ask if they have any recommendations or other customers you can speak with. Most will and don't be afraid to ask around and talk to others who've used the designer/seamstress.

    3. Be patient with the process but also please please please speak up! A good designer will not be offended it you ask questions and most will welcome it. I want my brides to be completely satisfied. After all, it's your day!

    4. Get a contract!!!! Have everything in writing, cost, design, types of fabrics, etc. This is for your protection and the protection of the person you're working with.

    I could add a ton more but those were just some of the things that first came to mind when I read this. Thank you Off Beat Bride for this wonderful article. Custom can be a wonderful way to have a wedding dress that is totally you!

  6. I'm seconding the advice from Joi and Angela, and my Professional two cents:

    Custom simply is not for everyone. Some people cannot cope with the process and watching the piece evolve through the fittings. If you're the type of person who constantly needs someone else's opinion and is uncomfortable with 'owning the decision', you should just go shopping. Seriously.
    If the evolution of the creative process turns you on and you are the girl with the image burned into your head of what you want (and can communicate with others), then you are a perfect candidate for a Custom Gown!

    Price. There are some things that can be made for less than a Chinese sweatshop or a National Conglomerate Chainstore can sell for retail! However, some of these $99. Sale price tags simply cannot even begin to cover the cost of materials for an Independent Designer, let alone cover the hours of work involved.
    Know that decent looking lace averages $100. a yard, and that a $100. at wholesale bag of swarovski crystals can take almost 100 hours of work to sew. It's simple Business 101 to translate it into what your gown should cost vs. what you'd like to pay. Don't insult your Designer and ask for a copy of that $5G beaded lace Vera Wang for $500. Remember that staying in business costs money. 100 Hours of work >< more than Minimum Wage =???

    And don't ever have your gown made by someone who works without a contract! The VLAMA helped me re-write mine recently and I highly reccomend the Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts if you're a young Designer starting out.
    🙂 Harper

  7. I actualy got great dressmaker recomendations from a local jewlery shop that does custom work in house (do NOT go to the mall lol), and from a wedding planner that makes dresses but didn't like working with silk. Local bridal shops also contract with seamstresses that often make wedding dresses. Many tailors or dry cleaners can give you recomendatuiions as well. My dressmaker is only charging me $500 for my dress and I was very pleased to find someone to work with in town.

    Some tips:
    1: Pick a pattern or a picture that you like and try on similar dresses, don't assume talioring is a magic bullet, some stlesd simply look better on a hanger.

    2. Get recomendations (see above). If others were pleased with thier work, chances are you will be too.

    3. Buy great fabric and get recoomendations from your dressmaker on where to shop and what to buy, yit's not fun to spend lots of money to get a dress made only to realize that you should have coughed up the extra 75 bucks for silk instead of polyester satin when you feel like your in a plastic bag at your august wedding (plus I just love natural fibers…especialy silk 🙂

    Anybody can contact me if they are having the hebby jebbies about the dress experience, I'm on the same adventure!

  8. My wife found a dress maker to create her wedding dress using "Kijiji" which is a free local online classified listing used all across North America. There were quite a few listed at the time.

  9. i order 10 dresses. THEY ARE ROGUE TRADERS!!! They STOLE my designs and refused to send them to me even though I had paid for it.

    It is now advertised on their website. They are thieves and liars. I was so shocked. I was going to town on this I ordered 10 dresses. They took my deposit, claiming that they would send me the pictures and if I didn't like them all I had to do was say and they would refund or remake.

    They made card board 2 pence looking things so I asked them to remake them then they went off line and I didn't hear anything from them for a month (no responses to my emails and calls) They then resurfaced and said I should send them my address that they would send me the only dress I liked and they have not and again have refused to return calls or reply emails.

    Bad quality dresses, bad quality service. Dont waste your time. THey are only attentive until you have paid.

  10. Just some advice(referring to online dealings), never pay anything until they at least give you a sketch and a fabric sample. If they can't do that for you then that's a huge red flag.

