How to: Choosing a Dressmaker

For many women, fantasies of the perfect wedding gown date back to their days of reading about Cinderella and fairy princesses. Your dress may be the most expensive part of your wedding budget and, depending upon how much you care about fashion, may also be the thing you spend the most time debating, discussing with loved ones, and gathering information about. Hiring a dressmaker, rather than buying off the rack, can be the first step toward getting a one-of-a-kind dress that perfectly matches the dream dress in your imagination, but you’ll need to ensure you choose the right dressmaker.


The Role of the Dressmaker

Dressmakers come in two broad categories. Retail stores offer sample dresses and then tailor the dress to suit your measurements, while independent dressmakers can make a dress for you from scratch. The right choice for you will depend on your needs and budget. If you’re looking for something specific and one-of-a-kind, you’ll probably want to go with a dressmaker who can make your dress from scratch. You’re paying for the dressmaker’s time and experience, though, so having your dress custom made will cost you. But if you just want a dress that looks great on your body, your local dress shop should have plenty of options.

A dressmaker is an entirely different animal for a tailor. Tailors make minor alterations to clothes to help them fit better, while dressmakers can fundamentally alter the dress itself by removing or adding a train, changing lace, or changing the shape or style of the neckline. At retail stores, dressmakers often act primarily as tailors, making adjustments to the dress to ensure it fits rather than making a completely new dress.

How Much Time?

If you’re having the dress made from scratch, plan on ordering it no later than six to eight months before your wedding. Whether you have the dress custom made or simply buy and alter an existing dress, you’ll usually have one to two fittings after the dress is complete. Leave at least two months between your first fitting and your wedding day, because this gives you plenty of time to make significant changes to the dress. Your final fitting will likely be a week or so before the wedding. This is the chance to see the finished product, not to make big changes, so don’t count on giving your dressmaker a bunch of new requests right before your wedding!

Of course, different dressmakers and stores have wildly different policies, and the time it takes to actually get your dress depends on your dressmaker’s workload and working speed, as well as the complexity of your dress. Rather than relying on blind faith or a general guide, call a few dressmakers as soon as you get engaged, and ask them how quickly you need to order your wedding gown.

Choosing Your Dressmaker

Before you pay a deposit or sign a contract, you’ll need to do the legwork of vetting your dressmaker. Don’t just go on blind faith or based on a sales pitch, because you only have one chance to get this right. Instead, determine whether your dressmaker meets your needs and is qualified by doing some of the following:

• Asking for photos of previous work, as well as the sketches from which the work was produced. This gives you an idea of how closely the dressmaker’s made-from-scratch dresses match her initial sketches.

• Asking for references.

• Reading online reviews, and checking the dressmaker’s Facebook and other social networking pages to ensure there have been no complaints.

• Asking your dressmaker about her training and experience. Dressmakers who have been in business for years usually have a healthy track record of satisfied customers.

• Ensure that the dressmaker’s previous work matches your style. A dressmaker who specializes in modern, understated wedding dresses might not be the best choice if you’re hoping for a lace-filled vintage confection.

Saving Cash

If you’re hoping to save cash, having your dress custom made from scratch is not a recipe for a happy bank account. Instead, try picking a dress at a store and then having the in-house dressmaker alter it. You may also be able to save money if you buy multiple items from the same place. For example, some stores offer a discount to brides who purchase bridesmaid dresses, veils, and shoes at the same time as the dress.

Dressmakers with years of experience typically charge more, so plan on dropping some serious cash if you’re choosing the best seamstress in the business. You’ll also have to pay for the dressmaker’s supplies. Costly materials such as intricate lace, pearls, and beading can drive up the cost. If you’re on a budget, you may be stuck straddling the line between cost and quality, so be prepared to scale down your expectations, choose a new dressmaker who has a small but impressive portfolio, or stick to buying the dress off the rack and then making alterations.

Fairy princesses never have to contemplate budgets, but real women do. If you can’t afford everything you want, remember that the most important thing isn’t the dress. It’s the marriage that follows! By planning ahead of time and ensuring you carefully interview each dressmaker you consider, you have the opportunity to get the best of both worlds by minimizing costs and grasping for the dress of your dreams.