Rent, Buy, or Make – Wedding Dress Options

So, you need a wedding dress. Should you buy, rent, or make it?

For most people, the first answer that comes to mind is, “Well, I’ll buy my wedding dress. That’s what people do, right?” This line of thinking leads to a quick trip over to Google and… well, so many options that it makes my eyes cross just to think of them.

Other folks aren’t interested in buying a wedding dress. They’d much prefer to rent. They have too many vivid childhood memories of decades-old dresses moldering at the back of closets. They too turn to Google only to realize that renting a wedding dress is, unfortunately, not really an option. 

And as for making your wedding dress? If only this was the first thing that came to mind for more people! You know I’d love it, wedding dress fashion designer that I am.

More confused than ever on how to find your dress? I get it. Based on what I know as a designer, I’ve listed the pros and cons of each option, and, of course, if you ever want to chat more, please let me know!

Buying a wedding dress: pros and cons

The biggest pro is that the process of buying clothes is likely a familiar one. You may never have bought a wedding dress before but I imagine you’re well-versed in the process of going to a store, trying something on, and buying it. 

Unfortunately, this familiarity is also the biggest con of buying a wedding dress. Some of my clients find me because they’ve purchased a pre-made dress but need to have it altered. I’ve already shared what it can take to alter a wedding dress but long story short: It’s often more time and money than the person originally bargained on.

Renting a wedding dress: pros and cons

Renting a wedding dress has one huge benefit: more closet space. After your wedding, you give the dress back, which means you don’t have to worry about storing it or preserving it (if you’re into that kind of thing). 

The downside to renting is that your options are limited. While more companies are offering wedding dress rentals — Rent the Runway being the best-known — it remains a newer option with less inventory. This reality is limiting in a lot of ways especially if you don’t fit the very particular (and, I would argue, narrow) view that the wedding fashion industry has about what a wedding dress is “supposed” to look like.

Making a wedding dress: pros and cons

I know, I know. I design wedding dresses for a living. Of course I think making your own dress is the best option! I won’t deny this is true but I also like to be upfront about why I believe what I believe. 

For one thing, designing your own wedding dress isn’t as expensive as people think. It also doesn’t require as much knowledge of clothes as it might seem; I’m right there with you the whole time to guide and share my years of experience. Most importantly, though, making your own wedding dress allows you to celebrate what makes you you.

And that’s why no matter what option you pick — buy, rent, make — I just want you to enjoy the process of finding your wedding dress. It’s so easy to feel boxed in when planning a wedding. As a big believer in fashion as a means of expression, I don’t want you to feel forced into wearing one particular thing because you “have to.” I want you to feel amazing! I want you to feel bold. I want you to feel like yourself.

Still curious about your options? Let’s talk.

Wedding Dress Alterations: What You Need to Know

Let me tell you a story about wedding dress alterations. 

Recently, a bride brought me her dress. She’d bought it at a boutique and parts of the dress were several sizes too big. To make it fit, I took in the bodice which made the front straps move really far to the side which made the back become wide which meant I needed to cut down where the strap came out of the fabric so that it didn’t cut the bride off at the armpit.

I call this type of course correcting the domino effect of wedding dress alterations, and it’s not an usual situation for a bride who buys a pre-made dress (so, you know, most brides). Unfortunately, the domino effect happens a lot even though ? we don’t talk about it.

Why don’t we talk about this?

We don’t talk about how much labor wedding dress alterations take for two reasons. 

The first reason is that often, the people at the boutique or online store where a bride buys her dress sincerely don’t know how much or how little will be needed to alter the dress. That’s understandable. The person who sells you a wedding dress isn’t often a trained seamstress or designer. 

The second reason is a lot more gross: We don’t talk about how much labor alterations take because if we did, there’s a good chance you wouldn’t buy the dress to begin with. What seems like a good deal off the rack looks much less attractive after you tack on the $800, $1,200, $2,000 worth of alterations the dress will need to fit. 

These numbers aren’t bloated, by the way. Those are actual figures and the reason they’re so high is because they capture the hours of labor that go into altering a dress. 

What’s a bride to do?

The most important thing is to be informed. If possible, get an estimate for alterations before you buy your wedding dress or, if that’s not an option, get an estimate within the timeframe you may have on returning the dress. 

Another option is to make a dress from scratch. It’s easy to assume that ordering a custom dress will naturally be more expensive but, in my experience, it often isn’t. 

This is because there are no hidden fees or last-minute expenses. You and I work together to design your dress from the ground up. This dress is created for your one unique body and, as such, we don’t have to worry about alterations (and how much they cost). We spend more time working on the design and having fun with that instead of worrying about the fit.