  11. I recently had my dress made after finding that there was no way in hell I was going to afford the couture dresses with yards of flowing raw silk I so desired. My solution, I ordered silk from China, and found a seamstress with the help of everyone's favorite friend, Craigslist. With the recession on you'll be surprised how many super qualified people will respond to your craigslist ad. I lucked out and found a couture dressmaker who had just been let go of her job at a major label because of the economy, who was willing to do it on the cheap. Also the beauty of criagslist is you can also write in other forms of payment you might offer like trades(I know a girl who designed her seamstress a jazzy website in return for making her dress). I LOVE my custom dress, though if you are looking to spend less than 800 bucks, I'd go with finding a great sample or a used one.

  12. Kathryn of Asphodel Couture made my purple wedding dress. I found her while looking round several dress designers' stalls at the goth weekend we have in whitby, UK twice a year. She does gorgeous work and I'm over the moon about the finished outfit. She is based in Blackpool, UK and you can find her on etsy and myspace. For the work and detail that she's put into it (bustled skirt with train, corset, little jacket and matching bag) it was all a very reasonable price i thought. I'm so happy and can't wait for the big day when i get to wear it 🙂

  13. I found the coolest seamstress/designer, Nicolette, from a bridal expo called "Unbridled Expo" It featured alternative wedding services for people looking for untradtional wedding vendors. (they even had roller derby girls modeling dresses! How awesome) Back to the point, Nicolette, from Fabrica in Philadelphia created the perfect rockabilly wedding dress for me. While it wasn't really cheap, it was on par with wedding dresses found in boutiques.

    The best part is that I got to pick out everything on the dress! I can't wait to wear my wedding dress now! And I can probably wear it again because it's not super bridey.

    • I live just outside of Philadelphia and am looking for a Rockabilly dress as well, if you don't mind me asking how much was your dress? and does she have a website?

  14. Etsy.com is probably a great place to find a seamstress. Many of the crafty folk on Etsy make the dresses to order anyway and a lot of the profiles I've looked at are open to changes to their existing styles.

  15. my mother wanted her dress custom made , so i had to do the leg work for it and i found a very old but fiesty woman who gave my mother a great price not an hourly wage. so for 250 my mother got a vintage reproduction wedding gown that fit her like a glove.

    my advice search everywhere , internet ,locally , friends, just don't get sucked into an hourly seamstress . i was quoted upward of 1000 dollars for my moms wedding gown.

  16. I got really, really lucky and found a schoolteacher/seamstress based out of London on Etsy named LizzieJayne. She made me a fabulous 50's style dress from ivory Italian duchess satin with a red sash. It is beautifully made, fully lined and fits perfectly, all for 1/3 the price what I would have paid in a bridal shop. I took a big risk, I was nervous, but everything in the traditional bridal shops about made me retch.

  17. I am getting married in montreal but I currently live in Sinagpore. I am a Cdn size 8 and I was feeling really apprehensive about finding a gown in asia! But luck found me and I met a designer in a shop and a design that I had quite liked.He is going to custom his original design to suit my body type.He has been contracted out to a major bridal house in france for the last ten years and he has been a pleasure to work with.He has an amazing knowledge of bridal fashion and was really helpful in helping me understand what was good for my body(i am pretty curvy).He worked within my budget by giving me options that could reduce the cost (example less beading etc.)And I am going for the skeleton fitting Dec 27.I was feeling so aprehensive but now I am just excited that I will look just like I had hoped.I also managed to find a custom shoe shop (my feet are also a little wider than most asians).Just email me if you would like more info victoriamuramatsu@yahoo.ca.! Cole you are amazing!!

  18. I'm getting my dress from Dolly Couture. I really wanted a 1950's cocktail dress, but one that wasn't strapless ..,. which was an ass pain to find. They're fully customizing mine to get exactly the look I want, right down to the blue ribbon-trimmed petticoat and the satin buttons on the back. It's costing about $700, which is less than half of the original 'Dream Dress' I found … and I don't have to deal with a bridal salon or endless fittings. Thank god. The level of communication from them has been great and they've been more than willing to send me reduxes of sketches matching the specifications I've asked for, allowing my Libra brain to change my mind and make up my mind.

