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!!

Willow Acres Weddings Outdoorsy Styled Shoot

Covid sucks. But it’s still here. Wear a mask. It’s not over.

Ok now. Let me tell you about this beautiful new outdoor space that’s just about 45 minutes northeast of Indianapolis!

I was scrolling though Instagram the other day, when this sweet wooden outdoor swing popped up on my feed. It was hanging from a mature tree in what looked like several acres of land. I got excited and commented on the image, and I found out that the swing was handmade by one of the owners, Doug.

Actually, everything made of wood for the venue was hand built by Doug! It’s all so beautiful, and completely unique, and organic, and I couldn’t get over it!

After a little back and forth with Pam, one of the owners of Willow Acres, we had a time and day for a styled shoot at their venue. I knew there was a lotta land, but we’re talking 10 acres!

Pam and Doug, the owners of Willow Acres welcomed us like we were old friends. Take note, we’re talking about a Black couple and Amanda and I, a queer couple. What I wish we had photos of are of all of us at their dining room table (they live on the property), with the sandwiches and fruit they put out for us after the shoot. If I didn’t have to get up early the next morning, we would have stayed, chatting for hours! That’s the kind of welcome couples will no doubt get.

There’s something so intimate about having someone you love help you get dressed. It’s tender and sweet, and I love hearing about couples being close in that way. The venue does have two dressing rooms, but we chose to use this one, mostly because of the hand crafted mirror!

Can we please talk about how Constellation looks on Kierra?! For those of you who don’t know, before any shoot, I always have the person or people modelling to come in to the studio to try on dresses from the Custom Collection. We look at what will fit the feel and the body of the model(s).

From the minute Kierra tried on Constellation, we knew that’s what she was going to wear. I made a silk white cathedral length veil to go with the look. My clients always ask me what length is good for their dress, and the truth is, you get to choose. I’m a fan of encouraging people to wear what makes them smile!

I love when Kierra and Devin laugh! They are such beautiful, joyful, artistic people. They’re also incredibly tender with each other- I know this is a shoot, and yes, they are a real couple who also model together, but the way they are, that’s what Amanda caught on camera. That’s actually one of Amanda’s gifts, if you let her- she’ll deliver photos from your wedding that are true to color, both skin and nature, and true to the essence of who you are as a couple, and as individuals.

Pam and Doug had their dance floor set up, and we had Kierra and Devin get on to dance. Doug even grabbed his phone and put music on for them to dance to.

Thank you, Pam and Doug for being such amazing hosts. Thank you Kierra and Devin for being so willing to try some gender neutral posing, and for bringing such beautiful energy! Thank you GiGi for doing Kierra’s make-up so she could arrive camera ready. You are so amazing and we’re so lucky to have you! Kierra’s skin was so well done! A special thank you to Michelle for providing the beautiful florals. I appreciate your commitment to the BLM movement! Thank you, Brian, for outfitting Devin- I love how willing you are to roll with my ideas!

A special thank you to my fiancee, Amanda. When we first met, she said she didn’t do styled shoots. And now here we are. Thank you for changing your mind! I love you!

Vendors

Lens | Amanda DeBusk Photography
Venue | Willow Acres Weddings
Models |Kierra Winston & Devin Smith
Dress | Curvy Custom Bride
Suit |Formally Modern
Floral | One of a Kind Events
Makeup | GiGi Bentley

Indy Bridal Fashion Week 2019

Last year around this time, I was gearing up for the biggest build I’ve done. Originally, I designed 12 wedding looks for the runway, but whittled it down to 9. I was in full bridal season mode (between custom and tailoring, I don’t have many down times) and dreaming of what future brides might want.

I like minimalism but I love drama. Not sure how that’s possible, but here we are. I invested in all the fabric, from silks to laces! I needed models to work with, and I asked several model friends. They served as fit models for the pieces they wore, offering a lot of their time so I could get the looks I wanted and the fit I’ve become known for.

The first three dress samples were ready for the Perfect Wedding Guide July Bridal Show and they were a hit! I had these three beauties modeling the dresses at the show, after which we did a couple of shots outside. Black Iris Estates is just so gorgeous!

Lens: Amanda DeBusk Photography
Models: Arianna Cruz, Nora Dietz Kilen, Chloe VanRyn

I still had so much to do in between client dresses. I had my work cut out for me! Luckily, I had a wonderful intern from Ball State University, Emily Black, helping out with construction and finishing. There’s a reason why couture fashion houses have a team. Let me just say I don’t recommend doing all of this on your own.

I worked day and night getting everything ready. The night before, I was still adding a crinoline to one of the dresses. The excitement powered me. I wouldn’t stop.

The day of the show came and I didn’t feel ready. I wanted more time, more fittings, more of everything.

Models started arriving, Alayna Byrd came ready to do make-up and Allison Linnae was doing hair. It started getting exciting!

We did a run through and we stayed connected, talking and laughing, enjoying each other’s company. My models and all the professionals I work with are friends. I like spending time with them. This is my family.

The fashion show wasn’t really well attended but that didn’t stop us from having the time of our lives!

A representative of Wedding Studio Greenwood came to the show and caught this video and posted it to Instagram and I couldn’t be more grateful!

Video from Wedding Studio Greenwood

Bradley Michael Photography captured some wonderful images from the runway, beautifully lit by the amazing people at The Garment Factory in Franklin, IN.

It was a night to remember! Thank you, everyone! I love you all!

But is it Couture?