It’s about risk

It’s easy to trick ourselves into thinking that buying a wedding dress off the rack is “less risky” than designing a dress ourselves. That makes sense. For many of my clients, our interaction is the very first time that they’ve ever designed a piece of clothing. 

But when you factor in the cost of altering someone else’s work, the time it takes to do so, and the labor (mental, emotional, and physical) to get it all done on a tight any deadline, it’s worth considering another option. Nobody wants to deal with dominos, particularly when planning a wedding.


Want to talk more? Great! Contact me.

Image by Abbey Elaine

Sam & Steph’s Brown County Indiana Wedding

Samantha knew she wanted a custom wedding dress from the moment we met. She didn’t want to spend a ton of time trying to find the look she wanted, and the fit that would make her feel amazing!

Steph came in after Sam- they both had separate fittings so they could surprise each other at the wedding.

They wanted very different looks, and I was there to make them work well together! I’m so absolutely thrilled by the images from Amanda Goodin Photography!!

Datura Dress with overlay

When Should I Buy a Wedding Dress?

So, you’re planning a wedding. First, take a moment to enjoy all of those post-engagement feels. Sit in that moment longer than you might want to. 

I offer this advice as a wedding dress designer who has worked with dozens of people planning weddings; I’m here to tell you that once you strap into the wedding planning roller coaster, you’re on it — for better or worse.

So take your moment! Take more than one! Then, whenever you’re ready, let’s talk about what you’re wearing.

When is the right time to buy a wedding dress?

The internet will tell you to have your wedding dress ordered at least a year before your wedding day. That number — a year  — often surprises people. “So, that’s… now? Before I even send invitations?!”

A year is the recommendation because of a little thing called alterations. Buying the dress is often just the first step. Because so many wedding dresses are bought made-to-measure or off the rack, they’ve got to be altered to fit the unique body of the person wearing the dress. 

I’ve already talked at length about what alterations can cost (and why, surprisingly, going custom can actually be the more affordable choice). Here’s another pro in the column for why it’s worth considering custom: It’ll also save you time.

How long does it take to make a custom wedding dress?

No, I can’t do it in two weeks. It’s not because I don’t work quickly and efficiently. It’s not even because I’d like to get up from my sewing machine every once and awhile and, you know, maybe see my family and go to the restroom. Making a wedding dress in two weeks just won’t give you and I the time and space that we need to really savor this process.

Most of my clients contact me a year before their wedding. The sweet spot is nine months. The goal, of course, being that we have room to play, to go back and forth on design elements, fit, and fabric. These decisions deserve time. I try to create a feeling, not just a dress because this is a once-in-a-lifetime experience we’re talking about.

When you hire a custom wedding dress designer, you’re hiring a guide. Every question you’d have to Google, you can ask me. Chances are good that I might even know more than an algorithm.

What if I’m not wearing a dress?

Great! Let’s talk. I’ve made any number of non-dress outfits in my day (most memorably, a pair of matching biking uniforms for a couple who loved to ride their tandem bicycle together).

I’ll be able to tell you how long and how much the project will cost after we talk a little bit more about what you want, what you need, and what you want to feel like wearing these clothes.


Let’s start brainstorming together! Contact me here.

Lens: Amanda DeBusk

How Much Does It Cost to Have a Wedding Dress Made?

Fun fact: When I’m not making custom wedding dresses, I do alterations. It’s not something I do a lot of these days but I mention it here because I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been tailoring a wedding dress and thought, “It would have been cheaper if they’d just bought a custom dress.”

Yes, you read that correctly: I used one of my dreaded fashion “c” words — “cheaper” — because it’s true! Often, a dress off the rack or ordered online takes so much labor to tailor that it would have been less money, less time, and, most importantly, less heartache for the person if they’d started out custom from the get-go.

Lens: Amanda DeBusk

“Um, you’re a fashion designer — why should I believe you?”

Fair question. It’s good news for me if you want to buy a custom wedding dress but you know what’s also good news for me? More people wearing what they want on their wedding day. It’s why I got into this business in the first place and, the more I work with people getting married, the more I realize what a difference having one less item on the to-do list can mean for their brainpower. 

When you work with a designer, you have an experienced guide to take you through each step of the process rather than the oh-so-popular alternative: You buy a dress and then scramble to find where to get it altered only to spend nearly as much money on tailoring as you did on the actual dress. 