  19. Let me first say how I happened upon this string of posts.. I did a google search on "how much fabric is needed for a typical wedding dress".. 10 mins later, I am here. Anyway, reading this post was like reading my "how I made my unique wedding happen" diary 🙂 The idea of finding a seamstress appealed to me from day 1. I am the offbeat bride whose #1 pet peeve is to look at something and think "oh that's in every wedding". I revere tradition in a ceremonial sense but nothing else about the wedding is going to be traditional. I found my seamstress bc I am in graduate school and one my seminars was held in the college of textiles, apparel management, in a room directly across from the "sewing labs". I walked out of the seminar and a light bulb went off. Fast forward 4 months, I have now met an awesome girl, been to her fashion shows, signed a contract, gone fabric-coddling with her, picked out everything from lining, fabric, trim, buttons, EVERYTHING. It has been the most fun I have had, not because I am hands-on but bc I get to be a part of the whole process. I cannot imagine it could have been nearly as satisfying as putting down upwards of $60k (which is what this celebrity dress cost)… or heck, even $3k!

  20. I would be HUGELY interested in another post that talks about the *process* of getting a dress custom-made! I plan to have mine custom-made, but I am not very fashionable and I am terrified about the responsibility of designing my own dress. I know a good dress when I see one, but I am worried about making good decisions for myself. Should you go try on dresses at bridal salons to get an idea of what looks good? Should you rely on the seamstress/tailor for advice on what will complement you? That kind of thing. 🙂

  21. Neat topic!
    I'm getting married in July and I've had my dress custom made.
    I found my seamstress and designer in a very different way. I'm a radio DJ and I went on air and asked if anyone had ever had clothing custom made online from a place like Etsy. I didn't specify that I was thinking about getting a custom wedding gown. At that point, I wasn't even engaged.
    I got a few calls recommending I get a local seamstress and one even called me with her information.
    But, about an hour later, I received and email from someone who said her friend had heard me talking and called her saying she HAD to email me. The seamstress told me she went to Ryerson (University in Toronto) for fashion design and gave me her credentials. She used to work in theatre making costumes but now just does a few projects a year. I told her I was interested in a corset as part of the dress and she told me she had been trained in classic corsetry. We met even before I was engaged and started talking about what I wanted and how much things would cost.

    Overall, the experience working with her was great.
    One major thing she did was urge me to go try on dresses before she did anything. Believe it or not, I wasn't planning on trying on dresses because I -knew- what I wanted.
    Well, I ended up deciding on a style that was opposite of what I thought I wanted; very form fitting instead of the ball gown.

    I loved being part of creating this dress from designing to adding some of my own finishing touches like a bit of beading. It felt very high fashion to be pinned in muslin so she could make a pattern to fit my body.
    The dress has a proper built in corset, made from dupioni silk, fits like a glove and I love it!
    It cost about $1000.

    • Hi Lisa! I also live in Toronto and am trying ever-so-hard to find a custom wedding dress maker. So far I have had no luck. I think I want something that is going to be a little technically difficult but if you wouldn't mind passing on the contact info for your dress maker, I'd really appreciate it!

  22. One of my friend had a similar experience with Kaersen. There's a lot of Chinese custom-made dresses stores online, but you really can't easily find one easy to deal with.

  23. I had found this website that basically remade designers dresses… i think they were based in china but now I cant find the damned website :-/
    I have FULL intentions of having my dress made; whenever I finally get married. :>

  24. I'm also in this boat. I really want to get my dress custom-made to avoid the ungodly price of many bridal stores. Unfortunately, finding a good seamstress in Panama City, FL is proving to be more difficult than originally thought. So, I think what I'm going to do is take the design that my future sister-in-law is making for me and send it to a tailor I used last year in Korea. I already have clothing from him so I know what beautiful work he does and his prices are very reasonable. I hope it works!

  25. I gave Coral’s Bridal (coralsbridal.com) a chance and was disappointed with the end result. I wanted the Priscilla of Boston # 4104 and sent a dozen photos of the dress from other brides and from the website of the designer. These are the photos you see on this listing, this is not an example of the dress they actually made. I have posted photos of the dress made by Coral’s at this link http://boards.weddingbee.com/topic/has-anyone-purchased-a-gown-from-corals-bridal/page/2?replies=50#post-2363042 The dress was a close match with the detail in the appliqué, but the way the dress fit and the style of the skirt was way off. They turned it into a mermaid dress and I can’t even walk in it. I spent $450.00 for a dress I can’t use. At this point I’ve called off the wedding until I can afford a wedding dress. I’m looking at sometime next year. We’ve decided to just get married in the court house until then.
    I also posted my review on the coral’s bridal website and they removed it. I guess they only post the positive reviews.