Couture is a word that gets thrown around a lot and while I’m happy makers are making, adding this one word doesn’t help you, the consumer, understand what you’re buying. In the book Outliers, author Malcolm Gladwell argues that 10,000 hours of deliberate practice make you an expert in your given field. Several others argue that it takes more than practice, but nobody can really tell you you’re an expert. In other words, having years of experience doesn’t make you good. Being good makes you good.

Lens: Amanda DeBusk Photography

So, how can you tell if somebody’s sewing is any good? Don’t go off of fast fashion. That will tell you what cheap sewing looks like. The problem with cheap sewing is that it makes the good sewing sound expensive. I’ll never be able to compare to Target pricing, but I never want to compare with that pricing or mindset. I’ll come back to how to know whose sewing you want in a minute.

Is there sewing police? Hop on social media and you will find some eager to criticize sewists. But, formally, there is none, and I’m not here to suggest that it become a thing. That said, the Association of Sewing and Design Professionals offers a Standard of Quality pdf that goes through detailed standards I believe in and practice. They don’t check up on anyone, but I appreciate that they exist. Still, the drive to continue to make design and sewing work better is up to the maker.

Lens: Heather Sherrill Photography

Let’s back pedal a bit here. What’s the difference between off the rack, made to measure, bespoke, couture, and haute couture?

Off the rack means just that. You are buying a garment that has it’s own set of rules for fit and finish, and it’s ready to buy…on a rack, which you take off the rack. What you see is what you get. The thing with off the rack is that, depending on the company, it can be fast fashion. Fast fashion tends to not have a lot of room for alterations and tailoring. There’s more to it than this, but let’s move on.

Made to measure also uses standardized size charts that are set up by each company (sizing, as you know, isn’t regulated, either, which is why you can fit into multiple sizes depending on where you’re shopping) but you get to choose which size is sent to you. With M2M you can get a closer fit than off the rack, but it will still need alterations.

Typically, when you’re asked for your measurements, you’re asked for circumference measurements- around the bust, around the waist, and around the hip- but the lengths between those measurements are as important. One thing I learned the hard way is that tape measures aren’t regulated. At one point, I had 5 tape measures in my studio, and 3 of them were all different, and off by up to 1/2 an inch. Needless to say, I tossed them.

Bespoke is a garment made from scratch to a person’s measurements and specifications. For some, bespoke is a snobby term, but I personally like it because it makes it clear that a garment is made for one person, the person wearing it. It takes into account the beautiful nuances of the human body.

Isn’t that the same as couture? Kinda. There’s an underlying respect for couture, but the word itself means that it has to do with sewing. It’s a certain standard of sewing, but it’s closer to bespoke.

Lens: Bradley Michael Ferguson

Couture and Haute Couture have become interchangeable but there are anything but that! Haute means high. So Haute Couture is high sewing. It’s French so it sounds fancy. It’s like the atelier. Atelier means workshop in French but few call their studios workshops cos it doesn’t sound as fancy. And some confuse fancy for good.

Bottom line, bespoke and couture are more easily interchangeable, though bespoke tends to be thought of as being for men’s tailoring- tho it doesn’t have to be. Despite that, bespoke and couture are garments that are not mass made. They are made for one person only. Isn’t that the same as custom? Where’s my venn diagram when I need it.

Haute Couture. We made it! We’re here! This is the mecca of sewing. Haute couture is the bees knees of garments. There are very specific rules to qualify for this title. For one, 60% of the garment has to be sewn by hand. According to the Business of Fashion:

“To qualify as an official Haute Couture house, members must design made-to-order clothes for private clients, with more than one fitting, using an atelier (workshop) that employs at least fifteen fulltime staff. They must also have twenty fulltime technical workers in one of their workshops. Finally, Haute Couture houses must present a collection of no less than 50 original designs — both day and evening garments — to the public every season, in January and July.”

Here’s a full list of members of the Haute Couture Federation. Some members of this exclusive group include the following:

  • Chanel
  • Maurizio Galante
  • Christian Dior
  • Jean Paul Gaultier
  • Givenchy

Does it actually matter what someone calls themselves? I’m bringing all of this up to educate and to demystify.

What’s the quality at Curvy Custom Bride? It’s definitely bespoke, made for one person, with 3 fittings, and a lot of the finishing is done by hand. Even my samples are made for the model who originally wore it.

I call myself a bridal designer because most people understand that to mean that I design bridal wear. But that’s another word that I want to quickly strip down. I design for my client. The dress is theirs. Granted, it’s a dialogue between myself and the client. They have ideas and inspiration, I offer ideas and inspiration. We co-create.

I suppose if I were to call myself anything else, I would say I’m a bespoke co-creator.

But is it couture?

If you made it this far, share this blog post on social media, tag me, and get 20% off a custom dress, bridal or eveningwear.

Happy New Year and My Word of the Year for 2018

wintersolstice-styled-09

I’m ready for 2018 and everything I’m planning behind the scenes. The photo above was from a photoshoot done that appeared in Green Wedding Shoes. I made the silk gauze wrap skirt for a new company here in Indiana, Adeline’s Grace. They did the dying.

I’m gearing up to add myself to more wedding sites. I’m currently advertising on Wedding Wire, Gay Weddings, and Yelp. I have a small listing on The Knot but I’m looking to advertise on Equally Wed. I’ll make sure to update the shows I’ll be at on my Facebook page. If you haven’t liked my page, go do that for up to date information. I’m active on Instagram if that’s more your scene.

As far as my word of the year, this year it’s Structure.

I like how I can’t quite pinpoint what that means right now. But I know it’ll evolve along the way.

Wishing you a Happy New Year!!