Of course, we haven’t even talked about the wide range of options there are when we use the word “tailoring.” For my work, I do such involved and detailed tailoring because I actually want things to fit the unique person who will be wearing the clothes. This is different than just taking in the seams or moving up a hem but the results are, in my experience, always worth it.

There’s one other reason that I claim it would have been cheaper if they’d just bought a custom dress: I hate waste. Speaking as a designer, it is much more efficient to build from the ground up rather than to go back and try and make something out of what’s available. 

Of course, a lot is possible even with a pre-made dress but even more is possible when we work from a blank slate. By creating a dress that’s made for your unique body, we make your dress work for you — not the other way around!

Lens: Heather Sherrill

“Interesting but how much is this going to cost me?”

Again, very fair question. The custom wedding dresses I design start at $1,500, which can feel like a lot of money. In this article, I explain why, nationally speaking, that’s actually below the average cost. More importantly, though, I want to offer context on what you’re paying for when you buy a custom dress.

You’re buying my brain. I’m the type of person who looks at fabric swatches on her break. I’ve been wearing nothing but my own handmade clothes since 2014 — that includes my underwear! I started making clothes for other people because I wanted to make big dresses and awesome suits and other glorious clothes but I didn’t want to have a lot in my closet. 

Long story short: I live and breathe making fashion that works for all people. That — more than the fabric, more than the labor, more than the time — is what you’re buying and that can save you hours of heartache. Rather than order an outfit only to have it arrive and not be quite what you hoped, we can start from the beginning to make sure you get what you want without all the (expensive) back-and-forth.

“What about made-to-measure or fast fashion ? Those prices are so low!”

Hiring a custom designer is a lot like hiring an architect. You are picking someone to be in charge of making decisions. We’re not talking about hiring some random person, either; you’re hiring a qualified, experienced, proven expert for the very important job of taking what’s in your head and bringing it to life. 

That’s part of the reason why an architect is paid more than those who build the building: The architect is being compensated for her decision-making expertise and all of the education and experience that makes her qualified to make those decisions in the first place.

The same principle applies to my work, too. While ordering a dress made-to-measure or picking a fast fashion dress costs less upfront, it actually costs much more in aggregate. It costs more in terms of money (alterations in addition to the original cost of the dress!), time (it’s on you to do the legwork), satisfaction (settling for something that isn’t made for your body), and, of course, brainpower (no resident expert to help).

So, how much does it cost to have a wedding dress made?

Less than you’d think, particularly when you factor in what you’re actually buying. 

When you hire a designer, you’re picking someone to ask the right questions and offer meaningful solutions. You’re also hiring their talent and time to draft the design, select the fabric, cut the pattern (six hours at least!), and then, finally, create. 

Sound good? Let’s talk more. Email me!

Lens: Megan Renee Thompson

3 Tips for Wedding Attire Shopping

My last post was all about how to decide what is flattering- and, yes, I probably left you with more questions than answers, but questions are good! And questioning the wedding industry is what we need right now.

So, how do you decide what to wear, when I’m over here telling you to wear whatever you want?

This is where working with a designer comes in handy. Especially someone who can really hear what you’re saying. 

Let’s keep this nice and straightforward. 

Pinterest is your friend

You might want a place to brain dump every single idea you have along the way, and a populated board is your friend when you reach out to me. Even if you don’t know why you like something, pin it! Like the color of the underskirt on this one dress (and it isn’t even a wedding dress) pin it! Like some piece of architecture or furniture for whatever reason and are wondering if you can incorporate the design lines into your look? Pin it!

Decide on a dress budget range

Yeah, I didn’t say pick a number for your budget, because a range is more reasonable. The truth is that we’re so conditioned by fast, cheap fashion, that compared to a custom made wedding dress, it’ll seem like a lot. That said, my prices are really reasonable once you see what all goes into your dress. You also might walk in thinking you want one thing, but once you realize what’s actually possible…you’ll want to be flexible. 

Focus on what you want

Honestly, there’s a way to make your every day style wedding day ready with the right laces, fabrics, and lengths. So, if you come in and you want the cut of the shirt you’re wearing, and the flow of the dresses you actually wear, we can do that!

If you’re into the trains and the crowns and the drama, we can do that, too! Add a couple of yards or the flowiest silk, and you’ll get the fanfare you know you love, and want to walk down the aisle wearing!

If you want to wear a family heirloom, but you want some changes here or there, we can definitely do that, as well! And custom re-designs are so much fun, because you can pretty much change anything, add anything, replace anything, and still keep the original design in mind.

