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

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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?

Offbeat Bride Vendor

This post features vendors from our curated Offbeat Bride Wedding Vendor Directory. They're awesome and we love them. If you're a vendor let's get you in here!

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

  1. hi! I’m the polka-dot bride pictured in the OP.

    I want to agree with Ariel. My dress cost less than many of my friends who bought theirs in bridal salons (can you get them cheaper? yes of course, but it was a comparably lower price).

    I found my dressmaker from a blind google search, searching for designers in my area. I think that I lucked out…she did a fantastic job.

  2. I met with Patsy Bessolo in Roanoke this weekend. I took in several pictures for inspiration, as well as these awesome shoes I bought to wear (no problem I didn’t know what my dress would be when I bought them – I figured I could find a dress to match the shoes!)

    She asked a bunch of questions about what I wanted, what I didn’t want, what sort of fabric I was envisioning…I left feeling awesome, and wondering why I hadn’t met with her sooner. Could have saved myself oodles of stress. I’m looking forward to seeing the designs she comes up with, and am feeling pretty confident about it.

    • I happen to be close by in Roanoke, dying trying to find someone that can do a pretty complicated design.. but I’m also a graduate student, and slightly price conscious. How expensive did your dress end up being?

  3. I found Gloria, my wonderful seamstress, through a fabric shop. Being a plus sized bride, I was concerned about finding a seamstress who knew how to draft patterns and create a dress with lines that flattered. The helpful assistant at the fabric shop recommended Gloria highly, and it was only after meeting her that she said that she only ever dressed petite or plus sized brides! She is a master pattern drafter as well, and it was fortuitous that I connected with her when I did because she divulged that my wedding was the last wedding she’d take on before semi-retirement!

    My dress was on par with other couture bridal quotes. For plus sized haute couture, it was pretty damn well priced though!

  4. I went to 1 bridal dress shop and just about ran screaming out the door. The woman tought I was crazy because I didnt’ like a single of the blow-up creampuff monstrocities in her silly books (I wasn’t even allowed in until I picked a picture!).

    So I went to a local designer (I live in Montreal–not really too hard) and bought the first dress I tried on. A little too expensive, but so beautiful and simple. And unique. And ME! A few adjustments are needed, but I feel good. Designers do one-of-a-kind lines–try it out!

  5. Hi, I am the designer of the polka Dot Dress above. I would like to participate in this discussion on finding dressmakers, true designers and what to look for in a wedding gown professional. My background is well rounded in that my degree and background is in the fashion industry, I write for a trade publication, I have a garment patent, and I also do my couture custom designs. I have been designing for 16 years and have operated my studio for 10. I state all that because I have found my experiences in the industriy areas have really given me insight on what works well with custom brides and how sewing professionals should also in turn work with brides. It is a partnership. Some seamstresses are not meant to deal with brides, and some brides are not Custom criteria. I have quite a bit to say, but I will break this off at my introduction and touch on one topic tomorrow that may be helpful in your selection.

    I do have to add a comment on pricing for custom. I will expand on that tomorrow, but I recently heard on one discuss list and it is true that no one goes down the isle saying “I chose this gown because it was the cheapest”.

    When buying RTW or custom you just have to be an educated consumer, know what to expect and what you get and do not get with either option as well as being totally comfortable with whoever you are dealing with.

    Nice to meet you and I will share some more tips later.

    Designer Joi

  6. Lara – I am also a AZAC bride.

    Tracy is great to work with and gives many good suggestions. Don’t let the pictures on her site fool you – the samples aren’t always as nice as her real clothing. (example – her Scottish bride dress really needs a lining and some heavier fabric to make it truly wearable)

    Make sure you understand parts of clothing and ask lots of questions. Tracy and I designed my dress in about an hour in person and about a dozen emails, but I know costume/clothing lingo from my theatre days. If you don’t, do yourself a favor and read up a bit and check your definition against your designers.

    I can’t wait to share my dress with Offbeatbride! I don’t think it will be like anything you have ever seen!

  7. I got my dress from Whirling Turban. I was really nervous about the whole overseas aspect at first, but their communication is so good (it’s an American designer who fell out of love with costume designing in Los Angeles and in love with Bali) that my fears were for the most part calmed during the process. The hardest part was trying to decide on fabrics based on what was there or what I could send her and how that would work – she ended up having really great stuff for the style we went for there and she did send fabric samples, but it just made me a little nervous b/c I’d never dealt with fabric. End of story: I love my dress. It’s perfect. I am getting it hemmed by a local seamstress as recommended by my dress designer and she’s great too – it all fits in with my wedding planning philosophy of only working with people I actually like. It makes planning much less stressful.

  8. I’m having my dress custom-made but not by a seamstress per se. I was trying on gowns at a local bridal shop and the attendant was really wonderful. She actually made her own dresses with a Chinese bridal manufacturer and then sold them in the shop. But when I mentioned that I had a dress in mind and I couldn’t find anything at a salon like it, she offered to make it on the side for me with her manufacturer.

    She took my measurements, drew up a sketch, picked out fabrics with me from her manufacturer’s sample book, and it should be coming in within the next week or two. I’m not saving a whole lot, since it’s not exactly hand-made, but I’m pretty much getting my dress at cost + personal profit instead of going through the middle man of the evil bridal salon. My designer friend even quit the salon after starting to work with me so she could be free to do projects like this without having to go behind the salon’s back (so to speak.)

    It’s not traditional, or even typical, but that’s one way to find someone to make a custom wedding dress for you…

  9. I got a custom dress from Kaersen and was very very disappointed. The stitching was poor, the color was off, and the fabric was incorrect. Also, they were recently affected by the earthquake and I would not suggest purchasing from them at this point.

  10. Here’s a hint about fittings.

    My aunt (who does costumes for film, TV etc) made my dress – pretty much ON me. The first fitting was quite disappointing – the rough model she had made up didn’t fit me in any dimension and was too long and just all wrong. BUT it all shapes up pretty quickly from there so I was delighted by the 3rd fitting.

    Don’t freak out if the first fitting is bad…

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