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!!
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!
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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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?
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