(The pictures above are John & Katy when they got married in the 80s- Katy, in her mom’s wedding dress from the 60’s, to 2018 when they renewed their vows, and we made her dress into something more modern, that fit her style now.)

Where to start?

Find a shop, designer, seamstress, or tailor who you connect with, send them your ideas, and see what they come up with! (Always read reviews before you reach out!)

If you’d like to work with me, reach out through my contact page and let’s hop on the phone and see what we can dream up!

I just want it to be flattering

Before I start, take a second and ask yourself, what does “flattering” mean? People usually say that something flattering is something that makes you look good, but that’s subjective.What does that even mean? Some like more fitted clothes, while others like something flowier that doesn’t define their shape. Both are right. 

Definition of flattering

Let’s take a step back and think about what flattering means, according to the dictionary. 

flattering: adjective /ˈflæt̬·ər·ɪŋ/

making someone look or feel better or more attractive than usual:

That suit is flattering on you.

(Definition of flattering from the Cambridge Academic Content Dictionary © Cambridge University Press) 

So, according to the dictionary, something flattering means that it makes you look better (subjective), and I’m gonna just say what you’re thinking. It makes people think you look thinner, prettier, more mainstream. 

Those things don’t matter to so many people, which is why flattering wedding attire will get different comments from different people. 

It’s our own life, experiences, and let’s face it, trauma, that make us comment the way we do. 

Wedding dress shopping

Lens: Amanda DeBusk

Imagine going wedding dress shopping. Maybe you prep by reading this Brides article about the best wedding dress for each body type. You go in with your mom and your best friends. You try on a number of dresses. Everyone has an opinion. But that’s why you brought them along, right?! You trust them to be honest.

Things to consider:

  1. Are you listening to your own voice? I know a lot of people go dress shopping and buy the dress that got the most votes from their friends- the dress that people told them was the most flattering.
  2. Are you basing your opinion on the one or two dresses that fit closest to your body, not the one you really like (but doesn’t fit that well)? Imagine if all the dresses you tried on fit perfectly, and you could base your decision on style and taste?
  3. Are you making conclusions about a particular style or element based on the small handful of designers who design for your body? Imagine have all the elements you love in front of you to choose from!

Seeking validation

When something is made in proportion to your body, it will always fit, which is why I’m such a fan of custom wedding design. Even though I have an idea of how I would fit every body, what I remind my clients is that this is your wedding, your look. I’m not wearing the dress or suit I’m making for you. You’re the expert of how you like things to fit your body.

Once things fit the way that make you feel like yourself, you might find that outside validation means less to you. And then, when you’re walking down the aisle, and you hear whispers, your confidence makes you smile because you know how good you look, and more important, how you feel!

Here’s a really great (raw, real, no holds barred) dialogue about the word flattering over on the Fat Sewing Club insta and another one on the Sewcialists insta that might be of interest to you, no matter your size.

And don’t forget, flattering is subjective. Wear what you want to wear- how you want to wear it.

Why It’s So Important to See Yourself in Wedding Media

One day, a bride walked into my studio to talk about her wedding dress. She brought her mom. Everything was going smoothly until I asked the bride, whom I’ll call Kayla, if she was thinking about any kind of accessory. Specifically, did she want to wear something in her hair?

She said she didn’t know what a veil would look like with her natural textured hair. I looked at her and said, “right, because if you go on Pinterest and do a search for bridal veil, all you get is white brides.”

Lens: Amanda DeBusk

Black brides are underrepresented and undervalued in the wedding industry

If you’re a Black woman getting married, and you search Pinterest for wedding veils and add on Black bride to specify, you’ll get black veils on white models. Is it any surprise that Kayla hadn’t seen anything that inspired her? She couldn’t see herself in any of the options. Veils weren’t “for her.”

There are exceptions to what we so often see — or, more accurately, don’t see — on Pinterest or from big-name wedding magazines and popular wedding blogs. Valuable resources like The B Collective, MunaLuchi Bride, Perfete, and Catalyst Wed Co. show us examples of Black joy and Black love but I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know: Black brides are underrepresented and undervalued in my industry. It’s something I’m working to change.

Lens: Heather Sherrill

Finding Unity Through Community

If you follow me on Instagram, you’ve likely seen me post in recent months about Black Lives Matter, my ongoing personal education, and vow of activism to be inclusive, equitable, and decent. These values aren’t new to me or my work but they’ve taken on a new dimension in 2020.

I also stand in solidarity with Unity Through Community, an initiative started by the wedding vendors Terrica Skaggs, Bron Hansboro, CeCe Todd, and Tammy Fleuch. The Unity Through Community badge is a visual commitment that I am, among other things, dedicated to ridding the wedding industry of racism, prejudice, and bias.