    • I was actually very happy with Coral's Bridal; I had the opposite experience. I have to admit, I was a bit hesitant about ordering my dress online without trying it on. I'm glad I took the risk and ordered from Coral's Bridal. They were very responsive all throughout the process, as I was a bit nervous about it all. It took them about one month to do a replica of a designer dress that was wayyy too expensive. After 1.5 months (shipping included), I got my dress in the mail. It was very carefully packaged, and inside out to protect the lace and beading. This dress was amazing – it fit me perfectly, and the lace was very high quality. Now, I don't know much about wedding dresses, but I just have to say that I got tons of compliments on my wedding day. People were further surprised when I told them how inexpensive it was ($500). I can't recommend Coral's Bridal enough!!

  26. I know exactly what I want, and it is *not* going to be cheap – but I also want it to be heirloom potential, so that I'd probably spend more buying a 2009 or 2010 model car (my price range usually being for a '98-'06) is less important, if I start saving now. It's great that Mom got hers out of a Macy's catalogue for under 90 bucks and was happy, but it's not a dress I'd wear or pass down to *my* kids, where the dress I have planned will be passed down and worn more than once (unlike a prom dress, a dance I never attended). The problem, of course, is *money*, especiaaly in the current economy. A theatre company or renfair place sounds good – especially since I've seen impressive handmade works from fairs I've personally attended -, but I haven't forgotten being a student and wouldn't want my dress made by one I didn't personally know.

    • Luckily, I also have a guest list of only 6 and my only honeymoon plans are having 2 weeks off work, not going to Fiji or anything, so that's one less worry on the economic front. Let's hope his family isn't a party of forty!

  27. One of my best friends is going to be making my dress, and even hand-crocheting a cute little lace shrug for up top. My decision to choose her was set in stone when she managed to whip up a dress and Oriental-style overcoat for a friend's wedding…in two days! I am definitely an advocate for the custom route, especially if your body type isn't exactly what a bridal shop would call "normal".

    My advice would be to ask your group of friends. If you know anybody you know who is connected with the theater community, cosplay groups, or medieval recreations (my friend in particular is a member of the SCA and makes most of her costuming, which has given her a LOT of practice in different styles). I personally wouldn't feel comfortable working with a complete stranger, but that's just me. I'm shy and often worry if I actually get my point across. With my friend, it's virtually stress-free because I trust her, have seen examples of her work, and she understands my weird way of wording things.

    (Also, depending on how fancy you want your dress, some friends may do it for cost of materials only as their way of giving you your wedding gift! Hurrah for budgets!)

  28. As a custom dressmaker, I will have to disagree with your comment about prices at the bridal salon. To have a dress custom made, the craftsperson must design, measure, draft a pattern, drape, shop for fabric, sew prototypes, run fittings, make corrections, re-fit, meet the needs of the bride regarding body issues, design ideas, deadlines etc. All this before even starting the final product. I don't even meet with any one for less than $3000 and that is rock bottom. If it takes me 2 to 4 months to create a custom gown from start to finish, I need to be compensated. I've spent alot of time and money learning these skills and it is really hard when people come to me and think I can somehow beat the price of a ready to wear dress made in an offshore factory. It is not the same kind of product at all. And the experience of having a gown made for your body with every attention given to you is more than a dress on a hanger.

