One day I was in my studio working, when I got a phone call from somebody who was driving around looking for a wedding dress. She asked if I had some she could try on, and I started telling her about the custom works that I do. She was intrigued, so she came in that same day.
After we talked for a bit, I asked her how she felt about having a custom dress made, and she said she was sold. Over the next couple of months we work together closely to choose fabric, and get the fit just right.
I’m going to show you the first in-fabric fitting so that you can see that sometimes I don’t get it on the first try. The thing you should know about me, is that I don’t give up.
I tell people that the work I do obviously requires knowing how to sew, but more than that, you need endurance to sometimes go back to the drawing board.
When you design a beach and boho bridal vibe, there are several ways you can go in. I knew this was going to be an amazing piece.
This wasn’t the dress she wanted, so we hopped on a video call to go over everything again.
Once I showed her the mini mock-up, she said that that was what she was going for. So, I took the dress apart, and started angling the lace, and overlaying second lace for a beautiful contrast.
I always tell people that this process is made up of several trust falls. I never expect trust from a client, which is why you’ll never hear me say, “it’ll be fine”, and when I hear that somebody is anxious about the process, I listen instead of try to make you not nervous or anxious. Trust has to be earned.
Now, I’m sure you’re ready for this, so here are some images from Amanda DeBusk of the beautiful Brittani and her husband Rob. My deepest gratitude to Brittani for her patience and kindness during this process. I’m so proud of the work we did together! All my love to you and your family.
I was afraid to write this article because I don’t want to come off like someone who doesn’t understand that not everyone wants or has the means to buy a wedding dress that costs more than $100. I know that I’m the person who loves making clothes so much that she’s made it her whole career.
But I’m also an experienced professional who wants, more than anything, for people to feel like themselves on their wedding day. And, unfortunately, the most popular option for a wedding dress is also the one that I most regularly see move a person further away from that feeling of bliss.
I am, of course, talking about fast fashion.
What is fast fashion?
This two-word term covers a lot of ground. In the broadest sense, fast fashion refers to clothing designs that hit the market quickly to make the most of popular fashion trends. These are clothes that are designed to not last. They’re expendable, consumable, and, often, extremely cheap both to make and to sell.
3 reasons why fast fashion isn’t your friend for your wedding day
There is already so much pressure put on a person to find the perfect outfit to wear on their wedding day. In fact, “When should I buy my wedding dress?” is one of the most common questions I get from my clients. There’s an hourglass glued to the table that makes the whole search for The Perfect Dress feel that much more urgent.
This bums me out on many levels. Financially, it’s a horrible situation. So often the dress that a bride buys doesn’t fit properly but the price tag is so low that she understandably assumes, “Well, alterations can’t be that much.” Bad news, my friend. Hundreds of dollars of alterations is one of the many hidden costs of fast fashion: What seems cheap on the rack, often doesn’t stay cheap.
More than money, though, fast wedding fashion kills my vibe because these dresses are mass produced. That on its own isn’t that horrible — people got to wear clothes — but when it comes to the outfit you wear on your wedding day, it should at least fit you! That’s not asking too much, right?
When a bride brings me her off-the-rack dress, I often spend hours figuring out how to make her unique and special body fit what she’s bought. This is totally backwards! What I should be doing — what I love to do — is start with what makes my client unique and design from there. The dress should work for her. She shouldn’t work for the dress.
Which brings me to the third and biggest reason why fast fashion isn’t your friend on your wedding day: It boxes you in.
Let’s think outside the box
I’ve already written about why it’s so important to see yourself in wedding media but long story short: If you don’t see yourself celebrated, it’s easy to think that you’re not worth celebrating. And fast fashion offers a never-ending stream of cookie-cutter options that not only ignore what’s so great about you but often make you feel bad about it.
Screw that! You are worthy of celebrating and I’m here to make sure your clothes help, not hinder, that party.
Fast fashion may have its place in the world but when it comes to your wedding, it’s not as expensive, hard, or time-consuming to go custom as the world would have us believe. In fact, from what I’ve seen working with hundreds of clients, designing your own wedding outfit is often one of the best ways to slow down and enjoy the journey of planning your wedding and, more importantly, starting your marriage.
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.
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.
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.
“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!
“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.
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!
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.
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
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:
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.
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?
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!
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.
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.”
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?
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.
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.
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!!