I keep circling back to the same question: “How can I be anti-racist as a wedding vendor?” There is no cookie-cutter answer, but we need to start with the dialogue. We need to start with being aware of the racist bias inherent within our industry, we need to connect with Black wedding vendors and Black owned venues so that we can give more inclusive recommendations, and we need to adjust our personal media consumption because it is our responsibility to make sure what happens to Kayla doesn’t happen to other clients.

Because I think about Kayla — a lot. I think about how her eyes lit up when I handed her a cathedral veil and said, “Try this.” I think of the joy on her face as she looked at herself in the mirror. I think of the way her mom teared up as she saw her daughter shine.

Lens: Bradley Michael Ferguson

Every person who decides to get married deserves a moment like the one Kayla had when she put on her veil. The wedding industry needs to change so couples can feel welcome, included, and seen as they plan what is meant to be a celebration of love. 

I want to change that status quo. I am changing that status quo. Won’t you join me?

Lens: Amanda DeBusk

Custom Wedding Dress: Why It’s Worth It (and Not as Expensive as You Think)

There’s this nasty misconception in the wedding dress world that the word “custom” automatically means “expensive.” I hear it again and again from brides who are shopping for a wedding dress. They see “custom” and hesitate. “This can’t be for me,” they think. “It’s probably way out of my budget.”

Rachel, Camrynn, and Arianna as the three muses

I completely understand why but I’m here to tell you that custom doesn’t mean $10K. The custom wedding dresses I design start at $1,500. I want to acknowledge that this is still a lot more money than you’ve probably ever spent on a single piece of clothing but when it comes to wedding dresses, $1,500 is actually a little cheaper than the national average of $1,600 — and that’s for a wedding dress not made specifically for you. And don’t even get me started on all of the other benefits to designing a wedding dress rather than buying one off the rack.

Fit makes all the difference

As a wedding dress designer, I see the same thing happen again and again. A bride will try on a custom wedding dress, look in the mirror, and say “Wow! This looks really good.” She thinks it’s the dress doing all the work but guess what? It’s not the dress. It’s her. For once, she’s just wearing something that fits properly.

That moment — when a bride sees herself more clearly (often for the very first time in her adult life) — is one of the best parts of my job. I love designing dresses that enhance, not distract, from who’s wearing it. I tailor each piece just right so you can actually see the person.

What a novel idea, right?

Camrynn in Orchid three quarter view


Consider the labor you’re putting in

So often I hear from women who say they didn’t consider a custom dress because they “didn’t have a vision” for what they wanted to wear. That’s OK! That’s my job. I’m a designer, which means that I have experience taking all those muddled thoughts swirling around your brain and translating them into something you can actually wear. 

Often I find this process actually makes things easier for a bride. Rather than braving the fluorescent lit pressure cooker of a bridal boutique, she’s able to work with a professional to develop a dress that works for her shape. She doesn’t have to do the emotional and physical labor of sorting through dresses that even with alterations will never quite fit her frame. Why do that to yourself? Instead, we can come up with something really, really cool made for you.

Designer Leila Breton with model

It’s about the journey

There’s a surprising upside to going the custom route: You get a crash course in self-confidence. 

I do what I do because I want you to feel heard, empowered, and beautiful in your own skin. Throughout our time together, I encourage you to speak up and tell me what you — nobody else — likes about your style and your body. 

Working together is always about more than the dress; it’s about celebrating who you are as you celebrate your unique love. And that’s priceless.

Want to start designing your custom wedding dress? Get in touch!

Lace dress and crepe dress side by side

Victoire & Matthew’s Intimate Garden Wedding

Victoire called me because she wanted me to make her and her fiance, Matthew, custom face masks for their wedding, but then she realized she was really wanting a custom dress that would fit her intimate wedding. We spent some time talking over the phone, and after getting an idea for what she wanted, we hung up, both excited to work together!

I got to work sketching some ideas and emailed them to Victoire before her first appointment. Here’s the sketch she loved:

From there, we got to work on her crepe dress. We ended up not wanting to use the beading on the shoulder, and instead, we went with a belt.

At one of the fittings, she asked if we could move the slit to the front. There was an excitement in the air, and at that point, I realized the dress was now hers.

I love that moment.

The chiffon on her right shoulder was a thought that came after the dress was almost finished, but definitely a wonderful addition!

A huge thank you to Those McKissics Photography for sharing the gallery with me! Thank you!!