  29. I'm looking for a custom dress maker in or around Western Washington state. I live near (ish) Seattle. But Eastern Washington or a surrounding state is not out of the question. I actually want a slightly altered , custom version of a Delpozo Fall 2013 designer dress I found a picture of online. I need a seamstress who can work with fussy fabric and basically make a dress out of scratch. Does anybody have any suggestions? 🙂 (Not sure how old this blog is but I figured it's worth a shot. Lol)

  30. I received my dress from my hometown shop. Luckily being able to walk just 5 minutes from my home and I had purchased a wonderfully beautiful Eden's Bridal gown I believe its a 2012 edition which I do not mind. I happened to buy the dress under $525, while most Eden Bridals are $2000-800 brand new. I wouldn't have received that brand from David Bridal since they didn't have it except they have Vera Wang and almost all other affordable wedding dresses which they happen to be all beautiful. But what I had bought was more for me and much personal. It even came with a free royal train 🙂 I believe I did a good job. Now I need to pay for fitting in the next month until a few weeks before the wedding (May 31st 2014). I bought my shoes from consignment. How much do you think a fitting should cost maximum? Maybe I can talk down pricing to my seamstress on the dress? She said it wouldn't be more than $200. Is that a good price for tightening the dress and maybe having a slight pick up? maybe even adding off the shoulder sleeves? First time and only time for this kind of ceremony for me. 🙂
    Any suggestions would be great.
    Thank you.

  31. I realised that what I want doesn't exist (yet) and any dress I tried on felt like a compromise. I came on here for dressmaker suggestions and am absolutely thrilled to bits! We found an amazing company in Worthing, Sussex UK, that have designed my dream for £200 under budget! What makes it more special is that it's the town my mum grew up in and where my nan was happy. We live more inland so having the excuse to go back there and play on the pier 2p machines is an added bonus. As for the quality of the work and service of the shop, I can't recommend them enough! Velvet Birdcage (Courtesan Boutique for their online shop). Happy happy happy!

  32. I cannot agree with this more. I found my dress online on a UK site and once I realized I couldn't afford it plus the air fare for the fittings (in person fittings required by te seamstress), I emailed and asked of I could find someone stateside that could replicate the design. She agreed and I went to a friend who knew someone at a local theatre costume shop that was versed in making corsets. She worked so well with me and my dress came out perfect. I researched beforehand and she made her own pattern for my corset and skirt. Her labor cost was $800 and te material cost was about $200. All together much cheaper than the $8000-9000 price tag before air fare for the UK dress.

  33. Square neck blouses look good on every body
    shape and size. Some of the most famous clientele she had the pleasure of
    working for include Renee Zellweger and Jacqueline Kennedy.

    Since you'll be wearing it almost everyday in the winter it needs to work with
    a lot of different styles.

  34. I'm actually making my own custom dress with fabrics bought for me from the Philipinnes. I've mixed feelings on deciding to go down this path because it's proving to be more of a challenge than I originally thought (I'm on my final month and I still haven't finished it) as some things have taken longer than estimated. On the other hand I have total creative control.

    Although I have a friend making the corset part for me as I've no idea how to make corsets! And this is wonderful as she has worked to my design and measurements.

  35. So I purchased my wedding dress on etsy.com, (for wedding at renaissance festival) when it came in I loved, loved the fabric but the dress made me look like a square box. I found laurel sews in south hills pa near Pittsburgh and she is a god send and is reworking the entire dress for me, I wish I found her before I purchased a dress online but it works out in the end, lesson I learned I guess! Lol

  36. I had my vintage reproduction 1940's dress custom made and I was not happy with the results. Four of the most important words in custom wedding dresses:GET IT IN WRITING!!! Also, if the dressmaker does a muslin (a mock dress made of muslin before using the actual expensive material) this is probably a good idea. Finally, get in writing, as well, the time frame or schedule for fittings and completion. Good luck!!!! Oh yeah, my dress was just over $2000.

  37. does anyone know of any way that would be ok to remove the boning in the chest part of the dress? Soo many people told me that could cost up to another $500.00. I absolutely LOVE my dress, I just dont like the boning since that would be very uncomfortable for me especially with not having a large chest. I have many pads and I would rather want the chest piece close to my chest than sticking out with extra padding against my chest.
    Thank you,
    Roseann

  38. I love this blog post, especially because I recently started my own business helping brides design and create their couture custom gowns. It's a pleasure knowing that there are many brides that would like to take the custom route. Partaking in the creation of your bridal gown is a fun and unique approach to selecting your ideal bridal gown, but doing your homework is a must. I always urge my clients to ask a lot of questions before they make their final decision. This post is def worth the share! Thank you!

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